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Title: The Corner House Girls at School
Author: Hill, Grace Brooks
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Corner House Girls at School" ***

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                      THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AT SCHOOL

                           BY GRACE BROOKS HILL

Author of "The Corner House Girls," "The Corner House Girls Under
Canvas," etc.

                      _ILLUSTRATED BY R. EMMETT OWEN_



GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS NEW YORK

Copyright, 1915
By BARSE & CO.

_Printed in the United States of America_



[Illustration: Agnes stooped lower and shot up the course, passing Trix
not three yards from the line.]



CONTENTS


       I A Goat, Four Girls, and a Pig

      II The White-headed Boy

     III The Pig is Important

      IV Neale O'Neil Gets Established

       V Crackers--and a Toothache

      VI Agnes Loses Her Temper and Dot Her Tooth

     VII Neale in Disguise

    VIII Introductions

      IX Popocatepetl in Mischief

       X The Ice Storm

      XI The Skating Race

     XII The Christmas Party

    XIII The Barn Dance

     XIV Uncle Rufus' Story of the Christmas Goose

      XV Sadie Goronofsky's Bank

     XVI A Quartette of "Lady Bountifuls"

    XVII "That Circus Boy!"

   XVIII Snowbound

     XIX The Enchanted Castle

      XX Trix Severn in Peril

     XXI A Backyard Circus

    XXII Mr. Sorber

   XXIII Taming a Lion Tamer

    XXIV Mr. Murphy Takes a Hand

     XXV A Bright Future



THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AT SCHOOL



CHAPTER I

A GOAT, FOUR GIRLS, AND A PIG


When Sam Pinkney brought Billy Bumps over to the old Corner House, and
tied him by the corner of the woodshed, there was at once a family
conclave called. Sam was never known to be into anything but mischief;
therefore when he gravely presented the wise looking old goat to Tess,
suspicion was instantly aroused in the Kenway household that there was
something beside good will behind Master Sam's gift.

"Beware of the Greeks when they come bearing gifts," Agnes freely
translated.

"But you know very well, Aggie, Sammy Pinkney is not a Greek. He's
Yankee--like us. That's a Greek man that sells flowers down on Main
Street," said Tess, with gravity.

"What I said is allegorical," pronounced Agnes, loftily.

"We know Allie Neuman--Tess and me," ventured Dot, the youngest of the
Corner House girls. "She lives on Willow Street beyond Mrs. Adams'
house, and she is going to be in my grade at school."

"Oh, fine, Ruth!" cried Agnes, the twelve-year-old, suddenly seizing the
eldest sister and dancing her about the big dining-room. "Won't it be
just _fine_ to get to school again?"

"Fine for me," admitted Ruth, who had missed nearly two years of school
attendance, and was now going to begin again in her proper grade at the
Milton High School.

"Eva Larry says we'll have the very nicest teacher there is--Miss
Shipman. This is Eva's last year in grammar school, too, you know. We'll
graduate together," said Agnes.

Interested as Tess and Dot were in the prospect of attending school in
Milton for the first time, just now they had run in to announce the
arrival of Mr. Billy Bumps.

"And a very suggestive name, I must say," said Ruth, reflectively. "I
don't know about that Pinkney boy. Do you suppose he is playing a joke
on you, Tess?"

"Why, no!" cried the smaller girl. "How could he? _For the goat's
there._"

"Maybe that's the joke," suggested Agnes.

"Well, we'll go and see him," said Ruth. "But there must be some reason
beside good-will that prompted that boy to give you such a present."

"I know," Dot said, solemnly.

"What is it, Chicken-little?" demanded the oldest sister, pinching the
little girl's cheek.

"Their new minister," proclaimed Dot.

"Their _what_?" gasped Agnes.

"Who, dear?" asked Ruth.

"Mrs. Pinkney's new minister. She goes to the Kaplan Chapel," said Dot,
gravely, "and they got a new minister there. He came to call at Mrs.
Pinkney's and the goat wasn't acquainted with him."

"Oh-ho!" giggled Agnes. "Light on a dark subject."

"Who told you, child?" asked Tess, rather doubtfully.

"Holly Pease. And she said that Billy Bumps butted the new minister
right through the cellar window--the coal window."

"My goodness!" ejaculated Ruth. "Did it hurt him?"

"They'd just put in their winter's coal, and he went head first into
that," said Dot. "So he didn't fall far. But he didn't dare go out of
the house again until Sam came home after school and shut Billy up.
Holly says Billy Bumps camped right outside the front door and kept the
minister a prisoner."

The older girls were convulsed with laughter at this tale, but Ruth
repeated: "We might as well go and see him. If he is _very_ savage----"

"Oh, he isn't!" cried Tess and Dot together. "He's just as tame!"

The four sisters started for the yard, but in the big kitchen Mrs.
MacCall stopped them. Mrs. MacCall was housekeeper and she mothered the
orphaned Kenway girls and seemed much nearer to them than Aunt Sarah
Maltby, who sat most of her time in the big front room upstairs, seldom
speaking to her nieces.

Mrs. MacCall was buxom, gray-haired--and every hair was martialed just
_so_, and all imprisoned in a cap when the good lady was cooking. She
was looking out of one of the rear windows when the girls trooped
through.

"For the land sakes!" ejaculated Mrs. MacCall. "What's that goat doing
in our yard?"

"It's our goat," explained Tess.

_"What?"_

"Yes, ma'am," said Dot, seriously. "He's a very nice goat. He has a real
noble beard--don't you think?"

"A goat!" repeated Mrs. MacCall. "What next? A goat is the very last
thing I could ever find a use for in this world. But I s'pose the
Creator knew what He was about when He made them."

"I think they're lots of fun," said roly-poly Agnes, giggling again.

"Fun! Ah! what's that he's eatin' this very minute?" screamed Mrs.
MacCall, and she started for the door.

She led the way to the porch, and immediately plunged down the steps
into the yard. "My stocking!" she shrieked. "The very best pair I own.
Oh, dear! Didn't I say a goat was a perfectly useless thing?"

It was a fact that a limp bit of black rag hung out of the side of Billy
Bumps' mouth. A row of stockings hung on a line stretched from the
corner of the woodshed and the goat had managed to reach the first in
the row.

"Give it up, you beast!" exclaimed Mrs. MacCall, and grabbed the toe of
the stocking just as it was about to disappear.

She yanked and Billy disgorged the hose. He had chewed it to pulp,
evidently liking the taste of the dye. Mrs. MacCall threw the thing from
her savagely and Billy lowered his head, stamped his feet, and
threatened her with his horns.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Mrs. MacCall!" cried Ruth, soothingly.

"That won't bring back my stocking," declared the housekeeper. "Half a
pair of stockings--humph! that's no good to anybody, unless it's a
person with a wooden leg."

"I'll get you a new pair, Mrs. MacCall," said Tess. "Of course, I'm sort
of responsible for Billy, for he was given to me."

"You'll be bankrupt, I'm afraid, Tess," chuckled Agnes, "if you try to
make good for all the damage a goat can do."

"But it won't cost much to keep him," said Tess, eagerly. "You know,
they live on tin cans, and scraps, and thistles, and all sorts of
_cheap_ things."

"Those stockings weren't cheap," declared the housekeeper as she took
her departure. "They cost seventy-five cents."

"Half your month's allowance, Tess," Dot reminded her, with awe. "Oh,
dear, me! Maybe Billy Bumps will be expensive, after all."

"Say! Ruth hasn't said you can keep him yet," said Agnes. "He looks
dangerous to me. He has a bad eye."

"Why! he's just as kind!" cried Tess, and immediately walked up to the
old goat. At once Billy stopped shaking his head, looked up, and bleated
softly. He was evidently assured of the quality of Tess Kenway's
kindness.

"He likes me," declared Tess, with conviction.

"Glo-ree!" ejaculated a deep and unctuous voice, on the heels of Tess'
declaration. "Wha's all dis erbout--heh! Glo-ree! Who done let dat goat
intuh disher yard? Ain' dat Sam Pinkney's ol' Billy?"

A white-haired, broadly smiling old negro, stooped and a bit lame with
rheumatism, but otherwise spry, came from the rear premises of the old
Corner House, and stopped to roll his eyes, first glancing at the
children and then at the goat.

"Whuffor all disher combobberation? Missee Ruth! Sho' ain' gwine tuh
take dat ole goat tuh boa'd, is yo'?"

"I don't know what to do, Uncle Rufus," declared Ruth Kenway, laughing,
yet somewhat disturbed in her mind. She was a dark, straight-haired
girl, with fine eyes and a very intelligent face. She was not pretty
like Agnes; yet she was a very attractive girl.

"Oh! we want to keep him!" wailed Dot. She, too, boldly approached Billy
Bumps. It seemed as though the goat knew both the smaller Kenway girls,
for he did not offer to draw away from them.

"I 'spect Mr. Pinkney made dat Sam git rid ob de ole goat," grumbled
Uncle Rufus, who was a very trustworthy servant and had lived for years
at the old Corner House before the four Kenway sisters came to dwell
there. "I reckon he's a bad goat," added the old man.

"He doesn't look very wicked just now," suggested Agnes.

"But where can we keep a goat?" demanded Ruth.

"Dot used to think one lived in the garret," said Tess, smiling. "But it
was only a ghost folks thought lived there--and we know there aren't any
such things as ghosts _now_."

"Don' yo' go tuh 'spressin' ob you' 'pinion too frequent erbout sperits,
chile," warned Uncle Rufus, rolling his eyes again. "Dere may hab been
no ghos' in de garret; but dere's ghos'es somewhars--ya-as'm. Sho' is!"

"I don't really see how we can keep him," said Ruth again.

"Oh, sister!" cried Tess.

"Poor, dear Billy Bumps!" exclaimed Dot, with an arm around the short,
thick neck of the goat.

"If yo' lets me 'spressify maself," said Uncle Rufus, slowly, "I'd say
dat mebbe I could put him in one oh de hen runs. We don't need 'em both
jest now."

"Goody!" cried Tess and Dot, clapping their hands. "Let's, Ruthie!"

The older sister's doubts were overborne. She agreed to the proposal,
while Agnes said:

"We might as well have a goat. We have a pig 'most every day. That pig
of Mr. Con Murphy's is always coming under the fence and tearing up the
garden. A goat could do no more harm."

"But we don't want the place a menagerie," objected Ruth.

Dot said, gravely, "Maybe the goat and the pig will play together, and
so the pig won't do so much damage."

"The next time that pig comes in here, I'm going right around to Mr. Con
Murphy and complain," declared Agnes, with emphasis.

"Oh! we don't want to have trouble with any neighbor," objected Ruth,
quickly.

"My! you'd let folks ride right over you," said Agnes, with scorn for
Ruth's timidity.

"I don't think that poor cobbler, Mr. Murphy, will ride over me--unless
he rides on his pig," laughed Ruth, as she followed Mrs. MacCall
indoors.

Tess had an idea and she was frank to express it. "Uncle Rufus, this
goat is very strong. Can't you fashion a harness and some kind of a cart
for him so that we can take turns riding--Dot and me? He used to draw
Sam Pinkney."

"Glo-ree!" grumbled the colored man again. "I kin see where I got my
han's full wid disher goat--I do!"

"But you _can_, Uncle Rufus?" said Tess.

"Oh, yes, chile. I s'pect so. But fust off let me git him shut up in de
hen-yard, else he'll be eatin' up de hull ob Mis' MacCall's
wash--ya'as'm!"

The poultry pens were fenced with strong woven wire, and one of them was
not in use. Into this enclosure Mr. Billy Bumps was led. When the strap
was taken off, he made a dive for Uncle Rufus, but the darky was nimble,
despite his years.

"Yo' butt me, yo' horned scalawag!" gasped the old colored man, when
once safe on the outside of the pen, "an' I won't gib yo' nottin' ter
chew on but an old rubber boot fo' de nex' week--dat's what I'll do."

The old Corner House, as the Stower homestead was known to Milton folk,
stood facing Main Street, its side yard running back a long way on
Willow Street. It was a huge colonial mansion, with big pillars in
front, and two wings thrown out behind. For years before the Kenway
girls and Aunt Sarah Maltby had come here to live, the premises
outside--if not within--had been sadly neglected.

But energetic Ruth Kenway had insisted upon trimming the lawn and
hedges, planting a garden, repairing the summer-house, and otherwise
making neat the appearance of the dilapidated old place.

On the Main Street side of the estate the property of Mr. Creamer joined
the Corner House yard, but the Creamer property did not extend back as
far as that of the Stower place. In the corner at the rear the tiny yard
of Con Murphy touched the big place. Mr. Murphy was a cobbler, who held
title to a small house and garden on a back street.

This man owned a pig--a very friendly pig. Of that pig, more later!

Perhaps it was the fruit that attracted the pig into the Stower yard.
The Kenway girls had had plenty of cherries, peaches, apples, pears, and
small fruit all through the season. There were still some late peaches
ripening, and when Agnes Kenway happened to open her eyes early, the
very next morning after the goat came to live with them, she saw the
blushing beauty of these peaches through the open window of the ell room
she shared with Ruth.

Never had peaches looked so tempting! The tree was a tall seedling, and
the upper branches hung their burden near the open window.

All the lower limbs had been stripped by Uncle Rufus. But the old man
could not reach these at the top of the tree.

"It will be a mean shame for them to get ripe and fall off," thought
Agnes. "I believe I can reach them."

Up she hopped and slipped into her bathrobe. Just enough cool air
entered the room to urge her to pull on her hose and slip her feet into
slippers.

The window was at the back of the big house, away from the Willow Street
side, and well protected from observation (so Agnes thought) by the
shrubbery.

Below the window was a narrow ledge which ran around the house under the
second story windows. It took the reckless girl but a moment to get out
upon this ledge. To tell the truth she had tried this caper before--but
never at such an early hour.

Clinging to the window frame, she leaned outward, and grasped with her
other hand a laden, limb. The peaches were right before her; but she
could not pluck them.

"Oh! if I only had a third hand," cried Agnes, aloud.

Then, recklessly determined to reach the fruit, she let go of the window
frame and stretched her hand for the nearest blushing peach. To her
horror she found her body swinging out from the side of the house!

Her weight bore against the limb, and pushed it farther and farther away
from the house-wall; Agnes' peril was plain and imminent. Unable to
seize the window frame again and draw herself back, she was about to
fall between the peach tree and the side of the house!



CHAPTER II

THE WHITE-HEADED BOY


"The Corner House Girls," as they had come to be known to Milton folk,
and as they are known to the readers of the first volume of this series,
had occupied the great mansion opposite the lower end of the Parade
Ground, since the spring before.

They had come from Bloomingsburg, where their father and mother had
died, leaving them without guardianship. But when Uncle Peter Stower
died and left most of his property to his four nieces, Mr. Howbridge,
the lawyer, had come for the Kenway sisters and established them in the
old Corner House.

Here they had spent the summer getting acquainted with Milton folk
(making themselves liked by most of the neighbors), and gradually
getting used to their changed circumstances.

For in Bloomingsburg the Kenways had lived among very poor people, and
were very poor themselves. Now they were very fortunately conditioned,
having a beautiful home, plenty of money to spend (under the direction
of Mr. Howbridge) and the opportunity of making many friends.

With them, to the old mansion, had come Aunt Sarah Maltby. Really, she
was no relation at all to the Kenway girls, but she had lived with them
ever since they could remember.

In her youth Aunt Sarah had lived in the old Corner House, so this
seemed like home to her. Uncle Rufus had served the aforetime owner of
the place for many years, too; so _he_ was at home here. And as for Mrs.
MacCall, she had come to help Ruth and her sisters soon after their
establishment in the old Corner House, and by this time had grown to be
indispensable.

This was the household, saving Sandyface, the cat, and her four
kittens--Spotty, Almira, Popocatepetl and Bungle. And now there was the
goat, Mr. Billy Bumps.

Ruth was an intellectual looking girl--so people said. She had little
color, and her black hair was "stringy"--which she hated! Now that she
was no longer obliged to consider the expenditure of each dollar so
carefully, the worried look about her big brown eyes, and the
compression of her lips, had relaxed. For two years Ruth had been the
head of the household and it had made her old before her time.

She was only a girl yet, however; her sixteenth birthday was not long
behind her. She liked fun and was glad of the release from much of her
former care. And when she laughed, her eyes were brilliant and her mouth
surprisingly sweet.

The smaller girls--Tess (nobody ever called her Theresa) and
Dorothy--were both pretty and lively. Dot was Ruth in miniature, a
little, fairy-like brunette. Tess, who was ten, had a very kind heart
and was tactful. She had some of Ruth's dignity and more of Agnes' good
looks.

The twelve year old--the fly-away--the irrepressible--what shall we say
about her? That she laughed easily, cried stormily, was always playing
pranks, rather tomboyish, affectionate--utterly thoughtless----

Well, there is Agnes, out of the bedroom window in her bathrobe and
slippers just at dawn, with the birds chirping their first chorus, and
not a soul about (so she supposed) to either see or help her in her
sudden predicament.

She really was in danger; there was no doubt of it. A scream for help
would not bring Ruth in time; and it was doubtful if her older sister
could do anything to help her.

"Oh--_oh_--OH!" gasped Agnes, in crescendo. "I--am--go--ing--to--fall!"

And on the instant--the very sweetest sound Agnes Kenway had ever heard
(she admitted this fact afterward)--a boy's voice ejaculated:

"No you're not! Hang on for one minute!"

The side gate clicked. Feet scurried across the lawn, and under her as
she glanced downward, Agnes saw a slim, white-faced youth appear. He had
white hair, too; he was a regular tow-head. He was dressed in a shiny
black suit that was at least two full sizes too small for him. The
trousers hitched above his shoe-tops and the sleeves of his jacket were
so short that they displayed at least four inches of wrist.

Agnes took in these points on the instant--before she could say another
word. The boy was a stranger to her; she had never seen him before.

But he went to work just as though he had been introduced! He flung off
his cap and stripped off the jacket, too, in a twinkling. It seemed to
Agnes as though he climbed up the tree and reached the limb she clung to
as quickly as any cat.

He flung up his legs, wound them about the butt of the limb like two
black snakes, and seized Agnes' wrists. "Swing free--I've got you!" he
commanded.

Agnes actually obeyed. There was something impelling in his voice; but
likewise she felt that there was sufficient strength in those hands that
grasped her wrists, to hold her.

Her feet slipped from the ledge and she shot down. The white-haired boy
swung out, too, but they did not fall as Agnes agonizingly expected,
after she had trusted herself to the unknown.

There was some little shock, but not much; their bodies swung clear of
the tree--he with his head down, and she with her slippered feet almost
touching the wet grass.

"All right?" demanded the white-head. "Let go!"

He dropped her. She stood upright, and unhurt, but swayed a little,
weakly. The next instant he was down and stood, breathing quickly,
before her.

"Why--why--why!" gasped Agnes. Just like that! "Why, you did that just
like a circus."

Oddly enough the white-haired boy scowled and a dusky color came slowly
into his naturally pale cheek.

"What do you say that for?" he asked, dropping his gaze, and picking up
his cap and jacket. "What do you mean--circus?"

"Why," said Agnes, breathlessly, "just like one of those acrobats that
fly over the heads of the people, and do all those curious things in the
air----Why! you know."

"How do I know?" demanded the boy, quite fiercely.

It became impressed upon Agnes' mind that the stranger was angry. She
did not know why, and she only felt gratitude--and curiosity--toward
him.

"Didn't you ever go to a circus?" she asked, slowly.

The boy hesitated. Then he said, bluntly: "No!" and Agnes knew it was
the truth, for he looked now unwaveringly into her eyes.

"My! you've missed a lot," she breathed. "So did we till this summer.
Then Mr. Howbridge took us to one of those that came to Milton."

"What circus was it you went to?" the boy asked, quickly.

"Aaron Wall's Magnificent Double Show," repeated Agnes, carefully.
"There was another came--Twomley & Sorter's Herculean Circus and
Menagerie; but we didn't see that one."

The boy listened as though he considered the answer of some importance.
At the end he sighed. "No; I never went to a circus," he repeated.

"But you're just wonderful," Agnes declared. "I never saw a boy like
you."

"And I never saw a girl like you," returned the white-haired boy, and
his quick grin made him look suddenly friendly. "What did you crawl out
of that window for?"

"To get a peach."

"Did you get it?"

"No. It was just out of reach, after all. And then I leaned too far."

The boy was looking up quizzically at the high-hung fruit. "If you want
it awfully bad?" he suggested.

"There's more than one," said Agnes, giggling. "And you're welcome to
all you can pick."

"Do you mean it?" he shot in, at once casting cap and jacket on the
ground again.

"Yes. Help yourself. Only toss me down one."

"This isn't a joke, now?" the boy asked. "You've got a _right_ to tell
me to take 'em?"

"Oh, mercy! Yes!" ejaculated Agnes. "Do you think I'd tell a story?"

"I don't know," he said, bluntly.

"Well! I like _that_!" cried Agnes, with some vexation.

"I don't know you and you don't know me," said the boy. "Everybody that
I meet doesn't tell me the truth. So now!"

"Do _you_ always tell the truth?" demanded Agnes, shrewdly.

Again the boy flushed, but there was roguishness in his brown eyes. "I
don't _dare_ tell it--sometimes," he said.

"Well, there's nobody to scare _me_ into story-telling," said Agnes,
loftily, deciding that she did not like this boy so well, after all.

"Oh, I'll risk it--for the peaches," said the white-haired boy, coming
back to the--to him--principal subject of discussion, and immediately he
climbed up the tree.

Agnes gasped again. "My goodness!" she thought. "I know Sandyface
couldn't go up that tree any quicker--not even with Sam Pinkney's
bulldog after her."

He was a slim boy and the limbs scarcely bent under his weight--not even
when he was in the top of the tree. He seemed to know just how to
balance himself, while standing there, and fearlessly used both hands to
pick the remaining fruit.

Two of the biggest, handsomest peaches he dropped, one after the other,
into the lap of Agnes' thick bath-gown as she held it up before her. The
remainder of the fruit he bestowed about his own person, dropping it
through the neck of his shirt until the peaches quite swelled out its
fullness all about his waist. His trousers were held in place by a stout
strap, instead of by suspenders.

He came down from the tree as easily as he had climbed it--and with the
peaches intact.

"They must have a fine gymnasium at the school where you go," said
Agnes, admiringly.

"I never went to school," said the boy, and blushed again.

Agnes was very curious. She had already established herself on the porch
step, wrapped the robe closely around her, shook her two plaits back
over her shoulders, and now sunk her teeth into the first peach. With
her other hand she beckoned the white-haired boy to sit down beside her.

"Come and eat them," she said. "Breakfast won't be ready for ever and
ever so long yet."

The boy removed the peaches he had picked, and made a little pyramid of
them on the step. Then he put on his jacket and cap before he accepted
her invitation. Meanwhile Agnes was eating the peach and contemplating
him gravely.

She had to admit, now that she more closely inspected them, that the
white-haired boy's garments were extremely shabby. Jacket and trousers
were too small for him, as she had previously observed. His shirt was
faded, very clean, and the elbows were patched. His shoes were broken,
but polished brightly.

When he bit into the first peach his eye brightened and he ate the fruit
greedily. Agnes believed he must be very hungry, and for once the
next-to-the-oldest Kenway girl showed some tact.

"Will you stay to breakfast with us?" she asked. "Mrs. MacCall always
gets up at six o'clock. And Ruth will want to see you, too. Ruth's the
oldest of us Kenways."

"Is this a boarding-house?" asked the boy, seriously.

"Oh, no!"

"It's big enough."

"I 'spect it is," said Agnes. "There are lots of rooms we never use."

"Could--could a feller get to stay here?" queried the white-haired boy.

"Oh! I don't know," gasped Agnes. "You--you'd have to ask Ruth. And Mr.
Howbridge, perhaps."

"Who's he?" asked the boy, suspiciously.

"Our lawyer."

"Does he live here?"

"Oh, no. There isn't any man here but Uncle Rufus. He's a colored man
who lived with Uncle Peter who used to own this house. Uncle Peter gave
it to us Kenway girls when he died."

"Oh! then you own it?" asked the boy.

"Mr. Howbridge is the executor of the estate; but we four Kenway
girls--and Aunt Sarah--have the income from it. And we came to live in
this old Corner House almost as soon as Uncle Peter Stower died."

"Then you could take boarders if you wanted to?" demanded the
white-haired boy, sticking to his proposition like a leech.

"Why--maybe--I'd ask Ruth----"

"I'd pay my way," said the boy, sharply, and flushing again. She could
see that he was a very proud boy, in spite of his evident poverty.

"I've got some money saved. I'd earn more--after school. I'm going to
school across the Parade Ground there--when it opens. I've already seen
the superintendent of schools. He says I belong in the highest grammar
grade."

"Why!" cried Agnes, "that's the grade _I_ am going into."

"I'm older than you are," said the boy, with that quick, angry flush
mounting into his cheeks. "I'm fifteen. But I never had a chance to go
to school."

"That is too bad," said Agnes, sympathetically. She saw that he was
eager to enter school and sympathized with him on that point, for she
was eager herself.

"We'll have an awfully nice teacher," she told him. "Miss Shipman."

Just then Ruth appeared at the upper window and looked down upon them.



CHAPTER III

THE PIG IS IMPORTANT


"My goodness! what are you doing down there, Aggie?" demanded Ruth. "And
who's that with you!"

"I--I got up to get a peach, Ruthie," explained Agnes, rather
stammeringly. "And I asked the boy to have one, too."

Ruth, looking out of the bedroom window, expressed her amazement at this
statement by a long, blank stare at her sister and the white-haired boy.
Agnes felt that there was further explanation due from her.

"You see," she said, "he--he just saved my life--perhaps."

"How is that?" gasped Ruth. "Were you going to eat _all_ those peaches
by yourself! They might have killed you, that's a fact."

"No, no!" cried Agnes, while the boy's face flushed up darkly again. "He
saved me from falling out of the tree."

"Out of the tree? _This_ tree!" demanded Ruth. "How did you get into
it?"

"From--from the window."

"Goodness! you never! And with your bathrobe on!" ejaculated Ruth, her
eyes opening wider.

As an "explainer," Agnes was deficient. But she tried to start the story
all over again. "Hush!" commanded Ruth, suddenly. "Wait till I come
down. We'll have everybody in the house awake, and it is too early."

She disappeared and the boy looked doubtfully at Agnes. "Is she the
oldest sister you spoke of?"

"Yes. That's Ruth."

"She's kind of bossy, isn't she?"

"Oh! but we like to be bossed by Ruthie. She's just like mother was to
us," declared Agnes.

"I shouldn't think you'd like it," growled the white-haired boy. "I hate
to be bossed--and I won't be, either!"

"You have to mind in school," said Agnes, slowly.

"That's another thing," said the boy. "But I wouldn't let another boy
boss me."

In five minutes Ruth was down upon the back porch, too. She was neat and
fresh and smiling. When Ruth smiled, dimples came at the corners of her
mouth and the laughter jumped right out of her eyes at you in a most
unexpected way. The white-haired boy evidently approved of her, now that
he saw her close to.

"Tell me how it happened!" commanded Ruth of her sister, and Agnes did
so. In the telling the boy lost nothing of courage and dexterity, you
may be sure!

"Why, that's quite wonderful!" cried Ruth, smiling again at the boy. "It
was awfully rash of you, Aggie, but it was providential this--this--You
haven't told me his name?"

"Why! I don't know it myself," confessed Agnes.

"And after all he did for you!" exclaimed Ruth, in admonition.

"Aw--it wasn't anything," growled the boy, with all the sex's objection
to being thought a hero.

"You must be very strong--a regular athlete," declared Ruth.

"Any other boy could do it."

"No!"

"If he knew how," limited the white-haired boy.

"And how did you learn so much!" asked Ruth, curiously.

Again the red flushed into his pale face. "Practicin'. That's all," he
said, rather doggedly.

"Won't you tell us who you are?" asked Ruth, feeling that the boy was
keeping up a wall between them.

"Neale O'Neil."

"Do you live in Milton?"

"I do now."

"But I never remember seeing you before," Ruth said, puzzled.

"I only came to stay yesterday," confessed the boy, and once more he
grinned and his eyes were roguish.

"Oh! then your folks have just moved in?"

"I haven't any folks."

"No family at all?"

"No, ma'am," said Neale O'Neil, rather sullenly Ruth thought

"You are not all alone--a boy like you?"

"Why not?" demanded he, tartly. "I'm 'most as old as you are."

"But _I_ am not all alone," said Ruth, pleasantly. "I have the girls--my
sisters; and I have Aunt Sarah--and Mr. Howbridge."

"Well, I haven't anybody," confessed Neale O'Neil, rather gloomily.

"You surely have some friends?" asked Ruth, not only curious, but
sympathetic.

"Not here. I'm alone, I tell you." Yet he did not speak so ungratefully
now. It was impressed upon his mind that Ruth's questions were friendly.
"And I am going to school here. I've got some money saved up. I want to
find a boarding place where I can part pay my board, perhaps, by working
around. I can do lots of things."

"I see. Look after furnaces, and clean up yards, and all that?"

"Yes," said the boy, with heightened interest. "This other one--your
sister--says you have plenty of empty rooms in this big house. Would you
take a boarder?"

"Goodness me! I never thought of such a thing."

"You took in that Mrs. Treble and Double Trouble," whispered Agnes, who
rather favored the suit of the white-haired boy.

"They weren't boarders," Ruth breathed.

"No. But you could let him come just as well." To tell the truth, Agnes
had always thought that "a boy around the house would be awfully
handy"--and had often so expressed herself. Dot had agreed with her,
while Ruth and Tess held boys in general in much disfavor.

Neale O'Neil had stood aside, not listening, but well aware that the
sisters were discussing his suggestion. Finally he flung in: "I ain't
afraid to work. And I'm stronger than I look."

"You _must_ be strong, Neale," agreed Ruth, warmly, "if you did what
Aggie says you did. But we have Uncle Rufus, and he does most
everything, though he's old. I don't just know what to say to you."

At that moment the sound of a sash flung up at the other side of the ell
startled the three young folk. Mrs. MacCall's voice sounded sharply on
the morning air:

"That pig! in that garden again! Shoo! Shoo, you beast! I wish you'd eat
yourself to death and then maybe your master would keep you home!"

"Oh, oh, oh!" squealed Agnes. "Con Murphy's pig after our cabbages!"

"That pig again?" echoed Ruth, starting after the flying Agnes.

The latter forgot how lightly she was shod, and before she was half-way
across the lawn her feet and ankles were saturated with dew.

"You'll get sopping wet, Aggie!" cried Ruth, seeing the bed slippers
flopping, half off her sister's feet.

"Can't help it now," stammered Agnes. "Got to get that pig! Oh, Ruth!
the hateful thing!"

The cobbler's porker was a freebooter of wide experience. The old Corner
House yard was not the only forbidden premises he roved in. He always
dug a new hole under the fence at night, and appeared early in the
morning, roving at will among the late vegetables in Ruth's garden.

He gave a challenging grunt when he heard the girls, raised his head,
and his eyes seemed fairly to twinkle as he saw their wild attack. A
cabbage leaf hung crosswise in his jaws and he continued to champ upon
it reflectively as he watched the enemy.

"Shoo! Shoo!" shouted Agnes.

"That pig is possessed," moaned Ruth. "He's taken the very one I was
going to have Uncle Rufus cut for our Saturday's dinner."

Seeing that the charging column numbered but two girls, the pig tossed
his head, uttered a scornful grunt, and started slowly out of the
garden. He was in no hurry. He had grown fat on these raids, and he did
not propose to lose any of the avoirdupois thus gained, by hurrying.

Leisurely he advanced toward the boundary fence. There was the fresh
earth where he had rooted out of Mr. Con Murphy's yard into this larger
and freer range.

Suddenly, to his piggish amazement, another figure--a swiftly flying
figure--got between him and his way of escape. The pig stopped, snorted,
threw up his head--and instantly lost all his calmness of mind.

"Oh, that boy!" gasped Ruth.

Neale O'Neil was in the pig's path, and he bore a stout fence-picket.
For the first time in his experience in raiding these particular
premises, his pigship had met with a foe worthy of his attention. Four
girls, an old lady, and an ancient colored retainer, in giving chase
heretofore, merely lent spice to the pig's buccaneering ventures.

He dashed forward with a sudden grunt, but the slim boy did not dodge.
Instead he brought that picket down with emphasis upon the pig's snout.

"Wee! wee! wee!" shrieked the pig, and dashed headlong down the yard,
blind to anything but pain and immediate escape.

"Oh! don't hurt him!" begged Ruth.

But Agnes had caught her sister around the neck and was hanging upon
her, weak with laughter. "Did you hear him? Did you hear him?" she
gasped. "He's French, and all the time I thought he was Irish. Did you
hear how plain he said 'Yes,' with a pure Parisian accent?"

"Oh, Neale!" cried Ruth again. "Don't hurt him!"

"No; but I'll scare him so he won't want to come in here again in a
hurry," declared the boy.

"Let the boy alone, Ruth," gasped Agnes. "I have no sympathy for the
pig."

The latter must have felt that everybody was against him. He could look
nowhere in the enemy's camp for sympathy. He dove several times at the
fence, but every old avenue of escape had been closed. And that boy with
the picket was between him and the hole by which he had entered.

Finally he headed for the hen runs. There was a place in the fence of
the farther yard where Uncle Rufus had been used to putting a trough of
feed for the poultry. The empty trough was still there, but when the pig
collided with it, it shot into the middle of the apparently empty yard.
The pig followed it, scrouging under the fence, and squealing
intermittently.

"There!" exclaimed Neale O'Neil. "Why not keep him in that yard and make
his owner pay to get him home again?"

"Oh! I couldn't ask poor Mr. Murphy for money," said Ruth, giving an
anxious glance at the little cottage over the fence. She expected every
moment to hear the cobbler coming to the rescue of his pet.

And the pig did not propose to remain impounded. He dashed to the
boundary fence and found an aperture. Through it he caught a glimpse of
home and safety.

But the hole was not quite deep enough. Head and shoulders went through
all right; but there his pigship stuck.

There was a scurrying across the cobbler's yard, but the Kenway girls
and their new friend did not hear this. Instead, they were startled by a
sudden rattling of hoofs in a big drygoods box that stood inside the
poultry pen.

"What's that?" demanded Neale O'Neil.

"It's--it's Billy Bumps!" shrieked Agnes.

Out of the box dashed the goat. The opening fronted the boundary fence,
beneath which the pig was stuck. Perhaps Billy Bumps took the rapidly
curling and uncurling tail of the pig for a challenging banner. However
that might be, he lowered his head and catapulted himself across the
yard as true as a bullet for the target.

Slam! the goat landed just where it seemed to do the most good, for the
remainder of the pig shot through the aperture in the board fence on the
instant. One more affrighted squeal the pig uttered, and then:

"Begorra! 'Tis ivry last brith in me body ye've knocked out," came from
the other side of the fence.

"Oh, Agnes!" gasped Ruth, as the sisters clung together, weak from
laughter. "That pig can't be French after all; for that's as broad an
Irish brogue as ever I heard!"



CHAPTER IV

NEALE O'NEIL GETS ESTABLISHED


Perhaps Billy Bumps was as much amazed as anybody when he heard what
seemed to be the pig expressing his dissatisfaction in a broad Irish
brogue on the other side of the fence.

The old goat's expression was indeed comical. He backed away from the
hole through which he had just shot the raider head-first, shook his own
head, stamped, and seemed to listen intently to the hostile language.

"Be th' powers! 'Tis a dirthy, mane thrick, so ut is! An' th' poor pig
kem t'roo th' hole like it was shot out of a gun."

"It's Mr. Murphy!" whispered Ruth, almost as much overcome with laughter
as Agnes herself.

Neale O'Neil was frankly amazed; but in a moment he, like the girls,
jumped to the right conclusion. The cobbler had run to the rescue of his
pet. He had seized it by the ears as it was trying to crowd under the
fence, and tugged, too. When old Billy Bumps had released his pigship,
the latter had bowled the cobbler over.

Mr. Con Murphy possessed a vocabulary of most forceful and picturesque
words, well colored with the brogue he had brought on his tongue from
"the ould dart." Mr. Murphy's "Irish was up" and when he got his breath,
which the pig had well nigh knocked out of him, the little old cobbler
gave his unrestrained opinion of the power that had shot the pig under
the fence.

Ruth could not allow the occurrence to end without an explanation. She
ran to the fence and peered over.

"Oh, Mr. Murphy!" she cried. "You're not really hurt?"

"For the love av mercy!" ejaculated the cobbler. "Niver tell me that
_youse_ was the one that pushed the pig through the fince that har-rd
that he kem near flyin' down me t'roat? Ye niver could have done it,
Miss Kenway--don't be tillin' me. Is it wan o' thim big Jarmyn guns
youse have got in there, that the pa-apers do be tillin' erbout?"

He was a comical looking old fellow at best, and out here at this early
hour, with only his trousers slipped on over his calico nightshirt, and
heelless slippers on his feet, he cut a curious figure indeed.

Mr. Con Murphy was a red-faced man, with a fringe of sandy whiskers all
around his countenance like a frame, having his lips, chin and cheeks
smoothly shaven. He had no family, lived alone in the cottage, and
worked very hard at his cobbler's bench.

"Why, Mr. Murphy!" cried Ruth. "Of course _I_ didn't push your pig
through the fence."

"It was Billy Bumps," giggled Agnes.

"Who is that, thin?" demanded Mr. Murphy, glaring at Neale O'Neil. "That
young felley standin' there, I dunno?"

"No. I only cracked your pig over the nose with this fence paling," said
the boy. "I wonder you don't keep the pig at home."

"Oh, ye do, do ye?" cried the little Irishman. "Would ye have me lock
him into me spare bedroom?"

"I would if he were mine--before I'd let him be a nuisance to the
neighbors," declared Neale O'Neil.

"Oh, Neale!" interposed Ruth. "You mustn't speak so. Of course the pig
is annoying----"

"He's a nuisance. Anybody can see that," said the boy, frankly.

"'Tis a smart lad ye ar-re," sneered Mr. Murphy. "Show me how ter kape
the baste at home. The fince is not mine, whativer ye say. If it isn't
strong enough to kape me pig out----"

"I'll fix it for you in half a day--if you'll pay me for it,"
interrupted Neale O'Neil.

"How will ye do ut? and how much will ye tax me?" queried the cautious
cobbler.

"I'd string a strand of barbed wire all along the bottom of the fence.
That will stop the pig from rooting, I'll be bound."

The old Irishman rubbed his chin reflectively. "'Twill cost a pretty
penny," he said.

"Then," said Neale O'Neil, winking at the girls, "let's turn Billy Bumps
loose, and the next time the pig comes in I hope he'll butt his head
off!"

"Hi!" shouted Mr. Murphy. "Who's this Billy Bumps ye air talkin' so fast
about?"

"That's our goat," explained Agnes, giggling.

Mr. Murphy's roving eyes caught sight of the billy, just then
reflectively nibbling an old shoe that had been flung into the pen.

"Is that the baste that shot me pig under the fince?" he yelped.

Billy Bumps raised his head, shook his venerable beard, and blatted at
the cobbler.

"He admits the accusation," chuckled Agnes.

"Shure," said Mr. Murphy, wagging his head, "if that thunderin' ould
pi-_rat_ of a goat ever gits a _good_ whack at me pig, he'd dr-rive him
through a knothole! Kem over and see me by and by, la-a-ad," he added,
to Neale, his eyes twinkling, "and we'll bargain about that barbed wire
job."

"I'll be over to see you, sir," promised the white-haired boy.

For Ruth had nudged his elbow and whispered: "You must stay to breakfast
with us, Neale."

The boy did so; but he successfully kept up that wall between the girls'
curiosity and his own private history. He frankly admitted that he had
gone hungry of late to save the little sum he had hoarded for the
opening of the Milton schools.

"For I'll have to buy some books--the superintendent told me so. And I
won't have so much time then to earn money for my keep," he said. "But I
am going to school whether I eat regularly, or not. I never had a chance
before."

"To eat?" asked Agnes, slily.

"Not like this!" declared Neale, laughing, as he looked about the
abundant table.

But without asking him point-blank just what his life had been, and why
he had never been to school, Ruth did not see how she was to learn more
than the white-haired boy wished to tell them.

The girls all liked him. Of course, Aunt Sarah, who was very odd, when
she came to table did not speak to the boy, and she glared at him
whenever he helped himself to one of Mrs. MacCall's light biscuit. But
the housekeeper appreciated the compliment he gave her cooking.

"I guess I don't make such bad biscuit after all," she said. "Sometimes
you girls eat so little at breakfast that I've thought my days for hot
bread making were over."

Neale blushed and stopped eating almost at once. Although frank to admit
his poverty, he did not like to make a display of his appetite.

Ruth had been thinking seriously of the proposition, and after breakfast
she told Neale that he might remain at the old Corner House--and
welcome--until he found just the place he desired.

"But I must pay you," said the boy, earnestly.

"We don't really need to be paid, Neale," said Ruth, warmly. "There are
so many empty rooms here, you know--and there is always enough for one
more at our table."

"I couldn't stop if I didn't do something to pay you," Neale said,
bluntly. "I'm no beggar."

"I tell you!" Ruth cried, having a happy thought. "You can help us clean
house. We must get it all done before school begins, so as to help Mrs.
MacCall. Uncle Rufus can't beat rugs, and lift and carry, like a younger
person."

"I'll do anything," promised Neale O'Neil. "But first I'll fix that
Irishman's fence so his pig can't root into your yard any more."

He was over at the cobbler's most of the day, but he showed up for the
noon dinner. Ruth had made him promise to come when he was called.

Mrs. MacCall insisted upon heaping his plate with the hearty food.
"Don't tell _me_," she said. "A boy's always hollow clean down to his
heels--and you're pretty tall for your age. It'll take some time to fill
you up properly."

"If I just let myself go, I really _can_ eat," admitted Neale O'Neil.
"And this is so much better cooking than I have been used to."

There it was again! Ruth and Agnes wanted--oh! _so_ much--to ask him
where he had lived, and with whom, that he had never before had proper
food given him. But although Neale was jolly, and free to speak about
everything else, the moment anything was suggested that might lead to
his explaining his previous existence, he shied just like an unbroken
colt.

"Just as if he didn't _have_ any existence at all," complained Agnes,
"before he ran through our side gate this morning, yelling to me to
'hold on.'"

"Never mind. We will win his confidence in time," Ruth said, in her
old-fashioned way.

"Even if he had done something----"

"Hush!" commanded Ruth. "Suppose somebody should hear? The children for
instance."

"Well! of course we don't really know anything about him."

"And I am sure he has not done anything very bad. He may be ashamed of
his former life, but I am sure it is not because of his own fault. He is
just very proud and, I think, very ambitious."

Of the last there could be no doubt. Neale O'Neil was not content to
remain idle at all. As soon as he had finished at Mr. Murphy's, he
returned to the old Corner House and beat rugs until it was time for
supper.

There was little wonder that his appetite seemed to increase rather than
diminish--he worked so hard!

"I don't believe you ever _did_ have enough to eat," giggled Agnes.

"I don't know that I ever did," admitted Neale.

"Suppose you should wake up in the night?" she suggested. "If you were
real hungry it would be dreadful. I think you'd better take some
crackers and cheese upstairs with, you when you go to bed."

Neale took this all in good temper, but Mrs. MacCall exclaimed,
suddenly:

"There! I knew there was something I forgot from the store to-day. Tess,
do you and Dot want to run over to Mr. Stetson's after supper and bring
me some crackers?"

"Of course we will, Mrs. MacCall," replied Tess.

"And I'll take my Alice-doll. She needs an airing," declared Dot. "Her
health isn't all that we might wish since that Lillie Treble buried her
alive."

"Buried her alive?" cried Neale. "Playing savages?"

"No," said Tess, gravely. "And she buried dried apples with her, too. It
was an awful thing, and we don't talk about it--much," she added, in a
whisper, with a nod toward Dot's serious face.

Out of this trip to the grocery arose a misunderstanding that was very
funny in the end. Ruth had chosen the very room, at the back of the
house, in which the lady from Ipsilanti and her little daughter had
slept, for the use of Neale O'Neil. After supper she had gone up there
to make the bed afresh, and she was there when Tess and Dorothy returned
home from the store, filled to the lips, and bursting, with a wonderful
piece of news.

"Oh, dear me, Ruthie!" cried Dot, being the leader, although her legs
were not the longest. "Did you know we all have to be _'scalloped_
before we can go to school here in Milton?"

"Be _what_?" gasped the oldest Kenway girl, smoothing up the coverlet of
the bed and preparing to plump the pillows.

"No," panted Tess, putting her bundle on the stand by the head of the
bed. "'Tisn't 'scalloped, Tess. It's vac--vacilation, I believe. Anyway,
it's some operation, and we all have to have it."

"Goodness me!" exclaimed Ruth, laughing. "We've all been vaccinated,
kiddies--and it wasn't such a dreadful operation, after all. All we'll
have to do is to show our arms to the doctor and he'll see we were
vaccinated recently."

"Well!" said Dot. "I knew it had something to do with that 'scallop mark
on my arm," and she tried to roll up the sleeve of her frock to see the
small but perfect scar that was the result of her vaccination.

They all left the room, laughing. Two hours later the house quieted
down, for the family had retired to their several rooms.

To Neale O'Neil, the waif, the big house was a very wonderful place. The
fine old furniture, the silver plate of which Uncle Rufus took such
loving care, the happy, merry girls, benevolent Mrs. MacCall and her odd
sayings, even Aunt Sarah with her grim manner, seemed creatures and
things of another world. For the white-haired boy had lived, since he
could remember, an existence as far removed from this quiet home-life at
the old Corner House, as could be imagined!

He told Agnes laughingly that he would be afraid to leave his room
during the night, for fear of getting lost in the winding passages, and
up and down the unexpected flights of stairs at the back of the house.

He heard the girls go away laughing when they had showed him to his
room. There was a gas-jet burning and he turned it up the better to see
the big apartment.

"Hullo! what's this?" Neale demanded, as he spied a paper bag upon the
stand.

He crossed to the head of the bed, and put his hand on the package.
There was no mistaking the contents of the bag at first touch.

Crackers!

"That's the fat girl!" exclaimed Neale, and for a moment he was really a
little angry with Agnes.

It was true, he _had_ gorged himself on Mrs. MacCall's good things. She
had urged him so, and he had really been on "short commons" for several
days. Agnes had suggested his taking crackers and cheese to bed with
him--and here was a whole bag of crackers!

He sat down a moment and glowered at the package. For one thing, he was
tempted to put on his cap and jacket and leave the Corner House at once.

But that would be childish. And Ruth had been so kind to him. He was
sure the oldest Kenway girl would never perpetrate such a joke.

"Of course, Aggie didn't mean to be unkind," he thought, at last, his
good judgment coming to his rescue. "I--I'd like to pay her back. I--I
will!"

He jumped up and went to the door, carrying the bag of crackers with
him. He opened the door and listened. Somewhere, far away, was the sound
of muffled laughter.

"I bet that's that Aggie girl!" he muttered, "and she's laughing at me."



CHAPTER V

CRACKERS--AND A TOOTHACHE


The arc light at the corner of Main Street vied with a faint moon in
illuminating the passages and corridors of the old Corner House. Deep
shadows lay in certain corners and at turns in the halls and staircases;
but Neale O'Neil was not afraid of the dark.

The distant laughter spurred him to find the girls' room. He wanted to
get square with Agnes, whom he believed had put the bag of crackers
beside his bed.

But suddenly a door slammed, and then there was a great silence over the
house. From the outside Neale could easily have identified the girls'
room. He had seen Aggie climb out of one of the windows of the chamber
in question that very morning.

But in a couple of minutes he had to acknowledge that he was completely
turned about in this house. He did not know that he had been put to
sleep in another wing from that in which the girls' rooms were situated.
Only Uncle Rufus slept in this wing besides himself, and he in another
story higher.

The white-haired boy came finally to the corridor leading to the main
staircase. This was more brilliantly lighted by the electric lamp on the
street. He stepped lightly forward and saw a faint light from a transom
over one of the front room doors.

"That's where those girls sleep, I bet!" whispered Neale to himself.

The transom was open. There was a little rustling sound within. Then the
light went out.

Neale broke the string and opened the bag of crackers. They were of the
thick, hard variety known in New England as "Boston" crackers. He took
out one and weighed it in his hand. It made a very proper missile.

With a single jerk of his arm he scaled the cracker through the open
transom. There was a slight scuffle within, following the cracker's
fall.

He paused a moment and then threw a second and a third. Each time the
rustling was repeated, and Neale kept up the bombardment believing that,
although the girls did not speak, the shower of crackers was falling
upon the guilty.

One after the other he flung the crackers through the transom until they
were all discharged. Not a sound now from the bombarded quarters.
Chuckling, Neale stole away, sure that he would have a big laugh on
Agnes in the morning.

But before he got back into his wing of the house, he spied a candle
with a girl in a pink kimono behind it.

"Whatever do you want out here, Neale O'Neil? A drink?"

It was Ruth. Neale was full of tickle over his joke, and he had to
relate it.

"I've just been paying off that smart sister of yours in her own coin,"
he chuckled.

"Which smart sister?"

"Why, Agnes."

"But how?"

Neale told her how he had found the bag of crackers on the table beside
his bed. "Nobody but Aggie would be up to such a trick, I know,"
chuckled Neale. "So I just pitched 'em all through the transom at her."

"What transom?" gasped Ruth, in dismay. "Where did you throw them?"

"Why, right through _that_ one," and Neale pointed. "Isn't that the room
you and Aggie occupy?"

"My goodness' sakes alive!" cried Ruth, awe-struck. "What _have_ you
done, Neale O'Neil? _That's Aunt Sarah's room._"

Ruth rushed to the door, tried it, found it unbolted, and ran in. Her
candle but dimly revealed the apartment; but it gave light enough to
show that Aunt Sarah was not in evidence.

Almost in the middle of the room stood the big "four-poster," with
canopy and counterpane, the fringe of which reached almost to the rag
carpet that covered the floor. A cracker crunched under Ruth's
slipper-shod foot. Indeed, crackers were everywhere! No part of the
room--save beneath the bed itself--had escaped the bombardment.

"Mercy on us!" gasped Ruth, and ran to the bed. She lifted a corner of
the counterpane and peered under. A pair of bare heels were revealed and
beyond them--supposedly--was the remainder of Aunt Sarah!

"Aunt Sarah! Aunt Sarah! do come out," begged Ruth.

"The ceilin's fallin', Niece Ruth," croaked the old lady. "This rickety
old shebang is a-fallin' to pieces at last. I allus told your Uncle
Peter it would."

"No, no, Aunt Sarah, it's all right!" cried Ruth. Then she remembered
Neale and knew if she told the story bluntly, Aunt Sarah would never
forgive the boy.

"Do, _do_ come out," she begged, meanwhile scrambling about, herself, to
pick up the crackers. She collected most of them that were whole easily
enough. But some had broken and the pieces had scattered far and wide.

With some difficulty the old lady crept out from under the far side of
the bed. She was ready to retire, her nightcap securely tied under her
chin, and all.

When Ruth, much troubled by a desire to laugh, asked her, she explained
that the first missile had landed upon her head while she was kneeling
beside the bed at her devotions.

"I got up and another of the things hit me on the ear," pursued Aunt
Sarah, short and sharp. "Another landed in the small of my back, and I
went over into that corner. But pieces of the ceiling were droppin' all
over and no matter where I got to, they hit me. So I dove under the
bed----"

"Oh! you poor, dear Auntie!"

"If the dratted ceilin's all comin' down, this ain't no place for us to
stay," quoth Aunt Sarah.

"I am sure it is all over," urged Ruth. "But if you'd like to go to
another room----?"

"And sleep in a bed that ain't been aired in a dog's age?" snapped Aunt
Sarah. "I guess not."

"Then, will you come and sleep with me? Aggie can go into the children's
room."

"No. If you are sure there ain't no more goin' to fall?"

"I am positive, Auntie."

"Then I'm going to bed," declared the old lady. "But I allus told Peter
this old place was bound to go to rack and ruin because o' his
miserliness."

Ruth waited till her aunt got into bed, where she almost at once fell
asleep. Then the girl scrambled for the remainder of the broken crackers
and carried them all out into the hall in the trash basket.

Neale O'Neil was sitting on the top step of the front stairs, waiting
for her appearance.

"Well! I guess I did it that time," he said. "She looked at me savage
enough to bite, at supper. What's she going to do now--have me arrested
and hung?" and he grinned suddenly.

"Oh, Neale!" gasped Ruth, overcome with laughter. "How could you?"

"I thought you girls were in there. I was giving Aggie her crackers
back," Neale grunted.

Ruth explained to him how the crackers had come to be left in his room.
Agnes had had nothing to do with it. "I guess the joke is on you, after
all, Neale," she said, obliged to laugh in the end.

"Or on that terrible old lady."

"But she doesn't know it is a joke. I don't know what she'll say
to-morrow when she sees that none of the ceiling has fallen."

Fortunately Aunt Sarah supplied an explanation herself--and nothing
could have shaken her belief in her own opinion. One of her windows was
dropped down half way from the top. She was sure that some "rascally
boy" outside (she glared at Neale O'Neil when she said it at the
breakfast table) had thrown crackers through the window. She had found
some of the crumbs.

"And I'll ketch him some day, and then----" She shook her head grimly
and relapsed into her accustomed silence.

So Neale did not have to confess his fault and try to make peace with
Aunt Sarah. It would have been impossible for him to do this last, Ruth
was sure.

But the story of the bag of crackers delighted Agnes. She teased Neale
about it unmercifully, and he showed himself to be better-natured and
more patient, than Ruth had at first supposed him to be.

The next few days following the appearance of Neale O'Neil at the old
Corner House were busy ones indeed. School would open the next week and
there was lots to do before that important event.

Brooms searched out dust, long-handled brushes searched out cobwebs, and
the first and second floors of the old Corner House were subjected to a
thorough renovation.

Above that the girls and Mrs. MacCall decided not to go. The third floor
rooms were scarcely ever entered, save by Sandyface and her kittens in
search of mice. As for the great garret that ran the full width of the
front of the house, _that_ had been cleaned so recently (at the time of
the "Ghost Party," which is told of in the first volume of this series)
that there was no necessity of mounting so high.

The stranger boy who had come to the old Corner House so opportunely,
proved himself of inestimable value in the work in hand. Uncle Rufus was
saved many a groan by that lively youth, and Mrs. MacCall and the girls
pronounced him a valuable assistant.

The young folk were resting on the back porch on Thursday afternoon,
chattering like magpies, when suddenly Neale O'Neil spied a splotch of
brilliant color coming along Willow Street.

"What do you call this?" demanded he. "Is it a locomotive headlight?"

"Oh! what a ribbon!" gasped Agnes.

"I declare!" said Tess, in her old-fashioned way. "That is Alfredia
Blossom. And what a great bow of ribbon she has tied on her head. It's
big enough for a sash, Dot."

"Looks like a house afire," commented Neale again.

By this time Alfredia's smiling face was recognizable under the flaming
red bow, and Ruth explained:

"She is one of Uncle Rufus' grand-daughters. Her mother, Petunia
Blossom, washes for us, and Alfredia is dragging home the wash in that
little wagon."

The ribbon, Alfredia wore was at least four inches wide and it was tied
in front at the roots of her kinky hair into a bow, the wings of which
stuck out on each side like a pair of elephant ears.

The little colored girl came in at the side gate, drawing the
wash-basket after her.

"How-do, Miss Ruthie--and Miss Aggie? How-do, Tessie and Dottie? You-all
gwine to school on Monday?"

"All of us are going, Alfredia," proclaimed Tess. "Are you going?"

"Mammy done said I could," said Alfredia, rolling her eyes. "But I dunno
fo' sho'."

"Why don't you know?" asked Agnes, the curious.

"Dunno as I got propah clo'es to wear, honey. Got ter look mighty
fetchin' ter go ter school--ya-as'm!"

"Is that why you've got that great bow on your head?" giggled Agnes. "To
make you look 'fetching'?"

"Naw'm. I put dat ol' red sash-bow up dar to 'tract 'tention."

"To attract attention?" repeated Ruth. "Why do you want to attract
attention?"

"I don't _wanter_, Miss Ruthie."

"Then why do you wear it?"

"So folkses will look at my haid."

Agnes and Neale were vastly amused, but Ruth pursued her inquiry. She
wished to get to the bottom of the mystery:

"Why do you want folks to look at your head, Alfredia?"

"So dey won't look at my feet. I done got holes in my shoes--an' dey is
Mammy's shoes, anyway. Do you 'spects I kin git by wid 'em on
Monday--for dey's de on'iest shoes I got ter wear?"

The Kenways laughed--they couldn't help it. But Ruth did not let the
colored girl go away without a pair of half-worn footwear of Agnes' that
came somewhere near fitting Alfredia.

"It's just so nice to have so many things that we can afford to give
some away," sighed Agnes. "My! my! but we ought to be four happy girls."

One of the Corner House girls was far from happy the next day. Dot came
down to breakfast with a most woebegone face, and tenderly caressing her
jaw. She had a toothache, and a plate of mush satisfied her completely
at the table.

"I--I can't che-e-e-ew!" she wailed, when she tried a bit of toast.

"I am ashamed of you, Dot," said Tess, earnestly. "That tooth is just a
little wabbly one, and you ought to have it pulled."

"Ow! don't you touch it!" shrieked Dot.

"I'm not going to," said Tess. "I was reaching for some more butter for
my toast--not for your tooth."

"We-ell!" confessed the smallest Kenway; "it just _jumps_ when anybody
comes toward it."

"Be a brave little girl and go with sister to the dentist," begged Ruth.

"No--please--Ruthie! I can't," wailed Dot.

"Let sister tie a stout thread around it, and you pull it out yourself,"
suggested Ruth, as a last resort.

Finally Dot agreed to this. That is, she agreed to have the thread tied
on. Neale climbed the back fence into Mr. Murphy's premises and obtained
a waxed-end of the cobbler. This, he said, would not slip, and Ruth
managed to fasten the thread to the root of the little tooth.

"One good jerk, and it's all over!" proclaimed Agnes.

But this seemed horrible to Dot. The tender little gum was sore, and the
nerve telegraphed a sense of acute pain to Dot's mind whenever she
touched the tooth. One good jerk, indeed!

"I tell you what to do," said Neale to the little girl. "You tie the
other end of that waxed-end to a doorknob, and sit down and wait.
Somebody will come through the door after a while and jerk the tooth
right out!"

"Oh!" gasped Dot.

"Go ahead and try it, Dot," urged Agnes. "I'm afraid you are a little
coward."

This accusation from her favorite sister made Dot feel very badly. She
betook herself to another part of the house, the black thread hanging
from her lips.

"What door are you going to sit behind, Dot?" whispered Tess. "I'll come
and do it--_just as easy!_"

"No, you sha'n't!" cried Dot. "You sha'n't know. And I don't want to
know who is going to j-j-jerk it out," and she ran away, sobbing.

Being so busy that morning, the others really forgot the little girl.
None of them saw her take a hassock, put it behind the sitting-room door
that was seldom opened, and after tying the string to the knob, seat
herself upon the hassock and wait for something to happen.

She waited. Nobody came near that room. The sun shone warmly in at the
windows, the bees buzzed, and Dot grew drowsy. Finally she fell fast
asleep with her tooth tied to the doorknob.



CHAPTER VI

AGNES LOSES HER TEMPER AND DOT HER TOOTH


It was on this morning--Friday, ever a fateful day according to the
superstitiously inclined--that the incident of the newspaper
advertisement arose.

The paper boy had very early thrown the Kenways' copy of the Milton
_Morning Post_ upon the front veranda. Aunt Sarah spent part of each
forenoon reading that gossipy sheet. She insisted upon seeing the paper
just as regularly as she insisted upon having her five cents' worth of
peppermint-drops to take to church in her pocket on Sunday morning.

But on this particular morning she did not take the paper in before
going to her room after breakfast, and Neale strolled out and picked up
the sheet.

Ruth was behind him, but he did not know of her presence. She had been
about to secure the morning paper and run upstairs with it, to save Aunt
Sarah the bother of coming down again. As she was about to ask the boy
for it, Ruth noticed that he was staring rigidly at the still folded
paper. His eyes were fixed upon something that appeared in the very
first column of the _Post_.

Now, the _Morning Post_ devoted the first column of its front page to
important announcements and small advertisements--like "Lost and Found,"
the death and marriage notices, and "personals." Agnes called it the
"Agony Column," for the "personals" always headed it.

Ruth was sure Neale was staring at something printed very near the top
of the column. He stood there, motionless, long enough to have read any
ordinary advertisement half a dozen times.

Then he laid the paper quietly on one of the porch chairs and tiptoed
off the veranda, disappearing around the corner of the house without
looking back once; so Ruth did not see his face.

"What can be the matter with him?" murmured Ruth, and seized the paper
herself.

She swiftly scrutinized the upper division of the first column of type.
There were the usual requests for the return of absent friends, and
several cryptic messages understood only by the advertiser and the
person to whom the message was addressed.

The second "Personal" was different. It read as follows:

     STRAYED,OR RUNAWAY FROM HIS GUARDIAN:--Boy, 15, slight figure,
     very light hair, may call himself Sorber, or Jakeway. His Guardian
     will pay FIFTY DOLLARS for information of his safety, or for his
     recovery. Address Twomley & Sorber's Herculean Circus and
     Menagerie, _en-route_.

Ruth read this through; but she read it idly. It made no more
appeal to her just then than did half a dozen of the other
advertisements--"personal," or otherwise.

So she carried the paper slowly upstairs, wondering all the time what
Neale O'Neil could have seen in the column of advertising to so affect
him. Perhaps had Agnes been at hand to discuss the matter, together the
girls might have connected the advertisement of the tow-headed boy with
Neale O'Neil.

But Agnes was out on an errand, and when she did return she was so full
herself of something which she wished to tell Ruth that she quite drove
thought of the white-haired boy, for the time being, out of the older
girl's mind. As soon as she saw Ruth she began her tale.

"What do you think, Ruthie Kenway? I just met Eva Larry on the Parade,
and that Trix Severn was with her. You know that Trix Severn?"

"Beatrice Severn? Yes," said Ruth, placidly. "A very well-dressed girl.
Her parents must be well off."

"Her father is Terrence Severn, and he keeps a summer hotel at Pleasant
Cove. But I don't like her. And I'm not going to like Eva if she makes a
friend of that Trix," cried Agnes, stormily.

"Now, Agnes! don't be foolish," admonished Ruth.

"You wait till you hear what that nasty Trix said to me--about us all!"

"Why, she can't hurt us--much--no matter what she says," Ruth declared,
still calmly.

"You can talk! I'm just going to tell Eva she needn't ask me to walk
with her again when Trix is with her. I came along behind them across
the Parade Ground and Eva called me. I didn't like Trix before, and I
tried to get away.

"'I've got to hurry, Eva,' I said. 'Mrs. MacCall is waiting for this
soap-powder.'

"'I should think you Corner House girls could afford to hire somebody to
run your errands, if you've got all the money they say you have,' says
Trix Severn--just like that!"

"What did you reply, Aggie!" asked the older Kenway girl.

"'It doesn't matter how much, or how little, money we have,' I told
her," said Agnes, "'there's no lazy-bones in our family, thank
goodness!' For Eva told me that Trix's mother doesn't get up till noon
and that their house is all at sixes and sevens."

"Oh! that sharp tongue of yours," said Ruth, admonishingly.

"I hope she took it," declared Agnes, savagely. "She said to me: 'Oh!
people who haven't been used to leisure don't really know how to enjoy
money, I suppose, when they _do_ get it.'

"'You needn't worry, Miss,' I said. 'We get all the fun there is going,
and don't have to be idle, either. And whoever told _you_ we weren't
used to money before we came to Milton?'"

"Fie! Fie, Aggie! That was in the worst possible taste," cried Ruth.

"I don't care," exclaimed Agnes, stormily. "She's a nasty thing! And
when I hurried on, I heard her laugh and say to Eva:

"'"Put a beggar on horseback," you know. Miss Titus, the dressmaker,
says those Kenways never had two cents to bless themselves with before
old crazy Peter Stower died and left them all that money.'"

"Well, dear, I wouldn't make a mountain out of a molehill," said Ruth,
quietly. "If you don't like Beatrice Severn, you need not associate with
her--not even if she is going to be in your grade at school. But I would
not quarrel with my best friend about her. That's hardly worth while, is
it?"

"I don't know whether I consider Eva Larry my best friend, or not," said
Agnes, reflectively. "Myra Stetson is lots nicer in some ways."

That was Agnes' way. She was forever having a "crush" on some girl or
other, getting suddenly over it, and seeking another affinity with
bewildering fickleness. Eva Larry had been proclaimed her dearest friend
for a longer term than most who had preceded her.

There was too much to do in completing the housecleaning task to spend
either breath, or time, in discussing Beatrice Severn and her impudent
tongue. A steady "rap, rap, rapping" from the back lawn told the story
of Neale and the parlor rugs.

"There!" cried Ruth, suddenly, from the top of the stepladder, where she
was wiping the upper shelves in the dining-room china closet. "There's
one rug in the sitting room I didn't take out last evening. Will you get
it, Aggie, and give it to Neale?"

Willing Agnes started at once. She literally ran to the sitting-room and
banged open the door.

All this time we have left Dot--and her sore tooth--behind this very
door! She had selected the wrong side of the door upon which to crouch,
waiting for Fate--in the person of an unknowing sister--to pull the
tooth.

The door opened inward, and against the slumbering little girl on the
hassock. Instead of jerking the tooth out by pulling open the door,
Agnes banged the door right against the unconscious Dot--and so hard
that Dot and her hassock were flung some yards out upon the floor. Her
forehead was bumped and a great welt raised upon it.

The smallest Kenway voiced her surprise and anguish in no uncertain
terms. Everybody in the house came running to the rescue. Even Aunt
Sarah came to the top of the stairs and wanted to know "if that young
one was killed?"

"No-o-o!" sobbed Dot, answering for herself. "No--no-o-o, Aunt Sarah.
_Not yet._"

But Mrs. MacCall had brought the arnica bottle and the bruise was soon
treated. While they were all comforting her, in staggered Neale with a
number of rugs on his shoulder.

"Hello!" he demanded. "Who's murdered this time?"

"Me," proclaimed Dot, with confidence.

"Oh-ho! Are you making all that noise about losing a little old tooth?
But you got it pulled, didn't you?"

Dot clapped a tentative finger into her mouth. When she drew it forth,
it was with a pained and surprised expression. The place where the tooth
should have been was empty.

"There it is," chuckled Neale, "hanging on the doorknob. Didn't I tell
you that was the way to get your tooth pulled?"

"My!" gasped Dot. "It wasn't pulled out of me, you see. When Aggie ran
in and knocked me over, _I was just putted away from the tooth_!"

They all burst out laughing at that, and Dot laughed with them. She
recovered more quickly from the loss of her tooth than Agnes did from
the loss of her temper!



CHAPTER VII

NEALE IN DISGUISE


The Parade Ground was in the center of Milton. Its lower end bordered
Willow Street, and the old Corner House was right across from the
termination of the Parade's principal shaded walk.

Ranged all around the Parade (which had in colonial days been called
"the training ground" where the local militia-hands drilled) were the
principal public buildings of the town, although the chief business
places were situated down Main Street, below the Corner House.

The brick courthouse with its tall, square tower, occupied a prominent
situation on the Parade. The several more important church edifices,
too, faced the great, open common. Interspersed were the better
residences of Milton. Some of these were far more modern than the old
Stower homestead, but to the Kenway girls none seemed more homelike in
appearance.

At the upper end of the Parade were grouped the schools of the town.
There was a handsome new high school that Ruth was going to enter; the
old one was now given over to the manual training departments. The
grammar and primary school was a large, sprawling building with plenty
of entrances and exits, and in this structure the other three Kenway
girls found their grades.

The quartette of Corner House girls were not the only young folk anxious
about entering the Milton schools for the forthcoming year. There was
Neale O'Neil. The Kenways knew by the way he spoke, that his expected
experiences at school were uppermost in his thoughts all the time.

Ruth had talked the matter over with Mrs. MacCall, although she had not
seen Mr. Howbridge, and they had decided that the boy was a very welcome
addition to the Corner House household, if he would stay.

But Neale O'Neil did not want charity--nor would he accept anything that
savored of it for long. Even while he was so busy helping the girls
clean house, he had kept his eyes and ears open for a permanent lodging.
And on Saturday morning he surprised Ruth by announcing that he would
leave them after supper that night.

"Why, Neale! where are you going?" asked the oldest Corner House girl.
"I am sure there is room enough for you here."

"I know all about that," said Neale, grinning quickly at her. "You folks
are the best ever."

"Then, why----?"

"I've made a dicker with Mr. Con Murphy. You see, I won't be far from
you girls if you want me any time," he pursued.

"You are going to live with Mr. Murphy?"

"Yes. He's got a spare room--and it's very neat and clean. There's a
woman comes in and 'does' for him, as he calls it. He needs a chap like
me to give him a hand now and then--taking care of the pig and his
garden, you know."

"Not in the winter, Neale," said Ruth, gently. "I hope you are not
leaving us for any foolish reason. You are perfectly welcome to stay.
You ought to know that."

"That is fine of you, Ruth," he said, gratefully. "But you don't _need_
me here. I can feel more independent over there at Murphy's. And I shall
be quite all right there, I assure you."

The house was now all to rights--"spick and span," Mrs. MacCall
said--and Saturday was given up to preparing for the coming school term.
It was the last day of the long vacation.

Dot had no loose tooth to worry her and she was busy, with Tess, in
preparing the dolls' winter nursery. All summer the little girls had
played in the rustic house in the garden, but now that September had
come, an out-of-door playroom would soon be too cold.

Although the great garret made a grand playroom for all hands on stormy
days, Ruth thought it too far for Dot and Tess to go to the top of the
house alone to play with their dolls. For her dolls were of as much
importance to Dot as her own eating or sleeping. She lived in a little
world of her own with the Alice-doll and all her other "children"; and
she no more thought of neglecting them for a day than she and Tess
neglected Billy Bumps or the cats.

There was no means of heating the garret, so a room in the wing with
their bed chambers, and which was heated from the cellar furnace, was
given up to "the kiddies'" nursery.

There were many treasures to be taken indoors, and Dot and Tess toiled
out of the garden, and up the porch steps, and through the hall, and
climbed the stairs to the new playroom--oh! so many times.

Mr. Stetson, the groceryman, came with an order just as Dot was toiling
along with an armful to the porch.

"Hello! hello!" he exclaimed. "Don't you want some help with all that
load, Miss Dorothy?" She was a special favorite of his, and he always
stopped to talk with her.

"Ruthie says we got to move all by ourselves--Tess and me," said Dot,
with a sigh. "I'm just as much obliged to you, but I guess you can't
help."

She had sat down on the porch steps and Sandyface came, purring, to rub
against her.

"You can go right away, Sandy!" said Dot, sternly. "I don't like
you--much. You went and sat right down in the middle of my Alice-doll's
old cradle, and on her best knit coverlet, and went to sleep--and you're
moulting! I'll never get the hairs off of that quilt."

"Moulting, eh!" chuckled Mr. Stetson. "Don't you mean shedding?"

"We--ell, maybe," confessed Dot. "But the hens' feathers are coming out
and they're moulting--I heard Ruth say so. So why not cats? Anyway, you
can go away, Sandyface, and stop rubbing them off on _me_."

"What's become of that kitten of yours--Bungle, did you call it?" asked
the groceryman.

"Why, don't you know?" asked Dot, in evident surprise.

"I haven't heard a word," confessed Mr. Stetson. "Did something happen
to it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Was it poisoned?"

"Oh, no!"

"Drowned?"

"No, sir."

"Did somebody steal it?" queried Mr. Stetson.

"No, indeed!"

"Was it hurt in any way?"

"No, sir."

"Well, then," said the groceryman, "I can't guess. What _did_ happen to
Bungle?"

"Why," said Dot, "he growed into a cat!"

That amused Mr. Stetson immensely, and he went away, laughing. "It seems
to me," Dot said, seriously, to Tess, "that it don't take so much to
make grown-up people laugh. Is it funny for a kitten to grow into a
cat?"

Neale disappeared for some time right after dinner. He had done all he
could to help Uncle Rufus and Mrs. MacCall that forenoon, and had
promised Ruth to come back for supper. "I wouldn't miss Mrs. MacCall's
beans and fishcakes for a farm!" he declared, laughing.

But he did not laugh as much as he had when he first came to the old
Corner House. Ruth, at least, noticed the change in him, and, "harking
back," she began to realize that the change had begun just after Neale
had been so startled by the advertisment he had read in the _Morning
Post_.

The two older Kenway girls had errands to do at some of the Main Street
stores that afternoon. It was Agnes who came across Neale O'Neil in the
big pharmacy on the corner of Ralph Street. He was busily engaged with a
clerk at the rear of the store.

"Hello, Neale!" cried Agnes. "What you buying?" Sometimes Agnes'
curiosity went beyond her good manners.

"I'll take this kind," said Neale, hurriedly, touching a bottle at
random, and then turned his back on the counter to greet Agnes. "An
ounce of question-powders to make askits," he said to her, with a grave
and serious air. "_You_ don't need any, do you?"

"Funny!"

"But I don't _look_ as funny as you do," chuckled Neale O'Neil. "That's
the most preposterous looking hat I ever saw, Aggie. And those
rabbit-ears on it!"

"Tow-head!" responded Agnes, with rather crude repartee.

Neale did not usually mind being tweaked about his flaxen hair--at
least, not by the Corner House girls, but Agnes saw his expression
change suddenly, and he turned back to the clerk and received his
package without a word.

"Oh, you needn't get mad," she said, quickly.

"I'm not," responded Neale, briefly, but he paid for his purchase and
hurried away without further remark. Agnes chanced to notice that the
other bottles the clerk was returning to the shelves were all samples of
dyes and "hair-restorers."

"Maybe he's buying something for Mr. Murphy. Mr. Murphy is awfully bald
on top," thought Agnes, and that's all she _did_ think about it until
the next day.

The girls had invited Neale to go to their church, with them and he had
promised to be there. But when they filed in just before the sermon they
saw nothing of the white-haired boy standing about the porch with the
other boys.

"There's somebody in our pew," whispered Tess to Ruth.

"Aunt Sarah?"

"No. Aunt Sarah is in her own seat across the aisle," said Agnes. "Why!
it's a boy."

"It's Neale O'Neil," gasped Ruth. "But _what_ has he done to his hair?"

A glossy brown head showed just above the tall back of the old-fashioned
pew. The sun shining through the long windows on the side of the church
shone upon Neale's thick thatch of hair with iridescent glory. Whenever
he moved his head, the hue of the hair seemed to change--like a piece of
changeable silk!

"That can't be him," said Agnes, with awe. "Where's all his lovely
flaxen hair?"

"The foolish boy! He's dyed it," said Ruth, and then they reached the
pew and could say no more.

Neale had taken the far corner of the pew, so the girls and Mrs. MacCall
filed in without disturbing him. Agnes punched Neale with her elbow and
scowled at him.

"What did you want to do that for?" she hissed.

"Do what for?" he responded, trying to look unconscious.

"You know. Fix your hair like that?"

"Because you called me 'tow-head,'" he whispered, grinning.

When Mrs. MacCall caught her first glimpse of him when they got up to
sing, she started, stared, and almost expressed her opinion aloud.

"What under the canopy's the matter with that boy's head?" she whispered
to Ruth when they were seated again.

And there was reason for asking! As the service proceeded and Neale's
hair grew dryer, the sun shining upon his head revealed a wealth of
iridescence that attracted more attention than the minister's sermon.

The glossy brown gave way before a greenish tinge that changed to purple
at the roots. The dye would have been a success for an Easter egg, but
as an application to the hair, it was not an unqualified delight--at
least, not to the user.

The more youthful and thoughtless of the congregation--especially those
behind the unconscious Neale--found amusement enough in the exhibition.
The pastor discovered it harder than ever that morning to hold the
attention of certain irreverent ones, and being a near-sighted man, he
was at fault as to the reason for the bustle that increased as his
sermon proceeded.

The Corner House girls--especially Ruth and Agnes--began to feel the
matter acutely. Neale was quite unconscious of the result of the dye
upon his hair. As the minutes passed and the rainbow effect became more
and more visible, the disturbance became more pronounced.

Suddenly there sounded the important creaking of Deacon Abel's boots
down the aisle. Agnes flashed a look over her shoulder. The stern old
deacon was aiming straight for their pew!



CHAPTER VIII

INTRODUCTIONS


"Oh, goodness to gracious! Here comes old Mr. Abel--and he has fire in
his eye, Ruth!" gasped Agnes.

"What--what's he going to do?" stammered Ruth, clinging to Agnes' hand
under the hymn-book which they shared together.

"Something awful! Poor Neale!"

"His head looks a fright," declared Ruth.

"And everybody's laughing," groaned Agnes.

"Girls!" admonished Mrs. MacCall, "try to behave."

The creaking of the deacon's boots drew near. Old Mr. Abel kept a
cut-price shoe shop and it was a joke among the young folk of Milton
that all the shoes he sold were talking shoes, for when you walked in
them they said very plainly:

"Cheap! cheap! cheap!"

Soon the minister noted the approach of Deacon Abel. As the old man
stopped by the Kenway pew, the minister lost the thread of his
discourse, and stopped. A dread silence fell upon the church.

The deacon leaned forward in front of the little girls and Mrs. MacCall.
His face was very red, and he shook an admonitory finger at the startled
Neale O'Neil.

"Young man!" he said, sonorously. "Young man, you take off that wig and
put it in your pocket--or leave this place of worship immediately."

It was an awful moment--especially awful for everybody in the Kenway
pew. The girls' cheeks burned. Mrs. MacCall glared at the boy in utter
stupefaction.

Deacon Abel was a very stern man indeed--much more so than the clergyman
himself. All the young folk of the congregation stood in particular awe
of him.

But poor Neale O'Neil, unconscious of any wrong intent, merely gazed at
the old gentleman in surprise. "Wha--wha--_what_?" he gasped.

"Get out of here, young man!" exclaimed the deacon. "You have got the
whole crowd by the ears. A most disgraceful exhibition. If I had the
warming of your jacket I certainly would be glad."

"Oh!" exclaimed Ruth, horrified.

Agnes was really angry. She was an impulsive girl and she could not fail
to espouse the cause of anybody whom she considered "put upon." She rose
right up when Neale stumbled to his feet.

"Never you mind, Neale!" she whispered, shrilly. "He's a mean old thing!
I'm coming, too."

It was a very wrong thing to say, but Agnes never stopped to think how a
thing was going to sound when she was angry. The boy, his face aflame,
got out through the next pew, which chanced to be empty, and Agnes
followed right on behind him before Ruth could pull her back into her
seat.

Nobody could have stopped her. She felt that Neale O'Neil was being
ill-treated, and whatever else you could say about Aggie Kenway, you
could not truthfully say that she was not loyal to her friends.

"Cheap! cheap! cheap!" squeaked the deacon's boots as he went back up
one aisle while the boy and girl hurried up the other. It seemed to
Neale as though the church was filled with eyes, staring at him.

His red face was a fine contrast for his rainbow-hued hair, but Agnes
was as white as chalk.

The minister took up his discourse almost immediately, but it seemed to
the culprits making their way to the door as though the silence had held
the congregation for an hour! They were glad to get through the baize
doors and let them swing together behind them.

Neale clapped his cap on his head, hiding a part of the ruin, but Deacon
Abel came out and attacked him hotly:

"What do you mean by such disgraceful actions, boy?" he asked, with
quivering voice. "I don't know who you are--you are a stranger to me;
but I warn you never to come here and play such jokes again----"

"It isn't a joke, Mr. Abel!" cried Agnes.

"What do you call it, then? Isn't that one of them new-fangled wigs I
read folks in the city wear to dances and other affairs? What's he got
it on for?"

"It isn't a wig," Agnes said, while Neale clutched wildly at his hair.

"Don't tell me it's his own hair!" almost shouted the old gentleman.

"What's the matter with my hair?" demanded the puzzled boy.

"Doesn't he know? Do you mean to say he doesn't know what his head looks
like?" cried the amazed deacon. "Come! come into this room, boy, and
look at your hair."

There was the ushers' dressing-room at one end of the vestibule; he led
Neale in by the arm. In the small mirror on the wall the boy got a
fairly accurate picture of his hirsute adornment.

Without a word--after his first gasp of amazement--Neale turned and
walked out of the room, and out of the church. It was a hot Sunday and
the walks were bathed in sunshine. Neale involuntarily took the path
across the Parade in the direction of the old Corner House.

At this hour--in the middle of sermon time--there was scarcely anybody
in sight. Milton observed Sunday most particularly--especially in this
better quarter of the town.

Neale had gone some way before he realized that Agnes was just beside
him. He looked around at her and now his face was very pale.

"What did you come for?" he asked her, ungraciously enough.

"I'm so sorry, Neale," the girl whispered, drawing nearer to his elbow.

The boy stared for a moment, and then exclaimed: "Why, Aggie! you're a
good little sport, all right."

Aggie blushed vividly, but she hastened to say: "Why did you do it,
Neale?"

"I--I can't tell you," replied the boy, in some confusion. "Only I got
to change the color of my hair."

"But, mercy! you needn't have changed it to so many colors all at once!"
cried she.

"Huh! do you think--like that old man--that I did it a-purpose?"

"But you _did_ dye it!"

"I tried to."

"That was the stuff you were buying yesterday in the drugstore?" she
queried.

"Yes. And I put it on just before I started for church. He said it would
make the hair a beautiful brown."

"_Who_ said so?"

"That drugstore clerk," said Neale, despondently.

"He never sold you hair-dye at all!"

"Goodness knows what it was----"

"It's stained your collar--and it's run down your neck and dyed _that_
green."

"Do you suppose I can ever get it off, Aggie?" groaned the boy.

"We'll try. Come on home and we'll get a lot of soapsuds in a tub in the
woodshed--so we can splash it if we want to," said the suddenly
practical Agnes.

They reached the woodshed without being observed by Uncle Rufus. Agnes
brought the water and the soap and a hand-brush from the kitchen. Neale
removed his collar and tie, and turned back the neck of his shirt. Agnes
aproned her Sunday frock and went to work.

But, sad to relate, the more she scrubbed, and the more Neale suffered,
the worse his hair looked!

"Goodness, Aggie!" he gasped at last. "My whole scalp is as sore as a
boil. I don't believe I can stand your scrubbing it any more."

"I don't mean to hurt you, Neale," panted Agnes.

"I know it. But isn't the color coming out?"

"I--I guess it's _set_. Maybe I've done more harm than good. It's a sort
of a sickly green all over. I never _did_ see such a head of hair,
Neale! And it was so pretty before."

"_Pretty!_" growled Neale O'Neil. "It was a nuisance. Everybody who ever
saw me remembered me as the 'white-haired boy.'"

"Well," sighed Agnes, "whoever sees that hair of yours _now_ will
remember you, and no mistake."

"And I have to go to school with it to-morrow," groaned Neale.

"It will grow out all right--in time," said the girl, trying to be
comforting.

"It'll take more time than I want to spend with green hair," returned
Neale. "I see what I'll have to do, Aggie."

"What's that?"

"Get a Riley cut. I don't know but I'd better be _shaved_."

"Oh, Neale! you'll look so funny," giggled Agnes, suddenly becoming
hysterical.

"That's all right. You have a right to laugh," said Neale, as Agnes fell
back upon a box to have her laugh out. "But I won't be any funnier
looking with _no_ hair than I would be with green hair--make up your
mind to that."

Neale slipped over the back fence into Mr. Murphy's premises, before the
rest of the Kenway family came home, and the girls did not see him again
that day.

"How the folks stared at us!" Ruth said, shaking her head. "It would
have been all right if you hadn't gotten up and gone out with him,
Aggie."

"Oh, yes! let that horrid old Deacon Abel put him out of church just as
though he were a stray dog, and belonged to nobody!" cried Agnes.

"Well, he doesn't belong to us, does he?" asked Dot, wonderingly.

"We're the only folks he has, I guess, Dot," said Tess, as Agnes went
off with her head in the air.

"He has Mr. Murphy--and the pig," said Dot, slowly. "But I like Neale.
Only I wish he hadn't painted his hair so funny."

"I'd like to have boxed his ears--that I would!" said Mrs. MacCall, in
vexation. "I thought gals was crazy enough nowadays; but to think of a
_boy_ dyeing his hair!"

Aunt Sarah shook her head and pursed her lips, as one who would say, "I
knew that fellow would come to some bad end." But Uncle Rufus, having
heard the story, chuckled unctuously to himself.

"Tell yo' what, chillen," he said to the girls, "it 'mind me ob de time
w'en my Pechunia was a young, flighty gal. Dese young t'ings, dey ain't
nebber satisfied wid de way de good Lawd make 'em.

"I nebber did diskiver w'y Pechunia was so brack, as I say afore. But
'tain't an affliction. She done t'ink it was. She done talk erbout
face-bleach, an' powder, an' somet'ing she call 'rooch' wot white
sassiety wimmens fixes up deir faces wid, an' says she ter me, 'Pap, I
is gwine fin' some ob dese yere fixin's fur my complexion.'

"'Yo' go 'long,' I says ter her. 'Yo's a _fast_ brack, an' dat's all
dere is to hit. Ef all de watah an' soap yo' done use ain't take no
particle of dat soot off'n yo' yit, dere ain't nottin' eber _will_
remove it.'

"But yo' kyan't change a gal's natur. Pechunia done break her back ober
de washtub ter earn de money to buy some o' dem make-up stuff, an' she
goes down ter de drug sto' ter mak' her purchases. She 'low ter spen'
much as six bits fer de trash.

"An' firs' t'ing she axed for was face powder--aw, my glo-_ree_! De
clerk ask her: 'Wot shade does yo' want, Ma'am? An' Pechunia giggles an'
replies right back:

"'Flesh color, Mister.'

"An' wot you t'ink dat young scalawag ob a clerk gib her?" chuckled
Uncle Rufus, rolling his eyes and shaking his head in delight. "W'y, he
done gib her _powdered charcoal_! Dat finish Pechunia. She nebber tried
to buy nottin' mo' for her complexion--naw, indeedy!"

The girls of the old Corner House learned that Neale was up early on
Monday morning, having remained in hiding the remainder of Sunday. He
sought out a neighbor who had a pair of sheep-shears, and Mr. Murphy
cropped the boy's hair close to his scalp. The latter remained a
pea-green color and being practically hairless, Neale looked worse than
a Mexican dog!

He was not at all the same looking youth who had dawned on Agnes' vision
the Monday morning previous, and had come to her rescue. She said
herself she never would have known him.

"Oh, dear!" she said to Ruth. "He looks like a gnome out of a funny
picture-book."

But Neale O'Neil pulled his cap down to his ears and followed behind the
Kenway girls to school. He was too proud and too sensitive to walk with
them.

He knew that he was bound to be teased by the boys at school, when once
they saw his head. Even the old cobbler had said to him:

"'Tis a foine lookin' noddle ye have now. Ye look like a tinder grane
onion sproutin' out of the garden in the spring. Luk out as ye go over
th' fince, me la-a-ad, for if that ormadhoun of a goat sees ye, he'll
ate ye alive!"

This was at the breakfast table, and Neale had flushed redly, being half
angry with the old fellow.

"That's right, la-a-ad," went on Mr. Murphy. "Blushin' ain't gone out o'
fashion where you kem from, I'm glad ter see. An' begorra! ye're more
pathriotic than yer name implies, for I fear that's Scotch instead of
Irish. I see now ye've put the grane above the red!"

So Neale went to school on this first day in no very happy frame of
mind. He looked so much different with his hair cropped, from what he
had at church on Sunday, that few of the young folks who had observed
his disgrace there, recognized him--for which the boy was exceedingly
glad.

He remained away from the Kenway girls, and in that way escaped
recognition. He had to get acquainted with some of the
fellows--especially those of the highest grammar grade. Being a new
scholar, he had to meet the principal of the school, as well as Miss
Shipman.

"Take your cap off, sir," said Mr. Marks, sternly. Unwillingly enough he
did so. "For goodness' sake! what have you been doing to your head?"
demanded the principal.

"Getting my hair clipped, sir," said Neale.

"But the color of your head?"

"That's why I had the hair clipped."

"What did you do to it?"

"It was an accident, sir," said Neale. "But I can study just as well."

"We will hope so," said the principal, his eyes twinkling. "But green is
not a promising color."

Ruth had taken Dot to the teacher of the first grade, primary, and Dot
was made welcome by several little girls whom she had met at Sunday
school during the summer. Then Ruth hurried to report to the principal
of the Milton High School, with whom she had already had an interview.

Tess found her grade herself. It was the largest room in the whole
building and was presided over by Miss Andrews--a lady of most uncertain
age and temper, and without a single twinkle in her grey-green eyes.

But with Tess were several girls she knew--Mable Creamer; Margaret and
Holly Pease; Maria Maroni, whose father kept the vegetable and fruit
stand in the cellar of one of the Stower houses on Meadow Street; Uncle
Rufus' granddaughter, Alfredia (with the big red ribbon bow); and a
little Yiddish girl named Sadie Goronofsky, who lived with her
step-mother and a lot of step-brothers and sisters in another of the
tenements on Meadow Street which had been owned so many years by Uncle
Peter Stower.

Agnes and Neale O 'Neil met in the same grade, but they did not have a
chance to speak, for the boys sat on one side of the room, and the girls
on the other.

The second Kenway girl had her own troubles. During the weeks she lived
at the old Corner House, she had been looking forward to entering school
in the fall, so she had met all the girls possible who were to be in her
grade.

Now she found that, school having opened, the girls fell right back into
their old associations. There were the usual groups, or cliques. She
would have to earn her place in the school, just as though she did not
know a soul.

Beatrice, or "Trix" Severn, was not one of those whom Agnes was anxious
to be friendly with; and here Trix was in the very seat beside her,
while Eva Larry and Myra Stetson were across the room!

The prospect looked cloudy to Agnes, and she began the first school
session with less confidence than any of her sisters.



CHAPTER IX

POPOCATEPETL IN MISCHIEF


Miss Georgiana Shipman was a plump lady in a tight bodice--short, dark,
with a frankly double chin and eyes that almost always smiled. She did
not possess a single beautiful feature; yet that smile of
hers--friendly, appreciative of one's failings as well as one's
successes--that smile cloaked a multitude of short-comings.

One found one's self loving Miss Georgiana--if one was a girl--almost at
once; and the boldest and most unruly boy dropped his head and was
ashamed to make Miss Georgiana trouble.

Sometimes boys with a long record of misdeeds behind them in other
grades--misdeeds that blackened the pages of other teachers' deportment
books--somehow managed to reach the door of Miss Georgiana's room
without being dismissed from the school by the principal. Once having
entered the favored portal, their characters seemed to change magically.

Mr. Marks knew that if he could bring the most abandoned scapegrace
along in his studies so that he could spend a year with Miss Georgiana
Shipman, in nine cases out of ten these hard-to-manage boys would be
saved to the school. Sometimes they graduated at the very top of their
classes.

Just as though Miss Georgiana were a fairy god-mother who struck her
crutch upon the platform and cried: "Se sesame! _change!_" the young
pirates often came through Miss Georgiana's hands and entered high
school with the reputation of being very decent fellows after all.

Nor was Miss Georgiana a "softie"; far from it. Ask the boys themselves
about it? Oh! they would merely hang their heads, and scrape a foot back
and forth on the rug, and grunt: "Aw! Miss Shipman understands a
fellow."

Her influence over the girls was even greater. She expected you to learn
your lessons, and if you were lazy she spent infinite pains in urging
you on. And if you did not work, Miss Georgiana felt aggrieved, and that
made any nice girl feel dreadfully mean! Besides, you took up more of
the teacher's time than you had any right to, and the other girls
declared it was not fair, and talked pretty harshly about you.

If Miss Georgiana had to remain after school for any reason, more than
half of her girls would be sure to hang around the school entrance until
she came out, and then they all trailed home with her.

When you saw a bevy of girls from twelve to fourteen years of age, or
thereabout, massed on one of the shady walks of the Parade soon after
school closed for the day, or chattering along Whipple Street on which
Miss Georgiana Shipman lived, you might be sure that the teacher of the
sixth grade, grammar, was in the center of the group.

Miss Georgiana lived with her mother--a little old lady in Quaker
dress--in a small cottage back from the street-line. There were three
big oaks in the front yard, and no grass ever could be coaxed to grow
under them, for the girls kept it worn down to the roots.

There were seats at the roots of the three huge trees in the open
season, and it was an odd afternoon indeed that did not find a number of
girls here. To be invited to stay to tea at Miss Georgiana's was the
height of every girl's ambition who belonged in Number Six.

Nor did the girls when graduated, easily forget Miss Georgiana. She had
their confidence and some of them came to her with troubles and
perplexities that they could have exposed to nobody else.

Of course, girls who had "understanding" mothers, did not need this
special inspiration and help, but it was noticeable that girls who had
no mothers at all, found in the little, plump, rather dowdy "old maid
school teacher" one of those choice souls that God has put on earth to
fulfil the duties of parents taken away.

Miss Georgiana Shipman had been teaching for twenty years, but she had
never grown old. And her influence was--to use a trite description--like
a stone flung into a still pool of water; the ever widening circles set
moving by it lapped the very outer shores of Milton life.

Of course Agnes Kenway was bound to fall in love with this teacher; and
Miss Georgiana soon knew her for just the "stormy petrel" that she was.
Agnes gravitated to scrapes as naturally as she breathed, but she got
out of them, too, as a usual thing without suffering any serious harm.

Trix Severn annoyed her. Trix had it in her power to bother the next to
the oldest Corner House girl, sitting as she did at the nearest desk.
The custom was, in verbal recitation, for the pupil to rise in her (or
his) seat and recite. When it came Agnes' time to recite, Trix would
whisper something entirely irrelevant to the matter before the class.

This sibilant monologue was so nicely attuned by Trix that Miss
Georgiana (nor many of the girls besides Agnes herself) did not hear it.
But it got on Agnes' nerves and one afternoon, before the first week of
school was over, she turned suddenly on the demure Trix in the middle of
her recitation and exclaimed, hysterically:

"If you don't stop whispering that way, Trix Severn, I'll just go mad!"

"Agnes!" ejaculated Miss Shipman. "What does this mean?"

"I don't care!" cried Agnes, stormily. "She interrupts me----"

"Didn't either!" declared Trix, thereby disproving her own statement in
that particular case, at least. "I didn't speak to her."

"You did!" insisted Agnes.

"Agnes! sit down," said Miss Shipman, and sternly enough, for the whole
room was disturbed. "What _were_ you doing, Beatrice?"

"Just studying, Miss Shipman," declared Trix, with perfect innocence.

"This is not the time for study, but for recitation. You need not
recite, and I will see both of you after school. Go on from where Agnes
left off, Lluella."

"I'll fix you for this!" hissed Trix to Agnes. Agnes felt too badly to
reply and the jealous girl added: "You Corner House girls think you are
going to run things in this school, I suppose; but you'll see, Miss!
You're nothing but upstarts."

Agnes did not feel like repeating this when Miss Georgiana made her
investigation of the incident after school. She was no "tell-tale."

Therefore she repeated only her former accusation that Trix's whispering
had confused her in her recitation.

"I never whispered to her!" snapped Trix, tossing her head. "I'm not so
fond of her as all that, I hope."

"Why, I expect all my girls to be fond of each other," said Miss
Georgiana, smiling, "too, too fond to hurt each other's feelings, or
even to annoy each other."

"She just put it all on," sniffed Trix.

"Agnes is nervous," said the teacher, quietly, "but she must learn to
control her nerves and not to fly into a passion and be unladylike.
Beatrice, you must not whisper and annoy your neighbors. I hope you two
girls will never take part in such an incident again while you are with
me."

Agnes said, "I'm sorry, Miss Shipman," but when the teacher's back was
turned, Trix screwed her face into a horrid mask and ran out her tongue
at Agnes. Her spitefulness fairly boiled over.

This was the first day Agnes had been late getting home, so she missed
the first part of an incident of some moment. Popocatepetl got herself
on this day into serious mischief.

Popocatepetl (she was called "Petal" for short) was one of Sandyface's
four kittens that had been brought with the old cat from Mr. Stetson's
grocery to the old Corner House, soon after the Kenway girls came to
live there. Petal was Ruth's particular pet--or, had been, when she was
a kitten. Agnes' choice was the black one with the white nose, called
Spotty; Tess's was Almira, while Dot's--as we already know--was called
Bungle, and which, to Dot's disgust, had already "grown up."

All four of the kittens were good sized cats now, but they were not yet
of mature age and now and then the girls were fairly convulsed with
laughter because of the antics of Sandyface's quartette of children.

There was to be a pair of ducks for Sunday's dinner and Uncle Rufus had
carefully plucked them into a box in a corner of the kitchen, so that
the down would not be scattered. Mrs. MacCall was old-fashioned enough
to save all duck and geese down for pillows.

When the oldest and the two youngest Kenway girls trooped into the
kitchen, Popocatepetl was chasing a stray feather about the floor and in
diving behind the big range for it, she knocked down the shovel, tongs
and poker, which were standing against the bricked-up fireplace.

The clatter scared Petal immensely, and with tail as big as three
ordinary tails and fur standing erect upon her back, she shot across the
kitchen and into the big pantry.

Uncle Rufus had just taken the box of feathers into this room and set it
down on the floor, supposedly out of the way. Mrs. MacCall was measuring
molasses at the table, for a hot gingerbread-cake was going to grace the
supper-table.

"Scat, you cat, you!" exclaimed Uncle Rufus. "Dar's too many of you cats
erbout disher house, an' dat's a fac'. Dar's more cats dan dar is mices
to ketch--ya-as'm!"

"Oh, Uncle Rufus! you don't mean that, do you?" asked Tess, the literal.
"Aren't there as many as five mice left? You know you said yourself
there were hundreds before Sandyface and her children came."

"Glo-_ree_! I done s'peck dey got down to purty few numbers," agreed
Uncle Rufus. "Hi! wot dat cat do now?"

"Scat!" cried Mrs. MacCall. She had left the table for a moment, and
Popocatepetl was upon it.

"Petal!" shrieked Ruth, and darted for the pantry to seize her pet.

All three scolding her, and making for her, made Popocatepetl quite
hysterical. She arched her back, spit angrily, and then dove from the
table. In her flight she overturned the china cup of molasses which fell
to the floor and broke. The sticky liquid was scattered far and wide.

"That kitten!" Mrs. MacCall shrieked.

"Wait! wait!" begged Ruth, trying to grab up Petal.

But the cat dodged her and went right through the molasses on the floor.
All her four paws were covered. Wherever she stepped she left an
imprint. And when the excited Ruth grabbed for her again, she capped her
ridiculous performance by leaping right into the box of feathers!

Finding herself hopelessly "stuck-up" now, Popocatepetl went completely
crazy!

She leaped from the box, scattering a trail of sticky feathers behind
her. She made a single lap around the kitchen trying for an outlet,
faster than any kitten had ever traveled before in that room.

"Stop her!" shrieked Ruth.

"My clean kitchen!" wailed Mrs. MacCall.

"Looker dem fedders! looker dem fedders!" gasped Uncle Rufus. "She done
got dem all stuck on her fo' sho'!"

"Oh, oh!" squealed Tess and Dot, in chorus, and clinging together as
Petal dashed past them.

Just at this moment Agnes opened the door and saw what appeared to be an
animated feather-boa dashing about the kitchen, with the bulk of the
family in pursuit.

"What for goodness' sake is the matter?" gasped Agnes.

Popocatepetl saw the open door and she went through it as though she had
been shot out of a gun, leaving a trail of feathers in her wake and
splotches of molasses all over the kitchen floor.



CHAPTER X

THE ICE STORM


The four girls followed Popocatepetl out of the house in a hurry. Their
shrill voices aroused Neale O'Neil where he was spading up a piece of
Mr. Con Murphy's garden for a planting of winter spinach. He came over
the fence in a hurry and ran up the long yard.

"What's the matter? What's the matter?" he shouted.

The chorus of explanation was so confused that Neale might never have
learned the difficulty to this very moment, had he not looked up into
the bare branches of the Keifer pear tree and seen an object clinging
close to a top limb.

"For pity's sake!" he gasped. "What is that?"

"It's Petal," shrilled Dot. "An' she's felled into the merlasses and got
herself all feathers."

At that her sisters burst out laughing. It was too bad the little cat
was so frightened, but it _was_ too comical for anything!

"You don't call that a cat?" demanded Neale, when he could control his
own risibilities.

"Of course it's a cat," said Tess, rather warmly. "You know Ruthie's
Popocatepetl, Neale--you know you do."

"But a thing with feathers, roosting in a tree, must be some kind of a
fowl--yes?" asked Neale, with gravity.

"It's a cat-bird," announced Agnes.

The younger girls could not see any fun in the situation. Poor Petal,
clinging to the high branch of the tree, and faintly mewing, touched
their hearts, so Neale went up like a professional acrobat and after
some difficulty brought the frightened cat down.

"She'll have to be plucked just like a chicken," declared Ruth. "Did you
_ever_ see such a mess in all your life?"

Neale held the cat so she could not scratch, and Agnes and Ruth
"plucked" her and wiped off the molasses as best they could. But it was
several days before Popocatepetl was herself again.

By this time, too, Neale O'Neil's green halo was beginning to wear off.
As Mr. Con Murphy said, he looked less like "a blushin' grane onion"
than he had immediately after the concoction the drugstore clerk had
sold him took effect.

"And 'tis hopin' 'twill be a lesson ye'll allus remimber," pursued the
old cobbler. "Niver thrust too much to whativer comes in a bottle!
Remimber 'tis not the label ye air to use. The only r'ally honest label
that kems out of a drug-sthore is thim that has the skull and crossbones
on 'em. You kin be sure of them; they're pizen an' no mistake!"

Neale had to listen to a good deal that was harder to bear than any of
Mr. Murphy's quaint philosophy. But he restrained himself and did not
fight any boy going to school.

In the first place, Neale O'Neil was going to school for just one
purpose. He wished to learn. To boys and girls who had always had the
advantages of school, this desire seemed strange enough. They could not
understand Neale.

And because of his earnestness about study, and because he refused to
tell anything about himself, they counted Neale odd. The Corner House
girls were the only real friends the boy had in Milton among the young
folk. But some older people began to count Neale as a boy of promise.

Green as his head was dyed, it was a perfectly good head when it came to
study, as he had assured Mr. Marks. The principal watched the youngster
and formed a better opinion of him than he had at first borne. Miss
Shipman found him a perfectly satisfactory scholar.

The people he worked for at odd jobs, after and before school, learned
that he was faithful and smart. Mr. Con Murphy had a good word for the
boy to everybody who came into his shop.

Yet, withal, he could not make close friends. One must give confidence
for confidence if one wishes to make warm friendships. And Neale was as
secretive as he could be.

Neale kept close to the neighborhood of the cobbler's and the old Corner
House. Agnes told Ruth that she believed Neale never turned a corner
without first peeking around it! He was always on the _qui
vive_--expecting to meet somebody of whom he was afraid. And every
morning he ran over to the Corner House early and looked at the first
column on the front page of the _Morning Post_, as it lay on the big
veranda.

The four Corner House girls all achieved some distinction in their
school grades within the first few weeks of the fall term. Ruth made
friends as she always did wherever she went. Other girls did not get a
sudden "crush" on Ruth Kenway, and then as quickly forget her.
Friendship for her was based upon respect and admiration for her sense
and fine qualities of character.

Agnes fought her way as usual to the semi-leadership of her class, Trix
Severn to the contrary notwithstanding. She was not quite as good
friends with Eva Larry as she had been, and had soon cooled a trifle
toward Myra Stetson, but there were dozens of other girls to pick and
choose from, and in rotation Agnes became interested in most of those in
her grade.

Tess was the one who came home with the most adventures to tell. There
always seemed to be "something doing" in Miss Andrews' room.

"We're all going to save our money toward a Christmas tree for our
room," Tess announced, long before cold weather had set in "for keeps."
"Miss Andrews says we can have one, but those that aren't good can have
nothing to do with it. I'm afraid," added Tess, seriously, "that not
many of the boys in our grade will have anything to do with that tree."

"Is Miss Andrews so dreadfully strict?" asked Dot, round-eyed.

"Yes, she is--awful!"

"I hope she'll get married, then, and leave school before I get into her
grade."

"But maybe she won't ever marry," Tess declared.

"Don't all ladies marry--some time?" queried Dot, in surprise.

"Aunt Sarah never did, for one."

"Oh--well----Don't you suppose there's enough men to go 'round, Tess?"
cried Dot, in some alarm. "Wouldn't it be dreadful to grow up like Aunt
Sarah--or your Miss Andrews?"

Tess tossed her head. "I am going to be a suffragette," she announced.
"They don't have to have husbands. Anyway, if they have them," qualified
Tess, "they don't never bother about them much!"

Tess' mind, however, was full of that proposed Christmas tree. Maria
Maroni was going to bring an orange for each pupil--girls and boys
alike--to be hung on the tree. Her father had promised her that.

Alfredia Blossom, Jackson Montgomery Simms Blossom, and Burne-Jones
Whistler Blossom had stored bushels of hickory nuts and butternuts in
the cockloft of their mother's cabin, and they had promised to help fill
the stockings that the girls' sewing class was to make.

Every girl of Tess' acquaintance was going to do something "lovely," and
she wanted to know what _she_ could do?

"Why, Sadie Goronofsky says maybe she'll _buy_ something to hang on the
tree. She is going to have a lot of money saved by Christmas time,"
declared Tess.

"Why, Tess," said Agnes, "isn't Sadie Goronofsky Mrs. Goronofsky's
little girl that lives in one of our tenements on Meadow Street?"

"No. She's _Mister_ Goronofsky's little girl. The lady Mr. Goronofsky
married is only Sadie's step-mother. She told me so."

"But they are very poor people," Ruth said. "I know, for they can
scarcely pay their rent some months. Mr. Howbridge told me so."

"There are a lot of little children in the family," said Agnes.

"And Sadie is the oldest," Tess said. "You see, she told me how it was.
She has to go home nights and wash and dry the dishes, and sweep, and
take care of the baby--and lots of things. She never has any time to
play.

"But on Friday night--that's just like our Saturday night, you know,"
explained Tess, "for they celebrate Saturday as Sunday--they're Jewish
people. Well, on Friday night, Sadie tells me, her step-mother puts a
quarter for her in a big red bank in their kitchen."

"Puts a quarter each week in Sarah's bank?" said Ruth. "Why, that's
fine!"

"Yes. It's because Sadie washes the dishes and takes care of the baby so
nice. And before Christmas the bank is going to be opened. Then Sadie is
going to get something nice for all her little step-brothers and
sisters, and something nice for our tree, too."

"She'll have a lot of money," said Agnes. "Must be they're not so poor
as they make out, Ruth."

"Mr. Goronofsky has a little tailor business, and that's all," Ruth
said, gravely. "I--I sha'n't tell Mr. Howbridge about Sadie and her
bank."

Thanksgiving came and went--and it was a real Thanksgiving for the
Corner House girls. They had never had such a fine time on that national
festival before, although they were all alone--just the regular
family--at the table.

Neale was to have helped eat the plump hen turkey that Mrs. MacCall
roasted, but the very night before Thanksgiving he came to Ruth and
begged off.

"I got to talking with Mr. Murphy this afternoon," said Neale, rather
shamefacedly, "and he said he hadn't eaten a Thanksgiving dinner since
his wife and child drowned in the Johnstown flood--and that was years
and years ago, you know.

"So I asked him if he'd have a good dinner if I stayed and ate it with
him, and the old fellow said he would," Neale continued. "And Mrs. Judy
Roach--the widow woman who does the extra cleaning for him--will come to
cook the dinner.

"He's gone out to buy the turkey--the biggest gobbler he can get, he
told me--for Mrs. Judy has a raft of young ones, 'all av thim wid
appetites like a famine in ould Ireland,' he told me."

"Oh, Neale!" cried Ruth, with tears in her eyes.

"He's a fine old man," declared Neale, "when you get under the skin.
Mrs. Judy Roach and her brood will get a square meal for once in their
lives--believe me."

So Neale stayed at the cobbler's and helped do the honors of that
Thanksgiving dinner. He reported to the Corner House girls later how it
"went off."

"'For phat we are about to resave,' as Father Dooley says--Aloysius, ye
spalpane! ye have an eye open, squintin' at the tur-r-rkey!--'lit us be
trooly thankful,'" observed Mr. Con Murphy, standing up to carve the
huge, brown bird. "Kape your elbows off the table, Aloysius Roach--ye
air too old ter hev such bad manners. What par-r-rt of the bir-r-d will
ye have, Aloysius?"

"A drumstick," announced Aloysius.

"A drumstick it is--polish that now, ye spalpane, and polish it well.
And Alice, me dear, phat will _youse_ hev?" pursued Mr. Murphy.

"I'll take a leg, too, Mr. Murphy," said the oldest Roach girl.

"Quite right. Iv'ry par-r-rt stringthens a par-r-rt--an' 'tis a
spindle-shanks I notice ye air, Alice. And you, Patrick Sarsfield?" to
the next boy.

"Leg," said Patrick Sarsfield, succinctly.

Mr. Murphy dropped the carver and fork, and made a splotch of gravy on
the table.

"_What?_" he shouted. "Hev ye not hear-r-rd two legs already bespoke,
Patrick Sarsfield, an' ye come back at me for another? Phat for kind of
a baste do ye think this is? I'm not carvin' a cinterpede, I'd hev ye
know!"

At last the swarm of hungry Roaches was satisfied, and, according to
Neale's report, the dinner went off very well indeed, save that his
mother feared she would have to grease and roll Patrick Sarsfield before
the fire to keep him from bursting, he ate so much!

It was shortly after Thanksgiving that Milton suffered from its famous
ice-storm. The trees and foliage in general suffered greatly, and the
_Post_ said there would probably be little fruit the next year. For the
young folk of the town it brought great sport.

The Corner House girls awoke on that Friday morning to see everything
out-of-doors a glare of ice. The shade trees on the Parade were borne
down by the weight of the ice that covered even the tiniest twig on
every tree. Each blade of grass was stiff with an armor of ice. And a
scum of it lay upon all the ground.

The big girls put on their skates and dragged Tess and Dot to school.
Almost all the older scholars who attended school that day went on
steel. At recess and after the session the Parade was the scene of races
and impromptu games of hockey.

The girls of the sixth grade, grammar, held races of their own. Trix
Severn was noted for her skating, and heretofore had been champion of
all the girls of her own age, or younger. She was fourteen--nearly two
years older than Agnes Kenway.

But Agnes was a vigorous and graceful skater. She skated with Neale
O'Neil (who at once proved himself as good as any boy on the ice) and
_that_ offended Trix, for she had wished to skate with Neale herself.

Since the green tinge had faded out of Neale's hair, and it had grown to
a respectable length, the girls had all cast approving glances at him.
Oddly enough, his hair had grown out a darker shade than before. It
could not be the effect of the dye, but he certainly was no longer "the
white-haired boy."

Well! Trix was real cross because Agnes Kenway skated with Neale. Then,
when the sixth grade, grammar, girls got up the impromptu races, Trix
found that Agnes was one of her closest competitors.

While the boys played hockey at the upper end of the Parade, the girls
raced 'way to Willow Street and back again. Best two out of three trials
it was, and the first trial was won by Agnes--and she did it easily!

"Why! you've beaten Trix," Eva Larry cried to Agnes. "However did you do
it? She always beats us skating."

"Oh, I broke a strap," announced Trix, quickly. "Come on! we'll try it
again, and I'll show you."

"I believe Agnes can beat you every time, Trix," laughed Eva, lightly.

Trix flew into a passion at this. And of course, all her venom was aimed
at Agnes.

"I'll show that upstart Corner House girl that she sha'n't ride over
_me_," she declared, angrily, as the contestants gathered for the second
trial of speed.



CHAPTER XI

THE SKATING RACE


There were nearly thirty girls who lined up for the second heat. Many
who had tried the first time dropped out, having been distanced so
greatly by the leaders.

"But that is no way to do!" laughed Agnes, ignoring Trix Severn and her
gibes. "It is anybody's race yet. One never knows what may happen in a
free-for-all like this. Trix, or Eva, or I, may turn an ankle----"

"Or break another strap," broke in Eva, laughing openly at Trix.

"Just you wait!" muttered Trix Severn, in a temper.

Now, giving way to one's temper never helps in a contest of strength or
skill. Agnes herself was trying to prove that axiom; but Trix had never
tried to restrain herself.

Ere this Miss Shipman had changed Agnes' seat in the class-room, seeing
plainly that Trix continued her annoying actions; Agnes had striven to
be patient because she loved Miss Shipman and did not want to make
trouble in her grade.

Agnes took her place now as far from Trix as she could get. Ruth, and
another of the older girls were at the line, and one of the high school
boys who owned a stop-watch timed the race.

"Ready!" he shouted. "Set!"

The race was from a dead start. The girls bent forward, their left feet
upon the mark.

"Go!" shouted the starter.

The smoothest stretch of ice was right down the center of the Parade. It
was still so cold that none of the trees had begun to drip. Some
employees of the town Highway Department were trying to knock the ice
off the trees, so as to save the overweighted branches.

But thus far these workmen had kept away from the impromptu race-course.
Down the middle of the park the girls glided toward the clump of spruce
trees, around which they must skate before returning.

Trix, Eva, Myra, Pearl Harrod and Lucy Poole all shot ahead at the
start. Agnes "got off on the wrong foot," as the saying is, and found
herself outdistanced at first.

But she was soon all right. She had a splendid stroke for a girl, and
she possessed pluck and endurance.

She crept steadily up on the leading contestants, passing Eva, Myra, and
Lucy before half the length of the Parade Ground was behind them.

Trix was in the lead and Pearl Harrod was fighting her for first place.

Agnes kept to one side and just before the trio reached the spruce clump
at Willow Street, she shot in, rounded the clump alone, and started up
the course like the wind upon the return trip!

Trix fairly screamed after her, she was so vexed. Trix, too, had
endurance. She left Pearl behind and skated hard after Agnes Kenway.

She never would have caught her, however, had it not been for an odd
accident that happened to the Corner House girl.

As Agnes shot up the course, one of the workmen came with a long pole
with a hook on the end of it, and began to shake the bent branches of a
tree near the skating course. Off rattled a lot of ice, falling to the
hard surface below and breaking into thousands of small bits.

Agnes was in the midst of this rubbish before she knew it. One
skate-runner got entangled in some pieces and down she went--first to
her knees and then full length upon her face!

Some of the other girls shrieked with laughter. But it might have been a
serious accident, Agnes was skating so fast.

Trix saved her breath to taunt her rival later, and, skating around the
bits of ice, won the heat before Agnes, much shaken and bruised, had
climbed to her feet.

"Oh, Aggie! you're not really hurt, are you?" cried Ruth, hurrying to
her sister.

"My goodness! I don't know," gasped Agnes. "I saw stars."

"You have a bump on your forehead," said one girl.

"I feel as though I had them all over me," groaned Agnes.

"I know that will turn black and blue," said Lucy, pointing to the lump
on Agnes' forehead.

"And yellow and green, too," admitted Agnes. Then she giggled and added
in a whisper to Ruth: "It will be as brilliant as Neale's hair was when
he dyed it!"

"Well, you showed us what you could do in the first heat, Aggie," said
Pearl, cheerfully. "I believe that you can easily beat Trix."

"Oh, yes!" snarled the latter girl, who over-heard this. "A poor excuse
for not racing is better than none."

"Well! I declare, Trix, if _you'd_ fallen down," began Eva; but Agnes
interrupted:

"I haven't said I wasn't going to skate the third heat."

"Oh! you can't, Aggie," Ruth said.

"I'd skate it if I'd broken both legs and all my promises!" declared
Agnes, sharply. "That girl isn't going to put it all over me without a
fight!"

"Great!" cried Eva. "Show her."

"I admire your pluck, but not your language, Aggie," said her older
sister. "And if you _can_ show her----"

Agnes did show them all. She had been badly shaken up by her fall, and
her head began to throb painfully, but the color had come back into her
cheeks and she took her place in the line of contestants again with a
bigger determination than ever to win.

She got off on the right foot this time! Only eighteen girls started and
all of them were grimly determined to do their best.

The boys had left off their hockey games and crowded along the starting
line and the upper end of the track, to watch the girls race. People had
come out from their houses to get a closer view of the excitement, and
some of the teachers--including Mr. Marks and the physical
instructors--were in the crowd. The boys began to root for their
favorites, and Agnes heard Neale leading the cheers for her.

Trix Severn was not much of a favorite with the boys; she wasn't "a good
sport." But the second Kenway girl had showed herself to be good fun
right from the start.

"Got it, Agnes! Hurrah for the Corner House girl!" shrieked one
youngster who belonged in the sixth grade, grammar.

"Eva Larry for mine," declared another. "She's some little skater, and
don't you forget it."

Some of the boys started down the track after the flying contestants,
but Ruth darted after them and begged them to keep out of the way so as
not to confuse the racers when they should come back up the Parade
Ground.

Meanwhile Agnes was taking no chances of being left behind this time.
She had gotten off right and was in the lead within the first few yards.
Putting forth all her strength at first, she easily distanced most of
the eighteen. It was, after all, a short race, and she knew that she
must win it "under the whip," if at all.

Her fall would soon stiffen and lame her; Agnes knew that very well.
Ordinarily she would have given in to the pain she felt and owned that
she had been hurt. But Trix's taunts were hard to bear--harder than the
pain in her knee and in her head.

Once she glanced over her shoulder and saw Trix right behind--the
nearest girl to her in the race. The glance inspired her to put on more
steam. She managed to lead the crowd to the foot of the Parade.

She turned the clump of spruce trees on the "long roll" and found a
dozen girls right at her heels as she faced up the Parade again. Trix
was in the midst of them.

There was some confusion, but Agnes kept out of it. She had her wits
very much about her, too; and she saw that Trix cut the spruce clump
altogether--turning just before reaching the place, and so saving many
yards.

In the excitement none of the other racers, save Agnes, noticed this
trick. "Cheat!" thought Agnes. But the very fact that her enemy was
dishonest made Agnes the more determined to beat her.

Agnes' breath was growing short, however; _how_ her head throbbed! And
her right knee felt as though the skin was all abrased and the cap
fairly cracked. Of course, she knew this last could not be true, or she
would not be skating at all; but she was in more pain than she had ever
suffered in her life before without "giving in" to it.

She gritted her teeth and held grimly to her course. Trix suddenly
pulled up even with her. Agnes knew the girl never would have done so
had she not cheated at the bottom of the course.

"I'll win without playing baby, or I won't win at all!" the Corner House
girl promised herself. "If she can win after cheating, let her!"

And it looked at the moment as though Trix had the better chance. She
drew ahead and was evidently putting forth all her strength to keep the
lead.

Right ahead was the spot where the broken ice covered the course. Agnes
bore well away from it; Trix swept out, too, and almost collided with
her antagonist.

"Look where you're going! Don't you dare foul me!" screamed the Severn
girl at Agnes.

That flash of rage cost Trix something. Agnes made no reply--not even
when Trix flung back another taunt, believing that the race was already
won.

But it was not. "I will! _I will!_" thought Agnes, and she stooped lower
and shot up the course passing Trix not three yards from the line, and
winning by only an arm's length.

"I beat her! I beat her!" cried Trix, blinded with tears, and almost
falling to the ice. "Don't you dare say I didn't."

"It doesn't take much courage to say that, Beatrice," said Miss Shipman,
right at her elbow. "We all saw the race. It was fairly won by Agnes."

"It wasn't either! She's a cheat!" gasped the enraged girl, without
realizing that she was speaking to her teacher instead of to another
girl.

This was almost too much for Agnes' self-possession. She was in pain and
almost hysterical herself. She darted forward and demanded:

"Where did _I_ cheat, Miss? You can't say _I_ didn't skate around the
spruce clump down there."

"That's right, Aggie," said the high school girl who had been on watch
with Ruth. "I saw Trix cut that clump, and if she'd gotten in first,
she'd have lost on that foul."

"That's a story!" exclaimed Trix; but she turned pale.

"Say no more about it, girls. The race is won by Agnes--and won
honestly," Miss Georgiana said.

But Trix Severn considered she had been very ill-used by Agnes. She
buried _that_ bone and carefully marked the spot where it lay.



CHAPTER XII

THE CHRISTMAS PARTY


"What do you think Sammy Pinkney said in joggerfry class to-day?"
observed Tess, one evening at the supper table.

"'Geography,' dear. Don't try to shorten your words so," begged Ruth.

"I--I forgot," admitted Tess. "'Ge-og-er-fry!' Is that right?"

"Shucks!" exclaimed Agnes. "Let's have the joke. I bet Sammy Pinkney is
always up to something."

"He likes Tess, Sammy does," piped up Dot, "for he gave her Billy
Bumps."

Tess grew fiery red. "I don't want boys liking me!" she declared. "Only
Neale."

"And especially not Sam Pinkney, eh?" said Agnes. "But what happened?
You have us all worked up, Tess."

"Why, Miss Andrews was telling us that the 'stan' at the end of any word
meant 'the place of'--like Afghanistan, the place the Afghans live----"

"That's what Mrs. Adams is knitting," interposed Dot, placidly.

"_What?_" demanded Agnes. "Why, the Afghans are a people--in Asia--right
near India."

"She's knitting one; she told me so," declared Dot, holding her ground
obstinately. "She knits it out of worsted."

"That's right," laughed Ruth. "It's a crocheted 'throw' for a couch. You
are right, Dot; and so are you, too, Aggie."

"Are we ever going to get to Sammy Pinkney?" groaned Agnes.

"Well!" said Tess, indignantly, "I'll tell you, if you'll give me a
chance."

"Sail right in, sister," chuckled Agnes.

"So Miss Andrews said 'stan' meant 'the place of,'" rushed on Tess,
"like Afghanistan, and Hindoostan, 'the place of the Hindoos,' and she
says:

"'Can any of you give another example of the use of "stan" for the end
of a word?' and Sammy says:

"'I can, Miss Andrews. Umbrellastan--the place of the umbrellars,' and
now Sammy," concluded Tess, "can't have any stocking on our Christmas
tree."

"I guess Sammy was trying to be smart," said Dot, gravely.

"He's a smart boy, all right," Agnes chuckled. "I heard him last Sunday
in Sunday school class. He's in Miss Pepperill's class right behind
ours. Miss Pepperill asked Eddie Collins:

"'What happened to Babylon?'

"'It fell,' replied Ed.

"'And what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah?' she asked Robbie Foote, and
Robbie said:

"'They were destroyed, Miss Pepperill.'

"Then she came to Sammy. 'What of Tyre, Sammy?' she asked.

"'Punctured,' said Sammy, and got the whole class to laughing."

"Oh, now, Aggie!" queried Ruth, doubtfully, "isn't that a joke?"

"No more than Tess's story is a joke," giggled the plump girl.

"But it's no joke for Sammy to lose his part in the Christmas
entertainment," said Tess, seriously. "I'm going to buy him a pair of
wristlets, his wrists are so chapped."

"You keep on planning to buy presents for all the boys that are shut out
of participating in the Christmas tree," laughed Ruth, "and you'll use
up all your spending money, Tess."

Tess was reflective. "Boys are always getting into trouble, aren't
they?" she observed. "It's lucky we haven't any in this family."

"I think so myself, Tess," agreed Ruth.

"Well! Nice boys like Neale," spoke up the loyal Dot, "wouldn't hurt any
family."

"But there aren't many nice ones like Neale," said Tess, with
conviction. "'Most always they seem to be getting into trouble and being
punished. The teachers don't like them much."

"Oh, _our_ teacher does," said Dot, eagerly. "There's Jacob Bloomer. You
know--his father is the German baker on Meadow Street. Our teacher used
to like him a lot."

"And what's the matter with Jakey now?" asked Agnes. "Is he in her bad
books?"

"I don't know would you call it 'bad books,'" Dot said. "But he doesn't
bring the teacher a pretzel any more."

"A pretzel!" exclaimed Ruth.

"What a ridiculous thing to bring," said Agnes.

"She liked them," Dot said, nodding. "But she doesn't eat them any
more."

"Why not?" asked Ruth.

"We--ell, Jacob doesn't bring them."

"Do tell us why not!"

"Why," said Dot, earnestly, "you see teacher told Jacob one day that she
liked them, but she wished his father didn't make them so salty. So
after that Jacob always brought teacher a pretzel without any salt on
it.

"'It's very kind,' teacher told Jacob, 'of your father to make me a
pretzel 'specially every day,' she told him, 'without the salt.' And
Jacob told her his father didn't do any such thing; _he_ licked the salt
off before he gave teacher the pretzel--an' she hasn't never eaten any
since, and Jacob's stopped bringing them," concluded Dot.

"Well! what do you think of that?" gasped Agnes. "I should think your
teacher _would_ lose her taste for pretzels."

"But I don't suppose Jacob understands," said Ruth, smiling.

"Oh, Ruth!" cried Agnes, suddenly. "It's at Mr. Bloomer's where Carrie
Poole's having her big party cake made. Lucy told me so. Lucy is
Carrie's cousin, you know."

"I heard about that party," said Tess. "It's going to be _grand_. Are
you and Aggie going, Ruth?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said the oldest Corner House girl. "I haven't
been invited yet."

"Nor me, either," confessed Agnes. "Don't you suppose we shall be? I
want to go, awfully, Ruthie."

"It's the first really _big_ party that's been gotten up this winter,"
agreed Ruth. "I don't know Carrie Poole very well, though she's in my
class."

"They live in a great big farmhouse on the Buckshot Road," Agnes said.
"Lucy told me. A beautiful place. Lots of the girls in my grade are
going. Trix Severn is very good friends with Carrie Poole, they say.
Why, Ruth! can _that_ be the reason why we haven't been invited?"

"_What's_ the reason?"

"'Cause Trix is good friends with Carrie? Trix's mother is some relation
to Mrs. Poole. That Trix girl is so mean I _know_ she'll just work us
out of any invitation to the party."

Agnes' eyes flashed and it looked as though a storm was coming. But Ruth
remained tranquil.

"There will be other parties," the older girl said. "It won't kill us to
miss this one."

"Speak for yourself!" complained Agnes. "It just kill us with some of
the girls. The Pooles are very select. If we are left out of Carrie's
party, we'll be left out of the best of everything that goes on this
winter."

Ruth would not admit to Agnes just how badly she felt about the fact
that they were seemingly overlooked by Carrie Poole in the distribution
of the latter's favors. The party was to be on the Friday night of the
week immediately preceding Christmas.

There had been no snow of any consequence as yet, but plenty of cold
weather. Milton Pond was safely frozen over and the Corner House girls
were there almost every afternoon. Tess was learning to skate and Ruth
and Agnes took turns drawing Dot about the pond on her sled.

Neale O'Neil had several furnaces to attend to now, and he always looked
after the removal of the ashes to the curbline, and did other dirty
work, immediately after school. But as soon as his work was finished he,
too, hurried to the pond.

Neale was a favorite with the girls--and without putting forth any
special effort on his part to be so. He was of a retiring disposition,
and aside from his acquaintanceship with some of the boys of his grade
and his friendship with the Corner House girls, Neale O'Neil did not
appear to care much for youthful society.

For one thing, Neale felt his position keenly. He was the oldest scholar
in his class. Miss Shipman considered him her brightest pupil, but the
fact remained that he really should have been well advanced in high
school. Ruth Kenway was only a year older than Neale.

His size, his good looks, and his graceful skating, attracted the
attention of the older girls who sought the Milton Pond for recreation.

"There's that Neale O'Neil," said Carrie Poole, to some friends, on this
particular afternoon, when she saw the boy putting on his skates. "Don't
any of you girls know him? I want him at my party."

"He's dreadfully offish," complained Pearl Harrod.

"He seems to be friendly enough with the Corner House girls," said
Carrie. "If they weren't such stuck-up things----"

"Who says they're stuck up?" demanded her cousin Lucy. "I'm sure Aggie
isn't."

"Trix says she is. And I must say Ruth keeps to herself a whole lot.
She's in my class but I scarcely ever speak to her," said Carrie.

"Now you've said something," laughed Eva Larry. "Ruth isn't a girl who
puts herself forward, believe me!"

"They're all four jolly girls," declared Lucy.

"The kids and all."

"Oh! I don't want any kids out to the house Friday night," said Carrie.

"Do you mean to say you haven't asked Aggie and Ruth?" gasped Pearl.

"Not yet."

"Why not?" demanded Lucy, bluntly.

"Why----I don't know them very well," said Carrie, hastily. "But I _do_
want that Neale O'Neil. So few boys know how to act at a party. And I
wager _he_ dances."

"I can tell you right now," said Lucy, "you'll never get him to come
unless the Corner House girls are invited. Why! they're the only girls
of us all who know him right well."

"I am going to try him," said Carrie Poole, with sudden decision.

She skated right over to Neale O'Neil just as he had finished strapping
on the cobbler's old skates that had been lent him. Carrie Poole was a
big girl--nearly seventeen. She was too wise to attack Neale directly
with the request she had to make.

"Mr. O'Neil," she said, with a winning smile, "I saw you doing the
'double-roll' the other day, and you did it so easily! I've been trying
to get it for a long while. Will you show me--please--just a little?"

Even the gruffest boy could scarcely escape from such a net--and Neale
O'Neil was never impolite. He agreed to show her, and did so. Of course
they became more or less friendly within a few minutes.

"It's so kind of you," said Carrie, when she had managed to get the
figure very nicely. "I'm a thousand times obliged. But it wasn't just
this that I wanted to talk with you about."

Neale looked amazed. He was not used to the feminine mind.

"I wanted to pluck up my courage," laughed Carrie, "to ask you to come
to my party Friday evening. Just a lot of the boys and girls, all of
whom you know, I am sure. I'd dearly love to have you come, Mr. O'Neil."

"But--but I don't really know _your_ name," stammered Neale.

"Why! I'm Carrie Poole."

"And I'm sure I don't know where you live," Neale hastened to say. "It's
very kind of you----"

"Then you'll come?" cried Carrie, confidently. "We live out of town--on
the Buckshot Road. Anybody will tell you."

"I suppose the Kenway girls will know," said Neale, doubtfully. "I can
go along with them."

Carrie was a girl who thought quickly. She had really promised Trix
Severn that she would not invite Ruth and Agnes Kenway to her party; but
how could she get out of doing just that under these circumstances?

"Of course," she cried, with apparently perfect frankness. "I sincerely
hope they'll both come. And I can depend upon you to be there, Mr.
O'Neil?"

Then she skated straight away and found Ruth and Agnes and invited them
for Friday night in a most graceful way.

"I wanted to ask you girls personally instead of sending a formal
invite," she said, warmly. "You being new girls, you know. You'll come?
That's so kind of you! I shouldn't feel that the party would be a
success if you Corner House girls were not there."

So that is how they got the invitation; but at the time the Kenway
sisters did not suspect how near they came to not being invited at all
to the Christmas party.



CHAPTER XIII

THE BARN DANCE


Such a "hurly-burly" as there was about the old Corner House on Friday
afternoon! Everybody save Aunt Sarah was on the _qui vive_ over the
Christmas party--for this was the first important social occasion to
which any of the Kenway sisters had been invited since coming to Milton
to live.

Miss Titus, that famous gossip and seamstress, had been called in again,
and the girls all had plenty of up-to-date winter frocks made. Miss
Titus' breezy conversation vastly interested Dot, who often sat silently
nursing her Alice-doll in the sewing room, ogling the seamstress
wonderingly as her tongue ran on. "'N so, you see, he says to her," was
a favorite phrase with Miss Titus.

Mrs. MacCall said the seamstress' tongue was "hung in the middle and ran
at both ends." But Dot's comment was even more to the point. After Miss
Titus had started home after a particularly gossipy day at the old
Corner House, Dot said:

"Ruthie, don't you think Miss Titus seems to know an awful lot of _un-so
news_?"

However, to come to the important Friday of Carrie Poole's party: Ruth
and Agnes were finally dressed. They only _looked_ at their supper. Who
wanted to eat just before going to a real, country barn-dance? That is
what Carrie had promised her school friends.

Ruth and Agnes had their coats and furs on half an hour before Neale
O'Neil came for them. It was not until then that the girls noticed how
really shabby Neale was. His overcoat was thin, and plainly had not been
made for him.

Ruth knew she could not give the proud boy anything of value. He was
making his own way and had refused every offer of assistance they had
made him. He bore his poverty jauntily and held his head so high, and
looked at the world so fearlessly, that it would have taken courage
indeed to have accused him of being in need.

He strutted along beside the girls, his unmittened hands deep in his
pockets. His very cheerfulness denied the cold, and when Ruth timidly
said something about it, Neale said gruffly that "mittens were for
babies!"

It was a lowery evening as the trio of young folk set forth. The clouds
had threatened snow all day, and occasionally a flake--spying out the
land ahead of its vast army of brothers--drifted through the air and
kissed one's cheek.

Ruth, Agnes, and Neale talked of the possible storm, and the coming
Christmas season, and of school, as they hurried along. It was a long
walk out the Buckshot Road until they came in sight of the brilliantly
lighted Poole farmhouse.

It stood at the top of the hill--a famous coasting place--and it looked
almost like a castle, with all its windows alight, and now and then a
flutter of snowflakes falling between the approaching young people and
the lampshine from the doors and windows.

The girls and boys were coming from all directions--some from across the
open, frozen fields, some from crossroads, and other groups, like the
Corner House girls and Neale O'Neil, along the main highway.

Some few came in hacks, or private carriages; but not many. Milton
people were, for the most part, plain folk, and frowned upon any
ostentation.

The Corner House girls and their escort reached the Poole homestead in
good season. The entire lower floor was open to them, save the kitchen,
where Mother Poole and the hired help were busy with the huge supper
that was to be served later.

There was music and singing, and a patheoscope entertainment at first,
while everybody was getting acquainted with everybody else. But the boys
soon escaped to the barn.

The Poole barn was an enormous one. The open floor, with the great mows
on either side, and the forest of rafters overhead, could have
accommodated a full company of the state militia, for its drill and
evolutions.

Under the mows on either hand were the broad stalls for the cattle--the
horses' intelligent heads looking over the mangers at the brilliantly
lighted scene, from one side, while the mild-eyed cows and oxen chewed
their cud on the other side of the barn floor.

All the farm machinery and wagons had been removed, and the open space
thoroughly swept. Rows of Chinese lanterns, carefully stayed so that the
candles should not set them afire, were strung from end to end of the
barn. Overhead the beams of three great lanterns were reflected downward
upon the dancing-floor.

When the boys first began to crowd out to the barn, all the decorating
was not quite finished, and the workmen had left a rope hanging from a
beam above. Some of the boys began swinging on that rope.

"Here's Neale! Here's Neale O'Neil!" cried one of the sixth grade boys
when Neale appeared. "Come on, Neale. Show us what you did on the rope
in the school gym."

Most boys can easily be tempted to "show off" a little when it comes to
gymnastic exercises. Neale seized the rope and began to mount it,
stiff-legged and "hand over hand." It was a feat that a professional
acrobat would have found easy, but that very few but professionals could
have accomplished.

It was when he reached the beam that the boy surprised his mates. He got
his legs over the beam and rested for a moment; then he commenced the
descent.

In some way he wrapped his legs around the rope and, head down, suddenly
shot toward the floor at a fear-exciting pace.

Several of the girls, with Mr. Poole, were just entering the barn. The
girls shrieked, for they thought Neale was falling.

But the boy halted in midflight, swung up his body quickly, seized the
rope again with both hands, and dropped lightly to the floor.

"Bravo!" cried Mr. Poole, leading the applause. "I declare, that was
well done. I saw a boy at Twomley & Sorber's Circus this last summer do
that very thing--and he did it no better."

"Oh, but that couldn't have been Neale, Mr. Poole," Agnes Kenway
hastened to say, "for Neale tells us that he never went to a circus in
his life."

"He might easily be the junior member of an acrobatic troupe, just the
same," said Mr. Poole; but Neale had slipped away from them for the time
being and the farmer got no chance to interview the boy.

A large-sized talking machine was wheeled into place and the farmer put
in the dance records himself. The simple dances--such as they had
learned at school or in the juvenile dancing classes--brought even the
most bashful boys out upon the floor. There were no wallflowers, for
Carrie was a good hostess and, after all, had picked her company with
some judgment.

The girls began dancing with their furs and coats on; but soon they
threw their wraps aside, for the barn floor seemed as warm as any
ballroom.

They had lots of fun in the "grand march," and with a magic-lantern one
of the boys flashed vari-colored lights upon the crowd from the
loft-ladder at the end of the barn.

Suddenly Mr. Poole put a band record in the machine, and as the march
struck up, the great doors facing the house were rolled back. They had
been dancing for more than two hours. It was after ten o 'clock.

"Oh!" shouted the girls.

"Ah!" cried the boys.

The snow was now drifting steadily down, and between the illumination by
the colored slides in the lantern, and that from the blazing windows of
the big house, it was indeed a scene to suggest fairyland!

"Into the house--all of you!" shouted Mr. Poole. "Boys, assist your
partners through the snow."

"Come on! Come on!" shouted Carrie, in the lead with Neale O'Neil.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"

"Charge for the _eats_, they said!" added Agnes. "Oh--ow--ouch! over my
shoe in the snow."

"And it's we-e-e-et!" wailed another of the girls. "Right down my neck!"

    "'Be-you-ti-ful snow! He may sing whom it suits--
    I object to the stuff 'cause it soaks through my  boots!'"

quoted Agnes. "Hurry up, you ahead!"

So the march was rather ragged--more in the nature of a raid, indeed.
But they had to halt at the side door where the two maids stood armed
with brooms, for Mrs. Poole did not propose that the crowd should bring
in several bushels of snow on their feet.

In the dining and sitting-rooms were long tables, and all loaded with
good things. There were no seats, but plenty of standing room about the
tables. Everybody helped everybody else, and there was a lot of fun.

Some of the girls began to be troubled by the storm. They made frequent
trips to the windows to look out of doors. Soon wraps appeared and the
girls began to say good-night to their young hostess.

"I don't see how we're ever going to get home!" cried one of the girls
who lived at the greatest distance.

Farmer Poole had thought of that. He had routed out his men again, and
they harnessed the horses to a big pung and to two smaller sleighs.

Into these vehicles piled both boys and girls who lived on the other
side of Milton. A few private equipages arrived for some of the young
folk. The fathers of some had tramped through the snow to the farmhouse
to make sure that their daughters were properly escorted home in the
fast quickening storm.

To look out of doors, it seemed a perfect wall of falling snow that the
lamplight streamed out upon. Fortunately it was not very cold, nor did
the wind blow. But at the corner of the house there was a drift as deep
as Neale O'Neil's knees.

"But we'll pull through all right, girls, if you want to try it," he
assured Ruth and Agnes.

They did not like to wait until the sledges got back; that might not be
for an hour. And even then the vehicles would be overcrowded. "Come on!"
said Agnes. "Let's risk it, Ruth."

"I don't know but that we'd better----"

"Pshaw! Neale will get us through. He knows a shortcut--so he says."

"Of course we can trust Neale," said the older Corner House girl,
smiling, and she made no further objection.

They had already bidden their hostess and her father and mother
good-night. So when the trio set off toward town nobody saw them start.
They took the lane beside the barn and went right down the hill, between
the stone fences, now more than half hidden by the snow.

When they got upon the flats, and the lights of the house were hidden,
it did seem as though they were in a great, white desert.

"Who told you this was a short way to town?" demanded Agnes, of Neale.

"Why, one of the girls told me," Neale said, innocently enough. "You
know--that Severn girl."

"What! Trix Severn?" shrieked Agnes.

"Yes."

"I believe she started you off this way, just for the sake of getting us
all into trouble," cried Agnes. "Let's go back!"

But they were now some distance out upon the flats. Far, far ahead there
were faint lights, denoting the situation of Milton; but behind them all
the lights on the hill had been quenched. The Pooles had extinguished
the lamps at the back of the house, and of course ere this the great
barn itself was shrouded in darkness.

The snow came thicker and faster. They were in the midst of a world of
white and had there been any shelter at all at hand, Neale would have
insisted upon taking advantage of it. But there was nothing of the kind.



CHAPTER XIV

UNCLE RUFUS' STORY OF THE CHRISTMAS GOOSE


"Trix is going to stay all night with Carrie. If we go back she will
only laugh at us," Ruth Kenway said, decidedly.

"We-ell," sighed Agnes. "I don't want to give that mean thing a chance
to laugh. We can't really get lost out here, can we, Neale?"

"I don't see how we can," said Neale, slowly. "I'm game to go ahead if
you girls are."

"It looks to me just as bad to go back," Ruth observed.

"Come on!" cried Agnes, and started forward again through the snow.

And, really, they might just as well keep on as to go back. They must be
half way to the edge of Milton by this time, all three were sure.

The "swish, swish, swish" of the slanting snow was all they heard save
their own voices. The falling particles deadened all sound, and they
might have been alone in a wilderness as far as the presence of other
human beings was made known to them.

"Say!" grumbled Neale, "she said there was a brook here somewhere--at
the bottom of a hollow."

"Well, we've been going down hill for some time," Ruth remarked. "It
must be near by now."

"Is--isn't there a--a bridge over it?" quavered Agnes.

"A culvert that we can walk over," said Neale. "Let me go ahead. Don't
you girls come too close behind me."

"But, goodness, Neale!" cried Agnes. "We mustn't lose sight of you."

"I'm not going to run away from you."

"But you're the last boy on earth--as far as we can see," chuckled
Agnes. "You have suddenly become very precious."

Neale grinned. "Get you once to the old Corner House and neither of you
would care if you didn't ever see a boy again," he said.

He had not gone on five yards when the girls, a few paces behind, heard
him suddenly shout. Then followed a great splashing and floundering
about.

"Oh! oh! Neale!" shrieked Agnes. "Have you gone under?"

"No! But I've gone through," growled the boy. "I've busted through a
thin piece of ice. Here's the brook all right; you girls stay where you
are. I can see the culvert."

He came back to them, sopping wet to his knees. In a few moments the
lower part of his limbs and his feet were encased in ice.

"You'll get your death of cold, Neale," cried Ruth, worriedly.

"No, I won't, Ruth. Not if I keep moving. And that's what we'd all
better do. Come on," the boy said. "I know the way after we cross this
brook. There is an unfinished street leads right into town. Comes out
there by your store building--where those Italian kids live."

"Oh! If Mrs. Kranz should be up," gasped Agnes, "she'd take us in and
let you dry your feet, Neale."

"We'll get her up," declared Ruth. "She's as good-hearted as she can be,
and she won't mind."

"But it's midnight," chattered Neale, beginning to feel the chill.

They hurried over the culvert and along the rough street. Far ahead
there was an arc light burning on the corner of Meadow Street. But not a
soul was astir in the neighborhood as the trio came nearer to the German
woman's grocery store, and the corner where Joe Maroni, the father of
Maria, had his vegetable and fruit stand.

The Italians were all abed in their miserable quarters below the street
level; but there was a lamp alight behind the shade of Mrs. Kranz's
sitting room. Agnes struggled ahead through the drifts and the falling
snow, and tapped at the window.

There were startled voices at once behind the blind. The window had a
number of iron bars before it and was supposed to be burglar-proof.
Agnes tapped again, and then the shade moved slightly.

"Go avay! Dere iss noddings for you here yedt!" exclaimed Mrs. Kranz,
threateningly. "Go avay, or I vill de berlice call."

They saw her silhouette on the blind. But there was another shadow, too,
and when this passed directly between the lamp and the window, the girls
saw that it was Maria Maroni. Maria often helped Mrs. Kranz about the
house, and sometimes remained with her all night.

"Oh, Maria! Maria Maroni!" shrieked Agnes, knocking on the pane again.
"Let us in--_do_!"

The Italian girl flew to the window and ran up the shade, despite the
expostulations of Mrs. Kranz, who believed that the party outside were
troublesome young folk of the neighborhood.

But when she knew who they were--and Maria identified them
immediately--the good lady lumbered to the side door of the store
herself, and opened it wide to welcome Ruth and Agnes, with their boy
friend.

"Coom in! Coom in by mine fire," she cried. "Ach! der poor kinder oudt
in dis vedder yedt. Idt iss your deaths mit cold you vould catch--no?"

Ruth explained to the big-hearted German widow how they came to be
struggling in the storm at such an hour.

"Undt dot boy iss vet? Ach! Ledt him his feet dake off qvick! Maria!
make de chocolate hot. Undt de poy--ach! I haf somedings py mine closet
in, for _him_."

She bustled away to reappear in a moment with a tiny glass of something
that almost strangled Neale when he drank it, but, as he had to admit,
"it warmed 'way down to the ends of his toes!"

"Oh, this is _fine_!" Agnes declared, ten minutes later, when she was
sipping her hot chocolate. "I _love_ the snow--and this was almost like
getting lost in a blizzard."

Mrs. Kranz shook her head. "Say nodt so--say nodt so," she rumbled. "Dis
iss pad yedt for de poor folk. Yah! idt vill make de coal go oop in
brice."

"Yes," said Maria, softly. "My papa says he will have to charge twelve
cents a pail for coal to-morrow, instead of ten. He has to pay more."

"I never thought of _that_ side of it," confessed Agnes, slowly. "I
suppose a snow storm like this _will_ make it hard for poor people."

"Undt dere iss blenty poor folk all about us," said Mrs. Kranz, shaking
her head. "Lucky you are, dot you know noddings about idt."

"Why shouldn't we know something about it?" demanded Ruth, quickly. "Do
you mean there will be much suffering among _our_ tenants because of
this storm, Mrs. Kranz?"

"Gott sie dank! nodt for _me_," said the large lady, shaking her head.
"Undt not for Maria's fadder. Joe Maroni iss doin' vell. But many are
nodt so--no. Undt der kinder----"

"Let's give them all a Christmas," exclaimed Ruth, having a sudden
bright, as well as kind, thought. "I'll ask Mr. Howbridge. You shall
tell us of those most in need, Mrs. Kranz--you and Maria."

"Vell dem poor Goronofskys iss de vorst," declared the grocery-store
woman, shaking her head.

Ruth and Agnes remembered the reported riches in Sadie Goronofsky's
bank, but although they looked at each other, they said nothing about
it.

"Sadie has an awful hard time," said Maria.

"De sthep-mudder does nodt treat her very kindly----Oh, I know! She has
so many kinder of her own. Sadie vork all de time ven she iss de school
oudt."

They discussed the other needy neighbors for half an hour longer. Then
Neale put on his dried shoes and stockings, tied his trouser-legs around
his ankles, and announced himself ready to go. The girls were well
protected to their knees by leggings, so they refused to remain for the
night at Mrs. Kranz's home.

They set out bravely to finish their journey to the old Corner House.
Some of the drifts were waist deep and the wind had begun to blow. "My!
but I'm glad we're not over on those flats now," said Agnes.

It was almost one o'clock when they struggled through the last drift and
reached the back door of the old Corner House. Uncle Rufus, his feet on
the stove-hearth, was sleeping in his old armchair, waiting up for them.

"Oh, Uncle Rufus! you ought to be abed," cried Ruth.

"You've lost your beauty sleep, Uncle Rufus," added Agnes.

"Sho', chillen, dis ain't nottin' fo' ol' Unc' Rufus. He sit up many a
night afore dis. An' somebody has ter watch de Christmas goose."

"Oh! The Christmas goose?" cried Agnes. "Has it come?"

"You wanter see him, chillen?" asked the old colored man, shuffling to
the door. "Looker yere."

They followed him to the woodshed door. There, roosting on one leg and
blinking at them in the lamplight, was a huge gray goose. It hissed
softly at them, objecting to their presence, and they went back into the
warm kitchen.

"Why does it stand that way--on one leg--Uncle Rufus?" asked Agnes.

"Perhaps it's resting the other foot," Ruth said, laughing.

"Maybe it has only one leg," Neale observed.

At that Uncle Rufus began chuckling enormously to himself. His eyes
rolled, and his cheeks "blew out," and he showed himself to be very
"tickled."

The door latch clicked and here appeared Tess and Dot in their warm
robes and slippers. They had managed to wake up when the big girls and
Neale came in, and had now stolen down to hear about the party.

Mrs. MacCall had left a nice little lunch, and a pot of cocoa to warm
them up. The girls gathered their chairs in a half circle about the
front of the kitchen range, with Neale, and while Uncle Rufus got the
refreshments ready, Ruth and Agnes told their sisters something about
the barn dance.

But Neale had his eye on the old colored man. "What's the matter,
Uncle?" he asked. "What's amusing you so much?"

"I done been t'inkin' ob 'way back dar befo' de wah--yas-sir. I done
been t'inkin' ob das Christmas goose--he! he! he! das de funniest
t'ing----"

"Oh, tell us about it, Uncle Rufus!" cried Ruth.

"Do tell us," added Agnes, "for we're not a bit sleepy yet."

"Make room for Uncle Rufus' armchair," commanded Ruth. "Come, Uncle
Rufus: we're ready."

Nothing loath the old fellow settled into his creaking chair and looked
into the glowing coals behind the grated fire-box door.

"Disher happen' befo' de wah," he said, slowly. "I warn't mo' dan a
pickerninny--jes' knee-high to a mus'rat, as yo' might say. But I kin
member ol' Mars' Colby's plantation de bery yeah befo' de wah.

"Well, chillen, as I was sayin', disher Christmas I kin 'member lak' it
was yestidy. My ol' mammy was de sho' 'nuff cook at de big house, an'
Mars' Colby t'ought a heap ob her. But she done tuk down wid de mis'ry
in her back jes' two days fore Christmas--an' de big house full ob
comp'ny!

"Sech a gwine 'bout yuh nebber _did_ see, w'en mammy say she couldn't
cook de w'ite folkses' dinner. Dere was a no-'count yaller gal, Sally
Alley dey call her, wot he'ped erbout de breakfas' an' sech; but she
warn't a sho' 'nuff cook--naw'm!

"She 'lowed she was. She was de beatenes' gal for t'inkin' she knowed
eberyt'ing. But, glo-_ree_! dar wasn't nobody on dat plantation wot
could cook er goose tuh suit Mars' Colby lak' my ol' mammy.

"And de goose dey'd picked out fo' dat Christmas dinner sho' was a noble
bird--ya-as'm! Dere was an army ob geese aroun' de pond, but de one
dey'd shet up fo' two weeks, an' fed soft fodder to wid er spoon, was de
noblest ob de ban'," said Uncle Rufus, unctuously.

"Well, dar warn't time tuh send on to Richmon' fo' a sho' 'nuff cook,
an' de dinnah pahty was gaddered togedder. So Mars' Colby had ter let
dat uppity yaller gal go ahead an' do her worstest.

"She sho' done it," said Uncle Rufus, shaking his head. "Dar nebber was
sech anudder dinner sarbed on de Colby table befo' dat time, nor, since.

"My mammy, a-layin' on her back in de quahtahs, an' groanin', sent me up
to de big house kitchen tuh watch. I was big 'nuff to he'p mammy, and it
was in dat kitchen I begin ter l'arn ter be a house sarbent.

"Well, chillen, I kep' my two eyes open, an' I sabed de sauce from
burnin', an' de roun' 'taters from bilin' over, an' de onions from
sco'chin' an' de sweet-er-taters f'om bein' charcoal on one side an'
baked raw on de odder. Glo-_ree_! dat was one 'citin' day in dat
kitchen.

"But I couldn't sabe de goose from bein' sp'ilt. Dat was beyon' my
powah. An' it happen disher way:

"De yaller gal git de goose all stuffed an' fixed propah, fo' she done
use my mammy's resate fo' stuffin'. But de no-'count critter set it
right down in de roastin' pan on de flo' by de po'ch door. Eroun' come
snuffin' a lean houn' dawg, one ob de re'l ol' 'nebber-git enuff' breed.
He's empty as er holler stump--er, he! he! he!" chuckled Uncle Rufus.
"Glo-_ree_! dar allus was a slather of sech houn's aroun' dat
plantation, fo' Mars' Colby was a fox huntah.

"Dat dawg git his eye on dat goose for jes' a secon'--an' de nex' secon'
he grab hit by de laig!

"Lawsy me! My soul an' body!" chortled Uncle Rufus, rocking himself to
and fro in his chair in an ecstasy of enjoyment. "How dem niggers did
squeal! Dar was more'n 'nuff boys an' gals 'roun' undah foot at dat
time, but none ob dem git near de fracas but Unc' Rufus--naw'm!"

"My goodness! the dog didn't get away with the goose, did he, Uncle
Rufus?" asked Ruth.

"I's a-comin' tuh dat--I's a-comin' tuh dat," repeated the old man. "I
seen de goose gwine out de do', an' I grab hit--I sho' did! I grab it by
de two wingses, an' I hang on liker chigger. De odder pickaninnies jes'
a jumpin' eroun' an er-hollerin'. But Unc' Rufus knowed better'n _dat_.

"Dat houn' dawg, he pull, an' I pull, an' it sho' a wondah we didn' pull
dat bird all apaht betwixt us. But erbout de secon' wrench dat hongry
beast gib, he pull de laig clean off'n dat ol' goose!

"Glo-_ree_!" chuckled Uncle Rufus, rolling his eyes and weaving back and
forth on his chair, in full enjoyment of his own story. "Glo-_ree_! Dat
is a 'casion I ain't nebber lak'ly tuh fo'git. Dar I was on my back on
de kitchen flo', wid de goose on top ob me, w'ile de houn'-dawg beat it
erway from dar er mile-er-minit--ya-as'm!

"Dat yaller gal jerked dat goose out'n my arms an' put hit back in de
pan, an clapped de pan inter de oven. 'Wedder hit's got one laig, or
two,' says she, 'dat's de onliest one de w'ite folkses has got fo' dey's
dinner."

"An dat was true 'nuff--true 'nuff," said Uncle Rufus. "But I begin tuh
wondah wot Mars' Colby say 'bout dat los' laig? He was right quick wid
hes temper, an' w'en hes mad was up----Glo-_ree_! he made de quahtahs
_hot_! I wondah wot he do to dat yaller gal w'en dat raggedty goose come
on de table.

"It done got cooked to a tu'n--ya-as! I nebber see a browner, nor a
plumper goose. An' w'en dat Sally Alley done lay him on hes side, wid de
los' laig _down_, hit was jes' a pitcher--jes' a pitcher!" declared
Uncle Rufus, reminiscent yet of the long past feast-day.

"Wal, dar warn't ne'der ob de waitresses willin' tuh tak' dat goose in
an' put it down befo' Mars' Colby--naw'm! So dat yaller gal had to put
on a clean han'kercher an' ap'on, an' do it her own se'f. I was jes'
leetle 'nuff so I crope th'u de do' an' hides behin' de co'nah ob de
sidebo'd.

"I was moughty cur'ous," confessed Uncle Rufus. "I wanted tuh know jes'
wot Mars' Colby say w'en he fin' dat goose ain' got but one laig on
him."

"And what did he say, Uncle Rufus?" asked Agnes, breathless with
interest like the other listeners.

"Das is wot I is a-comin' to. You be patient, chile," chuckled Uncle
Rufus.

"Dar was de long table, all set wid shinin' silber, an' glistenin' cut
glass, an' de be-you-ti-ful ol' crockery dat Madam Colby--das Mars'
Colby's gre't-gran-mammy--brought f'om Englan'. Dar was ten plates
beside de famb'ly.

"De waitresses am busy, a-flyin' eroun' wid de side dishes, an' Mis'
Colby, she serbs at her side ob de table, w'en Mars' Colby, he get up
tuh carve.

"'Wot paht ob de goose is yo' mos' fon' of, Miss Lee?' he say to de
young lady on hes right han', monst'ous perlite lak.

"'I'd lak' a slice ob de laig, Cunnel,' she say; 't'ank yo'.'"

Uncle Rufus was surely enjoying himself. He was imitating "the quality"
with great gusto. His eyes rolled, his sides shook, and his brown face
was all one huge smile.

"De bery nex' lady he ax dat same question to, mak' de same reply," went
on Uncle Rufus, "an' Mars' Colby done cut all de laig meat erway on dat
side. Den it come ergin. Somebody else want er piece ob de secon' j'int.

"Mars' Colby stick his fo'k in de goose an' heave him over in de
plattah. Glo-_ree_! dar de under side ob dat goose were all nice an'
brown; but dar warn't no sign ob a laig erpon hit!

"'Wha' dis? Wha' dis?' Mars' Colby cry. 'Who been a-tamperin' wid dis
goose? Sen' dat no-'count Sally Alley in yeah dis minute!' he say to one
ob de waitresses.

"Glo-_ree_! how scar't we all was. My knees shak' tergedder, an' I bit
my tongue tryin' ter hol' my jaws shet. W'en Mars' Colby done let
loose----well!" and Uncle Rufus sighed.

"Den dey come back wid Sally Alley. If eber dar was a scar't nigger on
dat plantation, it was dat same yaller gal. An' she warn't saddle color
no mo'; she was grayer in de face dan an ol' rat.

"Dey stan' her up befo' Mars' Colby, an' hes eyes look lak' dey was
red--ya-as'm! 'Sally Alley,' he roar at her, 'whar de odder laig ob dis
goose?'

"Sally Alley shake like a willer by de ribber, an' she blurt out: 'Mars'
Colby! sho' 'nuff dar warn't no odder laig _on_ dat goose.'

"'Wha' dat?' say he, moughty savage. 'On'y _one_ laig on dis goose?'

"'Ya-as, suh--sho' 'nuff. Das de onliest laig it had,' says she.

"'What do yo' mean?' Mars' Colby cry. 'Yo' tell me my goose ain' hab but
one laig?'

"'Ya-as, suh. Das hit. On'y one laig,' says dat scar't yaller gal, an'
ter clinch it she added, '_All_ yo' geese dat a-ways, Mars' Colby. Dey
all ain' got but one laig.'"

"Oh!" squealed Dot.

"Was it sure enough _so_, Uncle Rufus?" asked Tess, in awe.

"Yo' wait! yo' wait, chillen! I'se gittin' tuh dat," declared the old
man, chuckling. "Co'se dat Sally Alley say dat, hysterical lak'. She was
dat scar't. Mars' Colby scowl at her mo' awful.

"'I mak' yo' prove dat to me atter dinner,' he say, savage as he kin be.
'Yo'll tak' us all out dar an' show us my one-laiged geese. An' if it
_ain't_ so, I'll send yo' to de fiel' oberseer.'

"De fiel' oberseer do de whippin' on dat plantation," whispered Uncle
Rufus, "an' Sally Alley knowed wot dat meant."

"Oh, dear me!" cried tender-hearted Tess. "They didn't re'lly _beat_
her?"

"Don't try to get ahead of the story, Tess," said Agnes, but rather
shakingly. "We'll all hear it together."

"Das it," said Uncle Rufus. "Jes' gib Unc' Rufus time an' he'll tell it
all. Dat yaller gal sho' was in a fix. She don' know w'ich way to tu'n.

"Das dinner was a-gettin' nearer an' nearer to de en'. Mars' Colby do
lak' he say den. He come out an' mak' Sally Alley show de one-laiged
geese.

"'I has a po'erful min',' dat Sally gal say, 'ter go down dar an' chop
er laig off'n ebery goose in de yard.'

"But she didn't hab no min' to do dat," pursued Uncle Rufus. "Naw'm. She
didn't hab no min' for nottin', she was dat flabbergastuated.

"She t'ink she run erway; but she wouldn't git far befo' Mars' Colby be
atter her wid de houn's. Dar ain't no place to run to, an' she ain't got
no mammy, so she run tuh mine," said Uncle Rufus, shaking his head. "An'
my mammy was a wise ol' woman. She done been bawn in de Colby famb'ly,
an' she know Mars' Colby better dan he know he'self. Fiery as he was,
she know dat if yo' kin mak' him laff, he'd fo'give a nigger 'most
anyt'ing.

"So my ol' mammy tol' Sally Alley wot tuh say an' do. Sally wipe her
eyes an' mak' herse'f neat erg'in, an' wa'k up ter de big house brave as
a lion--in de seemin'--jes' as de gran' folkses comes out upon de lawn.

"'Here, yo',' 'sclaim Mars' Colby, we'n he see her. 'Yo' come an' show
me all dem one-laiged geese.'

"'Ya-as, Mars',' says Sally Alley, an' she haid right off fo' de goose
pon'. Dar was de whole flock roostin' erlong de aidge ob de pon'--an'
all wid one foot drawed up in deir fedders lak' dat goose roostin' out
dar in dat woodshed dis bressed minute!

"'Wot I tell yo'? Wot I tell yo', Mars' Colby?' cry Sally Alley. 'Ain't
all dem gooses got one laig lak' I tol' yo'?'

"But Mars' stride right ober to de fence an' clap hes han's. Ebery one
o' dem geese puts down hes foot an' tu'ns to look at him.

"'Das ain' no fair! das ain' no fair, Mars' Colby!' squeals dat yaller
gal, all 'cited up. '_Yo' didn't clap yo' han's at dat goose on de
table!_'--er, he! he! he!" And so Uncle Rufus finished the story of the
Christmas goose.

Ruth started the younger ones to bed immediately; but Tess called down
from the stair:

"Uncle Rufus! He _didn't_ make her go see the field overseer, did he?"

"Sho'ly not, chile. Dat wasn' Cunnel Mark Colby's way. My ol' mammy
knowed wot would han'le him. He done give one big laff, an' sent Sally
Alley off to Aunt Jinny, de housekeeper, tuh cut her off a new kaliker
dress pattern. But dem quality folkses sho' was tickled erbout dat
one-laiged goose."



CHAPTER XV

SADIE GORONOFSKY'S BANK


When Ruth Kenway had an idea--a real _good_ idea--it usually bore fruit.
She had evolved one of her very best that snowy night while she and
Agnes and Neale O'Neil were drinking hot chocolate in Mrs. Kranz's
parlor.

It was impossible for Ruth to get downtown on Saturday. One reason was,
they all got up late, having crept into bed at half-past four. Then,
there were the usual household tasks, for all four of the Corner House
girls had their established duties on Saturday.

The streets were so full of snow that it would have been almost
impossible for Ruth to have gotten to Mr. Howbridge's office then; but
she went there Monday afternoon.

Mr. Howbridge had been Uncle Peter Stower's lawyer, and it was he who
had brought the news to the four Kenway girls when they lived in
Bloomingsburg, that they were actually rich.

He was a tall, gray gentleman, with sharp eyes and a beaklike nose, and
he looked wonderfully stern and implacable unless he smiled. But he
always had a smile for Ruth Kenway.

The lawyer had acquired a very deep respect for Ruth's good sense and
for her character in general. As he said, there were so many narrow,
stingy souls in the world, it was refreshing to meet a generous nature
like that of the oldest Corner House girl.

"And what is it now, Miss Ruth?" asked the gentleman when she entered
his private office, and shaking hands with her. "Have you come to
consult me professionally, or am I honored by a social call?"

"You are almost the best man who ever lived, Mr. Howbridge," laughed
Ruth. "I _know_ you are the best guardian, for you let me do mostly just
as I please. So I am confident you are going to grant _this_
request----"

Mr. Howbridge groaned. "You are beginning in your usual way, I see," he
said. "You want something of me--but it is for somebody else you want
it, I'll be bound."

"Oh, no, sir! it is really for me," declared Ruth. "I'd like quite some
money."

"What for, may I ask?"

"Of course, sir. I've come to consult you about it. You see, it's the
tenants."

"Those Meadow Street people!" exclaimed the lawyer. "Your Uncle Peter
made money out of them; and his father did before him. But my books will
show little profit from those houses at the end of this year--of that I
am sure."

"But, if we have made so much out of the houses in the past, shouldn't
we spend some of the profit on the tenants _now_?" asked Ruth earnestly.

"You are the most practical _im_practical person I ever met," declared
Mr. Howbridge, laughing rather ruefully.

Ruth did not just understand that; but she was much in earnest and she
put before the lawyer the circumstances of some of the tenants of the
old houses on Meadow Street, as she had heard them from Mrs. Kranz and
Maria Maroni.

She did not forget the Goronofskys, despite Tess' story of Sadie's bank
in which she was saving her Christmas money; but she did not mention
this last to the lawyer.

Ruth wanted of the lawyer details of all the families on the estate's
books. She wished to know the earning capacity of each family, how they
lived, the number of children in each, and their ages and sex.

"You see, Mr. Howbridge, a part of our living--and it is a good
living--comes from these people. We girls should know more about them.
And I am anxious to do something for them this Christmas--especially for
the little children."

"Well, I suppose I shall give in to you; but my better judgment cries
out against it, Miss Ruth," declared the lawyer. "You see Perkins--my
clerk. He collects the rents and knows all the tenants. I believe he
knows when each man gets paid, how much he gets, and all about it. And,
of course, as you say, you'll want some money."

"Yes, sir. This is for all of us--all four of us Corner House girls.
Agnes, and Tess, and Dot, are just as anxious to help these people as I
am. I am sure, Mr. Howbridge, whatever else you may do with money of the
estate, _this_ expense will never be questioned by any of us."

From Mrs. Kranz and Perkins, Ruth obtained the information that she
wished. The Corner House girls knew they could do no great thing; but
for the purchase of small presents that children would appreciate, the
twenty-five dollars Ruth got from Mr. Perkins, would go a long way.

And what fun the Corner House girls had doing that shopping! Tess and
Dot did their part, and that the entire five and ten cent store was not
bought out was not _their_ fault.

"You can get such a lot for your money in that store," Dot gravely
announced, "that a dollar seems twice as big as it does anywhere else."

"But I don't want the other girls to think we are just 'ten-centers,'"
Agnes said. "Trix Severn says she wouldn't be seen going into such a
cheap place."

"What do you care what people call you?" asked Ruth. "If you had been
born in Indiana they'd have called you a 'Hoosier'; and if in North
Carolina, they'd call you a 'Tar Heel.'"

"Or, if you were from Michigan, they'd say you were a 'Michigander,'"
chuckled Neale, who was with them. "In _your_ case, Aggie, it would be
'Michigoose.'"

"Is that so?" demanded Agnes, to whom Neale had once confessed that he
was born in the state of Maine. "Then I suppose we ought to call _you_ a
'Maniac,' eh?"

"Hit! a palpable hit!" agreed Neale, good-naturedly. "Come on! let's
have some of your bundles. For goodness' sake! why didn't you girls
bring a bushel basket--or engage a pack-mule?"

"We seem to have secured a very good substitute for the latter," said
Ruth, demurely.

All this shopping was done early in Christmas week, for the Corner House
girls determined to allow nothing to break into their own home Christmas
Eve celebration. The tree in Tess' room at school was going to be
lighted up on Thursday afternoon; but Wednesday the Kenway girls were
all excused from school early and Neale drove them over to Meadow Street
in a hired sleigh.

They stopped before the doors of the respective shops of Mrs. Kranz and
Joe Maroni. Joe's stand was strung with gay paper flowers and greens. He
had a small forest of Christmas trees he was selling, just at the
corner.

"Good-a day! good-a day, leetla padrona!" was his welcome for Ruth, and
he bowed very low before the oldest Kenway girl, whom he insisted upon
considering the real mistress of the house in which he and his family
lived.

The little remembrances the girls had brought for Joe's family--down to
a rattle for the baby--delighted the Italian. Tess had hung a special
present for Maria on the school tree; but that was a secret as yet.

They carried all the presents into Mrs. Kranz's parlor and then Neale
drove away, leaving the four Corner House girls to play their parts of
_Lady Bountiful_ without his aid.

They had just sallied forth for their first visit when, out of the
Stower tenement in which the Goronofskys lived, boiled a crowd of
shrieking, excited children. Sadie Goronofsky was at their head and a
man in a blue suit and the lettered cap of a gas collector seemed the
rallying point of the entire savage little gang.

"Oh! what is the matter, Sadie?" cried Tess, running to the little
Jewish girl's side.

"He's a thief! he's a gonnif! he's a thief!" shrieked Sadie, dragging at
the man's coat. "He stole mine money. He's busted open mine bank and
stoled all mine money!"

"That red bank in the kitchen?" asked Tess, wonderingly. "That one your
mother put the quarter in every week for you?"

"Sure!" replied the excited Sadie. "My mother's out. I'm alone with the
kids. In this man comes and robs mine bank----"

"What _is_ the trouble?" asked Ruth of the man.

"Why, bless you, somebody's been fooling the kid," he said, with some
compassion. "And it was a mean trick. They told her the quarter-meter
was a bank and that all the money that was put in it should be hers.

"She's a good little kid, too. I've often seen her taking care of her
brothers and sisters and doing the work. The meter had to be opened
to-day and the money taken out--and she caught me at it."

Afterward Agnes said to Ruth: "I could have _hugged_ that man,
Ruthie--for he didn't laugh!"



CHAPTER XVI

A QUARTETTE OF LADY BOUNTIFULS


For once the stolid little Sadie was unfaithful to her charges. She
forgot the little ones her step-mother had left in her care; but the
neighbors looked out for them.

She stood upon the icy walk, when she understood the full truth about
"the big red bank in the kitchen," and watched with tearless eyes the
gas collector walk away.

Her face worked pitifully; her black eyes grew hot; but she would not
let the tears fall. She clenched her little red hands, bit her lower
lip, and stamped her worn shoe upon the walk. Hatred of all mankind--not
alone of the woman who had so wickedly befooled her--was welling up in
little Sadie Goronofsky's heart.

It was then that Ruth Kenway put her arm around the little Jewish girl's
shoulders and led her away to Mrs. Kranz's back parlor. There the Corner
House girls told her how sorry they were; Mrs. Kranz filled her hands
with "coffee kringle." Then some of the very best of the presents the
Corner House girls had brought were chosen for Sadie's brothers and
sisters, and Sadie was to be allowed to take them home herself to them.

"I don't mind being guyed by the kids at school because I can't put
nothin' on that old Christmas tree. But I been promisin' _her_ kids they
should each have suthin' fine. She's been foolin' them jest the same as
she has me. I don't know what my papa ever wanted ter go and marry _her_
for," concluded Sadie, with a sniff.

"Hey! hey!" exclaimed Mrs. Kranz, sternly. "Iss dot de vay to talk yedt
about your mamma?"

"She ain't my mamma," declared Sadie, sullenly.

"Sthop dot, Sadie!" said Mrs. Kranz. "You cand't remember how sweedt
your papa's wife was to you when you was little. Who do you s'pose
nursed you t'rough de scarlet fever dot time? Idt wass her."

"Huh!" grunted Sadie, but she took a thoughtful bite of cake.

"Undt de measles, yedt," went on Mrs. Kranz. "Like your own mamma, she
iss dot goot to you. But times iss hardt now, undt poor folks always haf
too many babies."

"She don't treat me like she was my mamma now," complained Sadie, with a
sob that changed to a hiccough as she sipped the mug of coffee that had
been the accompaniment of the cake. "She hadn't ought to told me those
quarters she put in that box was mine, when they was to pay the gas
man."

Mrs. Kranz eyed the complainant shrewdly. "Why vor shouldt you pe paid
vor he'pin' your mamma yedt?" she asked. "You vouldn't haf gone from
school home yedt undt helped her, if it hadn't been for vat she toldt
you about de money. You vorked for de money every time--aind't idt?"

Sadie hung her head.

"Dot is idt!" cried the good German woman. "You make your poor mamma
tell things to fool you, else you vould sthay avay an' blay. She haf to
bribe you to make you help her like you should. Shame! Undt she nodt go
to de school like you, undt learn better."

"I s'pose that's so," admitted Sadie, more thoughtfully. "She ain't a
'Merican like what I am, that goes to school an' learns from books."

In the end, between the ministrations of the Corner House girls and Mrs.
Kranz, the whole Goronofsky family was made happy. Sadie promised to
help her mamma without being bribed to do so; Mrs. Goronofsky, who was a
worn, tired out little woman, proved to have some heart left for her
step-daughter, after all; "the kids" were made delighted by the presents
Sadie was enabled to bring them; and Ruth went around to Mr.
Goronofsky's shop and presented him with a receipted bill for his house
rent for December.

The work of the quartette of Lady Bountifuls by no means ended with the
Goronofskys. Not a tenant of the Stower Estate was missed. Even Mrs.
Kranz herself was remembered by the Corner House girls, who presented
her, in combination, a handsome shopping bag to carry when she went
downtown to the bank.

It was a busy afternoon and evening they spent on Meadow Street--for
they did not get home to a late supper until eight o'clock. But their
comments upon their adventures were characteristic.

"It is _so_ satisfactory," said Ruth, placidly, "to make other people
happy."

"I'm dog tired," declared Agnes, "but I'd love to start right out and do
it all over again!"

"I--I hope the little Maroni baby won't lick all the red paint off that
rattle and make herself sick," sighed Tess, reflectively.

"If she does we can buy her a new rattle. It didn't cost but ten cents,"
Dot rejoined, seeing at the moment but one side of the catastrophe.



CHAPTER XVII

"THAT CIRCUS BOY"


The first Christmas since the Kenway girls had "come into" Uncle Peter's
estate was bound to be a memorable one for Ruth and Agnes and Tess and
Dot.

Mother Kenway, while she had lived, had believed in the old-fashioned
New England Christmas. The sisters had never had a tree, but they always
hung their stockings on a line behind the "base-burner" in the
sitting-room of the Bloomingsburg tenement. So now they hung them in a
row by the dining-room mantelpiece in the old Corner House.

Uncle Rufus took a great deal of interest in this proceeding. He took
out the fire-board from the old-fashioned chimneyplace, so as to give
ingress to Santa Clans when the reindeers of that good saint should land
upon the Corner House roof.

Dot held to her first belief in the personal existence of Saint Nick,
and although Tess had some doubts as to his real identity, she would not
for the world have said anything to weaken Dot's belief.

There was no stove in the way in the dining-room, for the furnace--put
into the cellar by Uncle Peter only shortly before his death--heated the
two lower floors of the main part of the house, as well as the kitchen
wing, in which the girls and Mrs. MacCall slept.

The girls had begged Neale O'Neil to hang up his stocking with theirs,
but he refused--rather gruffly, it must be confessed. Mrs. MacCall and
Uncle Rufus, however, were prevailed upon to add their hose to the line.
Aunt Sarah rather snappishly objected to "exposing her stockings to the
public view, whether on or off the person,"--so she said.

The four Corner House girls felt thankful to the queer old woman, who
was really no relation to them at all, but who accepted all their bounty
and attentions as though they were hers by right.

Indeed, at the time when there seemed some doubt as to whether Mr.
Howbridge could prove for the Kenway girls a clear title to Uncle
Peter's property, Aunt Sarah had furnished the necessary evidence, and
sent away the claimant from Ipsilanti.

There was, too, a soft side to Aunt Sarah's character; only, like the
chestnutburr, one had to get inside her shell to find it. If one of the
children was ill, Aunt Sarah was right there with the old fashioned
remedies, and although some of her "yarb teas" might be nasty to take,
they were efficacious.

Then, she was always knitting, or embroidering, something or other for
the girls. Now that there was plenty of money in the family purse, she
ordered materials just as she pleased, and knit jackets, shawls,
mittens, and "wristlets."

She was a very grim lady and dressed very plainly; although she never
said so, she liked to have the girls sit with her at their sewing. She
took infinite pains to teach them to be good needle-women, as her mother
had doubtless taught her.

So the chief present the girls bought this Christmas for Aunt Sarah was
a handsome sewing table, its drawers well supplied with all manner of
threads, silks, wools, and such like materials.

This the Kenway sisters had all "chipped in" to purchase, and the table
was smuggled into the house and hidden away in one of the spare rooms,
weeks before Christmas. The girls had purchased a new dress for Mrs.
MacCall, and had furnished out Uncle Rufus from top to toe in a suit of
black clothes, with a white vest, in which he could wait at table on
state and date occasions, as well as wear to church on Sundays.

There were, of course, small individual presents from each girl to these
family retainers, and to Aunt Sarah. The stockings bulged most
delightfully in the dining-room when they trooped down to breakfast on
Christmas morning.

Tess and Dot could scarcely eat, their eyes were so fixed upon the
delightfully knobby bundles piled under each of their stockings on the
hearth. Agnes declared Tess tried to drink her buckwheat cakes and eat
her coffee, and that Dot was in danger of sticking her fork into her eye
instead of into her mouth.

But the meal was ended at last and Uncle Rufus wheeled out Aunt Sarah's
beautiful sewing table, with her other smaller presents upon it. Ruth
told her how happy it made them all to give it to her. Aunt Sarah's keen
eye lit up as she was shown all the interesting things about her new
acquisition; but all the verbal comment she made was that she thought
"you gals better be in better business than buying gewgaws for an old
woman like me."

"Just the same, she is pleased as Punch," Mrs. MacCall whispered to
Ruth. "Only, she doesn't like to show it."

The girls quickly came to their own presents. None of the articles they
had bought for each other were of great value intrinsically; but they
all showed love and thoughtfulness. Little things that each had at some
time carelessly expressed a wish for, appeared from the stockings to
delight and warm the heart of the recipient.

There was nobody, of course, to give the two older girls any very
valuable gifts; but there was a pretty locket and chain for Ruth which
she had seen in the jewelry-store window and expressed a fondness for,
while the desire of Agnes' eyes was satisfied when she found a certain
bracelet in the toe of her stocking.

Tess had a bewildering number of books and school paraphernalia, as well
as additions to her dolls' paraphernalia; but it was Dot who sat down
breathlessly in the middle of the floor under a perfect avalanche of
treasures, all connected with her "children's" comfort and her personal
house-keeping arrangements.

It would have been almost sacrilege to have presented Dot with another
doll; for the Alice-doll that had come the Christmas before and had only
lately been graduated into short clothes, still held the largest place
in the little girl's affections.

Battered by adversity as the Alice-doll was, Dot's heart could never
have warmed toward another "child" as it did toward the unfortunate that
"Double Trouble"--that angel-faced young one from Ipsilanti--had buried
with the dried apples. But Dot's sisters had showered upon her every
imaginable comfort and convenience for the use of a growing family of
dolls, as well as particular presents to the Alice-doll herself.

"What's the matter, child?" asked Mrs. MacCall, seeing the expression on
Dot's face as she sat among her possessions. "Don't they suit?"

"Mrs. MacCall," declared Dot, gravely, "I think I shall faint. My
heart's just jumping. If gladness could kill anybody, I know I'd have to
die to show how happy I am. And I know my Alice-doll will feel just as I
do."

Uncle Rufus' daughter, Petunia Blossom, came after breakfast with
several of her brood--and the laundry cart--to take away the good things
that had been gathered for her and her family.

Petunia was "fast brack," as her father declared--an enormously fat,
jetty-black negress, with a pretty face, and a superabundance of
children. To enumerate the Blossom family, as Petunia had once done for
Ruth's information, there were:

"Two married and moved away; two at work; twins twice makes eight;
Alfredia; Jackson Montgomery Simms; Burne-Jones Whistler; the baby; and
Louisa Annette."

Ruth and her sisters had purchased, or made, small and unimportant
presents for Neale O'Neil. Neale had remembered each of them with gifts,
all the work of his own hands; a wooden berry dish and ladle for Tess'
doll's tea-table; a rustic armchair for the Alice-doll, for Dot; a
neatly made pencil box for Agnes; and for Ruth a new umbrella handle,
beautifully carved and polished, for Ruth had a favorite umbrella the
handle of which she had broken that winter.

Neale was ingenious in more ways than one. He showed this at school,
too, on several occasions. It was just after the midwinter holidays that
Mr. Marks, the grammar school principal, wished to raise the school flag
on the roof flag-staff, and it was found that the halyard and block had
been torn away by the wind.

The janitor was too old a man to make the repair and it looked as though
a professional rigger must be sent for, when Neale volunteered.

Perhaps Mr. Marks knew something about the boy's prowess, for he did not
hesitate to give his permission. Neale went up to the roof and mounted
the staff with the halyard rove through the block, and hooked the latter
in place with ease. It took but a few minutes; but half the school stood
below and held its breath, watching the slim figure swinging so
recklessly on the flag-staff.

His mates cheered him when he came down, for they had grown fond of
Neale O'Neil. The Corner House girls too, were proud of him. But Trix
Severn, who disliked Neale because he paid her no attention, hearing
Agnes praising the boy's courage and skill, exclaimed in her sneering
way:

"That circus boy! Why wouldn't he be able to do all sorts of tricks like
that? It was what he was brought up to, no doubt."

"What do you mean by that, Trix Severn?" demanded Agnes, immediately
accepting her enemy's challenge. "Neale is not a circus boy."

"Oh! he isn't?"

"No. He's never even _seen_ a circus," the positive Agnes declared.

"He told you that, did he?" laughed Trix, airily.

"He said he had never been to see a circus in his life," Agnes repeated.
"And Neale wouldn't lie."

"That's all you know about him, then," said Trix. "And I thought you
Corner House girls were such friends with Neale O'Neil," and she walked
off laughing again, refusing to explain her insinuations.

But the nickname of "circus boy" stuck to Neale O'Neil after that and he
earnestly wished he had not volunteered to fix the flag rigging. _Why_
it troubled him so, however, he did not explain to the Corner House
girls.



CHAPTER XVIII

SNOWBOUND


Tess said, gloomily, as they gathered about the study table one evening
not long after New Year's:

"I have to write a composition about George Washington. When was he
born, Ruthie?" Ruth was busy and did not appear to hear. "Say! when
_was_ he born?" repeated the ten-year-old.

"Eighteen seventy-eight, I think, dear," said Agnes, with more kindness
than confidence.

"Oh-o-o!" gasped Dot, who knew something about the "Father of His
Country." "He was dead-ed long before _that_."

"Before when?" demanded Ruth, partly waking up to the situation.

"Eighteen seventy-eight," repeated Tess, wearily.

"Of course I meant seventeen seventy-eight," interposed Agnes.

"And at that you're a long way off," observed Neale, who chanced to be
at the Corner House that evening.

"Well! you know so much, Mr. Smartie!" cried Agnes. "Tell her yourself."

"I wouldn't have given her the date of George's birth, as being right in
the middle of the Revolutionary War," exclaimed Neale, stalling for time
to figure out the right date.

"No; and you are not telling her _any_ year," said the wise Agnes.

"Children! don't scrap," murmured peace-loving Ruth, sinking into the
background--and her own algebra--again.

"Well!" complained Tess. "I haven't found out when he was born _yet_."

"Never mind, honey," said Agnes. "Tell what he _did_. That's more
important. Look up the date later."

"I know," said Dot, breaking in with more primary information. "He
planted a cherry tree."

"Chopped it down, you mean," said Agnes.

"And he never told a lie," insisted Dot.

"I believe that is an exploded doctrine," chuckled Neale O'Neil.

"Well, how did they _know_ he didn't tell a lie?" demanded Tess, the
practical.

"They never caught him in one," said Neale, with brutal frankness.
"There's a whole lot of folks honest like _that_."

"Goodness, Neale!" cried Ruth, waking up again at _that_ heresy. "How
pessimistic you are."

"Was--was George Washington one of those things?" queried Tess, liking
the sound of the long word.

"What things?" asked Ruth.

"Pes-sa-pessamisty?"

"Pessimistic? No, dear," laughed Ruth. "He was an optimist--or he never
would have espoused the American cause."

"He was first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his
coun-try-men," sing-songed Dot.

"Oh, yes! I can put that in," agreed Tess, abandoning both the hard
words Ruth had used, and getting back to safe details. "And he married a
lady named Mary, didn't he?"

"No; Martha," said Agnes.

"Well, I knew it was one or the other, for we studied about Mary and
Martha in our Sunday school lesson last Sunday," Tess said, placidly.
"Martha was troubled about many things."

"I should think she would have been," remarked Dot, reflectively, "for
George Washington had to fight Indians, and Britishers, and Hessians
(who wore blue coats and big hats) and cabals----"

"Hold on!" shouted Neale. "What under the sun is a 'cabal'? A beast, or
a bug?"

"Why, my teacher told us about George Washington," cried Dot, with
importance, "only a little while ago. And she said they raised a cabal
against him----"

"That means a conspiracy," put in Ruth, quietly. "How can you folks
study when you all talk so much?"

"Well, Martha," began Tess, when Ruth interposed:

"Don't get your Marthas mixed, dear."

"That's right, Tess," said Agnes. "George Washington's wife was not the
sister of Lazarus--that's sure!"

"Oh, Aggie! how slangy you are!" cried Ruth.

Neale had slipped out after last speaking. He came in all of a bustle,
stamping the snow from his feet on the hall rug.

"It's begun, girls!" he cried.

"Ye-es," admitted Tess, gravely. "I know it's begun; but I don't see how
I am _ever_ going to finish it."

"Oh, dear me, Tess! Let that old composition go for to-night," begged
Agnes. "Do you mean it has begun to snow, Neale?"

"Like a regular old blizzard," declared Neale.

"Is it snowing as hard as it did the night we came from Carrie Poole's
party?" asked Ruth, interested.

"Just come out on the porch and see," advised the boy, and they all
trooped out after him--even Tess putting down her pencil and following
at the rear of the procession.

It must have been snowing ever since supper time, for the lower step was
already covered, and the air was thick with great, fleecy flakes, which
piled drifts rapidly about every object in the Corner House back yard.

A prolonged "Oh!" came from every one. The girls could not see the
street fence. The end of the woodshed was the limit of their vision down
the long yard. Two or three fruit trees loomed like drooping ghosts in
the storm.

"Wonderful! wonderful!" cried Ruth.

"No school to-morrow," Agnes declared.

"Well, I shall be glad, for one thing," said the worried Tess. "I won't
have to bother about that old composition until another day."

Agnes was closely investigating the condition of the snow. "See!" she
said, "it packs beautifully. Let's make a snowman."

"Goody-good!" squealed Dot. "That'll be _fun_!"

"I--don't--know," said Ruth, slowly. "It's late now----"

"But there'll be no school, Ruthie," Tess teased.

"Come on!" said Neale. "We can make a dandy."

"Well! Let us put on our warm things--and tell Mrs. MacCall," Ruth said,
willing to be persuaded to get out into the white drifts.

When the girls came out, wrapped to the eyes, Neale already had several
huge snowballs rolled. They got right to work with him, and soon their
shrill laughter and jolly badinage assured all the neighborhood that the
Corner House girls were out for a good time.

Yet the heavily falling snow seemed to cut them off like a wall from
every other habitation. They could not even see the Creamers'
cottage--and that was the nearest house.

It was great fun for the girls and their boy friend. They built a famous
snowman, with a bucket for a cap, lumps of coal for eyes and nose, and
stuck into its mouth an old long-stemmed clay pipe belonging to Uncle
Rufus.

He was a jaunty looking snowman for a little while; but although he was
so tall that the top of his hat was level with the peak of the woodshed
roof, before the Corner House girls went to bed he stood more than knee
deep in the drifted snow.

Neale had to make the round of his furnaces. Fortunately they were all
in the neighborhood, but he had a stiff fight to get through the storm
to the cobbler's little cottage before midnight.

At that "witching hour," if any of the Corner House girls had been awake
and had looked out of the window, they would have seen that the snowman
was then buried to his waist!

When daylight should have appeared, snow was still falling. A wind had
arisen, and on one side of the old Corner House the drift entirely
masked the windows. At eight o'clock they ate breakfast by lamplight.

Uncle Rufus did not get downstairs early, as he usually did, and when
Tess ran up to call him, she found the old man groaning in his bed, and
unable to rise.

"I done got de mis'ry in my back, chile," he said, feebly. "Don' yo'
worry 'bout me none; I'll be cropin' down erbout noon."

But Mrs. MacCall would not hear to his moving. There was a small
cylinder stove in his room (it was in the cold wing of the house) and
she carried up kindling and a pail of coal and made a fire for him. Then
Tess and Dot carried up his hot breakfast on one of the best trays, with
a nice white napkin laid over it.

"Glo-_ree_! Chillen, yo' mak' a 'ninvalid out o' Unc' Rufus, an' he
nebber wanter git up out'n hes baid at all. I don't spec' w'ite folkses
to wait on me han' an' foot disher way--naw'm!"

"You're going to be treated just like one of the family, Uncle Rufus,"
cheerfully cried Ruth, who had likewise climbed the stairs to see him.

But somebody must do the chores. The back porch was mainly cleared; but
a great drift had heaped up before it--higher than Ruth's head. The way
to the side gate was shut off unless they tunneled through this drift.

At the end of the porch, however, was the entrance to the woodshed, and
at the other end of the shed was a second door that opened upon the
arbor path. The trellised grapevine extended ten yards from this door.

Ruth and Agnes ventured to this end door of the shed, and opened the
swinging window in it. There was plenty of soft, fluffy snow under the
grape-arbor, but not more than knee deep.

Against the arbor, on the storm side, the drift had packed up to the
very top of the structure--and it was packed hard; but the lattice on
the side had broken the snowfall and the path under the arbor could
easily be cleared.

"Then we can get to the henhouse, Ruthie," said Agnes.

"And Billy Bumps, too, sister! Don't forget Billy Bumps," begged Tess
from the porch.

"We'll try it, anyway," said Ruth. "Here are all the shovels, and we
ought to be able to do it."

"Boys would," proclaimed Agnes.

"Neale would do it," echoed Dot, who had come out upon the porch
likewise.

"I declare! I wish Neale were here right now," Ruth said.

"'If wishes were horses, beggars could ride,'" quoted Agnes. "Come on,
Ruthie! I guess it's up to us."

First they went back into the kitchen to put on the warmest things they
had--boots to keep their feet dry, and sweaters under their school
coats, with stockingnet caps drawn down over their ears.

"I not only wish we _had_ a boy in the family," grumbled Agnes, "but I
wish _I_ were that boy. What cumbersome clothes girls have to wear!"

"What do you want to wear--overalls and a jumper?" demanded Ruth,
tartly.

"Fine!" cried her reckless sister. "If the suffragettes would demand the
right to wear male garments instead of to vote, I'd be a suffragette in
a minute!"

"Disgraceful!" murmured Ruth.

"What?" cried Agnes, grinning. "To be a suffragette? Nothing of the
kind! Lots of nice ladies belong to the party, and _we_ may yet."

They had already been to the front of the old Corner House. A huge drift
filled the veranda; they could not see Main Street save from the upper
windows. And the flakes were still floating steadily downward.

"We're really snowbound," said Agnes, in some awe. "Do you suppose we
have enough to eat in the house, to stand a long siege?"

"If we haven't," said Mrs. MacCall, from the pantry, "I'll fry you some
snowballs and make a pot of icicle soup."



CHAPTER XIX

THE ENCHANTED CASTLE


It was plain that the streets would not be cleared _that_ day. If the
girls were able to get to school by the following Monday they would be
fortunate.

None of the four had missed a day since the schools had opened in
September, and from Ruth down, they did not wish to be marked as absent
on their reports. This blizzard that had seized Milton in its grasp,
however, forced the Board of Education to announce in the _Post_ that
pupils of all grades would be excused until the streets were moderately
passable.

"Poor people will suffer a good deal, I am afraid," Ruth said, on this
very first forenoon of their being snowbound.

"Our folks on Meadow Street," agreed Agnes. "I hope Mrs. Kranz will be
kind to them."

"But we oughtn't to expect Mrs. Kranz, or Joe Maroni, to give away their
food and coal. Then _they'd_ soon be poor, too," said the earnest Ruth.
"I tell you what, Aggie!"

"Well--shoot!"

Ruth overlooked her sister's slang for once. "We should leave money with
Mrs. Kranz to help our poor folk, when we can't get over there to see
them so frequently."

"Goodness, Ruth!" grumbled Agnes. "We won't have any spending money left
for ourselves if we get into this charity game any deeper."

"Aren't you ashamed?" cried Ruth.

Agnes only laughed. They both knew that Agnes did not mean all that she
said.

Ruth was already attacking the loose, fluffy snow under the arbor, and
Agnes seized a spade and followed her older sister. It did not take such
a great effort to get to the end of the arbor; but beyond that a great
mass of hard-packed snow confronted them. Ruth could barely see over it.

"Oh, dear me!" groaned Agnes. "We'll never be able to dig a path through
_that_."

This looked to be true to the older girl, too; so she began thinking.
But it was Dot, trying to peer around the bigger girls' elbows, who
solved the problem.

"Oh, my! how nice it would be to have a ladder and climb up to the top
of that snowbank," she cried. "Maybe we could go over to Mabel
Creamer's, right over the fence and all, Tess!"

"Hurray!" shouted Agnes. "We can cut steps in the bank, Ruth. Dot has
given us a good idea--hasn't she?"

"I believe she has," agreed the oldest Kenway.

Although the snow had floated down so softly at first (and was now
coming in feathery particles) during the height of the storm, the wind
had blown and it had been so cold that the drifts were packed hard.

Without much difficulty the girls made four steps up out of the mouth of
the grape-arbor, to the surface of the drift. Then they tramped a path
on top to the door of the henhouse.

By this same entrance they could get to the goat's quarters. The snow
had drifted completely over the henhouse, but that only helped to keep
the hens and Billy Bumps warm.

Later the girls tunneled through the great drift at the back porch,
leaving a thick arch which remained for the rest of the week. So they
got a path broken to the gate on Willow Street.

The snowman had disappeared to his shoulders. It continued to snow most
of that day and the grape-arbor path became a perfect tunnel.

There was no school until Monday. Even then the streets were almost
impassable for vehicles. The Highway Department of the town was removing
the drifts in the roads and some of this excavated snow was dumped at
the end of the Parade Ground, opposite the schools.

The boys hailed these piles of snow as being fine for fortifications,
and snowball battles that first day waxed furious.

Then the leading spirits among the boys--including Neale O'Neil--put
their heads together and the erection of the enchanted castle was begun.
But more of _that_ anon.

Tess had had plenty of time to write that composition on the "Father of
His Country." Indeed, Miss Andrews should have had a collection of
wonderfully good biographical papers handed in by her class on that
Monday morning.

But Tess's was not all that might be desired as a sketch of George
Washington's life, and the teacher told her so. Still, she did better
with her subject than Sadie Goronofsky did with hers.

Sadie had been given Longfellow to write about, and Miss Andrews showed
the composition to Agnes' teacher as an example of what could be done in
the line of disseminating _mis_information about the Dead and the Great.
Miss Shipman allowed Agnes to read it.

     "Longfellow was a grand man; he wrote both poems and poetry. He
     graduated at Bowdoin and afterward taught in the same school where
     he graduated. He didn't like teaching and decided to learn some
     other trade, so his school furnished him money to go to Europe and
     learn to be a poet. After that he wrote many beautiful rhymes for
     children. He wrote 'Billy, the Blacksmith,' and Hiwater, what I
     seen in a pitcher show."

"Well, Sadie maybe doesn't know much about poets," said Tess,
reflectively, when she heard her older sisters laughing about the funny
composition. "But she knows numbers, and can multiply and divide. But
then, Maria Maroni can make change at her father's stand, and she told
Miss Andrews of all the holidays, she liked most the Fourth of July,
because that was when America was discovered. Of course _that_ isn't
so," concluded Tess.

"When was it discovered?" asked Ruth.

"Oh, I know! I know!" cried Dot, perilously balancing a spoonful of mush
and milk on the way to her mouth, in midair. "It was in 1492 at
Thanksgiving time, and the Pilgrim Fathers found it first. So they
called it Plymouth Rock--and you've got some of their hens in your
hen-yard, Ruthie."

"My goodness!" gasped Agnes, after she had laughed herself almost out of
her chair over this. "These primary minds are like sieves, aren't they?
All the information goes through, while the mis-information sticks."

"Huh!" said Tess, vexed for the moment. "You needn't say anything,
Aggie. You told us George Washington was born in 1778 and teacher gave
me a black mark on _that_."

As that week progressed and the cold weather continued, a really
wonderful structure was raised on the Parade Ground opposite the main
door of the Milton High School. The boys called it the snow castle and a
reporter for the _Post_ wrote a piece about it even before it was
finished.

Boys of all grades, from the primary up, had their "fingers in the pie";
for the very youngest could roll big snowballs on the smooth lawns of
the Parade at noon when the sun was warm, and draw them to the site of
the castle on their sleds after school was over for the day.

The bigger boys built up the walls, set in the round windows of ice,
which were frozen each night in washtubs and brought carefully to the
castle. The doorway was a huge arch, with a sheet of ice set in at the
top like a fanlight over an old-fashioned front door. A flat roof was
made of planks, with snow shoveled upon them and tramped down.

Several pillars of fence rails were set up inside to keep the roof from
sagging; then the castle was swept out, the floor smoothed, and the
girls were allowed to enter.

It was a fine, big snowhouse, all of forty feet long and half as wide.
It was as large as a small moving picture place.

Somebody suggested having moving pictures in it--or a magic lantern
show, but Joe Eldred, one of the bigger high school boys, whose father
was superintendent of the Milton Electric Lighting Company, had a better
idea than that.

On Thursday, when the castle was all finished, and the _Post_ had spoken
of it, Joe went to his father and begged some wire and rigging, and the
boys chipped in to buy several sixty-watt lamps.

Joe Eldred was a young electrician himself, and Neale O'Neil aided him,
for Neale seemed to know a lot about electric lighting. When his mates
called him "the circus boy," Neale scowled and said nothing, but he was
too good-natured and polite to refuse to help in any general plan for
fun like this now under way.

Joe got a permit from Mr. Eldred and then they connected up the lamps
they had strung inside the castle and at the entrance, with the city
lighting cables.

At dusk that Thursday evening, the snowhouse suddenly burst into
illumination. The sheets of clear ice made good windows. Christmas
greens were festooned over the entrance, and around the walls within.

After supper the boys and girls gathered in and about the snow castle;
somebody brought a talking machine from home and played some dance
records. The older girls, and some of the boys, danced.

But the castle was not ornate enough to suit the builders. The next day
they ran up a false-front with a tower at either side. These towers were
partly walled with ice, too, and the boys illuminated them that night.

Saturday the boys were busier than ever, and they spread broadcast the
announcement of a regular "ice-carnival" for that evening.

After the crowd had gone away on Friday night, a few of the boys
remained and flooded the floor of the castle. This floor was now
smoothly frozen, and the best skaters were invited to come Saturday
night and "show off."

By evening, too, the battlements of the castle had been raised on all
four sides. At each corner was a lighted tower, and in the middle of the
roof a taller pinnacle had been raised with a red, white, and blue star,
in colored electric bulbs, surmounting it.

Milton had never seen such an exhibition before, and a crowd turned
out--many more people than could possibly get into the place at once.
There was music, and the skating was attractive. Visitors were allowed
in the castle, but they were obliged to keep moving, having to walk down
one side of the castle, and up the other, so as to give those behind a
chance to see everything.

The Corner House girls had thought the enchanted castle (for so it
looked to be from their windows at home) a very delightful object. Ruth
and Agnes went up after supper on Saturday evening, with their skates.

Both of them were good skaters and Neale chose Aggie to skate with him
in the carnival. Joe Eldred was glad to get Ruth. Carrie and Lucy Poole
were paired off with two of the big boys, and _they_ were nowhere near
as good skaters as Trix Severn.

Yet Trix was neglected. She had to go alone upon the ice, or skate with
another girl. There was a reason for this neglect that Trix could not
appreciate. Boys do not like to escort a girl who is always "knocking"
some other girl. The boys declared Trix Severn "carried her hammer"
wherever she went and they steered clear of her when they wanted to have
a good time.

Every time Agnes and Neale O'Neil passed Trix Severn upon the ice, she
was made almost ill with envy!



CHAPTER XX

TRIX SEVERN IN PERIL


That cold spell in January was a long one. The young folk of Milton had
plenty of sledding, and some skating. But the snow-ice on Milton Pond
was "hubbly" and not nice to skate on, while there were only a few
patches of smooth ice anywhere in town.

Therefore the boys never failed to flood the interior of the snow castle
each night before they went home. They did this easily by means of a
short piece of fire-hose attached to the nearby hydrant.

Taking pattern of this idea, Neale O 'Neil made a small pond for the two
youngest Corner House girls in the big garden at the rear of the house.
Here Tess could practise skating to her heart's content, and even Dot
essayed the art.

But the latter liked better to be drawn about on her sled, with the
Alice-doll in her arms, or perhaps one of the cats.

Bungle, Dot's own particular pet among Sandyface's children, was now a
great lazy cat; but he was gentle. Dorothy could do anything with
him--and with Popocatepetl, as well.

One day the doctor's wife came to call at the old Corner House. The
doctor and his wife were a childless couple and that was why, perhaps,
they both had developed such a deep interest in the four girls who made
the old Stower homestead so bright and lively.

Dr. Forsyth never met Dot on the street with the Alice-doll without
stopping to ask particularly after the latter's health. He said he felt
himself to be consultant in general and family physician for all Dot's
brood of doll-babies, for the Kenway sisters were far too healthy to
need his attention in any degree.

"If all my customers were like you girls," he declared, in his jovial
way, "I'd have to take my pills and powders to another shop."

Ruth knew that Mr. Howbridge had insisted at first that Dr. Forsyth
"look over" the Corner House girls, once in so often. But just for
himself, she was always glad to see the doctor's ruddy, smiling face
approaching. The girls were all fond of Mrs. Forsyth, too, for she did
not come professionally. On the occasion referred to, Mrs. Forsyth was
ushered by Mrs. MacCall, quite unexpectedly, into the back parlor, or
sitting-room, which the family used a good deal nowadays.

The lady had been out for an airing in the doctor's two-seated sleigh
and she brought in with her a cunning little Pomeranian dog of which she
was very fond.

It was a pretty, harmless little beast and the Corner House girls
thought Tootsie awfully cunning. Other members of the household did not
look upon the Pomeranian, however, in the same light.

Dot was apparently the single occupant of the sitting-room when Mrs.
Forsyth bustled in. "I'll tell the girls," Mrs. MacCall said, briskly,
and she shut the visitor into the room, for on this cold day the big
front hall was draughty.

Mrs. Forsyth put the Pomeranian down at once and advanced toward the
register. "Well, my dear!" she cried, seeing Dot. "How do you do, child?
Come give Auntie Forsyth a kiss. I declare! I get hungry for little
girl's kisses, so few of them come my way."

"Goodness! what have you there?"

For what she had supposed to be two gaily dressed dolls sitting side by
side upon the sofa behind Dot, had suddenly moved. Mrs. Forsyth was a
little near-sighted, anyway, and now she was without her glasses, while
her eyes were watering because of the cold.

"Why," said Dot, in a most matter-of-fact way, "it's only Bungle and
Popocatepetl."

"Popo----_who_?" gasped Mrs. Forsyth, at that amazing name.

Dot repeated it. She had learned to pronounce it perfectly and was
rather proud of the accomplishment.

There was another movement on the sofa. The two cats were dressed in
doll clothes, and their activities were somewhat restricted, but they
had sensed the presence of the dog the instant it had come into the
room.

"Oh! oh!" cried Dot, suddenly. "Bungle! you be good. Petal! don't you
dare move!"

The cheerful little dog, quite unsuspicious of harm, had trotted after
its mistress. Despite the clinging doll clothes, the tails of Bungle and
Popocatepetl swelled, their backs went up, and they began to spit!

"Tootsie!" screamed the doctor's wife in alarm.

Dot shouted at the cats, too, but neither they, nor the dog, were in a
mood to obey. The Pomeranian was too scared, and Bungle and Popocatepetl
were too angry.

Tootsie saw her enemies just as the cats leaped. Hampered by the
garments Dot had put upon them, both Bungle and Popocatepetl went
head-over-heels when they first landed on the floor, and with a
frightened "ki, yi!" Tootsie distanced them to the far end of the room.

There was no cover there for the terrified pup, and when the two
cats--clawing at the dresses and threatening vengeance--came after the
dog, Tootsie tried to crawl under the three-sided walnut "whatnot" that
stood in the corner between the windows.

The whatnot was shaky, having only three short, spindle legs. Tootsie
darted under and then darted out again. Bungle got in one free-handed
slap at the little dog as she went under, while Popocatepetl caught her
on the rebound as Tootsie came out.

The long, silky hair of the dog saved her from any injury. But she was
so scared that she yelped as though the claws of both cats had torn her.

"Oh! my poor Tootsie!" wailed the doctor's wife. "They will kill her."

Dot stood, open mouthed. She could not quench the fury of the angered
cats.

"That--that's my Alice-doll's next-to-best dress, Bungle!" she managed
to say. "You're tearing it! you're tearing it!"

Just then the door opened. Uncle Rufus came tottering in with the
feather duster. The old man's rheumatism still troubled him and he was
not steady on his feet.

Tootsie saw a way of escape. She darted between Uncle Rufus' legs, still
yelping as loudly as she could.

"Wha' fo' dat? wha' fo' dat?" ejaculated Uncle Rufus, and he fell back
against the door which closed with a slam. If Tootsie had possessed a
long tail it certainly would have been caught.

"Git erway f'om yere, you pesky cats!" shouted Uncle Rufus as Bungle and
Popocatepetl charged the door on the trail of the terrified dog.

"Oh, dear me! Don't let them out," begged Dot, "till I can get my doll's
clothes off."

"My poor Tootsie!" cried Mrs. Forsyth again.

"Hush yo'! hush yo'!" said Uncle Rufus, kindly. "Dar's a do' shet 'twixt
dat leetle fice an' dem crazy cats. Dar's sho' nuff wot de papahs calls
er armerstice 'twixt de berlig'rant pahties--ya-as'm! De berry wust has
happen' already, so yo' folkses might's well git ca'm--git ca'm."

The old colored man's philosophy delighted the doctor's wife so much
that she had to laugh. Yet she was not wholly assured that Tootsie was
not hurt until the older girls had trailed the Pomeranian under the bed
in one of the chambers. She had only been hurt in her feelings.

The cats could not seem to calm down either, and Uncle Rufus had to hold
one after the other while Dot removed what remained of the doll's
clothes, in which she had decked out her favorites.

"I guess I don't want cats for doll-babies any more," Dot said, with
gravity, examining a scratch on her plump wrist, after supper that
evening. "They don't seem able to learn the business--not _good_."

Agnes laughed, and sing-songed:

    "Cats delight
    To scratch and bite,
        For 'tis their nature to;
    But pretty dolls
    With curly polls,
        Have something else to do."

"I think our Aggie is going to be a poetess," said Tess, to Ruth,
secretly. "She rhymes so easy!"

"I'd rather have her learn to pick up her things and put them properly
away," said Ruth, who was trying to find her own out-door clothing on
the back hall rack. "My goodness! everything I put my hand on belongs to
Agnes."

"That's because I'm rich," returned Agnes cheerfully. "For once in my
life I have a multitude of clothes," and she started off, cheerfully
whistling and swinging her skates. Ruth had almost to run to catch up
with her before she struck across into the Parade.

The weather had moderated that day, and at noon the gutters were flooded
and the paths ran full streams. The boys, however, had pronounced the
ice in the snow castle to be in fine shape.

"Perhaps this will be the last night we can skate there," Ruth said as
they tramped along the Parade walk, side by side.

"Oh, I hope not!" cried Agnes.

"But Neale says the weight of the towers and the roof of the castle will
maybe make the walls slump right down there, if it begins to thaw."

"Oh! I don't believe it," said Agnes, who did not _want_ to believe it.
"It looks just as strong!"

They could see the gaily illuminated snow castle through the branches of
the leafless trees. The fiery star above it and the lights below shining
through the ice-windows, made it very brilliant indeed.

"Well," Ruth said, with a sigh, "if the boys say it isn't safe, we
mustn't go in to-night, Agnes."

There were only a few young folk already assembled about the castle when
the Corner House girls arrived. A man in a blue uniform with silver
buttons, had just come out of the castle with Joe Eldred and Neale
O'Neil.

"I don't know whether it's safe, or not," the fireman was saying. "Give
me a frame building, and I can tell all right and proper. But I never
ran to a fire in a snowhouse, and I don't know much about them--that's a
fact," and he laughed.

Neale looked serious when he walked over to the two Corner House girls.

"What's the matter, Sir Lachrymose?" demanded Agnes, gaily.

"I believe the further wall of this snowhouse has slumped," he said.
"Maybe there is no danger, but I don't know."

"Oh, nobody will go in, of course," Ruth cried.

"Sure they will, Ruth. Don't be a goose," said Agnes, sharply.

"_I_ certainly will not," her sister said. "It was real warm this noon
and maybe the house is just tottering. Isn't that so, Neale?"

"I don't know," said the boy. "Wish I did."

"Let's go in and find out," said Agnes, the reckless.

"Wait," drawled Neale. "I'd rather find out, out here than in
there--especially if the thing is coming down."

"There goes Trix Severn--and Wilbur Ketchell," said Agnes, rather
crossly. "They're going to risk it."

"Let them go, Aggie," said Neale. "I'm not going into that place until
I'm sure."

"Nor am I," Ruth announced, with emphasis.

"Well, I don't see----" Agnes began, when Neale exclaimed:

"Wait. Joe's stopped them."

Eldred had interfered when Trix and her escort started into the snow
castle. The Corner House girls and Neale drew near.

"I don't care!" Trix was saying in her loud voice. "I'm going to skate.
Oh! don't bother to tell me it isn't safe, Joe Eldred. You just want to
keep me off the ice."

She was already sitting on a rough bench that had been drawn there by
the boys, and Wilbur was putting on her skates.

"You always do know it all, Trix," Joe said, sharply, "but I advise you
to go slow----"

The obstinate girl stood up as Wilbur finished with the last strap. She
laughed in Joe's face.

"You make me tired, Joe Eldred," she observed, and without waiting for
further parley she shot away into the otherwise empty castle.

"Oh! why didn't you stop her?" cried Ruth, anxiously.

"I'd like to see anybody stop _that_ girl," growled Joe.

"She's as reckless as she can be," said Neale.

"Aw, say!" exclaimed Wib, as they called young Ketchell, "is the roof
really unsafe?"

"We don't know," Neale said, in a worried tone. Then suddenly there was
a sharp crack from inside the snow castle.

"Crickey! it's coming down!" exclaimed Wilbur.

"What _was_ that, Neale?" demanded Joe Eldred.

"That pillar's gone!" exclaimed Neale O'Neil, pointing to one of the
wooden supports by which the roof of planks and snow was partly upheld.

On the tail of his declaration there was another crash and a second
support, farther down the hall, was splintered.

"The roof's coming down, Trix! Come back! come back!" shrieked Agnes.

Trix was at the far end. She had turned swiftly and they could see her
face. The wooden supports giving way between her and the exit frightened
the reckless girl immeasurably.

"Come back, Trix!" Ruth added her cry to her sister's.

The electric lights began to quiver. The whole mass of the roof must be
sagging down. Ketchell kicked off his skates and picked them up,
preparatory to getting out of the way.

And perhaps it was just as well that he had showed no heroism. Had he
skated in for the girl, he could not have aided her in any way.

Trix started for the front of the snow castle. They saw her stoop
forward and put on speed, and then--in a flash--the middle of the roof
settled and crashed to the floor--and the sound of the wreck almost
deafened the onlookers!



CHAPTER XXI

A BACKYARD CIRCUS


They said afterward that the wreck of the snow castle was heard clear to
the outskirts of the town. The _Morning Post_ said that it was
disgraceful that the school authorities had allowed it to be built.
Parents and guardians were inclined to rail against what they had
previously praised the boys for doing.

The fact remained, and the calmer people of the community admitted it,
that as soon as there was any danger the boys had warned everybody out.
That one headstrong girl--and she, only--was caught in the wreckage, did
not change the fact that the boys had been very careful.

At the moment the roof of the snow castle crashed in, the only thought
of those in sight of the catastrophe was of Trix Severn.

"Oh! save her! save her!" Ruth Kenway cried.

"She's killed! I _know_ she is!" wept Agnes, wringing her hands.

Joe Eldred and Wib Ketchell were as pale as they could be. None of the
little group at the entrance moved for a full minute. Then Neale O'Neil
brought them all to life with:

"_She wasn't under that fall!_ Quick! 'round to the rear! We can save
her."

"I tell you she's dead!" avowed Wilbur, hoarsely.

"Come on!" shouted Neale, and seized a shovel that stood leaning against
the snow wall. "Come on, Joe! The roof's only fallen in the middle. Trix
is back of that, I tell you!"

"Neale is right! Neale is right!" screamed Agnes. "Let's dig her out."

She and Ruth started after Neale O'Neil and Joe. Wilbur ran away in
terror and did much to spread the senseless alarm throughout the
neighborhood that half the school children in town were buried beneath
the wreckage of the snow castle!

But it was bad enough--at first. The Corner House girls and their boy
friends were not altogether sure that Trix was only barred from escape
by the falling rubbish.

Neale and Joe attacked the rear wall of the structure with vigor, but
the edge of their shovels was almost turned by the icy mass. Axes and
crowbars would scarcely have made an impression on the hard-packed snow.

It was Ruth who pointed the right way. She picked up a hard lump of snow
and sent it crashing through the rear ice-window!

"Trix!" she shouted.

"Oh! get me out! get me out!" the voice of the missing girl replied.

Another huge section of the roof, with the side battlements, caved
inward; but it was a forward section.

The boys knocked out the rest of the broken ice around the window-hole
and Neale leaped upon the sill which was more than three feet across.
The walls of the castle were toppling, and falling, and the lights had
gone out. But there was a moon and the boy could see what he was about.

The spectators at a distance were helpless during the few minutes which
had elapsed since the first alarm. Nobody came to the assistance of the
Corner House girls and the two boys.

But Trix was able to help herself. Neale saw her hands extended, and he
leaned over and seized her wrists, while Joe held him by the feet.

Then with a heave, and wriggle, "that circus boy," as Trix had nicknamed
him, performed the feat of getting her out of the falling castle, and
the Corner House girls received her with open arms.

The peril was over, but rumor fed the excitement for an hour and brought
out as big a crowd as though there had been a fire in the business
section of the town.

Trix clung to Ruth and Agnes Kenway in an abandonment of terror and
thanksgiving, at first. The peril she had suffered quite broke down her
haughtiness, and the rancor she had felt toward the Corner House girls
was dissipated.

"There, there! Don't you cry any more, Trix," urged good-natured Agnes.
"I'm _so_ glad you got out of that horrid place safely. And we didn't
help you, you know. It was Neale O'Neil."

"That circus boy" had slunk away as though he had done something
criminal; but Joe was blowing a horn of praise for Neale in the crowd,
as the Corner House girls led Trix away.

Ruth and Agnes went home with Trix Severn, but they would not go into
the house that evening as Trix desired. The very next morning Trix was
around before schooltime, to walk to school with Agnes. And within a
week (as Neale laughingly declared to Ruth) Agnes and Trix were "as
thick as thieves!"

"Can you beat Aggie?" scoffed Neale. "That Trix girl has been treating
her as mean as she knows how for months, and now you couldn't pry Aggie
away from her with a crowbar."

"I am glad," said Ruth, "that Agnes so soon gets over being mad."

"Huh! Trix is soft just now. But wait till she gets mad again," he
prophesied.

However, this intimacy of Agnes with her former enemy continued so long
that winter passed, and spring tiptoed through the woods and fields,
flinging her bounties with lavish hand, while still Agnes and Trix
remained the best of friends.

As spring advanced, the usual restless spirit of the season pervaded the
old Corner House. Especially did the little girls find it infectious.
Tess and Dot neglected the nursery and the dolls for the sake of being
out-of-doors.

Old Billy Bumps, who had lived almost the life of a hermit for part of
the winter, was now allowed the freedom of the premises for a part of
each day. They kept the gates shut; but the goat had too good a home,
and led too much a life of ease here at the Corner House, to wish to
wander far.

The girls ran out to the rescue of any stranger who came to the Willow
Street gate. It was not everybody that Billy Bumps "took to," but many
he "took after."

When he took it into his hard old head to bump one, he certainly bumped
hard--as witness Mr. Con Murphy's pig that he had butted through the
fence on the second day of his arrival at the old Corner House.

That particular pig had been killed, but there was another young porker
now in the cobbler's sty. Neale O'Neil continued to lodge with Mr. Con
Murphy. He was of considerable help to the cobbler, and the little
Irishman was undoubtedly fond of the strange boy.

For Neale _did_ remain a stranger, even to his cobbler friend, as Mr.
Murphy told Ruth and Agnes, when they called on him on one occasion.

"An oyster is a garrulous bir-r-rd beside that same Neale O'Neil. I know
as much about his past now as I did whin he kem to me--which same is
jist nawthin' at all, at all!"

"I don't believe he _has_ a past!" cried Agnes, eager to defend her
hero.

"Sure, d'ye think the bye is a miracle?" demanded Con Murphy. "That he
has no beginning and no ending? Never fear! He has enough to tell us if
he would, and some day the dam of his speech will go busted, and we'll
hear it all."

"Is he afraid to tell us who he really is?" asked Ruth, doubtfully.

"I think so, Miss," said the cobbler. "He is fearin' something--that I
know. But phat that same is, I dunno!"

Neale O'Neil had made good at school. He had gained the respect of Mr.
Marks and of course Miss Georgiana liked him. With the boys and girls of
grade six, grammar, he was very popular, and he seemed destined to
graduate into high school in June with flying colors.

June was still a long way off when, one day, Tess and Dot begged Neale
to harness Billy Bumps to the wagon for them. Uncle Rufus had fashioned
a strong harness and the wagon to which the old goat was attached had
two seats. He was a sturdy animal and had been well broken; so, if he
wished to do so, he could trot all around the big yard with Tess and Dot
in the cart.

Sometimes Billy Bumps did not care to play pony; then it was quite
impossible to do anything with him. But he was never rough with, or
offered to butt, Tess and Dot. They could manage his goatship when
nobody else could.

Sometimes Billy Bumps' old master, Sammy Pinkney, came over to see his
former pet, but the bulldog, Jock, remained outside the gate. Billy
Bumps did not like Jock, and he was never slow to show his antagonism
toward the dog.

On this occasion that Neale harnessed the goat to the wagon, there was
no trouble at first. Billy Bumps was feeling well and not too lazy. Tess
and Dot got aboard, and the mistress of the goat seized the reins and
clucked to him.

Billy Bumps drove just like a pony--and was quite as well trained. The
little girls guided him all around the garden, and then around the
house, following the bricked path down to the front gate.

They never went outside with Billy unless either Neale, or Uncle Rufus,
was with them, for there was still a well developed doubt in the minds
of the older folk as to what Billy Bumps might do if he took it into his
head to have a "tantrum."

"As though our dear old Billy Bumps would do anything naughty!" Dot
said. "But, as you say, Tess, we can't go out on Main Street with him
unless we ask."

"And Uncle Rufus is busy," said Tess, turning the goat around.

They drove placidly around the house again to the rear, following the
path along the Willow Street side.

"There's Sammy Pinkney," said Dot.

"Well, I hope he doesn't come in," said Tess, busy with the reins. "He
is too rough with Billy Bumps."

But Sammy came in whistling, with his cap very far back on his closely
cropped head, and the usual mischievous grin on his face. Jock was at
his heels and Billy Bumps immediately stopped and shook his head.

"Now, you send that dog right back, Sammy," commanded Tess. "You know
Billy Bumps doesn't like him."

"Aw, I didn't know Jock was following me," explained Sammy, and he drove
the bulldog out of the yard. But he failed to latch the gate, and Jock
was too faithful to go far away.

Billy Bumps was still stamping his feet and shaking his head. Sam came
up and began to rub his ears--an attention for which the goat did not
care.

"Don't tease him, Sammy," begged Dot.

"Aw, I'm not," declared Sammy.

"He doesn't like that--you know he doesn't," admonished Tess.

"He ought to have gotten used to it by this time," Sammy declared.
"Jinks! what's that?"

Unnoticed by the children, Sandyface, the old mother cat, had gravely
walked down the path to the street gate. She was quite oblivious of the
presence, just outside, of Jock, who crouched with the very tip of his
red tongue poked out and looking just as amiable as it is ever possible
for a bulldog to look.

Suddenly Jock spied Sandyface. The dog was instantly all
attention--quivering muzzle, twitching ears, sides heaving, even his
abbreviated tail vibrating with delighted anticipation. Jock considered
cats his rightful prey, and Sammy was not the master to teach him
better.

The dog sprang for the gate, and it swung open. Sandyface saw her enemy
while he was in midair.

She flew across the backyard to the big pear-tree. Jock was right behind
her, his tongue lolling out and the joy of the chase strongly exhibited
in his speaking countenance.

In his usual foolish fashion, the bulldog tried to climb the tree after
the cat. Jock could never seem to learn that he was not fitted by nature
for such exploits, and wherever the game led, he tried to follow.

His interest being so completely centered in Sandyface and his attempt
to get her, peril in the rear never crossed Jock's doggish mind.

Old Billy Bumps uttered a challenging "blat" almost upon the tail of
Sammy's shout; then he started headlong for his ancient enemy. He gave
his lady passengers no time to disembark, but charged across the yard,
head down, and aimed directly at the leaping bulldog.

The latter, quite unconscious of impending peril, continued to try to
catch Sandyface, who looked down upon his foolish gyrations from a
branch near the top of the tree. Perhaps she divined what was about to
happen to the naughty Jock, for she did not even meow!



CHAPTER XXII

MR. SORBER


Tess had presence of mind enough to holloa "Whoa!" and she kept right on
saying it. Usually it was effective, but on this occasion Billy Bumps
was deaf to his little mistress.

Dot clung to Tess's shoulders and screamed. There was really nothing
else for her to do.

Sammy had grabbed at the goat's horns and was promptly overthrown. They
left him roaring on his back upon the brick walk, while the goat tore
on, dragging the bumping wagon behind him.

Billy Bumps had not earned his name without reason. Having taken aim at
the bulldog jumping up and down against the trunk of the pear tree,
nothing but a solid wall could have stopped him.

There was a crash as one forward wheel of the cart went over a stone.
Out toppled Tess and Dot upon the soft earth.

Billy Bumps went on and collided with Jock, much to that animal's
surprise and pain. The bulldog uttered a single yelp as the goat got him
between his hard horns and the treetrunk.

"You stop that, Billy!" roared Sam, struggling to his feet. "Let my dog
alone."

But Jock was not likely to give the goat a second chance. He limped
away, growling and showing his teeth, while Billy Bumps tried to free
himself of the harness so as to give pursuit.

"Don't you hurt Billy!" Tess screamed at Sam, getting to her feet and
helping Dot to rise.

"I'd like to knock him!" cried Sam.

"You ought to keep your dog out of our yard!" declared Tess. Dot was
crying a little and the older girl was really angry.

"I'll set him onto that Billy Bumps next time I get a chance," growled
Sam.

"You dare!" cried Tess.

But Jock was already outside of the yard. When Sam whistled for him, he
only wagged his stump of a tail; he refused to return to a place where,
it was plain to his doggish intelligence, he was not wanted. Besides,
Jock had not yet gotten a full breath since the goat butted him.

Sammy picked up a clothes-pole and started to punish Billy Bumps as he
thought fit. Just then the goat got free from the cart and started for
Master Pinkney. The latter dropped the pole and got to the gate first,
but only just in time, for Billy crashed head-first into it, breaking a
picket, he was so emphatic!

"You wait! I'll kill your old goat," threatened Sammy, shaking his fist
over the fence. "You see if I don't, Tess Kenway," forgetting, it
seemed, that it had been he who had presented the goat to the Corner
House girl.

Billy trotted back proudly to the girls to be petted, as though he had
done a very meritorious act. Perhaps he had, for Sandyface at once came
down from the tree, to sit on the porch in the sunshine and "wash her
face and hands"; she doubtless considered Billy Bumps very chivalrous.

The great hullabaloo brought most of the family to the scene, as well as
Neale from over the back fence. But the fun was all over and Sammy and
his bulldog were gone when the questioners arrived.

Dot explained volubly: "Billy Bumps wouldn't see poor Sandy abused--no,
he wouldn't! That's why he went for that horrid dog."

"Why," said Ruth, laughing, "Billy must be a regular knight."

"'In days of old, when knights were bold!'" sang Neale.

"I've an improvement on _that_," Agnes said, eagerly. "Listen:

      "'Sir Guy, a knight,
      In armor bright,
    Took tea with Mistress Powsers.
      With manner free,
      She spilled the tea,
    And rusted Guy's best trousers!'"

"Then he certainly must have looked _a guy_!" Neale declared. "I always
wondered how those 'knights of old' got along in their tin uniforms.
After a campaign in wet weather they must have been a pretty rusty
looking bunch."

It was about this time that Neale O'Neil got his name in the local
paper, and the Corner House girls were very proud of him.

Although Neale was so close-mouthed about his life before his arrival in
Milton, the girls knew he was fond of, and had been used to, horses. If
he obtained a job on Saturday helping a teamster, or driving a private
carriage, he enjoyed _that_ day's work, if no other.

On a certain Saturday the girls saw Neale drive by early in the morning
with a handsome pair of young horses, drawing loam to a part of the
Parade ground which was to be re-seeded. The contractor had only
recently bought these young horses from the West, but he trusted Neale
with them, for he knew the boy was careful and seemed able to handle
almost any kind of a team.

The Kenway sisters went shopping that afternoon as usual. The end of
Main Street near Blachstein and Mapes department store, and the Unique
Candy Store, and other shops that the sisters patronized, were filled
with shoppers. Milton was a busy town on Saturdays.

Tess and Dot were crossing the street at Ralph Avenue when a shouting up
Main Street made them turn to look that way. People in the street
scattered and certain vehicles were hastily driven out of the way of a
pair of horses that came charging down the middle of Main Street like
mad.

Ruth saw the danger of her younger sisters, and called to them from the
doorway of the drugstore.

"Tess! Dot! Quick! Come here!"

But Agnes ran from across the street and hustled the smaller girls upon
the sidewalk. Then they could all give their attention to the runaway.

Not until then did they realize that it was the team Neale O'Neil had
been driving. An auto horn had startled them at the Parade Ground, while
Neale was out of the wagon, and downtown they started.

It seemed to the onlookers as though the team traveled faster every
block! Nevertheless Neale had chased and overtaken the wagon not far
below the old Corner House.

He clambered over the tailboard and, as the wagon rocked from side to
side and its noise spurred the maddened horses to greater speed, the boy
plunged forward and climbed into the seat.

The reins had been torn from the whipstock; they were dragging in the
street. It looked for the moment as though Neale had risked his life for
nothing. He could not halt the runaways!

Another boy might have failed, even after getting that far; but not
"that circus boy"!

People along the street set up a shout when they beheld Neale O'Neil
leap right down on the pole of the wagon and stretch out perilously to
seize the reins at the hames. He had them and was back in the seat
before the horses had run another block.

As he passed Ralph Avenue where the Corner House girls stood, he had
lost his hat; his hair, which had grown long again, was blowing back in
the wind, and his white face was a mask of determination.

"Oh! he'll be killed!" whispered Ruth.

"He's going to stop them!" crowed Agnes, with assurance.

And so Neale did. He stopped them as soon as he could get into the seat,
brace his feet, and obtain a purchase on the lines. He knew how to break
the horses' hold on the bits, and sawing at their mouths sharply, he
soon brought them to a stop.

He tried to drive back to his work then without being accosted by the
crowd that quickly gathered. But the reporter from the _Post_ was right
on the spot and the next morning a long article appeared on the front
page of the paper about the runaway and about the youngster who had
played the hero.

Because Neale refused to talk to the reporter himself, other people had
talked for him, and quite a little romance about Neale was woven into
the story. Even the fact that he went by the nickname of "the circus
boy" at school got into the story, and it was likewise told how he had
made a high mark in gymnastics.

Neale seemed terribly cut-up when the girls showed him the article in
the paper. "Why," said Ruth, "you ought to be proud."

"Of that tattling business?" snapped Neale.

"No. Not so much that the paper speaks well of you, but because of your
ability to do such a thing," said the oldest Corner House girl. "It
isn't every boy that could do it."

"I should hope not!" growled Neale, emphatically. "Let me tell you," he
added, angrily, "the reason I can do such things is the reason why I am
such an ignorant fellow--and so far behind other chaps of my age."

And that is the nearest Neale had ever come to saying anything directly
about his old life. That it had been hard, and unpleasant, and that he
had been denied the benefits of schooling were about all the facts the
girls had gathered, even now.

After that Neale seemed more afraid than ever of meeting somebody on the
public streets. Agnes and Ruth knew that he never went out evenings,
save to climb over the fence and come to the old Corner House.

He was spending more time at his books, having earned a nice little sum
during the winter taking care of furnaces and shoveling paths. That work
was past now, and he said he had enough money to keep him comfortably
until the end of the school year.

It was another Saturday. Neale had driven out into the country for a
neighbor, but had promised to come to the old Corner House about four
o'clock. Almost always he took supper Saturday evening with the girls.
Mrs. MacCall usually had fishcakes and baked beans, and Neale was
extravagantly fond of that homely New England combination.

As it chanced, none of the four Kenways but Ruth went shopping that
afternoon. It was warm enough for Tess and Dot to have their dolls out
in the summer-house. They had set up house-keeping there for the season
and were very busy.

Agnes had found a book that she enjoyed immensely, and she was wrapped
up in an old coat and hidden in a crotch of the Baldwin appletree behind
the woodshed. She was so deeply absorbed that she did not wake to the
click of the gate-latch and did not realize there was a stranger in the
yard until she heard a heavy boot on the brick walk.

"Hello, my gal!" said a rough voice. "Ain't none of the folks to home?"

Agnes dropped the book and sprang down from the appletree in a hurry.
There at the corner of the shed stood a man in varnished top boots, with
spurs in the heels--great, cruel looking spurs--velveteen breeches, a
short, dirty white flannel coat, and a hard hat--something between a
stovepipe and a derby. Agnes realized that it was some kind of a riding
costume that he wore, and he lashed his bootleg with his riding whip as
he talked.

He was such a red-faced man, and he was so stout and rough looking, that
Agnes scarcely knew how to speak to him. She noted, too, that he had a
big seal ring on one finger and that a heavy gold watchchain showed
against his waistcoat where the short jacket was cut away.

"Who--who are you?" Agnes managed to stammer at last. "And what do you
want?"

"Why, I'm Sorber, I am," said the man. "Sorber, of Twomley & Sorber's
Herculean Circus and Menagerie. And my errand here is to git hold of a
chap that's run away from me and my partner. I hear he's in Milton, and
I come over from our winter quarters, out o' which we're going to git
instanter, Miss; and they tells me down to that newspaper office that I
kin find him here.

"Now, Miss, where is that 'circus boy' as they call him? Neale
Sorber--that's his name. And I'm goin' to take him away with me."



CHAPTER XXIII

TAMING A LION TAMER


Agnes was both frightened and angry as she listened to the man in the
topboots. He was such a coarse, rude fellow (or so she decided on the
instant) that she found herself fairly hating him!

Beside, she was well aware that he referred to Neale O'Neil. He had come
for Neale. He threatened to beat Neale with every snap of his heavy
riding whip along the leg of his shiny boots. He was a beast!

That is what Agnes told herself. She was quick to jump at conclusions;
but she was not quick to be disloyal to her friends.

Nor was she frightened long; especially not when she was angry. She
would not tremble before this man, and she gained complete control of
herself ere she spoke again. She was not going to deliver Neale O'Neil
into his hands by any mistake of speech--no, indeed!

The name of Twomley & Sorter's Herculean Circus and Menagerie struck a
cord of memory in Agnes' mind. It was one of the two shows that had
exhibited at Milton the season before.

This man said that Neale had run away from this show. He claimed his
name was really Neale Sorber!

And all the time Neale had denied any knowledge of circuses. Or, _had_
he done just that? Agnes' swift thought asked the question and answered
it. Neale had denied ever having attended a circus as a spectator. That
might easily be true!

Agnes' voice was quite unshaken as she said to the red-faced man: "I
don't think the person you are looking for is here, sir."

"Oh, yes he is! can't fool me," said the circus man, assuredly. "Young
scamp! He run away from his lawful guardeens and protectors. I'll show
him!" and he snapped the whiplash savagely again.

"He sha'n't show him in _that_ way if I can help it," thought Agnes. But
all she said aloud was: "There is no boy living here."

"Heh? how's that, Miss?" said Sorber, suspiciously.

Agnes repeated her statement.

"But you know where he does hang out?" said Sorber, slily, "I'll be
bound!"

"I don't know that I do," Agnes retorted, desperately. "And if I did
know, I wouldn't tell you!"

The man struck his riding boot sharply again. "What's that? what's
that?" he growled.

Agnes' pluck was rising. "I'm not afraid of you--so there!" she said,
bobbing her head at him.

"Why, bless you, Miss!" ejaculated Sorber. "I should hope not. I
wouldn't hurt you for a farm Down East with a pig on it--no, Ma'am! We
keep whips for the backs of runaways--not for pretty little ladies like
you."

"You wouldn't _dare_ beat Neale O'Neil!" gasped Agnes.

"Ah-ha?" exclaimed the man. "'Neale O'Neil?' Then you do know him?"

Agnes was stricken dumb with apprehension. Her anger had betrayed Neale,
she feared.

"So that's what he calls himself, is it?" repeated Sorber. "O'Neil was
his father's name. I didn't think he would remember."

"We can't be talking about the same boy," blurted out Agnes, trying to
cover her "bad break." "You say his name is Sorber."

"Oh, he could take any name. I thought maybe he'd call himself
'Jakeway.' He was called 'Master Jakeway' on the bills and he'd oughter
be proud of the name. We had too many Sorbers in the show. Sorber,
ringmaster and lion tamer--that's _me_, Miss. Sully Sorber, first
clown--that's my half brother, Miss. William Sorber is treasurer and
ticket seller--under bonds, Miss. He's my own brother. And--until a few
years ago--there was Neale's mother. She was my own sister."

Agnes had begun to be very curious. And while he was talking, the girl
was looking Sorber over for a second time.

He was not all bad! Of that Agnes began to be sure. Yet he wanted to
beat Neale O'Neil for running away from a circus.

To tell the truth, Agnes could scarcely understand how a boy could so
dislike circus life as to really _want_ to run away from even Twomley &
Sorber's Herculean Circus and Menagerie. There was a glitter and tinsel
to the circus that ever appealed to Agnes herself!

Personally Mr. Sorber lost none of his coarseness on longer
acquaintance, but now Agnes noticed that there were humorous wrinkles
about his eyes, and an upward twist to the corners of his mouth. She
believed after all he might be good-natured.

Could she help Neale in any way by being friendly with this man? She
could try. There was a rustic bench under the Baldwin tree.

"Won't you sit down, Mr. Sorber?" suggested Agnes, politely.

"Don't care if I do, Miss," declared the showman, and took an end of the
bench, leaving the other end invitingly open, but Agnes leaned against
the tree trunk and watched him.

"A nice old place you've got here. They tell me it's called 'the Old
Corner House.' That's the way I was directed here. And so that rascal of
mine's been here all winter? Nice, soft spot he fell into."

"It was I that came near falling," said Agnes, gravely, "and it wasn't a
soft spot at all under that tree. I'd have been hurt if it hadn't been
for Neale."

"Hel-_lo_!" exclaimed Neale's uncle, sharply. "What's this all about?
That rascal been playin' the hero again? My, my! It ought to be a big
drawin' card when we play this town in August. He always _was_ a good
number, as Master Jakeway in high and lofty tumbling; when he rode
bareback; or doing the Joey----"

"The Joey?" repeated the girl, interested, but puzzled.

"That's being a clown, Miss. He has doubled as clown and bareback when
we was short of performers and having a hard season."

"Our Neale?" gasped Agnes.

"Humph! Dunno about his being _yours_," said Sorber, with twinkling
eyes. "He's mine, I reckon, by law."

Agnes bit her lip. It made her angry to have Sorber talk so confidently
about his rights over poor Neale.

"Let me tell you how he came here," she said, after a moment, "and what
he's done since he came to Milton."

"Fire away, Miss," urged the showman, clasping his pudgy hands, on a
finger of one of them showing the enormous seal ring.

Agnes "began at the beginning," for once. She did not really know why
she did so, but she gave the particulars of all that had happened to
Neale--as she knew them--since he had rushed in at that gate the man had
so lately entered and saved her from falling into the big peachtree by
the bedroom window.

Mr. Sorber's comments as she went along, were characteristic. Sometimes
he chuckled and nodded, anon he scowled, and more than once he rapped
his bootleg soundly with the whip.

"The little rascal!" he said at last. "And he could have stayed with us,
hived up as us'al in the winter with only the critters to nuss and tend,
and been sure of his three squares.

"What does he rather do, but work and slave, and almost freeze and
starve--jest to git what, I ax ye?"

"An education, I guess," said Agnes, mildly.

"Huh!" grunted Sorber. Then he was silent; but after a while he said:
"His father all over again. Jim O'Neil was a kid-gloved chap. If he
could have let drink alone, he never would have come down to us show
people.

"Huh! Well, my sister was as good as he was. And she stayed in the
business all her life. And what was good enough for Jim O'Neil's wife
was good enough for his kid--and is good enough to-day. Now I've got
him, and I'm a-going to lug him back--by the scruff of the neck, if need
be!"

Agnes felt her lip trembling. What should she do? If Neale came right
away, this awful man would take him away--as he said--"by the scruff of
his neck."

And what would happen to poor Neale? What would ever become of him? And
Miss Georgiana was so proud of him. Mr. Marks had praised him. He was
going to graduate into high school in June----

"And he shall!" thought the Corner House girl with an inspired
determination. "Somehow I'll find a way to tame this lion tamer--see if
I don't!"

"Well, Miss, you'd better perduce the villain," chuckled Mr. Sorber. "If
he goes peaceable, we'll let bygones be bygones. He's my own sister's
child. And Twomley says for me not to come back without him. I tell ye,
he's a drawin' card, and no mistake."

"But, Mr. Sorber!" cried Agnes. "He wants to study so."

"Shucks! I won't stop him. He's allus readin' his book. I ain't never
stopped him. Indeed, I've give him money many a time to buy a book when
I needed the chink myself for terbacker."

"But----"

"And Twomley said I was doin' wrong. Less the boy learned, less he'd be
like his father. And I expect Twomley's right."

"What was the matter with Neale's father?" questioned Agnes, almost
afraid that she was overstepping the bounds of decency in asking. But
curiosity--and interest in Neale--urged her on.

"He couldn't content himself in the show business. He was the
high-tonedest ringmaster we ever had. I was only actin' the lions and a
den of hyenas in them days. But I cut out the hyenas. You can't tame
them brutes, and a man's got to have eyes in the back of his head and in
his elbers, to watch 'em.

"Well! Jim O'Neil was a good-looker, and the Molls buzzed round him like
bees round a honey pot. My sister was one of them and I'll say him
fair--Jim O'Neil never raised his hand to her.

"But after the boy come he got restless. Said it was no life for a kid.
Went off finally--to Klondike, or somewhere--to make his fortune. Never
heard of him since. Of course he's dead or he'd found us, for lemme tell
you, Miss, the repertation of Twomley & Sorber's Herculean Circus and
Menagerie ain't a light hid under a bushel--by no manner o' means!"

Not if Mr. Sorber were allowed to advertise it, that was sure. But the
man went on:

"So there you have it. Neale's mine. I'm his uncle. His mother told me
when she was dying to look after him. And I'm a-going to. Now trot him
out, Miss," and Mr. Sorber mopped his bald brow under the jaunty stiff
hat. He was quite breathless.

"But I haven't him here, sir," said Agnes. "He doesn't live here."

"He ain't here?"

"No. He is living near. But he is not at home now."

"Now, see here----"

"I never tell stories," said Agnes, gravely.

Mr. Sorber had the grace to blush. "I dunno as I doubt ye, Miss----"

"We expect Neale here about four o'clock. Before that my sister Ruth
will be at home. I want you to stay and see her, Mr. Sorber----"

"Sure I'll meet her," said Mr. Sorber, warmly. "I don't care if I meet
every friend Neale's made in this man's town. But that don't make no
differ. To the Twomley & Sorber tent show he belongs, and that's where
he is a-goin' when I leave this here town to-night."



CHAPTER XXIV

MR. MURPHY TAKES A HAND


Agnes Kenway was pretty near at her wit's end. She did not know how to
hold Mr. Sorber, and she did not dare to let him go away from the house,
for he might meet Neale O'Neil on the road and take him right away from
Milton.

If Agnes could help it, she was determined that their friend Neale
should not be obliged to leave town just as he was getting on so well.
She wanted to consult Ruth. Ruth, she believed, would know just how to
handle this ticklish situation.

Just then Tess and Dot appeared, taking a walk through the yard with
their very best dolls. Naturally they were surprised to see Agnes
talking in the backyard with a strange man, and both stopped, curiously
eyeing Mr. Sorber. Dot's finger involuntarily sought the corner of her
mouth. _That_ was a trick that she seemed never to grow out of.

"Hello!" said Mr. Sorber, with rough joviality, "who are these little
dames? Goin' to say how-de-do to old Bill Sorber?"

Tess, the literal, came forward with her hand outstretched. "How do you
do, Mr. Sorber," she said.

Dot was a little bashful. But Agnes, having a brilliant idea, said:

"This is Neale's uncle, Dot. Mr. Sorber has come here to see him."

At that Dot came forward and put her morsel of hand into the showman's
enormous fist.

"You are very welcome, Neale's uncle," she said, bashfully. "We think
Neale is a very nice boy, and if we had a boy in our family we'd want
one just like Neale--wouldn't we, Tess?"

"Ye-es," grudgingly admitted the older girl. "If we _had_ to have a boy.
But, you know, Dot, we haven't _got_ to have one."

Mr. Sorber chuckled. "Don't you think boys are any good, little lady?"
he asked Tess.

"Not so very much," said the frank Tess. "Of course, Neale is different,
sir. He--he can harness Billy Bumps, and--and he can turn
cartwheels--and--and he can climb trees--and--and do lots of things
perfectly well. There aren't many boys like him."

"I guess there ain't," agreed Mr. Sorber. "And does he ever tell you how
he was took into the Lions' Den, like a little Dan'l, when he was two,
with spangled pants on him and a sugar lollypop to keep him quiet?"

"Mercy!" gasped Agnes.

"In a lions' den?" repeated Tess, while Dot's pretty eyes grew so round
they looked like gooseberries.

"Yes, Ma'am! I done it. And it made a hit. But the perlice stopped it.
Them perlice," said Mr. Sorber, confidentially, "are allus butting in
where they ain't wanted."

"Like Billy Bumps," murmured Dot.

But Tess had struck a new line of thought and she wanted to follow it
up. "Please, sir," she asked, "is that your business?"

"What's my business?"

"Going into lions' dens?"

"That's it. I'm a lion tamer, I am. And that's what I wanted to bring my
nevvy up to, only his mother kicked over the traces and wouldn't have
it."

"My!" murmured Tess. "It must be a very int'resting business. Do--do the
lions ever bite?"

"They chews their food reg'lar," said Mr. Sorber gravely, but his eyes
twinkled. "But none of 'em's ever tried to chew me. I reckon I look
purty tough to 'em."

"And Neale's been in a den of lions and never told us about it?" gasped
Agnes, in spite of herself carried away with the romantic side of the
show business again.

"Didn't he ever?"

"He never told us he was with a circus at all," confessed Agnes. "He was
afraid of being sent back, I suppose."

"And ain't he ever blowed about it to the boys?"

"Oh, no! He hasn't even told the school principal--or the man he lives
with--or Ruth--or _anybody_," declared Agnes.

Mr. Sorber looked really amazed. He mopped his bald crown again and the
color in his face deepened.

"Why, whizzle take me!" ejaculated the showman, in surprise, "he's
ashamed of us!"

Tess's kindly little heart came to the rescue immediately. "Oh, he
couldn't be ashamed of his uncle, sir," she said. "And Neale is, really,
a very nice boy. He would not be ashamed of any of his relations. No,
sir."

"Well, mebbe not," grumbled Mr. Sorber; "but it looks mightily like it."

Despite the roughness and uncouth manner of the man, the children "got
under his skin" as the saying is. Soon Tess and Dot bore the old showman
off to the summer-house to introduce him to their entire family.

At that moment Ruth arrived--to Agnes' vast relief.

"Oh, Ruthie!" the second Corner House girl gasped. "It's come!"

"What's come?" asked Ruth, in amazement.

"What Mr. Con Murphy said would happen some day. It's all out about
Neale----Poor Neale! The dam's busted!"

It was several minutes before Ruth could get any clear account from her
sister of what had happened. But when she _did_ finally get into the
story, Agnes told it lucidly--and she held Ruth's undivided attention,
the reader may be sure.

"Poor Neale indeed!" murmured Ruth.

"What can we do?" demanded Agnes.

"I don't know. But surely, there must be some way out. I--I'll telephone
to Mr. Howbridge."

"Oh, Ruthie! I never thought of that," squealed Agnes. "But suppose
Neale comes before you can get Mr. Howbridge here?"

Ruth put on her thinking cap. "I tell you," she said. "Introduce me to
Mr. Sorber. Get him to promise to stay to supper with Neale. That will
give us time."

This plot was carried out. Ruth saw Mr. Sorber, too, under a much more
favorable light. Dolls were much too tame for Dot and Tess, when they
realized that they had a real live lion tamer in their clutches. So they
had Mr. Sorber down on a seat in the corner of the summer-house, and he
was explaining to them just how the lions looked, and acted--even how
they roared.

"It's lots more int'resting than going to the circus to see them," Dot
said, reflectively. "For _then_ you're so scared of them that you can't
remember how they look. But Mr. Sorber is a perfectly _safe_ lion. He's
even got false teeth. He told us so."

Mr. Sorber could scarcely refuse Ruth's invitation. He was much
impressed by the appearance of the oldest Corner House girl.

"I reckon that rascally nevvy of mine has been playin' in great luck
since he run away from Twomley & Sorber's Herculean Circus and
Menagerie. Shouldn't blame him if he wanted to stay on. I'd wanter
myself. Pleased to meet you, Miss."

Ruth hurried to the nearest telephone and called up the lawyer's office.
She was not much surprised to find that he was not there, it being
Saturday afternoon.

So then she called up the house where he lived. After some trouble she
learned that her guardian had left town for over Sunday. She was told
where he had gone; but Ruth did not feel it would be right to disturb
him at a distance about Neale's affairs.

"Whom shall I turn to for help?" thought Ruth. "Who will advise us?
Above all, who will stop this man Sorber from taking Neale away?"

She had a reckless idea of trying to meet Neale on the road and warn
him. He could hide--until Mr. Howbridge got back, at least.

Perhaps she could catch Neale at the cobbler's house. And then, at
thought of the queer little old Irishman, all Ruth's worry seemed to
evaporate. Mr. Con Murphy was the man to attend to this matter. And to
the cobbler's little cottage she immediately made her way.

The story she told the little Irishman made him drop the shoe he was at
work upon and glare at her over his spectacles, and with his scant
reddish hair ruffled up. This, with his whiskers, made him look like a
wrathful cockatoo.

"Phat's that?" he cried, at last. "Take Neale O'Neil to a dirthy
circus-show and make him do thricks, like a thrained pig, or a goose, or
a--a--a naygur man from the Sahara Desert? NOT MUCH,SAYS CON!"

He leaped up and tore off his leather apron.

"The ormadhoun! I'd like a brush wid him, mesilf. Con Murphy takes a
hand in this game. We nade no lawyer-body--not yit. Lave it to me, Miss
Ruthie, acushla! Sure I'll invite mesilf to supper wid youse, too. I'll
come wid Neale, and he shall be prepared beforehand. Be sure he comes
here first. Never weep a tear, me dear. I'll fix thim circus people."

"Oh, Mr. Murphy! can you help us? Are you sure?" cried Ruth.

"Never fear! never fear!" returned the cobbler. "Lave it to me. Whin Con
Murphy takes a hand in any game, he knows what he's about. And there's
more than two sides to this mather, Miss Ruth. Belike thim fellers want
Neale for the money he makes for them. Hear me, now! Before I'd lit thim
take him back to that show, I'd spind ivry penny I've got buried in the
ould sock in--Well, niver mind where," concluded the excited cobbler.

But where was Ruth to find Neale O'Neil? That was the question that
faced the oldest Corner House girl as she turned away from the door of
the little cobbler's shop. She feared right now that the boy might have
returned to town and stopped at the Corner House to give the children a
ride before returning to the stable the horses he drove.

For Neale O'Neil was very fond of Tess and Dot and never missed a chance
of giving them pleasure. Although Ruth Kenway professed no high regard
for boys of any description--with Tess, she felt thankful there were
none "in the family"--she had to admit that the boy who had run away
from the circus was proving himself a good friend and companion.

Many of the good times the Corner House girls had enjoyed during the
fall and winter just past, would have been impossible without Neale's
assistance. He had been Agnes' and her own faithful cavalier at all
times and seasons. His secret--that which had borne so heavily upon his
heart--had sometimes made Ruth doubtful of him; but now that the truth
was out, he had only the girl's sympathy and full regard.

"He sha'n't go back!" she told herself, as she hurried around the corner
into Willow Street. "This horrid circus man shall not take him back. Oh!
if Mr. Murphy can only do all that he says he can--"

Her heart had fallen greatly, once she was out from under the magnetism
of the old cobbler's glistening eye. Mr. Sorber was such a big,
determined, red-faced man! How could the little cobbler overcome such an
opponent! He was another David against a monster Goliath.

And so Ruth's former idea returned to her. Neale must be stopped! He
must be warned before he returned from the drive he had taken into the
country, and before running right into the arms of his uncle.

This determination she arrived at before she reached the side gate of
the Old Corner House premises. She called Agnes, and left the two
younger children to play hostesses and amuse the guest.

"He mustn't suspect--he mustn't know," she whispered to Agnes,
hurriedly. "You go one way, Aggie, and I'll go the other. Neale must
return by either the Old Ridge Road or Ralph Avenue. Which one will you
take?"

Agnes was just as excited as her older sister. "I'll go up Ral-Ralph
Avenue, Ru-Ruth!" she gasped. "Oh! It will be dreadful if that awful
Sorber takes away our Neale----"

"He sha'n't!" declared the older girl, starting off at once for the Old
Ridge Road.

They had said nothing to Mrs. MacCall about the coming of Mr.
Sorber--not even to tell the good housekeeper of the Old Corner House
that she would have company at supper. But Mrs. MacCall found that out
herself.

Finding Tess and Dot remarkably quiet in the garden, and for a much
longer time than usual, Mrs. MacCall ventured forth to see what had
happened to the little girls. She came to the summer-house in time to
hear the following remarkable narrative:

"Why, ye see how it was, little ladies, ye see how it was. I saw the
folks in that town didn't like us--not a little bit. Some country folks
_don't_ like circus people."

"I wonder why?" asked Tess, breathlessly.

"Don't know, don't know," said Mr. Sorber. "Just born with a nateral
_hate_ for us, I guess. Anyway, I seen there was likely to be a big
clem--that's what we say for 'fight' in the show business--and I didn't
get far from the lions--no, ma'am!"

"Were you afraid some of the bad men might hurt your lions, sir?" asked
Dot, with anxiety.

"You can't never tell what a man that's mad is going to do," admitted
the old showman, seriously. "I wasn't going to take any chances with
'em. About a wild animal you can tell. But mad folks are different!

"So I kept near the lion den; and when the row broke out and the roughs
from the town began to fight our razorbacks--them's our pole- and
canvas-men," explained Mr. Sorber, parenthetically, "I popped me right
into the cage--yes, ma'am!

"Old Doublepaws and the Rajah was some nervous, and was traveling back
and forth before the bars. They was disturbed by the racket. But they
knowed me, and I felt a whole lot safer than I would have outside.

"'The show's a fake!' was what those roughs was crying. 'We want our
money back!' But that was a wicked story," added Mr. Sorber, earnestly.
"We was giving them a _big_ show for their money. We had a sacred cow, a
white elephant, and a Wild Man of Borneo that you couldn't have told
from the real thing--he was dumb, poor fellow, and so the sounds he made
when they prodded him sounded just as wild as wild could be!

"But you can't satisfy _some_ folks," declared Mr. Sorber, warmly. "And
there those roughs was shouting for their money. As I was telling you, I
doubled, selling tickets and putting the lions through their paces. I'd
taken the cashbox with me when I run for cover at the beginning of the
trouble, and I'd brought it into the lions' cage with me.

"Twomley tried to pacify the gang, but it was no use. They were going to
tear the big top down. That's the main tent, little ladies.

"So I knocks Old Doublepaws and Rajah aside--they was tame as kittens,
but roared awful savage when I hit 'em--and I sings out:

"'Here's your money, ladies and gentlemen. Them that wants theirs back
please enter the cage. One at a time, and no crowding, gents----' Haw!
haw! haw!" exploded the showman. "And how many do you suppose of them
farmers come after their money? Not one, little ladies! not one!"

"So the lions saved your money for you?" quoth Tess, agreeably. "That's
most int'resting--isn't it, Dot?"

"I--I wouldn't ever expect them to be so kind from the way they roar,"
announced the littlest Corner House girl, honestly. She had a vivid
remembrance of the big cats that she had seen in the circus the previous
summer.

"They're like folks--to a degree," said Mr. Sorber, soberly. "Some men
is all gruff and bluff, but tender at heart. So's--Why, how-d'ye-do,
ma'am!" he said, getting up and bowing to Mrs. MacCall, whom he just
saw. "I hope I see you well?"

The housekeeper was rather amazed--as well she might have been; but
Tess, who had a good, memory, introduced the old showman quite as a
matter of course.

"This is Neale's uncle, Mrs. MacCall," she said. "Neale doesn't know he
is here yet; but Ruthie has asked him to stay to supper----"

"With your permission, ma'am," said Mr. Sorber, with another flourish of
his hat.

"Oh, to be sure," agreed the housekeeper.

"And Neale runned away from a circus when he came here," said the
round-eyed Dot.

"No!" gasped the housekeeper.

"Yes, Mrs. MacCall," Tess hurried on to say. "And he used to be a clown,
and an acrobat, and----"

"And a lion in a Daniel's den!" interposed Dot, afraid that Tess would
tell it all. "Did you _ever_?"

And Mrs. MacCall was sure she never had!

Meanwhile Ruth and Agnes had run their separate ways. It was Agnes who
was fortunate in meeting the carriage driven by Neale O'Neil. The boy
was alone, and the moment he saw the panting girl he drew in his horses.
He knew something of moment had happened.

"What's brought you 'way out here, Aggie?" he demanded, turning the
wheel so that she might climb in beside him. His passengers had been
left in the country and he was to drive back for them late in the
evening.

"It--it's _you_, Neale!" burst out Agnes, almost crying.

"What's the matter with me?" demanded the boy, in wonder.

"What you've been expecting has happened. Oh dear, Neale! whatever shall
we do? Your Uncle Sorber's come for you."

The boy pulled in his team with a frightened jerk, and for a moment
Agnes thought he was going to jump from the carriage. She laid a hand
upon his arm.

"But we're not going to let him take you away, Neale! Oh, we won't! Ruth
says we must hide you--somewhere. She's gone out the Old Ridge Road to
meet you."

"She'll get lost out that way," said the boy, suddenly. "She's never
been over that way, has she?"

"Never mind--Ruth," Agnes said. "It's you we're thinking of----"

"We'll drive around and get Ruth," Neale said, decisively, and he began
to turn the horses.

"Oh, Neale!" groaned Agnes. "What an _awful_ man your uncle must be. He
says he used to put you in a cage full of lions----"

Neale O'Neil suddenly began to laugh. Agnes looked at him in surprise.
For a moment--as she told Ruth afterward--she was afraid that the shock
of what she had told him about Mr. Sorber's appearance, had "sort of
turned his brain."

"Why, Neale!" she exclaimed.

"Those poor, old, toothless, mangy beasts," chuckled Neale. "They had to
be poked up half an hour before the crowd came in, or they wouldn't act
their part at all. And half the time when the crowd thought the lions
were opening their mouths savagely, they were merely yawning."

"Don't!" gasped Agnes. "You'll spoil every menagerie I ever see if you
keep talking that way."

The laugh seemed to bring Neale back to a better mind. He sighed and
then shrugged his shoulders. "We'll find Ruth," he said, with
determination, "and then drive home. I'll see what Mr. Murphy says, and
then see Mr. Sorber."

"But he's come to take you away, Neale!" cried Agnes.

"What good will it do for me to run? He knows I'm here," said the boy,
hopelessly. "It would spoil my chance at school if I hid out somewhere.
No; I've got to face him. I might as well do so now."



CHAPTER XXV

A BRIGHT FUTURE


That Saturday night supper at the old Corner House was rather different
from any that had preceded it. Frequently the Corner House girls had
company at this particular meal--almost always Neale, and Mr. Con Murphy
had been in before.

Once Miss Shipman, Agnes' and Neale's teacher, had come as the guest of
honor; and more than once Mr. Howbridge had passed his dish for a second
helping of Mrs. MacCall's famous beans.

It was an elastic table, anyway, that table of the Corner House girls.
It was of a real cozy size when the family was alone. Mrs. MacCall sat
nearest the swing-door into the butler's pantry, although Uncle Rufus
would seldom hear to the housekeeper going into the kitchen after she
had once seated herself at the table.

She always put on a clean apron and cap. At the other end of the table
was Aunt Sarah's place. No matter how grim and speechless Aunt Sarah
might be, she could not glare Mrs. MacCall out of countenance, so that
arrangement was very satisfactory.

The four girls had their seats, two on either side. The guests, when
they had them, were placed between the girls on either side, and the
table was gradually drawn out, and leaves added, to suit the
circumstances.

Neale always sat between Tess and Dot. He did so to-night. But beside
him was the Irish cobbler. Opposite was the stout and glowing Mr.
Sorber, prepared to do destruction to Mrs. MacCall's viands first of
all, and then to destroy Neale's hopes of an education afterward.

At least, he had thus far admitted no change of heart. He had met Neale
with rough cordiality, but he had stated his intention as irrevocable
that he would take the boy back to the circus.

Tess and Dot were almost horrified when they came to understand that
their friend the lion tamer proposed to take Neale away. They could not
understand such an evidently kind-hearted tamer of wild beasts doing
such a cruel thing!

"I guess he's only fooling," Tess confided to Dot, and the latter agreed
with several nods, her mouth being too full for utterance, if her heart
was not.

"These beans," declared Mr. Sorber, passing his plate a third time, "are
fit for a king to eat, and the fishcakes ought to make any fish proud to
be used up in that manner. I never eat better, Ma'am!"

"I presume you traveling people have to take many meals haphazardly,"
suggested Mrs. MacCall.

"Not much. My provender," said Mr. Sorber, "is one thing that I'm mighty
particular about. I feeds my lions first; then Bill Sorber's next best
friend is his own stomach--yes, Ma'am!

"The cook tent and the cooks go ahead of the show. For instance, right
after supper the tent is struck and packed, and if we're traveling by
rail, it goes right aboard the first flat. If we go by road, that team
gets off right away and when we catch up to it in the morning, it's
usually set up on the next camping ground and the coffee is a-biling.

"It ain't no easy life we live; but it ain't no dog's life, neither. And
how a smart, bright boy like this here nevvy of mine should want to run
away from it----"

"Did ye iver think, sir," interposed the cobbler, softly, "that mebbe
there was implanted in the la-ad desires for things ye know nothin' of?"

"Huh!" grunted Sorber, balancing a mouthful of beans on his knife to the
amazement of Dot, who had seldom seen any person eat with his knife.

"Lit me speak plainly, for 'tis a plain man I am," said the Irishman.
"This boy whom ye call nephew----?"

"And he is," Sorber said.

"Aye. But he has another side to him that has no Sorber to it. 'Tis the
O'Neil side. It's what has set him at his books till he is the foinest
scholar in the Milton Schools, bar none. Mr. Marks told me himself 'twas
so."

This surprised Neale and the girls for they had not known how deep was
the Irishman's interest in his protégé.

"He's only half a Sorber, sir. Ye grant that?"

"But he's been with the show since he was born," growled the showman.
"Why shouldn't he want to be a showman, too? All the Sorbers have been,
since away back. I was thinkin' of changing his name by law so as to
have him in the family in earnest."

"I'll never own to any name but my own again," declared Neale, from
across the table.

"That's your answer, Mr. Sorber," declared Murphy, earnestly. "The boy
wants to go his own way--and that's the way of his fathers, belike. But
I'm a fair man. I can see 'tis a loss to you if Neale stays here and
goes to school."

"I guess it is, Mister," said the showman, rather belligerently. "And I
guess you don't know how much of a loss."

"Well," said the cobbler, coolly. "Put a figure to it. How much?"

"How much _what_?" demanded Mr. Sorber, bending his brows upon the
Irishman, while the children waited breathlessly.

"Money. Neale's a big drawin' kyard ye say yerself. Then, how much money
will ye take for your right to him?"

Mr. Sorber laid down his knife and fork and stared at Mr. Murphy.

"Do you mean that, sir?" he asked, with strange quietness.

"Do I mean am I willin' to pay the bye out of yer clutches?" demanded
the cobbler, with growing heat. "'Deed and I am! and if my pile isn't
big enough, mebbe I kin find good friends of Neale O'Neil in this town
that'll be glad to chip in wid me and give the bye his chance.

"I've been layin' a bit av money by, from year to year--God knows why!
for I haven't chick nor child in the wor-r-rld. Save the bit to kape me
from the potter's field and to pay for sayin' a mass for me sowl, what
do the likes of _me_ want wid hoardin' gold and silver?

"I'll buy a boy. I have no son of me own. I'll see if Neale shall not do
me proud in the years to come--God bliss the bye!"

He seized the boy's hand and wrung it hard. "Oh, Mr. Murphy!" murmured
Neale O'Neil and returned the pressure of the cobbler's work-hardened
palm.

But Agnes got up and ran around the table and hugged him! "You--you are
the dearest old man who ever lived, Mr. Murphy!" she sobbed, and
implanted a tearful kiss right upon the top of the cobbler's little snub
nose!

"Huh!" grunted Mr. Sorber. Then he said "Huh!" again. Finally he burst
out with: "Say, young lady, ain't you going to pass around some of those
kisses? Don't _I_ get one?"

"What?" cried Agnes, turning in a fury. "_Me_ kiss _you_?"

"Sure. Why not?" asked the showman. "You don't suppose that man sitting
there is the only generous man in the world, do you? Why, bless your
heart! I want Neale back bad enough. And he _does_ make us a tidy bit of
money each season--and some of _that's_ to his credit in the bank--I've
seen to it myself.

"He's my own sister's boy. I--I used to play with him when he was a
little bit of a feller--don't you remember them times, Neale?"

"Yes, sir," said the boy, with hanging head. "But I'm too big for play
now. I want to learn--I want to know."

Mr. Sorber looked at him a long time. He had stopped eating, and had
dropped the napkin which he had tucked under his chin. Finally he blew a
big sigh.

"Well, Mr. Murphy," he said. "Put up your money. You've not enough to
_buy_ the boy, no matter how much you have laid away. But if he feels
that way----

"Well, what the Old Scratch I'll say to Twomley I don't know. But I'll
leave the boy in your care. I'm stickin' by my rights, though. If he's a
big success in this world, part of it'll be due to the way I trained him
when he was little. There's no doubt of that."

       *       *       *       *       *

So, that is the way it came about that Neale O'Neil remained at school
in Milton and lost the "black dog of trouble" that had for months
haunted his footsteps.

The Corner House girls were delighted at the outcome of the affair.

"If we grow to be as old as Mrs. Methuselah," declared Agnes, "we'll
never be so happy as we are over this thing."

But, of course, that is an overstatement of the case. It was only a few
weeks ahead that Agnes would declare herself surfeited with happiness
again--and my readers may learn the reason why if they read the next
volume of this series, entitled "The Corner House Girls Under Canvas."

But this settlement of Neale's present affairs was really a very great
occasion. Mr. Sorber and Mr. Con Murphy shook hands on the agreement.
Mrs. MacCall wiped her eyes, declaring that "such goings-on wrung the
tears out o' her jest like water out of a dishclout!"

What Aunt Sarah said was to the point, and typical: "For the marcy's
sake! I never did see thet boys was either useful enough, or ornamental
enough, to make such a fuss over 'em!"

Uncle Rufus, hovering on the outskirts of the family party, grinned
hugely upon Neale O'Neil. "Yo' is sho' 'nuff too good a w'ite boy tuh be
made tuh dance an' frolic in no circus show--naw-zer! I's moughty glad
yo's got yo' freedom."

Neale, too, was glad. The four Corner House girls got around him, joined
hands, and danced a dance of rejoicing in the big front hall.

"And now you need not be afraid of what's going to happen to you all the
time," said Ruth, warmly.

"Oh, Neale! you'll tell us all about what happened to you in the circus,
won't you, now?" begged Agnes.

"Will you please show me how to do cartwheels, Neale?" asked Tess,
gravely. "I've always admired seeing boys do them."

But Dot capped the climax--as usual. "Neale," she said, with serious
mien a day or two after, "if that circus comes to town this summer, will
you show us how you played Little Daniel in the Lions' Den? I should
think _that_ would be real int'resting--and awfully religious!"


THE END



       *       *       *       *       *



This Isn't All!

Would you like to know what became of the good friends you have made in
this book?

Would you like to read other stories continuing their adventures and
experiences, or other books quite as entertaining by the same author?

On the _reverse side_ of the wrapper which comes with this book, you
will find a wonderful list of stories which you can buy at the same
store where you got this book.

_Don't throw away the Wrapper_

_Use it as a handy catalog of the books you want some day to have. But
in case you do mislay it, write to the Publishers for a complete
catalog_.



THE BLYTHE GIRLS BOOKS

By LAURA LEE HOPE
Author of The Outdoor Girls Series

Illustrated by Thelma Gooch

The Blythe Girls, three in number, were left alone in New York City.
Helen, who went in for art and music, kept the little flat uptown, while
Margy, just out of business school, obtained a position as secretary and
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    THE BLYTHE GIRLS: HELEN, MARGY AND ROSE
    THE BLYTHE GIRLS: MARGY'S QUEER INHERITANCE
    THE BLYTHE GIRLS: ROSE'S GREAT PROBLEM
    THE BLYTHE GIRLS: HELEN'S STRANGE BOARDER
    THE BLYTHE GIRLS: THREE ON A VACATION
    THE BLYTHE GIRLS: MARGY'S SECRET MISSION
    THE BLYTHE GIRLS: ROSE'S ODD DISCOVERY
    THE BLYTHE GIRLS: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF HELEN
    THE BLYTHE GIRLS: SNOWBOUND IN CAMP
    THE BLYTHE GIRLS: MARGY'S MYSTERIOUS VISITOR
    THE BLYTHE GIRLS: ROSE'S HIDDEN TALENT
    THE BLYTHE GIRLS: HELEN'S WONDERFUL MISTAKE



FOR HER MAJESTY--THE GIRL OF TODAY

THE POLLY BREWSTER BOOKS
By Lillian Elizabeth Roy

Polly and Eleanor have many interesting adventures on their travels
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    POLLY OF PEBBLY PIT
    POLLY AND ELEANOR
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    POLLY IN SOUTH AMERICA
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    POLLY'S NEW FRIEND
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    POLLY AND CAROLA AT RAVENSWOOD
    POLLY LEARNS TO FLY



THE LILIAN GARIS BOOKS


Illustrated. Every volume complete in itself.

Among her "fan" letters Lilian Garis receives some flattering
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    SALLY FOR SHORT
    SALLY FOUND OUT
    A GIRL CALLED TED
    TED AND TONY, TWO GIRLS OF TODAY
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    CLEO'S CONQUEST
    BARBARA HALE
    BARBARA HALE'S MYSTERY FRIEND
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    NANCY BRANDON
    NANCY BRANDON'S MYSTERY
    CONNIE LORING
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    CONNIE LORING'S GYPSY FRIEND
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    JOAN: JUST GIRL
    JOAN'S GARDEN OF ADVENTURE
    GLORIA: A GIRL AND HER DAD
    GLORIA AT BOARDING SCHOOL



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THE PATTY BOOKS


Patty is a lovable girl whose frank good nature and beauty lend charm to
her varied adventures. These stories are packed with excitement and
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    PATTY FAIRFIELD
    PATTY AT HOME
    PATTY IN THE CITY
    PATTY'S SUMMER DAYS
    PATTY IN PARIS
    PATTY'S FRIENDS
    PATTY'S PLEASURE TRIP
    PATTY'S SUCCESS
    PATTY'S MOTOR CAR
    PATTY'S BUTTERFLY DAYS


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Marjorie is a happy little girl of twelve, up to mischief, but full of
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    MARJORIE'S VACATION
    MARJORIE'S BUSY DAYS
    MARJORIE'S NEW FRIEND
    MARJORIE IN COMMAND
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    MARJORIE AT SEACOTE


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    TWO LITTLE WOMEN ON A HOLIDAY


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    DICK AND DOLLY'S ADVENTURES



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By CAROLYN KEENE

Here is a thrilling series of mystery stories for girls. Nancy Drew,
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THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK

Nancy, unaided, seeks to locate a missing will and finds herself in the
midst of adventure.


THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE

Mysterious happenings in an old stone mansion lead to an investigation
by Nancy.


THE BUNGALOW MYSTERY

Nancy has some perilous experiences around a deserted bungalow.


THE MYSTERY AT LILAC INN

Quick thinking and quick action were needed for Nancy to extricate
herself from a dangerous situation.


THE SECRET AT SHADOW RANCH

On a vacation in Arizona Nancy uncovers an old mystery and solves it.


THE SECRET OF RED GATE FARM

Nancy exposes the doings of a secret society on an isolated farm.


THE CLUE IN THE DIARY

A fascinating and exciting story of a search for a clue to a surprising
mystery.


NANCY'S MYSTERIOUS LETTER

Nancy receives a letter informing her that she is heir to a fortune.
This story tells of her search for another Nancy Drew.





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