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Title: The Corner House Girls on a Tour - Where they went, what they saw, and what they found
Author: Hill, Grace Brooks
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: The six-foot rattler had coiled to strike again.]



                         THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS
                               ON A TOUR


                      WHERE THEY WENT
                          WHAT THEY SAW
                              AND WHAT THEY FOUND

                                   BY
                           GRACE BROOKS HILL

            Author of “The Corner House Girls,” “The Corner
                    House Girls Under Canvas,” Etc.

                             ILLUSTRATED BY
                             R. EMMETT OWEN

                               PUBLISHERS
                              BARSE & CO.
                     NEW YORK, N. Y. NEWARK, N. J.



Copyright, 1917

By

BARSE & CO.

Corner House Girls on a Tour

Printed in the United States of America



                                CONTENTS

            CHAPTER                                       PAGE
                  I A Red Letter Day Indeed                  9
                 II What Mrs. Heard Heard                   22
                III What Mrs. Heard Told                    34
                 IV Saleratus Joe                           43
                  V Dot’s Awful Adventure                   53
                 VI The Big Tour Is Planned                 64
                VII What Sammy Did                          72
               VIII Reforming a “Pirate”                    86
                 IX A Wayside Bivouac                       91
                  X The Passing Automobile                  99
                 XI An Adventure Begins                    110
                XII Seeking                                121
               XIII The Green and Orange Petticoat         132
                XIV With the Romany Folk                   143
                 XV Another Clue                           151
                XVI Searching the Barn                     161
               XVII One Thing After Another                171
              XVIII A Very Annoying Situation              179
                XIX The Tin Badge of the Law               188
                 XX Excitement                             197
                XXI The Unexpected Happens                 209
               XXII Sammy Investigates                     222
              XXIII Roughing It                            230
               XXIV Something Really Exciting              240
                XXV Welcome Home                           248



                            ILLUSTRATIONS

  The six-foot rattler had coiled to strike again   Frontispiece

                                                            PAGE

  From the apex of these when they were set up,
  the kettle was hung                                         93

  “You leetle ’Merican girls come wit’ me”                   144

  “Oh, do help Sammy!” begged Tess, with clasped hands       214



THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A TOUR



CHAPTER I—A RED LETTER DAY INDEED


There was a deal of bustle and a twittering like an eager flock of
sparrows in the big kitchen of the old Corner House, which stood facing
Main Street in Milton, but with its long side and rear yard and garden
running far back on Willow Street.

The four Kenway girls had the room all to themselves at this early hour
on Saturday morning, for Mrs. MacCall and Aunt Sarah Maltby had not yet
come downstairs, while Linda, the maid, had deserted the kitchen and
pantry altogether for the time being.

Ruth, the eldest and most sedate of the sisters, was filling sandwiches
at the dresser—and such a variety as there was of them!

Chicken, with mayonnaise and a lettuce leaf; pink ham cut thin and
decorated with little golden dabs of mustard; peanut butter sandwiches;
nut and cheese sandwiches, the filling nestling in a salad leaf, too;
tuna fish, with narrow slices of red, red Spanish peppers decorating it;
and of course sardines, carefully split and laid between soda crackers.
What picnic lunch would be complete without sardines?

Agnes, the next oldest to Ruth and the beauty of the family, was slicing
bread as exactly as though it were a problem in geometry and in such
quantity that Tess declared it looked as though they were to feed an
army.

Tess herself was seriously attending to the boiling of two dozen eggs in
a big saucepan.

“Though why you need to watch ’em so closely I can’t see,” complained
Agnes. “There are other things you might be doing when there is so
_much_ to do—goodness knows! Those eggs won’t get away.”

“No,” joined in Dot, the youngest of the Corner House girls, and quite
seriously, too. “No. It isn’t like boiling lobsters.”

“Right, Dottums,” chuckled Agnes, recovering from her vexation
immediately. “Eggs are an entirely different kind of shellfish.”

“Well,” said the little girl, explaining, “Mrs. Adams boiled some raw
lobsters the other day, and one hopped right out of the pot on to the
floor and started for the door—it really did!”

“Oo-ee!” gasped Tess, attracted for a moment from the bobbing eggs by
this statement. “The poor thing!”

“Who’s a poor thing—Mrs. Adams?” asked Ruth, laughing gayly.

“Why, no,” said Tess, who was nothing if not tender-hearted. “The
lobster.”

“Goodness!” exclaimed Agnes. “Do you s’pose it hurts a lobster to be
boiled?”

“_Why_ doesn’t it?” demanded Tess, promptly.

“’Cause it has a shell,” ventured Dot.

“Why—because they always _do_ boil them,” said Agnes, rather at a loss
for an answer to Tess’ question.

“Sometimes they broil them,” said the oldest sister, smiling.

“Well, they’re used to it, anyway,” declared Agnes, with conviction.

“I—I don’t believe anybody could get used to being boiled,” observed
Tess, slowly. “Look at Sammy Pinkney.”

“Where?” demanded Agnes, jumping. “I hope that horrid child isn’t coming
over so early. I hoped we’d get away without having him around.”

“Oh, my!” murmured Dot. “You know he’s just got over the scarlet fever.”

“But he hasn’t got over being a nuisance,” declared the older girl.

“I didn’t mean that Sammy was really here—to look at,” explained the
serious Tess. “I meant—I meant——”

“Well, what _did_ you mean?” asked Agnes, who was inclined to be
impatient.

“She meant, ‘consider Sammy,’ didn’t you, Tessie?” suggested Ruth,
kindly.

“Why—yes.”

“Oh! Were you taking him for an example?” cried Agnes. “But Sammy hasn’t
ever been boiled—although maybe he ought to have been.”

“No; he hasn’t been boiled,” said the serious Tess, still watching the
eggs bobbing in the boiling water. “But he’s punished lots of times—at
school, I mean. And he doesn’t seem to get used to it. He hollers just
as loud now as the first time I ever heard him.”

“Did the lobster holler?” chuckled Agnes. “Did it, Dot?”

But Dot—who was not allowed to “mess in” with the lunch—had found
another subject for consideration. She had been looking at Ruth,
dexterously opening a second can of sardines. Now, when the cover was
laid back and the oil drained off, the smallest girl pointed a dimpled
finger at the contents of the can.

“What’s the matter, honey?” asked Ruth, smiling down at the serious face
of the fairy-like Dot. “What is it?”

“Why, Ruthie,” said Dot, wonderingly, “I was only thinking if that
middle fish wanted to turn over, what a lot of trouble it would have!”

Amid the laughter of the two older girls at this, the door banged open
and a boy with a mop of flaxen hair—a regular “whitehead” and a football
cut at that—burst into the room.

“My goodness me, girls! aren’t you ready yet?” he demanded. “And it’s
half-past seven.”

“The eggs are,” Tess declared, the first to speak, for she had not been
laughing.

“Well, then,” said the boy, “you and I, Tess, will just take the eggs
and go.”

“What’s the matter, Neale O’Neil? Won’t your horse stand?” drawled
Agnes, tossing her head.

“We would have been ready long ago if it had not been for you, Neale,”
said Ruth, promptly.

“How’s that? I’ve been up since five. And the car’s right here at the
side gate. Cracky! it’s a scrumptious auto, girls. I don’t believe there
ever was a finer.”

“When our Mr. Howbridge does anything, he always does it right,”
proclaimed Tess, giving up the guardianship of the eggs to Ruth. “And
Mr. Howbridge had the car built for us.”

“But we wouldn’t ever have had it,” put in Dot, eager to tell all she
knew, “if Mrs. Eland and Miss Pepperill hadn’t given us the money ’cause
we found their Uncle Lemon Aden’s money.”

“Oh, goodness!” gasped Tess. “_Lem-u-el_, Dot!”

But Dot ignored the correction. “It was awfully nice of them to give us
the car because we found the fortune in our garret.”

“Lots _you_ did towards finding it,” chuckled Neale O’Neil.

“I’d like to know why I didn’t help find it!” cried the smallest Corner
House girl, indignantly. “I saw it first—so there! I opened the book it
was hid in and I thought it was pitchers.”

“Say! that isn’t getting us anywhere,” began the boy again. “Can’t you
hurry? Just think! the first ride in your car!”

“Don’t remind me,” gasped Agnes, cutting a crooked slice. “My nerves are
all jumping now like—like a _delightful toothache_!”

“Glory! listen to her,” laughed Neale. “But say, Miss Ruthiford
_Ten_-ways, why do you say that it is my fault that you are not all
ready?”

“Because we have to put up lunch enough to satisfy your appetite,” said
Ruth, running cold water on the eggs from the open faucet.

“Well! I like that!” said Neale.

“I fancy you will, sonny,” said Agnes, looking at him slyly. “There are
lots of goodies in it.”

“Now run and get your hats and wraps, children,” commanded Ruth seizing
the last two slices of bread Agnes had cut. “That will do, Aggie. Leave
a little bread for the folks to eat to-day while we’re gone. _That_
basket is all packed, Neale, and you may take it out and put it in the
tonneau.”

“Oh, my!” gasped Agnes, clasping her hands. “Doesn’t that sound fine?”

“What sounds fine!” asked her boy chum, surreptitiously putting the last
crumb of a broken sandwich he had found into his mouth.

“The way Ruth said ‘tonneau.’ So—so _Frenchy_ and _automobily_!”

“Why, Aggie!” gasped Tess, in amazement, before following Dot out of the
kitchen, “you’re making up words just like Dot does.”

“I feel like making up words,” laughed Agnes, who had been “crazy for a
car” for months and months! “We’ll all be talking about ‘tonneaus,’ and
‘carbureters,’ and ‘gas,’ and ‘wiring,’ and ‘differentials,’ and——”

“And ‘equilaterals,’ and ‘isosceles triangles,’ and all that,” scoffed
Neale. “You’ll know a hot lot about an automobile, Agamemnon.”

“Come, young man!” exclaimed Ruth, tartly, for she was very exact with
boys, feeling sure that she did not approve of them—much, “suppose you
take the basket out to the car—and these wraps—and this coffee—and the
little nursery icebox with the milk bottles—and——”

“Hold on! Hold on!” yelled Neale O’Neil. “What do you think I have—as
many arms as a spider? I can’t do it all in one trip.”

“Well, you might make a beginning,” suggested Ruth. “Come, Aggie. Don’t
moon there all day.”

“I’m not,” said her next youngest sister. “I’m thinking.”

“What’s the difference?” demanded Neale, filling his arms with several
of the things indicated by Ruth and making for the door.

“I was thinking,” said Agnes, quite seriously for her, “what a
difference _this_ is from what we were before we came to Milton and the
old Corner House to live.”

Neale had gone out. Ruth looked at her with softer eyes. Ruth was not
exactly pretty, but she had a very sweet face. Everybody said so. Now
she looked her understanding at Agnes.

“I know, dear—I know,” she said, in her low, full, sweet voice. “This is
like another world.”

“Or a dream,” said Agnes. “Do—do you suppose we’ll ever wake up, Ruthie,
and find out it’s all been make-believe?”

Ruth laughed outright at that and went over and kissed her. “Don’t let
your imagination run away with you,” the older sister said. “It is all
real—very real indeed. What could be more real than an automobile—and of
our very own?”

Dot came dancing into the room hugging a doll in her arms and cheerfully
humming a school song.

“There!” exclaimed Agnes, coming out of the clouds, “I suppose that
disreputable Alice-doll has got to go along. It does look awful.”

Dot stopped her song at once and her lips pouted.

“She _isn’t_ dis—disreput’ble—she isn’t!” she cried, stormily. “She’s
only sick. How would _you_ like it, Aggie Kenway, if you’d been buried
alive—_and_ with dried apples—and had had your complexion spoiled?”

Dot was usually the most peaceful of mortals; but Agnes had touched a
sore spot.

“Never mind; you shall take her, love,” Ruth said.

“I suppose if we want to go off on a real tour by and by—this coming
vacation—Dot’ll have to lug that Alice-doll,” grumbled Agnes. “Suppose
we meet nice people at some of the hotels we stop at, and other little
girls have dolls? Dot’s will look as though she came from Meadow
Street.” Meadow Street was in a poor section of Milton.

“I don’t care,” grumbled Dot; “she’s going.”

“She ought to go a hospital first,” declared Agnes.

“Who ought to go to a hospital?” demanded Neale, coming in again.

“My Alice-doll, Neale,” cried Dot, running to him, sure of sympathy—of a
kind, at least.

“Well,” said the boy, “why not? If folks go to hospitals and get cured,
why not dolls?”

“Oh, Neale O’Neil!” gasped Dot, hugging her cherished doll closer.

“Just think how nice Mrs. Eland was to folks in her hospital,” went on
Neale, his eyes twinkling. “And Doctor Forsyth. A hospital is a mighty
fine place.”

“But—but what would they do to my Alice-doll?” asked the smallest girl,
seriously.

“Suppose they should give her a new complexion? Make her quite well
again? Wouldn’t that be worth while?”

Dot held the really dreadful looking doll away from her and gazed with
loving eyes upon the wreck of her former pink and white beauty.

“She is just as—as _dear_ to me as ever she was,” she sighed. “But I
s’pose her complexion is muddy—and her nose is flattened a little—and
her lips aren’t red any more--and her eyes are washed out. But—but are
you sure they won’t hurt her?”

“We’ll have to find a hospital where they agree not to hurt,” said Neale
seriously.

“_Now_ you’ve got yourself in a mess, Neale O ‘Neil,” whispered Agnes.
“She’ll never let you rest.”

But the boy only grinned at her. Tess came back. Ruth brought the hats
of Agnes and herself and their outer wraps. Everything that they could
possibly need for the day’s outing was gathered together and taken out
to the big, shiny, seven-passenger touring car that stood gloriously in
the morning sunshine before the Willow Street door of the old Corner
House.

Tom Jonah, the old Newfoundland dog, and the guardian of the premises,
evidently desired to accompany the merry party; but Ruth vetoed that,
although he might have ridden in the front seat with Neale.

“And I’m going to ride there myself,” declared Agnes, firmly. “I’ve got
to learn to run this car right away. If Neale could learn, and get a
license, _I_ can. By the way, Neale, where is your license?”

“Oh, I’ve got it with me,” returned the boy. “D’ you want me to have it
pasted on the back of my coat?”

“Tom Jonah must stay at home—and the kittens, too,” said Tess, looking
at the troop of cats and kittens lingering about the side porch, waiting
for their morning meal.

“And Billy Bumps,” added Dot, referring to the solemn old goat grazing
on the drying green.

Uncle Rufus, the black factotum of the Corner House, came up from the
garden, grinning widely at them.

“Don’ yo’ chillun run down nothin’—nor run _up_ nothin’—w’ile yo’ is
gone. I dunno ‘bout dat contraption. Ah hopes yo’ git back widout more’n
a dozen laigs broke.”

“Goodness, Uncle Rufus!” cried Agnes. “What do you think we
are—centipedes?”

“Dunno nottin’ ‘bout dem ’er,” declared the old colored man, chuckling.
“Don’t hab center-pigs in Virginny, whar I done come from. Dey uses
razorbacks fo’ de mos’ part in makin’ po’k.”

The car started amid a gale of laughter at this. Mrs. MacCall waved her
cap from an open second story window. Some of the neighbors took a deep
interest in their departure, too. It was certainly a fact that the
Corner House girls had suddenly become of much importance since it was
known that they had a car.

Ruth and the others looked up at Aunt Sarah Maltby’s windows at the
front of the house as the car jounced delightfully across the tracks on
Main Street. But the old lady kept her curtains drawn. She would not
even look out at them.

They sped along so easily, the strong springs and shock-absorbers taking
the jar at the crossings, that even Ruth sighed ecstatically. Agnes
murmured:

“_This_ is life. Oh, Neale! it’s the most delightful way to travel.”

“Is it better than riding horses in a circus, Neale?” demanded Tess,
from the tonneau.

Neale laughed. He had been circus born and bred, and the little girls
still believed that such a life must be one round of pleasure and
excitement. They never could understand why Neale had run away from
Twomley & Sorber’s Herculean Circus and Menagerie.

Suddenly Agnes, the volatile, thought of another thing. “Oh, me! Oh,
my!” she cried. “What ever should we do?”

“Goodness! what’s the matter with you now?” demanded her older sister.

“Suppose our auto should be stolen like Mr. Collinger’s!”

“Don’t say that, Aggie!” wailed Tess.

“They couldn’t steal our auto,” declared Dot, with emphasis.

“Why not?” asked Neale, curiously.

“’Cause Tom Jonah wouldn’t let ’em,” said the smallest girl.

“Then we should have brought Tom Jonah with us,” Agnes said. “We’ll have
to let him watch the car all the time.”

“Mr. Collinger’s car was taken right away from the front of the County
Court House. Those thieves were bold,” said Ruth. “I heard Mr. Howbridge
say that there was something behind that affair. He doubts if the car
was stolen by any common thieves.”

“Common or uncommon,” cried Agnes, “we don’t want ours stolen!”

“Better set a watch at the garage door at night,” chuckled Neale.

They were out in the country now and had entered a smooth, but “woodsy,”
road that passed through a rather thick forest. The road was very narrow
in places and there were only a few houses along the track for some
miles.

Suddenly they sighted just ahead a basket phaeton and a brown, fat pony
hitched to it. Neale slowed down quickly, for the turnout was standing
still. The driver was a middle-aged woman with a good many fussy looking
ribbons in her bonnet and otherwise dressed quite gaily. The fat brown
pony was standing still, flicking flies with his tail and wagging his
ears comfortably. He was in the very middle of the road and by no
possibility could the car be steered around the turnout.

The woman looked around at the car and its passengers and her face
displayed a most exasperated expression.

“I don’t know what you’ll do!” she cried, in a rather shrill voice. “I
can’t make him budge. He’s been standing here this way for fifteen
minutes, and sometimes he balks for hours!”



CHAPTER II—WHAT MRS. HEARD HEARD


“Can’t you back, Neale?” asked Ruth Kenway, doubtfully. “We really don’t
want to stay here all day.”

“Or wait upon the pleasure of a ridiculous beast like that,” snapped
Agnes, more than a little exasperated herself.

The woman looked around again. She had a pleasant face, and Tess smiled
at her. Tess knew that the lady must feel a good deal worse than _they_
did about it.

“You don’t know how ridiculous he is,” said the woman, hopelessly. “He
may start any minute; then again he may stay here until he gets hungry.
And he’s only just eaten his breakfast.”

“He looks as if he’d live as long without eating as a camel can go
without drinking,” chuckled Neale O’Neil.

“It’s no laughing matter,” protested Agnes. “We want to get somewhere.”

“You can’t want to get somewhere worse than _I_ do, my dear,” said the
woman, with a sigh. “And only think! I have sat behind this pony _hours
and hours_ during the past ten years.”

“Can’t—can’t he be cured?” asked Tess, doubtfully.

“He’s a real pretty pony, _I_ think,” said Dot.

“‘Handsome is as handsome does,’ Mrs. Mac would say,” Ruth declared. “Is
there no way of turning, Neale?” she repeated.

“I don’t see how. We don’t want to scratch the car all up in those
bushes and on those stumps. And if we back to where the road is wider
we’ll have to back for half a mile.”

“A trolley car is lots better than an auto, then,” declared Dot, with
conviction.

“Why, Dottie! how can you say that?” cried Tess, in utter disapproval.

“’Cause if it gets stuck the motorman can go to the back end and run it
just as well as at the front end,” said the smallest Corner House girl,
promptly.

“Some kid that!” murmured Neale, while the others laughed. “Have you
tried the whip, ma’am?” he asked of the woman in the basket phaeton.

“I’ve broken it on him,” confessed the woman, shaking her head. “He
doesn’t even feel it. The flies bother him more than a whip. He is just
the most tantalizing brute of a horse that ever was. Jonas! Get up!”

Jonas stood still. He merely flicked flies and wagged his ears. He was
really the most peaceful animate object visible in the whole landscape.

The Corner House girls, since coming to Milton to live in the old
dwelling that Uncle Peter Stower had left them at his death, had enjoyed
many adventures, but few more ridiculous than this. Here they sat in
their new, high-powered car, ready and anxious to spin over the country
roads to their goal—a famous picnicking grounds fifty miles from
Milton—and a little old fat brown pony, with a stubborn disposition and
a cropped mane, held them up as certainly as though he had been a
highway robber!

The four young Kenways—Ruth, Agnes, Tess and Dot—with Aunt Sarah Maltby
(who really was only an “adopted” aunt) had been very poor indeed before
Uncle Peter Stower had died and left the girls the bulk of his estate
and a small legacy to Aunt Sarah.

Mr. Howbridge, the administrator of the estate and the girls’ guardian,
had come to the Kenways’ poor tenement in the city where they lived, and
had taken them to the old Corner House—quite an old mansion overlooking
the Parade Ground in Milton, and supposed by some of the neighbors to be
“haunted.”

How the girls laid the “garret ghost” and how they proved their right
and title to Uncle Peter’s estate against the claims of a certain Mrs.
Treble (known as “Mrs. Trouble” to the rather pert Agnes) and her little
girl, “Double-Trouble,” is told in the first volume of this series,
entitled “The Corner House Girls.”

Afterward the little “Adamless Eden” on the corner of Willow and Main
Streets is trespassed upon by a boy who has run away from a circus to
get an education—Neale O’Neil. He proves to be a thoroughly likable boy,
and even Ruth and Tess, who do not much approve of the opposite sex, are
prone to like Neale.

In “The Corner House Girls at School” Neale becomes a fixture in the
neighborhood, living with Mr. Con Murphy, the little old cobbler on the
street back of the Stower place, and doing chores for the Corner House
girls and other neighbors to help support himself while he attends
school.

The girls extend their acquaintance widely during this first school year
at Milton, and when summer comes they visit Pleasant Cove, where they
befriend Rosa and June Wildwood, two Southern girls, and meanwhile have
adventures galore along the shore. Indeed, “The Corner House Girls Under
Canvas” introduces many new friends to both the girls themselves and to
the reader, notable among whom is Tom Jonah, who, although only a dog,
is a thorough gentleman.

The girls’ friendliness to all living creatures gathers about them, as
is natural, a galaxy of pets, including a rapidly growing menagerie of
cats, the dog in question, a goat, and (this is Agnes’ inclusion) Sammy
Pinkney, the little boy who is determined to be a pirate when he grows
up.

The fall following this summer vacation just mentioned, sees all the
Corner House girls taking part in a play produced by the combined effort
of the town schools. Their failures and successes in producing _The
Carnation Countess_ is interwoven with a mystery surrounding the
punishment of Agnes and some of her fellow-classmates for an infraction
of the rules—a punishment that promises at one time to spoil the play
entirely. “The Corner House Girls in a Play” is interesting and it turns
out happily in the end. One of the best things about it is the fact that
three thousand dollars is raised by means of the play for the Women’s
and Children’s Hospital, and Mrs. Eland, the matron, is able to retain
her position in that institution.

Mrs. Eland and her sister, Miss Pepperill, who has been Tess Kenway’s
school teacher, become very good friends of the Corner House girls. In
the volume of the series immediately preceding this present narrative,
entitled “The Corner House Girls’ Odd Find” the Kenways find an old,
apparently worthless, album in the garret of the mansion—a treasure room
which seems inexhaustible in its supply of mystery and amusing
incidents.

This album seems to contain a lot of counterfeit money and bonds, which
in the end prove to have been hidden in the Stower house by a miserly
uncle of Mrs. Eland and Miss Pepperill, Mr. Lemuel Aden, who had died
too suddenly to make a will or to tell of his hidden treasure—and the
money and bonds are really perfectly good.

The four Kenway sisters, therefore, saw their friends, the hospital
matron and the school teacher, made comfortably wealthy for life; and
the beautiful, seven passenger touring car, with self-starter, “quick
top,” and all the modern appurtenances of a good automobile, was the
gift of the legatees of Mr. Lemuel Aden.

“But it might as well be a flivver,” said Agnes, in disgust, “if we’ve
got to sit here all day and watch a fat brown pony whisk his tail.”

“I don’t see what I can do, my dear,” said the woman in the basket
phaeton. “You can’t lead him, and you can’t push him, and I verily
believe if you built a fire under him he’d just move up far enough to
burn the cart, and stand there until his harness scorched him.”

Agnes giggled at that, and was her own jolly self again. “It’s up to
you, Neale O’Neil,” she declared. “You’re the chauffeur and are supposed
to make us go. Make us!”

“Get out and walk around the pony,” proposed Neale, grinning.

“And what about the car?”

“Do you think we could lift it over?” said Ruth, with scorn.

“Now, young man,” Agnes pursued, with gravity. “It is your duty to get
us to Marchenell Grove. We’re still twenty-five or thirty miles away
from it——”

“My goodness!” exclaimed the lady in front. “Were you young folks going
there?”

“We had an idea of doing so when we started, ma’am,” said Agnes,
quickly.

“I should have gone there to-day, too——”

“Not with that pony?” shrieked Agnes, clasping her hands.

“Why—no,” said the lady, smiling. “But if my nephew hadn’t lost his
automobile he would have taken me. Oh, dear! Now I shall have to ride
behind Jonas all the time.”

“You really don’t call this riding, do you, ma’am?” asked the
irrepressible Agnes.

The woman laughed. She liked Agnes Kenway from the first, as almost
everybody who met her did.

“I’m not riding fast just now, and that’s a fact,” she said, nodding her
bonnet with its many bows. “Nor does Jonas take me over the roads very
rapidly at his very best pace.”

Neale O’Neil had got slowly out of the car and now walked around to the
head of the fat brown pony. The pony had blue eyes, and they were very
mild. But he seemed to have no idea of going on and getting himself and
his mistress out of the way of the automobile. Maybe he did not like
automobiles.

“You see, my nephew bought a car and we let Jonas kick up his heels in
the paddock. Oh! he’s lively enough when he wants to be—Jonas, I mean.
But my nephew’s car was stolen day before yesterday—and he’s worried
almost to death about it, poor man.”

“Oh!” cried Ruth, “who _is_ your nephew, Madam?”

“Why, Philip Collinger is my nephew. He’s the county surveyor, you know.
A very bright young man—if I do say it. But not bright enough to keep
from having his auto stolen,” she added, ruefully.

Just then Agnes, who had been watching Neale O’Neil, called:

“What _are_ you doing to that pony, Neale?”

The boy had rubbed the fat brown pony’s nose. He had lifted first one
foot and then the other, going all around the pony to do so. He had
patted his neck. Jonas had seemed rather to like these attentions. He
still whisked flies calmly.

Now Neale reached over and took one of the pony’s ears in his hand,
holding it firmly. To the other ear the boy put his lips and seemed to
be whispering something privately to Jonas.

“What _are_ you doing to that pony, Neale?” cried Agnes again.

“Mercy! what is the boy doing? Why, Jonas doesn’t pay any attention to
me when I fairly yell at him. He’s deaf, I believe.”

And then the lady stopped, startled. The four Corner House girls all
expressed their amazement with a united cry. Neale had taken the pony
firmly by the bridle and was leading him quietly out of the middle of
the road.

“For pity’s sake!” gasped the pony’s mistress, “I never saw the like of
that before.”

Jonas seemed to have forgotten all about balking. He still wagged his
ears to keep the flies away and whisked his tail industriously.

Neale, leading the pony, turned a corner in the lane, and there came
upon a house. The lady had left the phaeton to speak to the girls more
companionably. Neale tied the pony to the picket fence before the house,
leaving the hitching strap long enough to allow the animal to graze.

“Well, I want to know!” cried the woman, when the boy returned to the
car. “How did you do that? What did you do to Jonas to make him change
his mind?”

“This is Mrs. Heard, Neale,” said Ruth, smiling. “You sometimes _do_
prove to be a smart boy. What did you do to him?”

Neale grinned broadly. He had been used to horses all his life and he
knew a few tricks of the Gypsies and the horse-traders.

“I just told him something,” the boy said.

“Oo-ee!” cried Tess. “Did you really whisper to him?”

Neale nodded.

“_What_ did you whisper to the pony?” asked Dot, wide-eyed.

Agnes snapped, thinking Neale was fooling her: “I don’t believe it!”

“Yes, I whispered to him,” said the boy, seriously.

“Oh, Neale!” remonstrated Ruth.

“Well! For all I ever heard!” exclaimed Mrs. Heard. “What did you
whisper to that vexatious brute of a pony?”

“If I told what it was, that would spoil the charm,” said Neale,
gravely.

“Nonsense!” ejaculated Agnes, flushing.

“Now you know that is ridiculous,” said Ruth, inclined to be exasperated
with the boy as much as she had been with the pony.

“No. It is a fact,” said the boy, decidedly.

“Now, you know that isn’t so, Neale O’Neil!” cried Agnes.

“I assure you it is. Anyway, they say if you tell it—what you say—to
anybody else, the horse will balk again right away. It’s a secret
between him and the person——”

“I never heard such a ridiculous thing in all my life,” gasped Mrs.
Heard.

“I think you are not very polite, Neale,” said Ruth, quite sternly.

“Now see here!” cried the badgered boy, getting rather vexed himself. “I
tell you I can’t tell you——”

“You’re talking anything but English,” complained Agnes.

“Well, maybe I didn’t talk English into the pony’s ear,” retorted Neale,
grinning suddenly again. “Anyway, the old Gyp who taught me that trick
told me I must never say the words aloud, or to anybody who would not
make proper use of the magic formula.”

“Oh, shucks!” exclaimed Agnes, in disgust. “Tell me. I’ll try it on
Billy Bumps when _he_ balks,” said Tess, in a small voice.

At that they all laughed and Neale got in behind the steering wheel
again. The two older girls were much interested in Mrs. Heard and that
woman was evidently pleased with the sisters.

“Why, yes; I ought to know you Corner House girls. Goodness knows I’ve
heard enough about you—and my name being Heard, I heard a lot!” and she
laughed. “But you see, I live away on this side of town, and don’t go to
your church; so we have never met before.”

“I am sure the loss has been ours,” said Ruth, politely. “I hope your
pony will not balk again to-day.”

“Goodness knows! He’ll balk if he takes a notion to. I don’t suppose
what you whispered to him is guaranteed to be a permanent cure, is it,
boy?” she asked Neale O’Neil.

“No, ma’am,” grinned the boy.

“And you expected to go to Marchenell Grove to-day, Mrs. Heard?” Ruth
said, reflectively, looking at Agnes enquiringly although she spoke to
the mistress of the fat brown pony.

“I had thought to. Philly Collinger was going to take me. But if he
doesn’t recover his car he’ll not take me auto riding very soon again.”

“Well,” said Ruth, having received a nod of acquiescence from Agnes, “I
don’t see why you shouldn’t go there to-day just the same. Won’t you
come with us? There’s room in the car.”

“Goody! Of course she can!” cried Agnes, clapping her hands.

“I think that would be real nice,” agreed Tess.

Dot moved over at once to make room. “She can sit beside me and the
Alice-doll,” she proclaimed.

“Well, I declare!” exclaimed Mrs. Heard, her face alight with pleasure
at this united invitation. “You are just the nicest girls I ever met. I
wonder if I’d better?”

“Of course,” said Ruth. “You can find some place to leave the pony. Or
Neale can, I’m sure.”

“Why, I know these people right in the very next house,” said Mrs.
Heard. “Indeed I expected to call there if Jonas ever got that far.”

Neale got briskly out of the car again. “I’ll go and unharness him,” he
said, cheerfully. “You just find out where I shall put him. He’d rather
have you ride in an automobile than drag you himself,” and he laughed.

“Did—did he _tell_ you so, Neale, when you were talking with him?” asked
Dot, in amazement.

Then they all laughed.



CHAPTER III—WHAT MRS. HEARD TOLD


In ten minutes the Kenway car was moving again. Jonas had been put up at
the barn of Mrs. Heard’s friends, near which the pony had balked, and
Neale soon whisked them out of sight of the place.

“This—this is just delightful,” sighed Mrs. Heard. “Especially after
sitting behind that brute of a pony. I _do_ love an automobile.”

“So do I!” Agnes cried. “I’d rather ride in this car than in a golden
chariot—I know I would.”

“I don’t know how they run chariots, nowadays,” said Neale, chuckling;
“whether by horse-power or gas. But sometimes a car balks, you know.”

“Not so often as that Jonas,” declared Mrs. Heard. “I’ve been out with
my nephew a lot. His is a nice car. I hope he’ll find it.”

“Why, of course the thieves will be apprehended,” said Ruth. “What good
are the police?”

“When it comes to autos,” said Neale, slyly, “the police are mostly good
for stopping you and getting you fined.”

“Well, don’t _you_ dare drive too fast and get us fined, Neale O’Neil,”
ordered Ruth, sternly.

“No, ma’am,” he returned. But Agnes whispered in his ear:

“I don’t care how fast you run it, Neale. I love to go fast.”

“You’ll be a speed fiend, Aggie,” he declared. “That’s what you’ll be.”

“Oh! I want to drive. I must learn.”

“You’ll have to ask Mr. Howbridge about that,” Neale told her.

“Oh!”

“Yes, ma’am! He told me that I shouldn’t allow anybody to run the car
but a properly qualified person.”

“You don’t mean it?” gasped the eager girl.

“That’s right! A person with a license.”

“I can’t believe it, Neale O’Neil!” wailed Agnes. “How am I ever going
to learn, then?”

“You’ll have to go to the garage as I did and take lessons.”

Agnes pouted over this. Mrs. Heard, meanwhile, was saying to Ruth:

“Yes, the stealing of my nephew’s auto was an outrage. Politics in this
county are most disgraceful. If we women voted——”

“But, Mrs. Heard! what have politics to do with your nephew’s auto being
stolen?” cried Ruth.

“Oh! it wasn’t any ordinary thief, or perhaps thieves, who took his car.
He is sure of that. You see, there are some politicians who want the
plans and maps of the new road surveys his office has been making.”

“What sort of maps are those?” asked Tess, who was listening. “Like
those we have to outline in the geography?”

“They are not like those, chicken,” laughed Ruth. “They are
outlines—drawings. They show the road levels and grades. I guess you
don’t understand. Don’t you remember those men who came the other day
and looked through instruments on our sidewalk and measured with a long
tape line, and all that?”

“Oh, yes,” confessed Tess. “I saw them.”

“Well, they were surveyors. And they were working for Mr. Collinger, I
suppose,” said Ruth.

“Oh!”

“I saw them, too,” proclaimed Dot. “I thought they were
photo—photographers. I went out there and stood with my Alice-doll right
in front of one of those things on the three sticks.”

“You did?” cried Agnes, who heard this. “What for, Dottums?”

“To get our picture tooken,” said Dot, gravely. “And then I asked the
man when it would be done and if we could see a picture.”

“Ho, ho!” laughed Neale O’Neil. “What did he say?”

“Why,” confessed the smallest Corner House girl, indignantly, “he said
I’d be grown up—and so would Alice—before that picture was enveloped——”

“‘Developed’!” cried Tess.

“No. Enveloped,” said Dot, stoutly. “You always get photograph proofs in
an envelope.”

Ruth and Mrs. Heard were laughing heartily. Agnes said, admiringly:

“You’re a wonder, Dot! If there is a possible way of fumbling a thing,
you do it.”

The little girls were not likely to understand all that Mrs. Heard said
about the disappearance of Mr. Collinger’s automobile—no more than Dot
understood about the surveyor’s transit. But they listened.

“You understand, Miss Ruth,” said the aunt of the county surveyor, “that
Phil Collinger is responsible for all those tracings and maps that are
being made in this road survey.

“If it gets out just what changes are to be made in grades and routes
through the county before the commission renders its report, there is a
chance for some of these ‘pauper politicians,’ as Philly calls them, to
make money.”

“I don’t see how,” said Agnes, putting her oar in. “What good would the
maps do even dishonest people?”

“Because with foreknowledge of the highway commission’s determinations,
men could go and get options upon property adjoining the highways that
will be changed, and either sell to the county at a big profit or hold
abutting properties for the natural rise in land values that will
follow.”

“I understand what an option is,” said Ruth. “It is a small sum which a
man pays down on a place, with the privilege of buying it at a stated
price within a given length of time.”

“You talk just like a judge, Ruthie,” giggled Agnes. “For my part I
don’t understand it at all. But I’m sorry Mr. Collinger lost his car.”

“And it was stolen so boldly,” said Neale, shaking his head.

“But why did they steal the car, Mrs. Heard?” demanded Ruth, sticking to
the main theme. “What has that to do with the surveyors’ maps?”

“Why,” said the lady, slowly, “they must have seen Philly come out of
the court house and throw a package into the car. He covered it with a
robe. They knew—or supposed they knew—that he carried the maps around
with him. He could not even trust the safe in his office. It’s no better
than a tin can and could be opened with a hammer and chisel.”

“Oh, my!” exclaimed Agnes, interested again. “So they stole the car to
get the maps? Just like a moving picture play, isn’t it?”

“Maybe it is,” sighed the lady. “But it is quite serious for
Philly—whether they got the maps or not.”

“Oh! _Didn’t_ they?” cried Ruth.

“That—that he won’t say,” said Mrs. Heard, shaking her head. “I’m sure
_I_ don’t know. Philly Collinger can be just as close-mouthed as an
oyster—and so I tell him.

“But everybody thinks the maps were in that package he put in the car
before he ran across the street to get a bite of lunch. And I’m pretty
sure that he isn’t worried all _that_ much over the stealing of his car.
Though goodness knows when he can ever afford to buy another. The salary
of surveyor in this county isn’t a fortune.

“So, there it is,” said Mrs. Heard. “The car’s gone, and I guess the
maps and data are gone with it. Somebody, of course, hired the two
scamps that took it to do the trick——”

“Oh, were there two?” asked Neale, who had been running the car slowly
again in order to listen.

“Yes. They were seen; but nobody supposed they were stealing the car, of
course.”

“What kind of men were they? How did they look?” asked Agnes.

“What do you want to know for, Miss Detective?” chuckled Neale.

“So as to be on the watch for them. If I see one of them about our car,
I shall make a disturbance,” announced the beauty, with decision.

“I don’t know much about them,” admitted Mrs. Heard, laughing with the
others over Agnes’ statement. “But one was a young man with a fancy band
on his straw hat and yellow freckles on his face. I believe he had a
little mustache. But he might shave that,” she added, reflectively.

“And change the band on his hat,” whispered Neale to Agnes, his eyes
dancing.

“Never mind about his hat-band, Neale O’Neil!” cried Agnes, standing up
suddenly in a most disconcerting way. “What _is_ that ahead?”

Neale promptly shut off the power and braked. Agnes was greatly excited,
and she pointed to a place in the road not many yards in advance.

The way was narrow, with rocky fields on either side approached by
rather steep banks. Indeed, the road lay through what might well be
called a ravine. It was the worst piece of road, too (so the guidebook,
said), of any stretch between Milton and Marchenell Grove.

As the car stopped, Neale saw what Agnes had seen. Right across the
way—directly in front of the automobile—lay something long and
iridescent. It was moving.

“Oh!” shrieked Agnes again. “It’s a snake—a horrid, great, big snake!”

“Well, what under the sun did you make me stop for?” demanded the boy.
“I’d have gone right over it.”

“That would have been cruel, boy,” declared Mrs. Heard, from behind.

“Cruel? Huh! It’s a rattler,” returned Neale.

“Oh, Neale! It’s never!” gasped Agnes, not meaning to be impolite.

“A rattler, Neale?” asked Ruth. “Are you sure?”

“What’s a rattler?” asked Dot, composedly. “Is it what they make baby’s
rattles out of?”

“Mercy, no!” shivered Tess. “Neale means it’s a rattlesnake.”

“Oh! I don’t like _them_,” declared Dot, immediately picking up the
Alice-doll, of which she always first thought in time of peril.

“What shall we do?” demanded Ruth.

“Can’t he drive around it?” asked Mrs. Heard, rather excitedly. “I don’t
believe at all in hurting _any_ dumb animal—not even a snake or a
spider.”

“How about breaking the whip on old Jonas?” whispered Neale to Agnes.

But his girl friend was all of a shiver. “_Do_ get around it, Neale,”
she begged.

“Can’t. The road’s too narrow,” declared the boy, with promptness. “And
I am bound to run over the thing if it doesn’t move out of the way. I
can’t help it.”

“Wait!” cried Mrs. Heard. “Get out and poke it with a stick.”

“Why, Mrs. Heard!” exclaimed Ruth, “do you realize that a rattlesnake is
deadly poison? I wouldn’t let Neale do such a thing.”

“Besides being a suffragist,” declared Mrs. Heard, firmly, “I am a
professing and acting member of the S.P.C.A. I cannot look on and see a
harmless beast—it is not doing anything to us—wantonly killed or
injured.”

“Good-_night_!” murmured Neale.

Just then the snake—and it was a big fellow, all of six feet long—seemed
to awaken. Perhaps it had been chilled by the coolness of the night
before; it was lethargic, at any rate.

It lifted its head, whirled into the very middle of the road, and faced
the automobile defiantly. In a moment it had coiled and sprung its
rattle. The whirring sound, once heard, is never to be mistaken for any
other.

“Oh, dear! what shall we do?” gasped Agnes. “If you try to run over it,
it may get into the car—or something,” said Ruth.

The roadway was narrower here than it had been back where the brown pony
had held the party up. This first trip in their automobile seemed to be
fraught with much adventure for the Corner House girls and Neale O’Neil.



CHAPTER IV—SALERATUS JOE


Neale O’Neil knew very well that he could not satisfy everybody—least of
all the rattlesnake.

Mrs. Heard did not want her S.P.C.A. sensibilities hurt; Agnes wanted
him to drive on; Ruth wished him to dodge the coiled rattler. As for
getting out and “coaxing it to move on” with a stick, Neale had no such
intention.

He tried starting slowly to see if the serpent would be frightened and
open the way for the passage of the car. But the rattler instantly
coiled and sprang twice at the hood. The second time it sank its fangs
into the left front tire.

“Cricky!” gasped Neale. “They say you swell all up when one of those
things injects poison into you; but I don’t believe that tire will swell
any more than it is.”

“Don’t make fun!” groaned Agnes. “Suppose it should jump into the car?”

“If we only had a gun,” began Neale.

“Well, I hope you haven’t, young man,” cried Mrs. Heard. “I’m deadly
afraid of firearms.”

“Don’t get out of the car, Neale,” begged Agnes, clasping her hands.

“Try to back away from it,” suggested Ruth.

The smaller girls clung to each other (Dot determinedly to the
Alice-doll, as well), and, although they did not say much, they were
frightened. Tess whispered:

“Oh, dear me! I’m ‘fraid enough of the wriggling fish-worms that Sammy
digs in our garden. And this snake is a hundred times as big!”

“And fish-worms don’t shoot people with their tongues, do they?”
suggested Dot.

Just at that very moment, when the six-foot rattler had coiled to strike
again, there was a rattling and jangling of tinware from up the road.
There was a turn not far ahead, and the young folks could not see beyond
it.

“Goodness me!” exploded Agnes, “what’s coming now?”

“Not another rattlesnake, I bet a cent—though it’s some rattling,”
chuckled Neale O’Neil.

The heads of a pair of horses then appeared around the turn. They proved
to be drawing a tin-peddler’s wagon, and over this rough piece of
driveway the wash-boilers, dishpans, kettles, pails, and a dozen other
articles of tin and agate-ware, were making more noise than the passage
of a battery of artillery.

Some scientists have pointed out that snakes—some snakes, at least—seem
to be hard of hearing. That could not have been so with the big
rattlesnake that had held up the Kenways and their automobile.

Before the Jewish peddler on the seat of the wagon could draw his
willing horses to a halt, the snake swiftly uncoiled and wriggled across
the road and into the bushes. All that was left to mark his recent
presence was a wavy mark in the dust.

“Vat’s the madder?” called the peddler. “Ain’t dere room to ged by?”

“Sure,” said the relieved Neale. “Let me back a little and you pull out
to the right, and we’ll be all right. We were held up by a snake.”

The Jew (he was a little man with fiery hair and whiskers, and he had a
narrow-brimmed derby hat jammed down upon his head), seemed to study
over this answer of the boy for fully a minute. Then, as Neale was
steering the automobile slowly past his rig, he leaned sidewise and
asked, with a broad smile:

“I say, mister! Vat did you say stopped you?”

“A snake,” declared Neale, grinning.

“Oy, oy! And that it iss yedt to drive one of them so benzine carts? No!
Mein horses iss petter. They are not afraid of snakes.”

He still sat, without starting his team, thinking the surprising matter
over, when the automobile turned the curve in the road and struck better
going.

“Well!” ejaculated Agnes, “I only hope he stays there till that snake
comes out of the bushes again and climbs into his cart.”

“My! how disagreeable you can be,” returned Neale, laughing. “I don’t
believe you’ll get your wish, however.”

“I’m glad we didn’t run over that snake,” declared Mrs. Heard, nodding
her head. “I’m opposed to killing any dumb creature.”

“Then,” suggested Dot, earnestly, “you must be like Mr. Seneca Sprague.”

“Me? Like Seneca Sprague?” gasped the lady, yet rather amused. “I like
that!”

“Why, how can that be, Dot?” asked Ruth, rather puzzled herself, for
Seneca Sprague was a queer character who was thought by most Milton
people to be a little crazy.

“Why, he’s a vegetablearian. And Mrs. Heard must be,” announced Dot,
confidently, “if she doesn’t believe in killing dumb beasts.”

“There’s logic for you!” exclaimed Neale. “Score one for Dot.”

The lady laughed heartily. “I suppose I ought to be a ‘vegetablearian’
if I’m not,” she said. “I dunno as I could worship beasts the way some
of the ancients did; but I don’t believe in killing them unnecessarily.”

“_I_ know about some of the animal gods and goddesses the Greeks and
Egyptians used to worship,” ventured Tess, who had not taken much part
in the conversation of late. “Did any of them worship snakes, do you
s’pose?”

“I believe some peoples did,” Ruth told her.

“Oh, _I_ know about gods and goddesses,” cried Dot, eagerly. “Our
teacher read about them—or, _some_ of them—only yesterday, in school.”

“Well, Miss Know-it-all,” said Agnes, good-naturedly, “what did you
learn about them?”

“I—I remember ‘bout one named Ceres,” said the smallest Corner House
girl, with corrugated brow, trying to remember what she had heard read.

“Well, what about her?” asked Agnes, encouragingly.

“What was Ceres the goddess of, honey?” pursued Ruth, as Dot still
hesitated.

“Why—why she was the goddess of dressmaking,” declared the child, with
sudden conviction.

“Oh, oh, oh!” ejaculated Neale, under his breath.

“For goodness sake! where did you get _that_ idea?” demanded Ruth, while
Agnes and Mrs. Heard positively could not keep from laughing, and Tess
looked at her smaller sister with something like horror. “Why—Dot
Kenway!” she murmured.

“She is, too!” pouted Dot. “My teacher said so. She said Ceres was the
goddess of ‘ripping and sewing.’ Now, isn’t that dressmaking?”

“Oh, cricky!” gasped Neale, and swerved the car to the left in his
emotion.

“Do be careful, Neale!” squealed Agnes.

“Yes. You’ll have us into something,” warned Ruth.

“Then put ear-muffs on me,” groaned the boy. “That child will be the
death of me yet. ‘Sowing and reaping’—‘ripping and sewing’—wow!”

“Humph!” observed Agnes. “You needn’t be the death of _us_ if she does
say something funny. _Do_ keep your mind on what you are about, Neale.”

But Neale O’Neil was a careful driver. He was a sober boy, anyway, and
would never qualify in the joy-riding class, that was sure.

The remainder of the ride to Marchenell Grove was a jolly and enjoyable
one. They all liked Mrs. Heard more and more as they became better
acquainted with her. She seemed to know just how to get along with young
folk, and despite her stated suffragist and S.P.C.A. proclivities, even
Neale pronounced her “good fun.”

The Grove was a very popular resort, and very large. Perhaps it was just
as well that Mrs. Heard was with the girls, for unexpectedly a situation
developed during the day that might have been really unpleasant had not
an older person—like the good and talkative lady—been with them.

There was a large party of picnickers that had come together and that
made one end of the grounds very lively. There was an orchestra with
them and they usurped the dancing pavilion. Not that Ruth or Agnes would
have danced here; neither Mr. Howbridge nor Mrs. MacCall would have
approved; nor did Mrs. Heard countenance dancing in such a public place.
But after they had all been out in boats on the river, and had eaten
their lunch, and enjoyed the swings, and strolled through the pleasant
paths of the Grove, it was only natural that the two older Kenways
should wish to see the dancing. They had no idea that the crowd about
the pavilion was rowdyish.

Neale was busy with the car in preparation for their return to Milton.
The little girls were watching him at work, and Mrs. Heard was resting
in the car, too. So Ruth and Agnes went alone down to the pavilion.

“Dear me,” sighed Agnes. “I really wish we _could_ have just one spin on
the floor—just us two. That music makes my feet fairly _itch_.”

“You will have to possess your soul with patience—or else scratch your
poor little feet,” laughed her sister. “To think of your wanting to
dance _here_! I am afraid all these people—especially the boys—are not
nice.”

“I don’t care. I don’t want to dance with _them_,” pouted Agnes. “Only
with you. I just love to dance to this piece the orchestra is playing.”

“Save it till next week’s school dance,” laughed Ruth. “Oh!”

Her startled ejaculation was brought out by the appearance of a strange
young man at her elbow. He was really not a nice looking fellow at all,
his face was unpleasantly freckled, and the corners of his lips and the
ends of the first three fingers of his right hand were stained deeply by
the use of cigarettes.

“Aft’noon!” said this stranger, affably. “Want a whirl? The floor’s
fine—come on in.”

Agnes, who was much more timid in reality than she usually appeared,
shrank from the fellow, trying to draw Ruth with her.

“Let the kid wait for us,” suggested the freckled young man, leering
good-naturedly enough at Agnes, and probably not at all aware that he
was distasteful to the Kenway girls. “We can have one whirl.”

“I am much obliged to you,” Ruth said, rather falteringly. “I would
rather not.”

“Aw, say—just a turn. Don’t throw me down,” said the fellow, his eyes
becoming suddenly hard and the smile beginning to disappear from his
face.

“No, thank you. Neither my sister nor I wish to dance here,” said Ruth,
growing bolder—and more indignant.

“Don’t tell me you don’t know how to dance?” growled the freckled one.

“I don’t tell you anything, but that we do not wish to dance,” and Ruth
tried to turn away from him.

The fellow stepped directly in their path. They were just on the fringe
of loiterers about the pavilion. Agnes clapped a hand upon her lips to
keep from screaming.

“Aw, come on,” said the fellow, laying a detaining hand upon Ruth’s arm.

Then something very unexpected, but very welcome, happened. Mrs. Heard,
seeing a hand’s breadth of cloud in the sky and fearing a thunder storm,
had sent Neale O’Neil scurrying for the girls. He came to the spot
before this affair could go any farther.

“Hullo!” he exclaimed, sharply. “What’s this?”

“This—this gentleman,” said Ruth, faintly, “offers to dance with me, but
I tell him ‘no.’”

“What are _you_ butting in for, kid?” demanded the freckled young
fellow, thrusting his jaw forward in an ugly manner. But he took his
hand from Ruth’s arm.

Neale said to the girls, quite quietly though his eyes flashed:

“Mrs. Heard wants you to come back to the car at once. Please hurry.”

“Say! I don’t get you,” began the rough again.

“You will in a moment,” Neale shot at him. “Go away, girls!”

Agnes did not want to go now; but Ruth saw it would be better and she
fairly dragged her sister away.

“Neale will be hurt!” moaned Agnes, all the way to the car. “That awful
rowdy has friends, of course.”

What really happened to Neale the girls never knew, for he would not
talk about it. Trained from his very babyhood as an acrobat, the
ex-circus boy would be able to give a good account of himself if it came
to fisticuffs with the freckled-faced fellow. Although the latter was
considerably older and taller than Neale, the way he had lived had not
hardened his muscles and made him quick of eye and foot or handy with
his fists.

Perhaps Neale did not fight at all. At least he came back to the car
without a mark upon him and without even having had his clothes ruffled.
All he said in answer to the excited questions of the girls was:

“That’s a fellow called Saleratus Joe. You can tell why—his face with
all those yellow freckles looks like an old fashioned saleratus biscuit.
He belongs in Milton. I’ve seen him before. He isn’t much better than a
saloon lounger.”

“Goodness me!” exclaimed Mrs. Heard. “Saleratus Joe is one of the
fellows who my nephew thinks stole his automobile. I must tell him that
we saw the fellow. Perhaps the car can be traced after all.”

“Through Saleratus Joe?” said Neale O’Neil. “Well—maybe.”



CHAPTER V—DOT’S AWFUL ADVENTURE


Altogether that first run in their automobile was pronounced a jolly
success by the Corner House girls. The return journey from Marchenell
Grove was without incident.

“If we had only become acquainted with Mrs. Heard the trip would have
been more than worth while,” declared Ruth, who was seldom as
enthusiastic about a new acquaintance as she was about the aunt of the
county surveyor. “She is coming to see us soon.”

Agnes was more interested in another thing, and she confided in Neale.

“Do you really suppose, Neale,” she asked, “that the awful fellow who
spoke to Ruth is one of those who stole Mr. Collinger’s auto?”

“Saleratus Joe?” chuckled the boy.

“Hasn’t he any other name? It sounds like—like the Wild West in the
movies, or something like that.”

“They only call him that for fun,” explained Neale O’Neil. “And whether
he helped get away with the surveyor’s machine or not, I’m sure I don’t
know.”

“But can’t you _guess_?” cried Agnes, in exasperation.

“What’s the use of guessing?” returned her boy chum. “That won’t get you
anywhere. You’re a poor detective, Aggie.”

“Don’t make fun,” complained Agnes, who was very much excited about the
automobile robbery. They had just got their car, and she had longed for
it so deeply that she was beginning to be worried for fear something
would happen to it.

“Shut Tom Jonah into the garage at night,” Neale suggested. “I warrant
no thieves will take it.”

Mr. Howbridge, while he was about it, had had a cement block garage
built on the rear of the Stower premises facing Willow Street, for the
housing of the Corner House girls’ motor car.

“Mr. Collinger’s auto was stolen right on the street,” said Agnes,
doubtfully.

“That’s the worst of these flivvers,” retorted Neale, with a grin.
“People are apt to come along and pick ’em up absent-mindedly and go off
with them. Say! have you heard the latest?”

“What about?” asked Agnes, dreamily.

“About the flivver. Do you know what the chickens say when one of ’em
goes by?”

“No,” declared the girl.

“Cheep! Cheep! Cheep!” mimicked the boy.

Agnes giggled. Then she said: “But Mr. Collinger’s wasn’t one of those
cheap cars. It _was_ a runabout; but it cost him a lot of money.”

“But that freckled-faced young man, Neale—_do_ you suppose he could be
the one Mrs. Heard said was seen driving the stolen car away from the
court house?”

“Why, how should _I_ know?” demanded Neale. “I’m no seventh son of a
seventh son.”

“I wish we had seen a constable out there in the grove and had had him
arrested.”

“What for? On what charge?” cried Neale, wonderingly.

“Why, because he spoke to Ruth and me. Then he could be held while his
record was looked up. Maybe Mr. Collinger could have recovered his car
by that means.”

“Cricky!” ejaculated the boy. “You’ve been reading the police court
reports in the newspapers, I believe, Aggie.”

“Well! that’s what they do,” declared the girl, confidently.

“Maybe so. But you couldn’t have had the fellow arrested for speaking to
you. You shouldn’t have been around the dance floor if you wanted to
escape that. But, perhaps that freckled rascal _is_ one of the thieves,
and maybe he can be traced. Mrs. Heard will tell her nephew and he will
attend to it—no fear!”

“But it would be just great, Neale, if we could do something toward
recovering the car and getting the thieves arrested,” said Agnes who, as
Neale often said, if she went into a thing, went into it all over!

They had not much time just then, however, to give to the mystery of the
county surveyor’s lost automobile. Final examinations were coming on and
the closing of school would be the next week but one.

Even Dot was busy with school work, although she was not very far
advanced in her studies; and during these last few days she was released
from her classes in the afternoon earlier than the other Corner House
girls.

Sometimes she walked toward Meadow Street, which was across town from
the Corner House and in a poorer section of Milton, with some of her
little school friends before coming home; and so she almost always met
Sammy Pinkney loafing along Willow Street on returning.

Sammy did not go to school this term. Scarlet fever had left this
would-be pirate so weak and pale that the physician had advised nothing
but out-of-doors for him until autumn.

Sammy, in some ways, was a changed boy since his serious illness. He was
much thinner and less robust looking, of course; but the changes in him
were not all of a physical nature. For one thing, he was not so rough
with his near-neighbors, the Corner House girls. They had been very kind
to him while he was ill, and his mother was always singing their
praises. Besides, the other boys being in school, Sammy was lonely and
was only too glad as a usual thing to have even Dot to talk to or play
with.

Dot was a little afraid of Sammy, even now, because of his past well-won
reputation. And, too, his reiterated desire to be a pirate cast a glamor
over his character that impressed the smallest Corner House girl.

One day she met him on Willow Street, some distance from the old Corner
House. He was idly watching a man across the street who was moving along
the sidewalk in a very odd way indeed.

The Kenways had lived in a very poor part of Bloomingsburg before coming
to Milton, and there had been saloons in the neighborhood; but Dot had
been very small, and if she had seen such a thing as an intoxicated man
she had forgotten it. Near the Corner House there were no saloons,
although the city of Milton licensed many of those places. Dot had not
before seen a man under the influence of liquor.

This unfortunate was not a poorly dressed man. Indeed, he was rather
well appareled and normally might have been a very respectable citizen.
But he was staggering from side to side of the walk, his head hanging
and his stiff derby hat—by some remarkable power—sticking to his head,
although it threatened to fall off at every jerk.

“Why—ee!” gasped the smallest Corner House girl, “what ever is the
matter with that poor man, Sammy Pinkney, do you suppose?”

Sammy, trying to wrap his limbs about a fire-plug in emulation of a
boa-constrictor, jerked out:

“Brick in his hat!”

“Oh! _What_?” murmured the puzzled Dot, eyeing the poor man wonderingly
and clasping the Alice-doll closer.

Sammy grinned. He was a tantalizing urchin and loved to mystify the
innocent Dot.

“He’s carrying a brick in his hat,” he repeated, with daring.

“Why—why——Doesn’t he _know_ it?” demanded the little girl.

“I guess nobody’s told him yet,” chuckled Sammy.

At that moment the intoxicated man just caught his hat from tumbling off
by striking it with the palm of one hand and so settling it well down
upon his ears again.

“Oh, my!” murmured the startled Dot. “It came pretty near falling out,
didn’t it?”

“He, he!” snickered Sammy.

“Do you suppose he _wants_ to carry that brick in his hat?” asked Dot,
seriously. “I shouldn’t think he would.”

“He don’t know he’s got it,” said Sammy.

“Why doesn’t somebody tell him?” demanded Dot. “The poor man! He’ll
surely fall down.”

Sammy still snickered. Somebody should have spanked Sammy, right then
and there!

“I don’t care!” exclaimed Dot, more and more disturbed, “it doesn’t seem
nice—not at all. I think you ought to tell him, Sammy.”

“Not me!”

“Well——” Dot looked all around. There was nobody else in sight just
then. Willow Street was quite deserted.

“If you won’t, then I must,” declared the little girl, shouldering the
obligation pluckily and starting across the street.

“Aw, Dot! Let him alone,” muttered Sammy.

The young rascal was suddenly startled. He began to wonder what would
happen to him if his mother learned that he had been trying to fool Dot
Kenway in any such way as this.

“Come back!” he called after her.

“Sha’n’t!” declared Dot, who could be stubborn when she wanted to be.

“Say! that man won’t listen to you,” insisted Sammy.

Dot kept right on. The man had halted, and was clinging to a tree box,
his head hanging down. His face was very much flushed and his eyes were
glassy.

“But I s’pose,” thought Dot, “if _I_ was carrying a brick in my hat it
would make _me_ sick, too.”

“Mister!” she said to the man, stopping in the gutter and looking up at
him.

“Huh? What’s matter?” asked the man. His head jerked up and he looked
all around to see who had spoken to him.

“Mister,” said Dot, earnestly, “I—I hope you’ll ‘scuse me, but there’s a
brick in your hat. Sammy Pinkney says so. And I think if you take it out
you’ll feel ever so much better.”

Sammy heard her. He actually grew pale, and, casting a startled glance
around him, he ran. He ran all the way home, for he could not imagine
what the man would say or do to Dot. Sammy was not a very brave boy.

The unfortunate man looked down at Dot, finally having discovered her
whereabouts, with preternatural gravity.

“Say—little girl—say that ’gain, will you?” he said, slowly.

Dot quite innocently repeated it. The man carefully removed his hat and
looked into it. Then he turned it over and shook it. Nothing, of course,
fell to the ground.

“’Tisn’t there. You fooled yourself. I thought so,” muttered the man.

And then he leaned so far over that he dropped the hat in the gutter.

“You must be dreadful sick,” Dot said to him, her little heart touched
by his appearance.

“Yes—that’s it. Sick. That’s it,” he mumbled.

This was a really awful adventure for little Dot Kenway.

“I’m going to get you a glass of water,” she said. “Your face is so red.
You _are_ sick, I can see.”

He said nothing, but blinked at her. Perhaps he did not at first quite
understand. Dot turned to cross the street toward the store on the
corner. Then she turned back.

“Will you please hold my Alice-doll while I go for the water?” she asked
the man. “Do be very careful with her—please.”

“Sure!” said the man, good-naturedly.

“You’ll truly, truly be very careful of her?”

“Sure will,” repeated the unfortunate.

So, after she had placed the doll carefully in his arms, the little girl
tripped away on her errand of mercy. The man sat down on the curb and
held it. It might have been a laughable situation—only no thinking
person could have laughed.

The man nursed the doll as tenderly as Dot would have done herself. He
rocked to and fro on the curb, hugging the battered doll and looking
down at it earnestly.

Nobody had yet noticed the incident—save Sammy Pinkney; and Sammy
Pinkney had run away.

Dot was bold in the cause of any one in need, if she was not bold for
herself. She asked for the glass of cold water and obtained it. She
brought it carefully back to the man on the curbstone, holding the glass
in both her dimpled hands.

His face was still very red, but his eyes were no longer glassy. He
looked at the child with a shamed expression slowly dawning in his
countenance, and his eyes were moist with tears.

“You’d better take your doll, little girl, and get away from me,” he
said, but not roughly.

“Oh, no,” said Dot, determinedly. “I must help you. I know you must be
very sick. You ought to see our Dr. Forsyth. He could make you well
quick, I know.”

“I guess _you_ can cure me as quickly as a doctor,” said the man,
hanging his head. “I—I had a little girl like you once.”

“Now drink some of this,” urged Dot, without noticing the man’s last
remark, and offering the glass of water.

He took it in a trembling hand and raised it to his lips. The little
girl reached for the Alice-doll, but watched him carefully.

“Don’t spill it,” she said, “and don’t drink it all. I think if I put
some on your face you’d feel better.”

Immediately she produced a diminutive handkerchief, folded just as it
had been ironed, and when she took back the glass, she dipped the bit of
muslin in the water remaining in it.

Then with tender hand she wiped his hot face; and she wiped away two big
tears, too, that started down his cheeks. She was still engaged in thus
playing the Good Samaritan when a swiftly moving motor car coming
through Willow Street was suddenly brought to a stop beside them.

There was a thin, wiry fellow at the steering wheel. The goggles he wore
half disguised him. In the tonneau sat a fat, prosperous looking man
smoking a big, black cigar.

“That’s him, ain’t it, Joe?” asked the fat man, nodding toward the man
sitting on the curbstone.

“Yep. That’s him,” rejoined the chauffeur.

“Hey, Mr. Maynard!” exclaimed the fat man. “Get up and get in here. I
want to talk to you.”

The fast sobering man looked up, saw the speaker, and did not look
particularly pleased. He tried to rise. Although his brain was fast
clearing, his limbs were still wabbly.

“Get out and boost him in here,” said the fat man, in a low tone to the
chauffeur.

The latter hopped out. He came quickly to the aid of Mr. Maynard, and
pushed little Dot Kenway rudely aside. The man still held the doll.

“Say! you don’t want that thing!” muttered the chauffeur, and he seized
the doll and flung it disdainfully upon the ground.

Dot uttered a scream of terror. At that moment Agnes and Neale O’Neil,
the latter carrying the girl’s schoolbooks, came around the corner.



CHAPTER VI—THE BIG TOUR IS PLANNED


Mr. Maynard, as the fat man had called Dot’s new acquaintance, grumbled
something or other at the chauffeur because of his treatment of the
Alice-doll; but he was not yet quite himself and the fellow merely
laughed and urged Maynard toward the car. The fat man laughed, too.

“Come on, Mr. Maynard. We’ll take you home,” said the big man, holding
open the door of the tonneau.

Just as Neale O’Neil and Agnes reached the spot, the chauffeur pushed
Maynard in and stepped quickly into his own place.

“Say! what did you do to this little girl?” demanded Neale, with some
heat, addressing the chauffeur.

The fellow did not answer; neither did the big man; and Maynard had
tumbled into a seat without a word. Dot had already picked up her doll;
it was not hurt. The car started and rolled away.

“The mean thing!” exclaimed Neale. “Don’t cry, Dot.”

“I—I’m not going to,” sobbed the smallest Corner House girl. “I don’t
b’lieve they’ll be kind to that man. He’s awful sick.”

“Who is?” asked Neale quickly, exchanging glances with Agnes.

“That man they took away. I got him a drink of water. But Sammy Pinkney
told a story ’bout him.”

“What did Sammy say?” asked Agnes, but her attention scarcely on what
Dot was saying.

The little girl told her. “But he was sick. I know it. I got him a drink
of water. He wasn’t carrying a brick at all.”

Neale had grinned faintly; but his face was quickly sober again.

“I know who that Mr. Maynard is,” he said. “He used to work in the court
house. I believe he was in Mr. Collinger’s office—and he was a real nice
man once.”

“Why, he is now,” cried Dot, listening with very sharp ears. “Only he is
sick.”

“Perhaps you are right, Dottie,” agreed Neale, still gravely, but
speaking to Agnes. “Anyhow, he lost his wife and then his little girl.
He’s gone all to pieces, they say. It’s an awfully sad case. And do you
know who that big man is?”

“No,” said Agnes, still unnoticing and gazing after the disappearing
car.

“That’s Jim Brady. He’s a ward leader on the other side of town. He’s
very powerful in politics——”

“Oh, Neale!” cried Agnes, suddenly, seizing her friend’s arm.

“Hul-_lo_! What’s the matter?” asked Neale.

“Do you know who that fellow was that drove the car? Did you see him?”

“No-o. I didn’t notice him much. He had dust goggles on——”

“I know! I know!” cried the excited girl. “They concealed his face a
good deal. But I saw the freckles.”

“The freckles?” repeated Neale, wonderingly.

“Yes. Of course. It was that freckled fellow who spoke to Ruth that
day.”

“Not Joe Dawson?” cried the boy.

“Yes. If that’s his real name. Oh, Neale! Let’s have him arrested.”

“Cricky!” ejaculated the surprised youth. “Arrest your aunt!”

Agnes burst out laughing at that—serious as she was. “Aunt Sarah Maltby
certainly did not steal Mr. Collinger’s motor car,” she said.

“Well. We don’t know that Saleratus Joe did,” grinned Neale. “Come on
home. Don’t cry any more, Dot. Just the same I would like to punch that
fellow who threw down your doll.”

“Can’t we find out who he is—all about him?” demanded Agnes.

“Maybe. That Mr. Maynard knows him, I s’pose. I could ask him. I used to
clean Mr. Maynard’s yard and sidewalks for him. I’ll see,” promised
Neale O’Neil.

When the trio reached the Corner House that day, however, they found a
subject afoot that put out of Neale’s and Agnes’ minds for the time
being all thought of the stealing of Mr. Collinger’s car. And yet the
county surveyor’s aunt had something to do with this very interesting
topic under discussion.

Mrs. Heard was present, having a neighborly cup of tea with Mrs.
MacCall, who was quite as much a friend of the family as she was
housekeeper. Mr. Howbridge had chanced to drop in as well, and Ruth had
arrived home ahead of the other Corner House girls.

“Oh, Aggie!” cried Ruth, running out of the sitting room where tea was
being served, Uncle Rufus having rolled the service table in there at
Mrs. MacCall’s request. “Just guess!”

“Going to have rice waffles for supper,” put in Neale, with a cheerful
grin.

“That boy!” said the oldest girl, scornfully.

“What _has_ happened?” demanded Agnes, excitedly. Ruth was seldom given
to exuberance of speech or action, and she was plainly stirred up now.

“He says we can do it!”

“Huh?” grunted Neale, staring.

“Who says we can do what?” demanded Agnes, her blue eyes almost as wide
as saucers. “How you talk, Ruth Kenway!”

“It will be most delightful, I am sure,” said the older girl, more
composedly. “We shall all enjoy it. And Mrs. Heard has agreed to act as
chaperone, for Mrs. MacCall _can’t_ go, and you know how Aunt Sarah
Maltby feels about the auto.”

“Oh! I see,” grumbled Neale. “A glimmer of intelligence reaches my
brain. You are talking about the trip in the auto after school closes.”

“Is that it?” cried Agnes, clasping her hands. “Oh, Ruthie!”

“That is it, my dear! Mr. Howbridge just spoke about it himself. He has
known Mrs. Heard for years, you see, and he thinks she would be just the
nicest person in the world to go with us.”

“And so she is,” agreed Agnes.

“Well,” said Dot, who had listened in grave silence, “if we are going
off on a long journey with our car, my Alice-doll must have her
complexion ‘tended to. You take her, Neale, and get her doctored,” and
she thrust the precious doll directly into the boy’s hands, and marched
out of the room with quivering lip. It was really very hard for the
smallest Corner House girl to part from her most loved child even in
such an emergency.

“There now! What did I tell you?” demanded Agnes, of Neale. “You’ve got
your hands full.”

“Of doll,” he admitted, but he did not appear rueful. “I know just where
they will fix her up as good as new,” and he laughed. “I believe in
preparedness. I foresaw this when I spoke about the doll the other day.”

But now was the time to talk about the tour. Agnes had prepared for this
since the very first day she knew they were to have the automobile. The
height of her ambition was to travel in the most modern way—by motor
car.

With Neale—and sometimes aided by her sisters—she had planned elaborate
routes through the surrounding country—sometimes into neighboring
states. She had borrowed maps and guide books galore and had purchased
not a few. In fact, in a desultory way, she and Neale had picked up a
smattering of knowledge of roads and towns and hotels and general
geographical information which really might be of use if, as Ruth said
they would, the Corner House girls should go on a tour in the new
seven-passenger car.

They talked about it to the exclusion of almost everything else that
evening, and Agnes spread the news abroad at school the next day. That
the Corner House girls really owned a car was already an important fact
to their school friends.

For Ruth and Agnes were not likely to be selfish in their enjoyment of
their new possession. Stinginess was not a fault in the Kenway family.

On the very second Saturday after they had come into possession of the
car Neale had taken out the older girls and a party of their friends in
the morning, and in the afternoon Tess and Dot had played hostesses to a
lot of little girls. As Mr. Howbridge remarked with a laugh, the cost of
the new car was a mere drop in the bucket. Maintenance and gasoline were
the items that would deplete the pocketbooks of his wards.

As for Neale O’Neil, he almost lived in the car.

Of course, the entire family had to try it—even to Linda. Linda enjoyed
it, and in her broken English stated it as her opinion that “heafen
could be not like dis.” Which was a statement not to be contradicted.

Mrs. MacCall was doubtful about the utility of the machine after all.
Uncle Rufus, when he went out with Neale and the little girls and not a
few of the pets, including a couple of kittens and Tom Jonah, just clung
to the seat-rail with both hands and actually turned gray about the
corners of his mouth.

As for Aunt Sarah Maltby, she had set her face against the innovation
from the first.

“But of course,” she said, in her severe way, “it doesn’t matter what
_I_ say or what my opinion may be. Nobody asks me to advise. I am a
non-entity in this house.”

That was the beginning. Ruth and Agnes and even Mrs. MacCall had to coax
and plead and cajole before the old lady would promise to take a ride in
the car. When she did, she dressed in her Sunday dress—the one she
always went to church in—and carried her prayer-book.

_This_ was a state of “preparedness” that amused Agnes and Neale very
much. Aunt Sarah evidently expected the worst. She even carried in her
pocket the peppermint lozenges which she always took to church with her
and nibbled at in sermon time.

Indeed, Aunt Sarah, who was a pessimist at the best of times, approached
the ordeal in such a way that Ruth really began to pity her.

“I don’t care! she’d spoil all our fun,” protested Agnes, exasperated.

But the older sister said: “Perhaps she can’t help it after all, Aggie.
And if she really is scared, I am sorry.”

At that Agnes whispered sharply: “Look at her face!”

Neale was running the car carefully, but at a good speed, on one of the
pleasantest and smoothest highways around Milton. The air was
invigorating, the outlook was beautiful, and the car ran like a charm.

In a moment of forgetfulness, perhaps, Aunt Sarah’s grim countenance had
changed. It did actually seem as though there was a smile hovering about
her lips. To the two girls who rode with her in the tonneau it seemed as
though it must be impossible for anybody not to enjoy the ride.

“Isn’t it splendid, Aunt Sarah?” queried Ruth, with shining eyes,
leaning toward the old woman.

Instantly Aunt Sarah’s face became—as usual—forbidding. She shook her
head with determination.

“No, Niece Ruth, it is nothing of the kind,” she declared. “I do not
like it at all. I knew I shouldn’t. I wish to return.”

“Well!” Agnes had gasped in her sister’s ear. “Don’t try to tell me! If
Aunt Sarah was not almost laughing then, why, then her face slipped!”



CHAPTER VII—WHAT SAMMY DID


School had closed, and the long and glorious vacation had been ushered
in. The Corner House girls had now lived in Milton for two years, and
felt very much at home.

They knew many people—Agnes said: “A whole raft of people,” but Ruth did
not approve of such language and accused her fly-away sister of learning
it from Neale O’Neil.

“Poor Neale! Must he be blamed for all my sins?” asked Agnes, with a wry
smile. She was mending a tear in a very good skirt—and she did not like
to sew.

“Oh, I will not accuse him of being the cause of _that_, Aggie,” said
Ruth, pointing to the tear.

“You’re wrong,” retorted her sister with a sudden elfish smile. “If he
had not chased me, to get those cherries I stole from him, I wouldn’t
have caught my skirt on the nail and ‘tored’ it, as Dot would say.”

“Tomboy!” declared Ruth, rather scornfully.

“I don’t care,” Agnes said, biting off her thread. “I hope I’ll never be
starched and stiff.”

“But you are getting older,” went on Ruth.

“Not too decrepit to run yet,” retorted Agnes, pertly.

Ruth laughed at that, and pinched her sister’s rosy cheek.
“Nevertheless,” she said, “that is one of the skirts you will be obliged
to wear on our tour.”

“Oh! Our tour!” cried Agnes, ecstatically, clasping her hands. “Ouch!”

“What is the matter?” demanded Ruth, startled by her sister’s squeal.

“Stuck my finger with this horrid needle,” mumbled Agnes, sucking the
pricked digit.

She went back to her sewing as Ruth went out of the room. In came Neale
in cap, goggles, and leggings.

“Oh, Neale! Have you got the car out?”

“Why, Aggie!” cried the boy, without replying to her question, and
eyeing the work in her lap askance. “I am surprised! You’re just like
Satan—as we had it in our lesson last Sunday—aren’t you?”

“Well! I like your impudence. In what way, please?” demanded Agnes.

“Why, you’re sewing tears, aren’t you?” chuckled Neale. “And the Bible
says the Evil One ‘sowed tares.’”

“Oh, don’t! It’s too great a shock. But, are you going out with the
car?”

“Been out,” said the boy. “I took Mr. Howbridge over to Brenton Woods to
catch the train for the West on the Q. V. We won’t see him again until
we’re back from our tour.”

“Oh, yes! Our tour!” repeated Agnes; but this time she did not clasp her
hands in ecstasy. She looked at her pricked finger ruefully instead.

“And coming back,” went on Neale, “I happened to run across Mr.
Maynard.”

“Oh, yes!” cried Agnes again, but in an entirely different tone.

“He’d been fishing. You see, he doesn’t have much to do now that he’s
out of the surveyor’s office. That’s why he—he gets into trouble so
much, I suppose. That and worrying about the death of his wife and baby.
I brought him home in the car.”

“Did you ask him about that Joe fellow?”

“Saleratus Joe?”

“Yes. If that’s what you are bound to call him,” Agnes said.

“I did. Mr. Maynard doesn’t know the fellow personally. He didn’t seem
to remember much about that day he met Dot. He remembers her, though,”
Neale said, thoughtfully. “Asked about her in a shamefaced sort of way.”

“I should think he would be ashamed.”

“He is to be pitied,” said the boy, soberly.

“Oh, yes. I suppose so. All such men are. But for little Dot to get
mixed up with a drunken man——”

“It didn’t hurt her,” said Neale, stoutly. “And maybe it has helped
him.”

Agnes took a minute to digest this; and she made no further comment. But
she asked:

“How about that Joe? Doesn’t Mr. Maynard know anything about him?”

“He says not. Suppose we tell Mrs. Heard, and she’ll tell Mr. Collinger.
Joe Dawson has sometimes worked for Jim Brady, the big politician. Mr.
Collinger must know if Brady is one of the men who have been trying to
get those maps and the papers away from him.”

“Well,” said Agnes, “I hope we can help bring those auto thieves to
book.”

“Guess Mr. Collinger is more worried about his maps—if they got them.”

“Oh, Neale! suppose they should steal our car? Wouldn’t it be dreadful?
We must catch them.”

Neale laughed. “You’re going to be a regular detective when you grow up,
Aggie. I can see that,” he said.

“Put up the hammer, little boy,” advised Agnes. “Do you know that it has
been decided when we are to start on our tour?”

“No. When?”

“Mrs. Heard telephoned that she will be ready to-morrow. We shall start
some time the following day, so Ruthie just said.”

“Good!” declared the boy. “Say, Aggie! we’re bound to have a dandy
time.”

“Even if we weren’t, I should be glad to get away from this place,” said
the girl, suddenly a little cross.

“Why?” asked Neale O’Neil, in surprise.

“Because of that pest, Sammy Pinkney.”

“What about him?”

“He is fairly hounding us to death,” said Agnes, with a sigh.

“What about?”

“He has begged to go with us every hour—almost—since he first heard we
were going on a long trip in our auto.” Then she suddenly giggled. “Oh,
Neale! He has decided that it would be more fun to be an auto pirate
than a salt water buccaneer of the old school.”

“One great kid that,” chuckled Neale, appreciatively.

“But he is an awful nuisance. He bothers the little girls whenever they
go out of the house. He’s told his mother he’s going with us—and I
suppose Mrs. Pinkney half believes we have invited him.”

“Cricky!” chuckled Neale again. “I imagine she’d be glad to get rid of
him for a few weeks.”

“My, goodness, me!” exclaimed the startled Agnes. “She sha’n’t get rid
of him at _our_ expense—no, sir! I won’t hear of it. Neither will Ruth.
And, besides, there isn’t going to be breathing space in that car after
we all pile in—with Tom Jonah and the baggage, too.”

“I have an idea!” said Neale, wickedly, “that we ought to have an auto
truck trailing us with all the furbelows and what-nots you girls will
think it necessary to carry.”

“Mr. Smarty!” Agnes scoffed. “Remember we went camping last summer and
we know something about what to take with us and what not to take.”

“That’s all right,” said Neale. “But the Corner House girls are not
going to live under canvas this time—that is, not much. At the fancy
hotels you’ll all want to cut a dash. How are you going to do it?”

Agnes laughed at him. “Don’t you suppose all that has been thought of?”
she demanded. “Mrs. Heard will send a trunk, and so shall we, by express
to the Polo House at Granthan. That is going to be our first ‘fancy’
hotel, as you call them. Then, when we leave there, the trunks will be
shipped on to our next fashionable roosting place. But, oh, dear me! I
don’t care much about the hotels. I want to be moving,” declared this
very modern young American girl.

“Cricky!” grumbled Neale. “I bet if you have your way we’ll get pinched
for speeding in every county in the state.”

Every waking hour thereafter, until, on the second day, the car was
brought to the side gate of the Corner House premises, was a busy hour
for the four Kenways and Neale O’Neil. Mrs. Heard came over with her
personal baggage, for the route the party was to follow would not take
them anywhere near her home. Besides, it was better to pack the car
carefully before the start was made, and thus find out where every piece
of baggage—as well as every passenger—was to be placed.

The car was roomy and comfortable; but bags and suitcases of all
descriptions—to say nothing of an excited Newfoundland dog—were bound to
occupy much space.

Neale declared he had groomed the car “to the nines”—and it looked it.
It was new enough, in any case, for everything about it to shine and
glisten. A good mechanician from the public garage had been over it the
day before and pronounced every part in perfect working order.

“But that doesn’t mean that we can’t get a blow-out before going a
mile,” growled Neale, who had worked so hard that he was rather
pessimistic. “But, come on, girls, bring out the rest of the household
furniture. You seem to have half the contents of the Corner House packed
in already.”

Ruth calmly ignored this, and went about final arrangements in her usual
capable manner. Nothing would be forgotten, nothing overlooked when Ruth
Kenway was in charge.

The little girls were just as busy in their way as their sisters. Tess
and Dot were too much excited and far too much taken up with their own
affairs, to pay any attention to Sammy Pinkney.

But that hopeful youngster stuck to Ruth and Agnes like a burr—and a
very annoying one.

“Aw, say! let a feller go!” was his mildest way of pleading for space in
the automobile for his own small self. “I won’t get in your way.”

“No,” said Ruth, with the same decision she had expressed from the
first. “No.”

“Aw, Aggie! _you know me!_ If _you_ say I can, I can.”

“You’re the biggest bother in the world, Sammy Pinkney!” declared the
second oldest Corner House girl.

“Won’t bother you a mite. I’ll help. I’ll run errands——”

“What errands, I’d like to know?” scoffed Agnes.

“Well—you’ll want somebody to run ’em when the car breaks down——”

That settled it! Agnes would not listen to him any further.

“Say! I’ll give Dot my bicycle if you’ll let me go,” he urged on Ruth.

“I’d be afraid to have her ride it,” laughed Ruth. “The only thing you
ever did give the little girls, Sammy—that goat—has been a dreadful
annoyance.”

“Give us your bulldog, Sammy?” suggested Agnes, knowing that the very
soul of the boy was knit to that ugly, bandy-legged beast.

“Ow!” groaned Sammy. He could not agree to that. “I tell you I’ll do
anything you want me to——”

“Stay at home, then, and don’t bother us,” said Ruth, somewhat tartly
for her.

“Aw, _do_ say I can go, Aggie,” he pleaded for the last time with the
other sister.

“I’d like to see you find room aboard that car!” cried Agnes, having
finally packed the last bag and parcel in the tonneau.

At these words Sammy shot away like a rabbit and disappeared. Mrs. Heard
and the little girls came out. Everybody else from the Corner House
appeared to bid the party good-bye—even Aunt Sarah.

“It’ll rain before you get far,” prophesied this last person, grimly,
“and you’ll have to come back.”

She would not admit that an automobile was fit to travel in during wet
weather.

“What _have_ you got in that basket?” demanded Agnes of Tess, suddenly
pouncing upon the serious little girl.

“Oh, Aggie! Only two of Sandyface’s grandchildren. You know, we haven’t
found names for them yet.”

“Two kittens!” gasped Agnes. “What do you know about that, Ruth?”

“How about Billy Bumps, too?” said Neale, looking perfectly sober.

“Oh, he and Tom Jonah would fight,” said Dot, proudly bearing her
renovated Alice-doll in a brand new coat and hat. The Alice-doll really
was a pleasure to look upon once more. Only, whereas her hair had
originally been dark, now it was very blonde indeed, to match her pink
cheeks and blue eyes.

“Of course, it isn’t very respectaful,” admitted the smallest Corner
House girl, in speaking of the change in Alice’s appearance. “But ladies
_do_ bleach their hair and make it blond; and Alice always _did love_ to
be fashionable.”

Meanwhile Tess had been convinced by Ruth that an automobile tour was no
place for two kittens. Tom Jonah was being taken along as a means of
safety for the car. Agnes was quite sure herself that automobile thieves
were only waiting their chance to steal this brand new motor car.

They all got into the car at last—Mrs. Heard, Ruth and the two smaller
girls in the tonneau, heaped about with baggage, but comfortable. Tom
Jonah crouched under Agnes’ feet in front, where she sat beside Neale,
his head sticking out of the car and his tongue displayed like a pink
woolen necktie.

Everybody shouted “good-bye!” There were plenty of neighbors to call
after the touring party. And those on the street, for the first few
blocks, seemed to be greatly amazed and amused by the passage of the
Corner House automobile.

“Goodness!” ejaculated Agnes, in some disgust, and trying to sit up
primly, “what do you suppose is the matter with folks, anyway? One would
think we were a circus parade.”

“Humph! guess we do look funny,” chuckled Neale. “I once saw a picture
supposed to represent the good ship _Mayflower_ as she must have
appeared off Plymouth Rock, if all the antique furniture you hear about
really was brought over by the Pilgrims, as people claim. They had to
hang chairs and tables and highboys and lowboys and such things from her
spars, besides having an awful deckload. And I reckon we look like a
large family on moving day,” finished the boy, with an expansive grin.

“We do _not!_” exclaimed Agnes, quite put out. “Look at that old
gentleman stare. What’s he saying—and shaking his cane, too?”

“Got me,” returned her comrade on the front seat.

He increased the car’s speed and they passed people too quickly for the
latter to make themselves heard—if what some of them shouted was of
importance. The passing of the Corner House motor car seemed to interest
and please the urchins along the way more than anybody else.

“Goodness!” murmured Mrs. Heard, “I never was so much stared at before,
I do believe. What do you suppose is the matter with us?”

“They must all want to ride with us,” said Tess, quite composedly.

“Well, they just can’t!” cried Dot. “See that boy running and yelling,
will you? Why, he can’t catch up.”

Once out of the city Neale (of course urgently pressed by Agnes) “let
her out another notch,” as he expressed it. The car ran as smoothly as
though the road was macadamized—although few highways about Milton were
so well made as that. But Neale was a careful and skillful driver
already, and the springs of the car were excellent.

On and on the handsome car rushed, leaving little spirals of dust behind
it, and sending the small fry of rural animal life scurrying out of its
path. The peculiar interest shown by pedestrians as they passed through
the town, was continued out in the country.

As Neale slowed down for a railroad crossing, taking it easily and
carefully, although there was no train near and the gates were up, a boy
yelled:

“Hi, there! Whip behind! Whip behind, mister!”

“Now! how foolish that is,” gasped Agnes, as they jolted a little going
over the rails. “What do you suppose that little imp meant?”

Neale only grunted. He was thinking, and although he increased the speed
of the car a little, it was only for a short distance. Then he shut her
down suddenly—and stopped.

“What’s the matter?” demanded Agnes, curiously.

“Where are you going, Neale?” asked Ruth, as the boy crept out from
behind the wheel, stepped over Agnes’ feet and the dog, and leaped out
into the road.

“I want to see something,” muttered Neale. He went to the rear of the
car. Then he uttered a shout:

“Come and look at this, will you? What do you suppose that kid has
done?”

“What kid?” asked Agnes, following him nimbly out of the car. Tom Jonah
bounded out, too, glad, probably, to stretch his cramped limbs.

“Sammy Pinkney!” said Neale, pushing back his dust mask and staring.

Ruth stood up to see over the folded-back top of the car. “What is it?”
she demanded, unable to see anything.

But Agnes arrived beside Neale, and saw perfectly. “Well! I never!” she
ejaculated. “Sammy Pinkney! how _dared_ you? What are you doing here?”

For Sammy was roosting, more or less comfortably, on the back of the
car, and had a bright, new russet leather suitcase tied on beside him
with a bit of rope. He presented a grinning, dusty, befreckled face to
Neale and the Corner House girl.



CHAPTER VIII—REFORMING A “PIRATE”


“Well! you said I could come, Aggie Kenway—so there!”

This was Sammy’s initial statement when Neale dragged him off his perch
and brought him around to the side of the car where all could see him.

“Why! you awful boy! I never!” declared Agnes, shaking her head at him
angrily.

“Yes, you did,” repeated Sammy.

“Don’t add to your wickedness by telling such a story, Sammy Pinkney,”
admonished Ruth.

“Oh, Sammy!” gasped Tess, dolefully.

“I don’t believe even pirates tell stories,” added Dot, with grave
conviction.

“I ain’t! I ain’t telling a story,” repeated the small boy, with
earnestness. “She did! she did!”

“I never! I never!” responded Agnes.

“Wait!” put in Ruth, firmly. “We are getting nowhere. Of course you did
not tell him he could come, Aggie; but he must have thought you said
something like that. What _did_ she say, Sammy Pinkney?”

“She said—she said,” choked the now much-abused-sounding Sammy. “She
said she’d like to see me find room aboard the car—_and I did!_” and he
concluded with something like triumph.

“Oh!” gasped Agnes.

“Well, I never!” exclaimed Mrs. Heard, and it must be confessed she was
immensely amused. “What a boy!”

“Did you ever hear the like of that?” repeated Ruth, using one of Mrs.
MacCall’s favorite expressions of amazement.

“I’m sure I didn’t mean——” began Agnes, but her older sister said,
quickly:

“Of course you didn’t, deary! And that boy should have known better.”

“She _did_ tell me so—she did!” wailed Sammy. “And I’m going. My mother
said I could—and that you girls was awful nice to take me.”

“Cricky!” murmured Neale, all of a broad grin now. “You got a reputation
that time, Aggie, for goodness, without meaning it.”

“I don’t care——”

“The thing is now,” interrupted Ruth, decidedly, “how to send him home.”

At that Sammy lifted up his voice in a wail that might have touched a
heart of stone. And really, after all, there was not a heart of stone in
the whole party of tourists from the old Corner House—not even in Tom
Jonah’s breast. The old dog went up to Sammy and tried to lap his tears
away.

“Oh, see here, kid! don’t yell like that,” begged Neale. “Turn off the
sprinkler. That won’t get you anywhere.”

“Will you tell me what we are to do with him, then?” demanded Ruth,
quite put out. “There is no room for him in the car.”

“I can stay where I was. I don’t mind,” gulped Sammy.

“Never!” declared Agnes. “You made a show out of us all the way through
town. We’ll never hear the last of it.”

“We were boarded by a pirate, sure enough,” chuckled Neale.

“He’s worse than any pirate,” sighed Ruth. “We’d know what to do with a
real pirate.”

“I wonder?” murmured Neale, his eyes twinkling.

But Ruth ignored him. She thought she saw her duty, and was determined
to do it. “I suppose we shall have to go back,” she hesitated.

“Oh, no, Ruthie!” begged the two little girls in chorus.

“I wouldn’t go back for that horrid little scamp!” snapped Agnes, her
face flushing. “Sammy Pinkney, you are the worst boy!”

Sammy sniffed and looked at her. “I found that ring you lost that time,
Aggie Kenway. ’Member?” he asked.

“But you _are_ an awful nuisance,” pronounced Ruth, with conviction.

“You never would have knowed your hens was layin’ in Mr. Benjamin’s lot
last week if I hadn’t ha’ told you, Ruthie Kenway—so there,” responded
the youngster.

“And you told me that—that sick man was carrying a brick in his hat—and
he wasn’t,” Dot put in faintly.

Sammy grinned at that; but he was prompt to say, too: “Well, who found
all your dolls out on the grass where you’d played lawn party, and
brought ’em in just before the thunder shower the other day? Heh?”

“Cricky!” exclaimed Neale, under his breath, and with some admiration,
“the kid’s making out a case.”

Tess, the kind-hearted, would make no accusation; but Ruth, despite the
boy’s rejoinders, remained firm.

“No,” she said. “He must go home. Is there a railroad station near from
which we can send him, Neale? We’ll telephone to his mother. We are a
long way from town.”

At that Sammy Pinkney, who prided himself on being “tough” and who was
in training for a piratical future, broke down completely.

“Ow! ow! ow!” he howled, digging his grimy fist first into one eye and
then into the other. “I don’t wanter! I don’t wanter! I don’t wanter go
back. I ain’t got nobody to play with. And ma’ll lick me ’cause I said
you’d ‘vited me to go—an’ now Aggie s-s-says she didn’t. And I been
sick, anyway, and I can’t play with the fellers, ’cause it tires me so.

“I—I—I never git to go nowheres,” pursued Sammy, using the most
atrocious English, but utterly abandoned in his grief. “You Corner House
girls git all the go—go—good times, and _I_ ain’t got even a s-s-sister
to play with——”

At this point a most astonishing thing overtook Agnes Kenway. She had
begun by glaring at Sammy in anger; but as he went on to bewail his hard
state, her pretty face flushed, then paled; her blue eyes filled with
tears which soon began to spill over. She drew nearer to the miserable
little chap, standing, dirty and forlorn, in the middle of the road.

“Now, stop that, Sammy!” she suddenly blurted out. “Just stop. Don’t cry
any more.”

“He can’t go. There isn’t room,” Ruth was repeating.

Agnes turned toward the eldest Corner House girl sharply and stamped her
foot.

“He shall go, Ruth Kenway—so there! He can squeeze in on the seat
between Neale and me. Here! take that bag up, Neale O’Neil. There’s room
for it right in here,” and she pointed. “Now! stop your crying, Sammy.
You shall go; but you’ll have to be good.”

“Oh, Aggie,” cried the happy youngster, “I’ll be as good as gold. You’ll
see.”

“Well!” gasped Ruth, yet not sorry that for once Agnes had usurped
authority.

Mrs. Heard laughed. Dot said:

“Well, it’s true. He _hasn’t_ any sister.”

“And I’m sure he _can_ be good,” put in Tess, the optimist.

Neale was chuckling to himself as he put Sammy’s suitcase in the place
indicated.

“What is the matter with _you_, Neale O’Neil?” demanded Agnes, hotly,
brushing the tears out of her eyes.

“I was just thinking that this party has assumed a good deal of a
contract,” said the light-haired boy.

“What for?”

“For reforming a pirate,” said Neale.



CHAPTER IX—A WAYSIDE BIVOUAC


Ruth insisted upon stopping at the first brook they came to and Sammy
was made presentable—his face and hands scrubbed and his clothing
brushed.

“Yuh needn’t be so particular,” said Sammy. “There’ll more dirt get on
me before night.”

“Listen to him!” groaned Ruth.

Mrs. Heard laughed. “That’s what it means to have a boy in the family.
Oh, I know! I brought up my nephew, Philly, for the most part. I had to
watch him like a cat at a mousehole to see that he did not go to bed at
night without washing his feet. He _would_ run barefoot.”

“One of the penalties of going on this excursion, young man,” said Agnes
to Sammy, “is having to keep clean. I know it’s going to be hard
sledding for you; but we can’t afford to have a grubby looking youngster
in the party.”

Sammy sighed, muttering: “Well! I guess I can stand it. Ma bathed me all
over, _every day_, when I was sick. Guess that’s why I’m so thin now.
She purt’ near washed me all away.”

The first day’s journey had been carefully laid out, and the party of
tourists from the old Corner House knew just where they were to stay
that night. They were not to be bound throughout their tour, however, by
hard-and-fast plans or rules.

“It’s a poor rule that can’t be broken,” said the matter-of-fact Mrs.
Heard. “Just the same we want to know something about where we are
going—sometimes. I wouldn’t fancy being caught out in some wilderness on
a stormy night, for instance, with nothing better than somebody’s barn
to take refuge in.”

This, of course, neither she nor the others realized at the time was a
prophetic statement.

Naturally, if one is to go on such an excursion as this of the Corner
House girls, one must have some idea of the roads, of hotels, and of the
choice of routes and hostelries, as well as distances between proposed
stops.

As far as they had been able to learn there was no hotel on the road
they had selected, near which they would be at noon of this first day.
So, in with the suitcases and other impedimenta, was packed a lunch
hamper.

When they stopped by a wayside spring for the noon bivouac, they were
out of sight of every house and a long way from home. But Neale O’Neil
knew this road.

“I was over it the other day with Mr. Howbridge. Pogue Lake is just back
there a couple of miles. That’s a great fishing place.”

[Illustration: From the apex of these when they were set up, the kettle
was hung.]

“I never did see how men and boys could be cruel enough to fish,” said
Mrs. Heard, with a little shudder. “Always wanting to kill something.
Hooking fish by their poor, tender mouths—it’s awful!”

“I should think it would hurt the worms worse than it would the fish,
Mrs. Heard,” said the thoughtful Tess. “The long worms get cut in
half—and both ends wriggle so!”

“Huh!” grunted Sammy. “Worms ain’t got no feelings. No more’n eels. And
it don’t hurt an eel to skin it—so there!”

“I’d like to know how _you_ know so much, young man,” said Mrs. Heard,
tartly. “Did you ever talk to a skinned eel? Who told you it didn’t hurt
’em?”

Other automobile parties had stopped at this pleasant spot to picnic,
for there were unmistakable marks of its having been thus occupied. It
seems seldom to occur to picnic parties that other excursionists may
wish to use the same sylvan spot which they find so lovely and leave in
such disgraceful condition.

But the party from the old Corner House was careful in more ways than
one.

Strapped to the side of the automobile just over the step, was a folding
tripod of light lacquered steel rods. From the apex of these when they
were set up, the kettle was hung, for Mrs. Heard insisted she must have
her tea.

First, however, Neale O’Neil produced a small shovel and prepared a
patch of sand on the grass, on which to build the fire. He was an old
hand at camping out and knew very well that fire could not spread from a
sandpile.

Neale had always shown himself to be quick and handy; but Mrs. Heard was
immensely pleased with his despatch in getting water boiled and his part
of the camping arrangements complete. Of course, the girls “set the
table,” and even Sammy was made use of. He gathered the supply of dry
fuel, and if Neale had not stopped him he would have piled up sufficient
at the camp site for a Fourth of July bonfire.

It was after the older girls had washed the few dishes they had used and
while they were resting after the lunch that the first incident of real
moment on this tour of the Corner House girls occurred.

A man came tramping through the brush with a rod in his hand and a creel
slung from his shoulder. He wore long wading boots and he walked through
the brook into which the waters of the spring trickled, and so reached
the automobile party. Tom Jonah stood up, but did not growl at him.

The man was lifting his cap and going right by when Dot Kenway uttered a
squeal of surprise.

“Oh, Tess! Oh, Aggie!” she cried. “Here’s my sick man now.”

At the same moment Neale O’Neil recognized the fisherman and shouted to
him:

“Hi, Mr. Maynard! What luck to-day?”

The other turned a single glance at Neale and nodded, his attention
immediately becoming fixed on Dot. He approached her with a smile
warming his countenance, which seemed rather saturnine in repose.

“This is my kind little friend,” he said; and although his face was
deeply flushed it was not from the same cause as when the smallest
Corner House girl had previously met him. “So you remember me?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” Dot replied, a little bashfully, giving him her hand.

“And how is the dolly’s health? But _this_ isn’t the one?” asked Mr.
Maynard, showing that he had a good memory for some incidents of that
former unfortunate afternoon.

“Oh, yes; this is my Alice-doll,” said Dot, eagerly.

“Why, she doesn’t look the same,” the man declared, warmly interested.

“She has new clothes on—and a new hat.”

“I never would have known her again,” went on Mr. Maynard.

“And you couldn’t ever guess what’s happened to her,” said Dot,
seriously.

“Her face——?”

“She’s been completely cured of a dreadful bad complexion,” confided
Dot. “Neale took her to a hospital. It is wonderful what they can do to
you nowadays at hospitals,” said the little girl.

“It is indeed,” agreed Mr. Maynard, taking the Alice-doll tenderly in
his arms.

“I saw the place myself,” went on Dot, eagerly. “There was a big gold
sign over the door, ‘Dolls’ Hospital.’ Why! I didn’t know there were
such places.”

“Indeed?” responded the man, very much interested.

“Yes. And they fixed Alice’s face—and her hair. Of course, she wasn’t a
real blonde before; but it’s fashionable. Like our Aggie, you know,”
pursued the talkative Dot.

Meanwhile Agnes had been whispering eagerly to Neale and now they both
approached Dot and her friend.

“Mr. Maynard,” said Neale, “have you see anything of Saleratus Joe
again?”

“My goodness, Neale!” exclaimed the fisherman. “You could have seen both
him and Jim Brady on this road this very morning. They passed me as I
came along to the pond, in that big car of Brady’s.”

Mrs. Heard had been attracted by this topic of conversation. She said:

“I believe that horrid Brady brought about the stealing of my nephew’s
car. And he’s shielding the men who actually did it.”

“I don’t know about that, Mrs. Heard,” said Mr. Maynard, who evidently
knew the widow. “He surely didn’t have the car stolen for his own use,”
and he smiled, “for that French machine of his cost him forty-five
hundred dollars. He told me so the other day.”

“Are you very well acquainted with Brady, Mr. Maynard?” queried the
woman, rather suspiciously.

“Why—no!” he replied, slowly. “I know most of the men who hang about the
court house; and Jim thinks he can get me back in the surveyor’s office.
Of course, I should be grateful if he could.”

“I don’t for a moment suppose that Brady wanted my nephew’s car,” said
Mrs. Heard, sharply. “_You_ know that?”

“Why—yes,” responded the fisherman again.

“But if Brady had it stolen, why hasn’t the car been found?” Neale put
in, wonderingly.

“I told you before,” said Mrs. Heard, promptly. “They expected to find
those road maps. And I guess they didn’t find ’em,” she added, with a
nod of satisfaction.

“You may be right, Mrs. Heard,” agreed Mr. Maynard, but evidently
desirous of saying no more.

He handed the Alice-doll back to Dot, who, with Tess, had not been much
interested in this discussion, of course; and he picked up his fishing
rod to depart.

“I am sorry I did not happen along before you ate your luncheon,” he
said, smiling. “I could have supplied you with a nice mess of yellow
perch.”

“Thank you, Mr. Maynard,” said Agnes, with a naughty twinkle in her eye.
“I’m afraid we should have had to refuse them, for Mrs. Heard does not
approve of fishing.”

“Goodness! but I am fond of fish, just the same,” said their chaperone,
honestly.

“What would you suggest as the least cruel way of capturing fish?” Mr.
Maynard asked, soberly.

“How about seining them and then chloroforming each fish?” whispered
Neale to Agnes.

But the widow laughed, saying to the fisherman:

“I remember my husband used to go fishing with you, Mr. Maynard. But he
never brought fish into the house where I could see them till they were
ready for the pan, so as not to shock me.”

“That was quite right of him, Mrs. Heard,” said Mr. Maynard, gravely.
Then he turned to Dot again. “I hope you will all have a fine time on
your tour—you, especially, my dear. Do—do you suppose you could spare a
kiss for me—a good-bye kiss?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” said the generous Dot. “And I truly hope you won’t be
sick again, Mr. Maynard.”

The man flushed deeply, saying:

“I have not been troubled by that sickness, my dear, since the day you
were so kind to me; and—please God!—I never shall be again.”

He strode away then with a nod only to the others.



CHAPTER X—THE PASSING AUTOMOBILE


After the bustle of getting under way again had quieted down and the car
was speeding merrily through the woodland and past the pleasant farms of
the Oxbow Valley, Agnes began to talk eagerly to Neale O’Neil about the
all-absorbing topic which occupied her mind.

“How much do you suppose Mr. Maynard really knows about the stealing of
Mr. Collinger’s car?” she demanded.

“Not a thing!” said her boy friend, promptly.

“Oh, Neale!”

“No. I know Mr. Maynard. He’s a perfectly square man, I am sure. I don’t
suppose he ever noticed Saleratus Joe until I called his attention to
him.”

“Where do you suppose they have gone?” queried the girl, starting on
another tack.

“Who?”

“That Joe and the Brady man.”

“Ask me an easier one,” laughed Neale O’Neil.

“But can’t we do anything about it if we run across them?” she cried.

“Joe and Brady?” gasped Neale, in wonder.

“Yes.”

Neale eyed her quizzically for a long half minute—that is, with one eye.
The other he kept faithfully on the road ahead.

“Aggie,” he said, “you beat the world. Mucilage isn’t in it with you for
sticking to a thing when your mind is once set upon it.”

“Well, I don’t care!” she pouted.

“Oh, yes you do. You evidently do care or you wouldn’t be talking about
that stolen car all the time. What’s the odds where Mr. Brady and his
chauffeur have gone? You don’t suppose Brady knows anything about Mr.
Collinger’s machine himself, do you?”

“Of course he does! I believe he had it stolen,” cried the girl.

“And if he did, so much the more reason for his not knowing anything
about what was done with the car. That’s what Mr. Maynard intimated.
Brady would have no use for it. And I doubt if anybody could use it long
without being arrested. Hard to hide an automobile nowadays. Unless the
thieves took it away up into Canada and sold it, maybe.”

“Surely that Saleratus Joe couldn’t have done that,” rejoined Agnes,
instantly, “for he couldn’t have gone there and got back so quickly.”

“Good girl. Female detective, I tell you!” chortled Neale. “But how
about the other fellow?”

“Who—that awful Brady?”

“Cricky! No. They say there were two fellows in Mr. Collinger’s car when
it was driven away from the court house. And maybe he—the second
chap—has the car now.”

“Oh, dear me! I’d like to know,” sighed Agnes.

This first day’s journey was rather long; the smaller girls were tired
by mid-afternoon. So was Sammy Pinkney, although he would not admit the
fact. Tess and Dot went frankly to sleep in the tonneau; Sammy kept
himself awake by asking questions of Agnes and Neale, so that they could
no longer discuss the stealing of Mr. Collinger’s automobile, or any
other subject of moment.

“If I ever go auto riding again with a kid of his size,” growled Neale,
at last, “I’ll insist on having his question-asker extracted first.”

“Huh! What’s a ‘question-asker,’ Neale? Have I got one?” was the query
that capped that climax.

The effort to reach a certain old-fashioned hotel on the road to
Parmenter Lake, of which Mrs. Heard knew, was successful. Without even a
minor mishap Neale brought the car to the Bristow House an hour before
sunset and in plenty of time for supper.

As none of the four Corner House girls had ever slept in a hotel before,
this was a new experience for them. Mrs. Heard engaged two double rooms
for herself and the girls, and a third for Neale and Sammy. Tom Jonah
was made comfortable in the stable yard.

The big dining-room was well filled when after they had washed, they
went down to supper. The Bristow was popular despite the homely manner
in which it was managed.

“Good home cooking,” Mrs. Heard said, “and simple ways. These girls who
wait on us are all from the neighboring families hereabout. It is not a
popular resort with the sporty class of automobilists—although I notice
that occasionally one of that kind gets in here.”

Her remark was to the point, for at that very moment an example to prove
the truth of it was furnished by a big man sitting alone at a small
table at the end of the dining room.

“What?” he suddenly bellowed. “I can’t get a drink here?”

“Tea, coffee, milk, or soft drinks,” the waitress at that table recited,
calmly. “The Bristow House is temperance.”

The big man got up heavily, his face red, and refused to eat. “That
settles it!” he growled. “I’d like to know what you keep a hotel for?”

“To feed people,” said the waitress, wearily. She had evidently
experienced a like incident before.

“That’s Jim Brady!” whispered Agnes, in excitement, to Neale O’Neil.

Neale sat near a window. When the politician from Milton had stamped
out, Neale peered around the window blind. The big French car was
standing before the hotel.

“But say! that isn’t the freckled-faced fellow with him,” Agnes
declared, peering around the other side of the window frame.

“No. New chauffeur. There they go—aiming for home. Guess he’s left
Saleratus Joe somewhere.”

“I’d just like to know where,” sighed Agnes, returning reluctantly to
her supper.

By the time supper was over Sammy was again nodding like one of those
mechanical figures shop-keepers sometimes put in their show windows to
attract attention. Neale had almost to carry him up to the bedroom, and
did have to help him undress after he was there.

“Cricky!” ejaculated the flaxen-haired youth, “I didn’t start out on
this tour with the expectation of nursing along a child, as well as an
automobile. I’m going to have a lot of fun myself if I’ve got to play
nursemaid for this kid.”

Neale was really good-natured, however, and, for all his scolding, he
helped Sammy off with his clothing gently enough. As Ruth had
threatened, there was a bath made ready for Sammy, and that rite had to
be administered before the sleepy little boy could creep between the
sheets.

While Sammy was splashing in the bath a shout of laughter from Neale
brought Mrs. Heard and the two older girls to the door of the boys’
bedroom.

“What _is_ the matter, Neale O’Neil?” demanded Ruth.

Neale was sitting cross-legged on the floor, rocking himself to and fro,
and weak from laughter. “Look what the kid’s brought with him in his
bag!” gasped the older boy. “I was looking for his night clothes—and
something clean for him to put on in the morning. See the mess of stuff
I found, will you?”

It was a self-evident fact that Mrs. Pinkney, Sammy’s mother, did not
pack her little son’s suitcase.

Neale had hauled out first of all a tangle of fishing tackle; a
baking-powder box, well filled with a supply of squirmy fish-worms, kept
moist in black soil that had sifted all over the contents of the bag
through the holes in the cover of the box punched to give the worms air.
There was Sammy’s air-rifle in two sections and a plentiful supply of
ammunition; a banana reduced to pulp; a bottle of matches; a sling-shot;
a much-rusted bread-knife with its edge patiently ground upon a
whetstone—evidently Sammy’s idea of a hunting-knife or a bowie-knife.

In addition there was a very grubby-looking pocket-handkerchief in which
were tightly tied two slimy garden snails; there was a piece of candy in
a soiled paper, with a buffalo nickel imbedded in the confection; two
brass wheels out of the works of a clock; last Sunday’s lesson paper;
two horse-chestnuts; and a pint flask with very suggestive looking
contents.

“What?” gasped Mrs. Heard. “That boy carrying liquor?”

“And snails!” ejaculated Agnes.

“Such a mess!” exclaimed Ruth.

“But snails or the worms or anything else there,” said the widow,
severely, “will not steal away men’s brains and make them ill. Where did
that boy get whisky—or is it brandy?” she added.

Neale had finally extracted the cork. He first smelled and then tasted
the suggestive looking liquor. Mrs. Heard gasped in horror. Agnes
squealed. Ruth demanded:

“What is it?”

“It’s what I thought!” said Neale. “Licorice water. Wonder the flask
didn’t break and drench everything with the stuff. And he _has_ brought
a few clothes.”

“I see very plainly,” Mrs. Heard said, when the laughter had subsided,
“that the first town we come to of any size, we shall have to buy Sammy
some needfuls. Goodness! how ashamed his mother will be when she learns
of this.”

Sammy was too sleepy to be questioned at that time about the wonderful
contents of the suitcase; but in the morning he confessed that after his
mother had packed the bag for him, he had been obliged to take out “a
lot of useless duds” to make room for the necessary miscellany listed
above which, to his boyish mind, was far more important.

However, it afforded the party a hearty laugh and Mrs. Heard (who
declared her nephew—the now dignified county surveyor—had been just like
Sammy) cheerfully purchased a proper outfit for the lad.

“I knew Sammy would be an awful nuisance,” Ruth said.

“But, goodness! isn’t he funny?” giggled Agnes.

The party made a good start from the Bristow House about nine o’clock.
They were to run that day to Parmenter Lake, where they might spend some
time, and to one of the hotels at that resort the trunks had been sent.
They expected to have their lunch again in the open, and the hamper had
been filled at the Bristow House.

Ever since the day the Corner House girls had first met Mrs. Heard and
her brown pony, Jonas, there had been a matter puzzling Tess and Dot;
and as time passed and the curiosity of their two active young minds was
not satisfied, the children had grown more and more insistent in their
demands on Neale O’Neil.

They wished to know what it was Neale had whispered into the fat brown
pony’s ears when the ex-circus lad had cured the stubborn creature’s
balkiness—for the time being, at least.

“I’ve always thought, Neale O’Neil, that you were better than most
boys,” Tess Kenway said, seriously, the subject having come up again on
this morning’s run.

“And he never was so stingy before,” wailed Dot.

“If he’d only tell me what he said to Jonas,” Tess went on, “we could
say it to Billy Bumps when he balks. And you know he _does_ balk
sometimes—most awfully.”

“Oh, Tess! maybe the same words that started the pony wouldn’t start a
goat. Would they, Neale?” asked the smallest Corner House girl.

But Neale only grinned, and refused to be drawn like a badger. The
little girls could not get him to talk at all about the mystery.

And right here, while they were miles from any village—even while they
were completely out of sight of any dwelling—a most astonishing thing
happened.

Without previous warning the engine began to cough, and the car ran more
slowly.

“Now what’s happened, Neale?” inquired Mrs. Heard, rather nervously.

Neale made no reply at all for a minute. He tried first one lever and
then another, ran slow, tried to speed up, and then found that in spite
of everything he did, the engine was going dead.

He managed to get the automobile to the side of the road out of the way
of other traffic before the engine entirely ceased to turn.

“Although there doesn’t seem to be much traffic of any sort over this
road,” said Ruth. “We haven’t been passed by an auto this morning.”

“I should say not!” exclaimed Agnes, promptly. “Our car is no flivver,
I’d have you know. Do you expect, Ruth Kenway, to have all the cars in
Christendom pass us?”

“It looks now as though some of them might,” responded the older girl,
laughing at her sister’s vehemence.

“I guess you’ve heard the story of the wealthy man who went out driving
in his high-powered French car,” remarked Neale, who had tipped back the
hood and was looking to see if he could find what was wrong, “and his
chauffeur drove too slowly to suit him.

“‘This is like a funeral procession,’ said the owner to the chauffeur;
‘why don’t you drive around that flivver in front of us?’

“‘No use, boss,’ the chauffeur told him.

“‘Why not?’ demanded the owner.

“‘There’ll be another flivver ahead of that.’”

“That’s all right, Neale O’Neil,” put in Agnes, smartly. “Trying to take
our attention off the fact that _we’re_ not moving ahead very fast,
either! What’s the matter with it?”

“I—don’t—know,” confessed the boy.

He tried the starter and got a few feeble turns out of the engine.

“Nothing doing,” he grunted.

“Is it something about the wiring?” murmured Agnes.

“Can it be the carburetor?” asked Ruth.

“Maybe something is out of gear underneath the car,” suggested Mrs.
Heard, briskly. “Don’t they always have to get under the car to repair
it?”

“Oh, yes!” groaned Neale. “‘Get out and get under.’ That’s the
auto-driver’s motto.” He pulled off his coat preparatory to doing
exactly what Mrs. Heard had suggested.

Tess observed gravely:

“Well! _this_ isn’t something Neale can whisper to and make go when it
balks.”

To punctuate the laugh that followed this perfectly serious statement on
the part of Tess, Agnes cried:

“Oh, listen! here comes another car.”

The rumble of an approaching automobile was then heard by all, and it
was coming over the same road they had come. Before it appeared around
the nearest turn, they heard the warning “Honk! Honk!” of its horn.

There whisked into sight the next moment the rapidly-gliding automobile.
Agnes was standing up to look back. Almost instantly she uttered another
cry—this time almost a shriek:

“Oh, Neale!”

“Cricky!” was the boy’s gasped rejoinder.

For as the strange car flashed by they had both recognized the man at
the steering wheel as Joe Dawson; and the appearance of the fellow
beside him was not a whit more confidence-breeding than was Joe’s.



CHAPTER XI—AN ADVENTURE BEGINS


“That car was certainly not the stolen one,” declared Neale O’Neil,
after the automobile had whizzed out of sight in a cloud of dust.

“No; it wasn’t a runabout,” admitted Agnes. “But I just believe that man
with Joe was the one who helped him steal Mr. Collinger’s car.”

“What are you two talking about?” demanded Ruth, for those in the
tonneau had not recognized Saleratus Joe.

“Did you want to stop those men to see if they could help you, Neale?”
asked Mrs. Heard. “It will be awful if we have to stand here all day.
We’re still a long way from Parmenter Lake.”

Neale could not help uttering a grunt at that. Nervous people are very
nagging—without meaning to be.

Just as he was getting down to crawl under the machine Sammy Pinkney,
who had been keeping wonderfully quiet for him, suddenly asked:

“Say, Neale! You got any gas, do you s’pose?”

Neale straightened up, looked at the little chap who stood with his
hands in his pockets and his legs very wide apart, and finally
exclaimed:

“I don’t know whether to be sore on you, Sammy, or not!”

“Huh? What’s the matter?” asked Sammy, belligerently.

Neale O’Neil started for the tank. “Why didn’t you suggest that before?”
he demanded. “There! I declare, folks,” he added, “the tank’s almost
dry. I should have bought gasoline before we left the hotel this
morning.”

“Goodness, gracious, me!” cried Agnes. “It can’t be so, Neale!”

“It’s empty,” the boy assured her.

“And we stuck on this lonely road!” gasped Mrs. Heard. “No telling when
another auto will come by.”

“Oh, dear, Neale!” murmured Ruth, “how could you be so careless?”

“It’s the easiest thing in the world to forget,” the boy replied, with a
quick grin.

“It was real smart of Sammy to remember about the gosoling, I think,”
said Dot.

“_‘Gasoline’_—little goose,” observed Tess, correcting her smaller
sister, as she often did.

Agnes laughed outright. “Well, gosling is a little goose, sure enough,
Dot.” Then she added: “Now, Neale! what are you going to do?”

Neale O’Neil had opened the road guide and thumbed several of its pages.

“Last place we passed where gasoline is for sale, as I figure it, is
twenty miles away.”

“Oh!” was the chorused groan.

“But here!” added the boy, with sudden enthusiasm, “Procketts is but
five miles ahead.”

“What is Procketts?” demanded Agnes.

“_Who_ is Procketts?” added Ruth.

“A village. Gasoline is sold there,” declared Neale O’Neil, confidently.

“But five miles!” cried Mrs. Heard. “Will you have to walk there and
bring back the gasoline yourself? That is too bad!”

Neale smiled more broadly and returned the book to his pocket.

“We’ll run along to Procketts and get our fill of gas. It won’t take
long,” he said.

“But, Neale!” Ruth began.

“How can we?” cried Agnes.

“Did you say the tank was empty, young man?” demanded Mrs. Heard.

“Not a drop in it,” agreed the boy, answering the chaperone’s question.
“But—you see——” and he bent over and manipulated a small cock, “here’s
the emergency tank. That’s always filled, you know; and it will run us
to Procketts, all right.”

“Well, you awful boy!” cried Agnes, half angrily. “You let us think we
were stuck here.”

“Cricky!” ejaculated Neale O’Neil. “Didn’t you all just jump on me for
being careless and thoughtless? And none of you thought of the emergency
tank. A fellow’s got to protect himself when he’s alone with a parcel of
females,” and he chuckled.

“You ain’t alone, Neale. I’m with you,” declared Sammy Pinkney,
suddenly.

The girls shouted with laughter; but Neale said, preserving his gravity:

“Thanks, old chap. I guess we menfolk will have to pull together in
self-defence.”

They came to the next village in the course of time, and Neale bought
gasoline. Before one o’clock they reached a delightfully wooded place
for camping, and proceeded to have lunch as they had made it the
previous day. They all declared these rustic meals to be the best of
all.

Just beyond the little grove was a pasture, and, looking between the
bars of the old stake and rider fence, Tess and Dot saw that the open
space was studded with flowers of several kinds.

“Let’s pick some for Ruthie,” Tess suggested.

“Let’s. And for Mrs. Heard,” agreed Dot.

She ran back for the Alice-doll—for of course that precious child had to
pick flowers, too—and to tell the older girls what they purposed doing.

Mrs. Heard was taking a nap in the car, which stood in the shade by the
roadside; the older girls were clearing up after the lunch. Neale and
Sammy had gone in the opposite direction, across the road, where there
was a pond and the promise of a bath, and Tom Jonah had gone with them.

So nobody gave the little girls much attention when they crept through
the fence and out of sight of the camping place.

Tess and Dot did not intend to go far. There were plenty of flowers in
sight of the place where they entered the pasture.

But you know how it is. The patches of blossoms at a distance appeared
much more inviting than those close to the fence. The little girls ran
from one to another patch, calling each other, delighted to find such a
wealth of lovely, brilliant blossoms.

“I never _did_ see such a lot of flowers in all my life, Dot Kenway!”
cried Tess.

“Maybe this is the place where all the flowers started from,” suggested
the philosophical younger sister.

“Where all the flowers started from?” repeated Tess. “What do you mean,
Dot Kenway?”

“Why, didn’t the flowers have to start _somewhere_—like everything else?
Our teacher says everything has had a beginning—like the first horses,
and the first cow, and—and Adam and Eve, I s’pose.”

“Humph!” said the less orthodox Tess, “who told you there had to be a
first flower, anyway? Nonsense!”

“How did they come, then, if they didn’t spread—oh! all around—from some
place like this?” demanded Dot, quite excited.

“Oh, they just _came_,” declared Tess. “I suppose,” she added,
reverently, “that God just _thought_ flowers, and at once there were
flowers—everywhere.”

Dot stood up, picking up the Alice-doll, and holding all the blossoms
she could carry in her other hand.

“Well,” she said, softly, looking out across the field so spangled with
the gay flowers, “He must have thought _hard_ about ’em when He made
this place, Tessie, for there’s so many.”

The next moment the smallest Corner House girl forgot all her unfledged
philosophy, for she suddenly shrieked:

“Oh, Tess! Oh, Tess! Look at that _awful, terrible bull_!”

Tess was so startled by her sister’s cry that she jumped up, scattering
the blossoms she had herself gathered.

“Where? What bull?” she demanded, staring all around save in the right
direction.

“There!” moaned Dot, who was dreadfully afraid of all bovine creatures,
crushing both her flowers and her Alice-doll to her bosom.

Tess finally saw what Dot had beheld. A great head, with wide, dangerous
looking horns, had appeared above a clump of bushes not far away. The
animal was calmly chewing its cud; but the very sidewise motion of its
jaws seemed threatening to the two smallest Corner House girls.

“Oh, Tess!” moaned Dot, again. “Will it eat us?”

“Bulls—bulls don’t eat folks,” stammered Tess. “They—they hook ’em. And
how do you know it _is_ a bull, Dot Kenway?”

“Hasn’t it got _horns_?” gasped the smallest Corner House girl. “Of
course it is a bull. Come, Tess Kenway! I’m going to run.”

There seemed nothing else to do. Cow, or bull, it mattered not
which—both were comparatively strange animals to the sisters. Most of
the cattle they had seen were dehorned.

They now scampered away as fast as they could from the vicinity of the
threatening peril. To add wings to their flight the creature lowed after
them mournfully.

“Oh! I just _know_ he wants to eat us,” gasped Dot.

“Hook us, you mean,” corrected Tess, strictly a purist even in her
terror.

They scrambled on, panting. Tess tried to take Dot’s hand; but the
smaller girl would drop neither the doll nor the flowers. Finally they
reached the fence at the edge of the woods, and plunged through it. Thus
defended from the enemy (which had not followed them a step) the little
girls fell to the ground, breathless, but relieved.

“That nawful, nawful bull!” groaned Dot. “I _did_ think he’d get us
before we reached the fence. See Alice! She’s just as scared as she can
be.” And as the blue-eyed doll was a widely staring creature, Dot’s
statement seemed particularly apt.

“I lost all my flowers,” mourned Tess.

“Well, there’s a lot more yonder,” said Dot, pointing ahead. “Mine
aren’t so good. I squashed ’em, running so.”

“Well,” Tess suggested, recovering somewhat from her fright, “let’s pick
some more. That old cow——”

“Bull!” interjected Dot, with confidence.

“Well, bull, then. He needn’t think he’s going to scare us so we can’t
carry a bouquet to Ruthie and Mrs. Heard.”

“No-o,” agreed Dot, rather doubtfully. “But I don’t want to go back
through that fence again, and into that field.”

“We don’t have to,” declared Tess, promptly. She was standing up now and
could see farther than Dot. “There’s another open place where there’re
flowers—and there isn’t any fence.”

“And no bulls?” queried Dot.

“There _can’t_ be,” Tess assured her. “They always fence up cattle. We
shouldn’t have gone through that fence in the first place.”

So, having somewhat recovered from their panic, they pursued their
adventure without for a moment considering that the farther they went in
this direction, the greater the distance back to the place where their
friends and the automobile remained.

Ruth and Agnes did not think anything about the absence of the two
smaller girls until Neale, Sammy and the dog returned from their baths.

As Neale O’Neil came along from the pond and into sight of the
automobile and the girls, he was laughing heartily, while Sammy’s face
was very red.

“What’s the matter, Neale?” demanded Agnes, suspecting a joke.

“This kid’ll be the death of me, girls,” declared Neale, still
chuckling. “I took along a piece of soap with the towels and told Sammy
to see if he couldn’t get some of the dust and grime off his face and
hands. Cricky! I never knew a kid could get so much dirt on him between
breakfast and noontime.”

“Well, he looks clean now,” said Ruth, kindly, seeing that Sammy was not
very happy because of Neale’s fun.

“I guess he is,” Neale chuckled. “I said to him, ‘Sammy, did you scrub
your hands good?’ And he said, ‘Sure!’ ‘And wash your face?’ ‘Yep,’ he
answered. And then I remembered the part of his anatomy that a kid
usually forgets is hitched to him. ‘How about your ears?’ I asked him.
And what do you s’pose he said?”

“I couldn’t even guess,” giggled Agnes. “What?”

“Why, Sammy said: ‘I washed the one that’s next to Aggie when I’m
sitting in the car. You needn’t tell her ‘bout the other one,’” and
Neale O’Neil burst into laughter again—as did all the others, save Sammy
himself.

It was Sammy trying to turn the current of conversation from his ears,
who discovered the continued absence of the two little girls.

“Where’s Tess and Dot?” he inquired.

“Picking flowers,” said Agnes, promptly.

“But, goodness!” added Ruth, “they have been picking them a long time.
Ever since you boys went for your swim. They must have gathered a
bushel.”

“Go call ’em, Sammy,” said Mrs. Heard. “We want to start now, I suppose.
It’s a long way to Parmenter Lake yet, isn’t it?”

Neale pulled out the much-thumbed guide.

“Let’s see,” he said, fluttering the pages. “There’s where we
are—sixteen—no, seventeen miles beyond Procketts—where we bought the
gasoline. That pond we just went to—Oh! that’s Silver Lake. I bet it
used to be called ‘the mud-hole’ before the day of automobile road
guides.

“Just beyond, along this road, is what the guide-book calls ‘a mountain
tarn.’ What’s _that_, do you suppose?”

“A swamp,” declared Ruth, promptly and wrongly.

“It’s right near a village called Frog Hollow. Oh! ‘Recently renamed
Arbutusville.’ What do you know about _that_?” chuckled Neale,
delighted. “And a piece beyond there’s a precipice, ‘from the verge of
which can be seen the ever-changing view of the entire eastern end of
the Oxbow.’ Cricky! I bet the view isn’t half as changing as the names
of these rural frog-ponds and the like. And I bet the precipice is a
stone quarry,” he added, with conviction.

“I expect that ‘wayside inn’ they speak of,” said Agnes, who was looking
over his shoulder, “is nothing but one of those squalid old beer-shops
we see along the road.”

“Humph!” commented Mrs. Heard, with a sniff, “it must take more
imagination to get up one of those road guides for automobilists than it
does to find all the virtues in a Presidential candidate.”

Just then Sammy came plunging through the bushes. “Say!” he cried, “I
can’t find ’em.”

“Why, Sammy!” said Agnes. “Why didn’t you call Tess and Dot?”

“Did,” he declared. “Been hollering my head off.”

“Isn’t that funny?” commented Agnes.

“I don’t know whether it is funny or not,” Mrs. Heard said, briskly.
“Those children should be found.”

“Yes. We’re ready to start,” said Neale.

“Surely they would not have gone far,” Ruth added, in a worried tone.

Silence fell. The older members of the touring party looked at each
other with growing apprehension.



CHAPTER XII—SEEKING


“Why, of course, the children are all right,” Neale said, briskly. “Hold
on! I’ll make them hear.”

He punched the lever of the horn several times and the clarion “Honk!
Honk!” echoed through the grove.

“Oh, mercy!” ejaculated Mrs. Heard, with her hands over her ears. “That
should wake the dead.”

“Well, let’s see if it wakes up Tess and Dot,” laughed Neale O’Neil.
“Come on, Aggie, let you and me run and find them.”

“Don’t get lost yourselves,” Ruth called after them, laughing now.

After being startled for the moment by Sammy’s report, all of them felt
it was really impossible that Tess and Dot should be lost.

Neale and Agnes, with Tom Jonah in pursuit, ran over the slight rise out
of sight, hand in hand and laughing, like the children they were
themselves. They came to the fence and looked through it.

“Of course, that’s where they are,” Agnes said. “Do look at the flowers,
Neale.”

“They must have gone on down the hill,” the boy agreed, and he and Agnes
crept through the fence, on the trail of Tess and Dot.

They saw no trace of the children at first. And the mild-eyed cow that
had caused all the trouble had disappeared. After a while Agnes cried
out: “Oh, Neale! They picked flowers here. See the broken stalks!”

“Sure,” he agreed. “Let’s shout for them.”

Again and again they shouted the little girls’ names—singly and in
unison.

“Where _could_ they have gone—not to hear us?” demanded Agnes.

“Don’t suppose they are playing ’possum, do you?”

“Oh, Neale—never!”

“But there’s no place for them to go. You can see all over this pasture.
Here, Tom Jonah! Find them! Find Tess and Dot!”

“We can’t see behind all the clumps of bushes,” suggested Agnes.

“But, cricky! are they asleep behind the bushes somewhere?” Neale
demanded.

“No-o. Not likely,” Agnes admitted.

“But—here!” shouted Neale. “What’s this?”

He had found the place where Tess, frightened, as was Dot, by the cow,
had stood up and dropped her great bunch of picked flowers. “What do you
know about that?” the boy asked, quite seriously.

“Oh, Neale! Their flowers. They would never have thrown them away unless
something had happened.”

“But what?”

“I can’t imagine,” said Agnes, almost in tears.

“Neither can I,” growled the boy, staring around the field. “Now, don’t
turn on the sprinkler, Aggie. Chirk up. Of course, nothing really _bad_
has happened to them.”

“Why hasn’t there?” choked Agnes.

“Well, how could there? Right here almost in sight of the road. You
girls would have heard them if they had cried out——”

“Do you think they’ve been carried off—stolen—kidnapped? Oh, Neale
O’Neil! do you?” almost shrieked Agnes.

“Oh, stop it, you little goose—stop it,” begged the boy. “Of course
not.”

“Goose yourself——”

“No; gander,” said Neale O’Neil, determined now not to let Agnes see how
serious he felt the disappearance of Tess and Dot was. “Now, Aggie, you
stay here while I run around a bit and see what I can find.”

He started off, Tom Jonah going too. The hot sun had almost immediately
destroyed any scent the children may have left as they passed; and
although the old dog understood very well what the matter was—that his
two little mistresses had disappeared—he could find the trail no better
than could Neale and Agnes.

Neale ran, shouting, toward the far end of the pasture. Almost at once
he and the barking dog started something.

With a puffing snort, and a great crackling of brush, up rose the
peaceful cow that had so startled Tess and Dot Kenway.

“Oh, Neale! come back!” shrieked Agnes, as she saw the wondering cow
looking over the bush at her.

“What’s the matter?” the boy demanded, while Tom Jonah approached the
cow curiously.

“The cow!”

“Oh, she won’t hurt you,” declared Neale O’Neil.

“Just the same I’m afraid of her,” said Agnes. “See her now!”

The cow was shaking her horns at the dog, and threatening him.

“Like enough she has a calf hidden away there in the brush,” said Neale.
“And——Cricky!” suddenly he added; “I bet she scared the kids.”

“Oh, Neale!”

“Sure! That’s what’s the matter. They saw her and ran. And they ran in
the wrong direction, of course,” Neale continued, with very good
judgment.

“Do you really think so, Neale?”

“Just as likely as not. Come here, Tom Jonah! She’ll hook you yet.”

“Oh!” said Agnes, quickly, “then we should be able to find the poor
little things easily.”

“Huh? How do you make that out?” Neale demanded.

“Why, if they ran in the wrong direction, we ought to follow them.”

“That’s all right,” returned the boy. “But there are so many wrong
directions! Which did they take?”

Agnes began to sob. Neale could not comfort her. Tom Jonah came and
lapped her hands with his soft tongue, to show that he, too, sympathized
with her.

The boy shouted until he was hoarse; but no childish cry was returned to
him on the soft breeze.

And there was very good reason for that. The two smallest Corner House
girls had some time since wandered beyond the sound of Neale’s voice or
the dog’s bark,—even beyond the sound of the automobile horn.

While the older folk were seeking Tess and Dot, the two young explorers
were seeking their friends. At first one could not have convinced the
children that they were lost. No, indeed! It was Ruth and Agnes and
Neale and Tom Jonah and Mrs. Heard and Sammy—and even the
automobile—that had lost themselves.

“I don’t see where they could have gone to,” complained Dot, tired at
last of carrying both the Alice-doll and her flowers so far.

“I didn’t s’pose we’d come so far from that road,” agreed Tess.

“Oh, I see it!” Dot cried, suddenly.

“The auto?”

“No, no! The road.”

“Oh,” said Tess, gladly. “Then we’ll find them now.”

The little girls climbed down a bank into a road which—had they known
it—would have taken them out into the more important highway the
motorcar was on. But unfortunately Tess and Dot turned in the wrong
direction. They kept on walking away from their friends.

Had they not done this, or had they sat down and waited, Neale O’Neil
and Tom Jonah would have found them in time; for they searched the patch
of woods clear to this back road before returning, hopelessly, to the
automobile to report their failure.

However, Tess and Dot walked and walked, until they really could walk no
farther without resting. And then, having been absent from their friends
for fully three hours, they had to sit down.

Dot cried a bit and Tess put her arms about her and tried to comfort the
smallest Corner House girl. They had both long since thrown their
flowers away, for the blossoms had wilted.

“Never mind, Dot,” Tess said, trying to be very brave, “Ruthie and Aggie
and the rest can’t be far away.”

“But why did they go off and leave us behind?” wailed the little girl.
“And—and—I _ache_!”

“Where do you ache, dear?” asked the sympathetic Tess.

“In—in that funny bone that goes up and down my back,” sobbed Dot.

“Funny-bone! Why, Dot!” cried Tess, “that isn’t in your back. Your
funny-bone is in your elbow.”

“I guess I know where I hurt, Tess Kenway!” responded Dot, indignantly.
“And it isn’t in my elbow. It’s that long, straight bone in my back I’m
talking about. You know, Tess—your head sits on one end of it and you
sit on the other. And it’s all—just—one—big—ache——So there!” and she
cried again.

“Now, I tell you what, Dot Kenway,” said Tess, briskly. “There’s one
thing never does any good—not when your folks is lost from you.”

“Wha—what’s that?” choked the smallest Corner House girl.

“Crying,” the older sister said, firmly.

“We—ell,” sniffed Dot.

“So let’s not do it. We can rest here as long as you want. When your
backbone stops aching, we can go on.”

“But where’ll we go to?” was Dot’s very pertinent query.

“Why—why, we’ll just walk on—along the road.”

“And where does _it_ go to?”

“Why, does that matter?” returned Tess, bravely. “Of course our
automobile will come along and pick us up. Or, if it doesn’t, we’ll
reach a house and the lady will invite us in.”

“Well,” whimpered Dot, “I don’t care how soon we reach that house—and
the lady ‘vites us in—and gives us our supper. I’m hungry, Tess.”

“Don’t you s’pose _I_ am, too?” asked the older girl, with some
asperity. Dot _did_ sound rather selfish. “And Alice?”

“Oh! the poor, dear child must be just starved,” sniffed Dot, hugging
the doll closer.

“But she isn’t complaining all the time,” said Tess, scornfully.

Dot fought back her tears. “I think you’re horrid, cruel, cross, Tess
Kenway!” she said. “But I’ll try not to cry.”

There was reason for the children’s hunger. It was now after six
o’clock, the sun had disappeared behind the woods, and they had walked a
long way.

Once they heard a great crashing in the bushes.

“Bears! bears!” whispered the excitable Dot.

“No-o,” Tess said, gravely. “It didn’t say anything about there being
bears in this neighborhood, in that book of Neale’s. If there were
bears, he’d have told us about them.”

“Well—well——whales, maybe.”

“Goodness, Dot! you are the tryingest child! Whales live in the sea.”

“Don’t they ever come out?”

“Of course not,” declared Tess, with conviction.

“Not even to rest themselves?” demanded Dot, with wonder. “I should
think they would get awful tired swimming all the time. It must be more
tireful than walking,” and she sighed.

“Tire-some,” corrected Tess, but without enthusiasm, and thinking of the
whales. “Perhaps they come into shallow water and lie down on the bottom
of the sea with their heads sticking out to breathe. Yes, that must be
it.”

“Oh, dear!” sighed Dot, for at least the twentieth time, and with
lapsing interest in the whale. “Oh, dear! I wish Tom Jonah were with
us.”

“So do I! So do I!” agreed Tess, for as dusk came on she, like the
smallest Corner House girl, was becoming truly frightened.

The disturbance in the bushes was repeated, and the children tried to
run. A loud bell jangled—a most annoying bell; and in the distance a
voice sounded:

“So, boss! So, boss! So, boss!”

It only frightened Tess and Dot the more to hear such strange sounds.
They had never before heard the cows called home. And, besides, after
their recent experience, they would have been only the more disturbed
had they been aware that the thrashing in the bushes was Sukey, getting
ready to go up to the bars to be milked.

No house did they see, however; not even a barn. They were on a back
road, very seldom traveled, and the farms, what few there were in the
neighborhood, faced on other highways.

The children trudged on, hand in hand, both crying now. Tess was weeping
softly; but Dot was crying aloud, not caring who heard her.

When they came to a field beside the road, Tess stared all about for a
light. But there was no beckoning lamp in a farmhouse window; nor even a
flickering lantern to point the way to the farm outbuildings.

The streak of violet, shading to light blue, that evening had painted
along the horizon with her careless brush, disappeared. Tall, black
figures of trees upreared themselves between the children and the sky,
and seemed to stalk nearer, threateningly.

A great nightbird floated out of the wood and swept low across the field
with a “swish, swish, swish” of powerful wings. When it rose into the
trees again it said:

“Who? Who-o? Who-o-o?”

“Oh! Who _is_ he?” gasped Dot, clinging close to her sister.

“Mr. Owl,” said Tess, promptly. “You _know_ you’ve heard about owls, Dot
Kenway!”

“But—but I didn’t know they could _talk_,” breathed the smallest Corner
House girl, with a sigh. “Tessie, I can’t walk any farther,” she
suddenly announced. “It isn’t only that funny bone in my back; but my
ankles are breaking right off—so now!”

“But—but there isn’t any good place for us to stop till our automobile
comes along,” hesitated Tess.

“I don’t care, Tess Kenway! _I’ve got to stop!_”

That settled it. At the edge of the dark wood the two little girls crept
up on a grassy bank, between two roots of a great tree, sheltered at the
back by a thick brush clump, and there they sat, clinging to each
other’s hand.

They were too frightened to talk. Too alarmed even to weep any more.

Around them, when they were still, scurried the little creatures of the
night—the field mice, and the moles, perhaps, and the baby rabbits, and
other small animals who shiver—as Dot did—when the great owl swoops low,
crying his eternal question:

“Who? Who-o? Who-o-o shall I take for supper?”

The small fry of the fields and woods tremble at that cry more than did
the two lost Corner House girls.

There may have been other enemies of the helpless, furry little animals
lurking near, too—the weasel, the polecat, the ferret; even a red fox
might have wandered that way and joined the bright-eyed company that
kept watch and ward over two sleepy, sobbing children.

But nothing harmful was near them and, finally, Tess and Dot Kenway
slept as sweetly and as soundly as though they were in their own beds in
the old Corner House in Milton.



CHAPTER XIII—THE GREEN AND ORANGE PETTICOAT


Ruth and Agnes Kenway were in tears. Once before—when the Corner House
girls were at Pleasant Cove—the two smaller sisters had been lost, and
on that occasion circumstances seemed to blame Agnes.

Now neither of the older girls was to blame for the absence of Tess and
Dot. Mrs. Heard said so. But both Ruth and Agnes felt condemned.

After searching the pasture and the patch of woodland beyond it, clear
to the back road, Neale, disappointed, was inclined to scold Tom Jonah
for not picking up the trail of the lost children.

Tom Jonah, however, was not a hunting dog; his nose was not as keen as
some breeds possess—especially now that he was old. But he showed almost
as much anxiety as his human friends on this occasion.

“Don’t scold him, Neale,” begged Agnes, sobbing. “He’d find Tess and Dot
if he could—poor old fellow. See! he knows what I am saying.”

The dog whined and lay down, panting. Indeed, it did seem as though
there was nothing more to do here. The children, whether they had
wandered away or had been carried off, certainly were not in the
vicinity.

“Two hours have been wasted,” said Mrs. Heard; “although we did not know
we were wasting them, of course. We had to do what we could toward
finding the children near by. But now we must waste no more hours. We
must get help.”

“Oh! what help?” cried Agnes.

“We must run to the next town—Frog Hollow,” said Neale, in an
undertone“—and get the constable or sheriff or _somebody_. We must start
a crowd with lanterns to beat the woods. Maybe somebody has seen the
children. They may be safe already in somebody’s house.”

“Or in the police station,” put in Sammy Pinkney. “I got lost once and
that’s where they found me. Of course, I was a kid then. The cops was
real good to me. One of ’em bought me ten cents worth of
butter-scotch—you know, that awful, sticky, pully candy, Neale. And when
my father come I couldn’t holler to him ’cause my teeth was all stuck
up.”

“I bet that cop gave you the candy on purpose to shut your mouth,”
growled Neale. “You were talking them to death, it is probable.”

“Oh, dear, me!” cried Agnes, “don’t let us just talk; let’s do
something.”

“Mrs. Heard is quite right, I can see,” Ruth observed, recovered now in
a measure from her first panic. “We must ask the authorities to help us.
I should have been more careful.”

“Why, Ruth,” said the chaperone, “don’t blame yourself. How could you
have foreseen this?”

“I should not have allowed them out of my sight without Tom Jonah with
them,” the oldest Corner House girl declared. “Nor will I again on this
trip, you may be sure.”

“Come on, now,” growled Neale, who felt very much disturbed about the
loss of the little girls but who, boy like, did not wish to show his
feelings. “Come on, now; we’ve talked enough. Let’s do something. Get in
here, Tom Jonah—you useless old thing! You’re not half a dog or you’d
have been able to follow ’em.”

The big Newfoundland, with drooping flag and sheepish look, scrambled
into the front of the car. So did Sammy. The automobile started and they
sped away toward Frog Hollow, or Arbutusville, each revolution of the
wheels taking them farther and farther from the lost children, sleeping
under the great tree at the edge of the distant wood lot.

The automobile party were to spend a very anxious night—much more so
than Tess and Dot Kenway, who had sobbed themselves to sleep among the
huge tree-roots. Their sylvan couch was soft; the night was warm; and
not a thing disturbed them after their eyes were shut.

A fretful bird, crying in the dusk of early dawn, aroused Dot for a
moment; but she found Tess beside her, so went off to sleep again
without realizing that she was not in her own bed at home.

Dawn soon smeared her pink finger-prints along the gray horizon. Other
birds sleepily awoke. The morning breeze rustled the leaves, which took
up their eternal gossip again just where it had ceased when the night
wind died.

One morning call after another resounded through the forest patch. The
light grew stronger and the tiny, furry things crept away to bed. The
owl had long since ceased his querulous call. A feathered martinet that
had at intervals, all the night long, declared for the castigation of
“poor Will,” pitched for a last time upon a dead limb at the edge of the
wood and shouted forty-three times in succession: “Whip-poor-will!”
without awakening Tess and Dot Kenway.

They slept on as day broke and the World yawned and threw off the
coverlet of night to hop out of bed. The first red ray of the sun
finally slanted over the tree-tops and struck right into the face and
eyes of the smallest Corner House girl.

“Oh, my! I don’t like that sun,” complained Dot. “Mo—move over, Tess
Kenway.”

Tess’ eyes popped open and she was immediately wide awake, while Dot was
still snuggling down and trying to go to sleep again.

“Well, Dot Kenway!” exclaimed the older girl, “do you know what we’ve
done?”

“No-o,” mumbled Dot.

“Why! we’ve slept all through the night.”

“Aw—ri’,” Dot said, with very little interest.

“And do you know where we are?” pursued the lively Tess.

“I—I——Oh! is it time to get up?” yawned Dot.

Then she opened her eyes, too, and saw what Tess saw—the curve of the
shaded road stretching away into the wood. The two little girls had been
well sheltered under the thick umbrella of the tree; but in the open the
grass blades sparkled with dew.

Birds hopped about, hunting their breakfasts—big, fat robins in their
red vests; a chattering jay that flirted his topknot knowingly as he
peered at the two Corner House girls; a clape, running spirals around a
neighboring tree trunk like a little striped mouse, and looking at the
children with interest. Across a broken wall a red squirrel ran—that
pirate of his tribe. A rabbit started suddenly from his form in the
grass, and, with a resounding thump or two, shot off across the field as
though hearing a sudden call to breakfast at his house. The stirring of
the little girls stirred everything else here to sudden activity.

“Why, dear me, Tess Kenway,” gasped Dot, “we—we didn’t get home, did
we?”

“I guess we didn’t,” cried Tess, getting up quickly.

“Oh! nor we didn’t find the automobile,” added Dot, the memory of what
had happened returning quickly. “Why, Tess! we’re lost.”

“Well, I guess we are,” admitted her sister. “I thought Ruth and Agnes
and the others were lost; but I guess it’s us, after all, who don’t know
where we are.”

“Wha—what’ll we do?” asked Dot, yawning again, and scarcely alert enough
yet to appreciate the serious side of the situation.

“Well! we needn’t be afraid of anything now that it’s daylight. Come
along, Dot—let’s find a brook,” said the practical Tess. “I want to wash
my face.”

“We haven’t any towels,” objected Dot, trotting along the road beside
her sister. “Nor any soap, Tess.”

“Why! what do you suppose the squirrels and the rabbits and all the
other woodsy things do for towels and soap?” demanded Tess, briskly. “I
guess water’s _clean_; it’ll wash you.”

“And our teeth-brushes, Tess?”

Tess overcame even that seemingly insurmountable difficulty. After they
had found the brook—a quiet brown pool beside the road—and had bathed
their faces and hands, Tess broke a twig and chewed the end to a
brush-like swab, and so brushed her teeth thoroughly. Dot followed her
example, and laughed.

“We are two wild girls,” she declared. “We haven’t any home—nor
anything. That is, for a little while,” she added, rather doubtful as to
how this new game would “pan out.”

“Why, when our clothes wear out we’ll have to make new ones. And for
Alice, too.”

“How?” asked Tess, in turn curious. “What out of?”

“Oh, we’ll weave new dresses out of grass and leaves, and trim them with
flowers,” declared the smallest girl, gaily.

“Well, so we could,” agreed Tess, catching fire from her sister’s
enthusiasm.

“Of course. And shoes——”

“Oh, I know!” Tess cried. “We’d find rushes beside the pond and weave
basket-work sandals to wear ‘stead of shoes. And we might weave
hats—like the Chinese do. And we’d build ourselves a house, and thatch
it all over to keep the rain out—”

Dot had suddenly grown silent and allowed Tess to do all the talking.
Tess looked at the smallest Corner House girl quickly. Dot’s lips were
puckered into a pout and her dark eyes were filling rapidly.

“What is the matter now, dear?” Tess asked, tenderly.

“Do—don’t let’s talk about it any more,” choked Dot. “Besides, I’m
hungry.”

Tragedy stalked into the situation right then and there. They had no
more imagination to waste upon the supposed life of a “wild girl.” The
principal question was: How were two little girls, fast becoming “wild,”
to eat?

They were walking along the road again when Tess suddenly spied
something which brought a cry of delight from her lips.

“Look! Look, Dot!” she said. “What’s on those bushes?”

The bushes in question overhung the bank above their heads.

“Oh, Dot! aren’t those blueberries?” the older girl added.

“Of course they are, Tess Kenway,” agreed her sister. “My, I could eat
just bushels of ’em.”

They scrambled up the bank and climbed the wall. Not only was there this
clump of berry bushes which they had first sighted; but back of the wall
was a great field, rocky and barren otherwise, but a fine berry pasture.

Farther out where the sun shone, the berries were larger and more had
ripened. The little girls went on and on, picking the berries in
handfuls and actually cramming them into their mouths. They were very
hungry.

Their fingers and lips became stained; and if the truth were told some
of the crushed berries left stains upon their mussed frocks as well as
upon their faces. They reached the farther end of the field before they
realized that they were so far from the road.

Tess was about to suggest that they go back. Somebody might come by on
the lonely road they had been following. And then she saw the orange and
green petticoat fluttering in the bushes.

“Oh, Dot! what’s that, do you suppose?” Tess whispered, seizing her
sister quickly by the hand.

“Oh-ee! A bear?” returned Dot, without even seeing the gay garment
beyond the brush clump.

“Goodness! A bear _that_ color?” demanded Tess, with some exasperation.

Suddenly the wearer of the gay garment stood up. She was a very brown
woman, with great hoops of gold in her ears, and she wore other gay
garments besides the green and orange petticoat.

“Oh!” murmured Tess, again, “I—I believe she must be a Gypsy woman, Dot
Kenway.”

Had the two little Corner House girls not been so much excited at just
this minute they must have heard the passing of an automobile on the
road, now out of their sight. Or, if Neale O’Neil had chanced to blow
the horn just then Tess and Dot would surely have been attracted by the
sound.

To the older Corner House girls and to Mrs. Heard that night had
certainly been one of extreme anxiety. Neale had found lodgings for them
in the squalid little village which the post-office authorities
recognized as “Arbutusville,” but which was still “Frog Holler” in the
minds of the older inhabitants.

Neale found, too, a number of kind-hearted persons who were easily
interested in the fate of Tess and Dot Kenway. There was a constable,
and with that official at their head a dozen men started abroad at nine
o’clock, with lanterns and a pack of “’coon dogs,” to beat up the woods
all about the place where the automobilists had camped.

Neale went with them; but despite Agnes’ determination to attend she was
refused the privilege. And Sammy, of course, remained with the
women—they needing the protection of some manly spirit—and fell asleep
in two minutes.

Neale O’Neil dragged back about dawn. The search had been
resultless—save that the dogs had started a raccoon—and the party had
swept woods, fields, and swamps for miles as well as it could be done at
night. They had shouted. They had roused every householder. Nobody had
heard of the lost children or seen them.

But Neale had heard one thing that greatly troubled him; and yet which
offered a possible clue to the little girls’ disappearance.

On the way back to the village somebody in the crowd of searchers had
told him that one of the aroused householders had mentioned the fact
that there was a Gypsy encampment not many miles away.

The boy was instantly excited. He learned from his informant just where
the camp was, and immediately put the idea before the constable.

“Why, that’s too fur away, bub,” said Constable Munro. “It’s five mile
beyond where you an’ your folks stopped to eat—and on another road.”

“The children might not have walked all that way,” said Neale O’Neil.
“They might have been carried there.”

“Uh-huh? Against their will?”

“Well, why not?” returned Neale. “We hear all kind of stories about
Gypsies. I’ve seen some bad ones myself.”

“Aw, they’re petty thieves, and bad horse traders sometimes. But to
steal a couple of kids—I dunno ’bout that. Still—if you air bound to go
there——”

“I am,” Neale declared. “I’ll have the machine ready as soon as I get a
bite of breakfast.”

He was sorry to have no good report to make to the girls and Mrs. Heard,
and could only tell them, while he ate his hasty breakfast, where he was
going and what he hoped to accomplish.

“I’m going with you,” announced Agnes and Sammy in a breath.

“No,” he said to the girl. “You can’t go. The constable won’t like it.”

“Well, I don’t see——”

“I am sure you would not like to go with a party of rough men,” said
Mrs. Heard, with such finality that Agnes became quiet.

But that did not stop Sammy’s teasing. “Say, us men ought to go,
anyway,” he said. “Come on! Lemme go, Neale. I won’t be in the way. Tom
Jonah’s going.”

So in the car that had passed so near the two little lost girls as they
picked berries, were Neale and Sammy, as well as Tom Jonah and the
constable, Mr. Munro. Tess and Dot were too greatly interested just
then, however, in that vivid petticoat and in the strange looking woman
who wore it to think about anything else.



CHAPTER XIV—WITH THE ROMANY FOLK


The woman had a very brown face and wore great hoops of gold in her
ears, while on her head was a sort of turban with a fringed end hanging
down behind. She certainly was dressed in very gay colors.

She had bright, beady black eyes, and when she saw Tess and Dot Kenway
she looked at them very kindly indeed. At least, her smile was broad and
her voice, when she spoke, was pleasant. She carried a heaping basket of
berries.

“You leetle children out early to pick the berry, eh?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Tess, gravely.

But Dot was more communicative. She said promptly: “We’ve been out all
night.”

“Picking berries?” queried the woman. “Not alone, eh?”

“We only just found the berries,” declared Dot, the chatterbox. “And,
oh! we _were_ so hungry.”

“You are out all night?” asked the puzzled woman. “Is it so?”

“We—we got lost from our folks,” Tess said, at last.

“You leeve near here, eh?”

“Oh, no,” said Tess, now more communicative, “We live in Milton. We were
riding in an automobile——”

“No, we weren’t!” interposed Dot, rather impolite in her eagerness to
get the story perfectly straight. “We were stopping for lunch. Right
beside the road. And Tess and I came to pick flowers.”

“So you wandered from your friends?” asked the Gypsy. “I see. I see.”

“And,” added Dot, confidently, “we’re hungry.”

“Oh, Dot!” exclaimed the scandalized Tess. “Not _now_! Not after eating
all these berries!”

“Huh! what’s berries?” demanded the smallest Corner House girl. “I want
an egg—and milk—and hot muffins—and——”

The Gypsy woman laughed merrily. Although she did not speak English
quite like other people, she seemed to understand the language well
enough.

“You leetle ‘Merican girls come wit’ me,” she said. “I will find you
food. Then we will find your friends.”

Tess was a little doubtful of their new acquaintance. She had some fear
of Gypsies as a tribe. This one seemed kind enough, and looked kind
enough. Nevertheless, Tess felt that they should be careful while in her
company.

[Illustration: “You leetle ‘Merican girls come wit’ me.”]

But she could not explain this to Dot, and Dot was a prattler. The
smaller girl’s tongue went as fast as a mill-clapper, as Aunt Sarah
Maltby often said; and it was particularly energetic this morning as she
trotted along beside the Gypsy woman in the green and orange petticoat.

“Ah,” said the woman, at last, “your people are reech, eh? They have one
of these motor cars, and you leeve in a fine, big house? They will give
reward, then, to get you back, eh?”

Just then, before either Tess or Dot could make a rejoinder, they broke
through the bushes and entered a beautiful little park in which was
pitched the Gypsy camp.

Of course, the two smallest Corner House girls had often heard of
Gypsies. Indeed, they had seen more than a few of them. The women often
came into Milton to sell basket-work and to tell fortunes.

Indeed, the summer before, when the Corner House girls and Neale O’Neil
were at Pleasant Cove, they had had quite an experience with Gypsies—and
not a very pleasant experience at that. Tess remembered this, though Dot
did not; therefore the older sister was a little troubled as they
approached the Gypsy encampment with the gaily dressed woman.

This opening in the woods, with a grassy road running through its
center, which was plainly no main-traveled highway, was a lovely spot.
The Gypsies are thorough exponents of the out-of-door life, now so much
talked about; and they have, too, some idea of the beautiful and
picturesque.

This encampment had been selected because of the pleasant little brook
running near, and the real beauty of the spot. There were six big
covered wagons, all brightly painted. Besides, four tents were set up,
and there were coops of chickens and other signs that the encampment was
more or less permanent.

On the appearance of the two strange little girls with the Gypsy woman,
there was a rush of dogs, chickens, goats, pigs and children toward the
newcomers. Tess and Dot clung together and tried to get behind the green
and orange petticoat. The woman shouted something in a strange tongue,
and drove the children and dogs back. The other curious riff-raff of the
camp had to be actually kicked out of the path.

There were several cooking fires in the camp, a number of men and women
in sight, and at least fifty horses grazing at one end of the park,
watched by several half-grown youths. Plainly there was a big tribe of
the Romany folk encamped in this spot.

The woman with the gay petticoat, having given up her basket of berries
to a girl, led the visitors by the hand, one on either side, to the
nearest fire, where a big man in brown velveteen garments, including a
peaked cap, and wearing gold hoops in his ears and a heavy gold chain
around his neck, was sitting in a green-painted easy chair.

This man was a person of much importance, it was evident. Nobody else
came near him as the woman approached with the two little Corner House
girls.

He was not a bad looking man at all, though his face was deeply graven
in lines, and wind and weather had tanned his face and hands like
leather. Again in that strange language which Tess and Dot did not know,
the woman spoke to this man, who was certainly the leader of the
Gypsies.

The man’s eyes twinkled at the children, and he smiled. But he did not
win their confidence. However, he shouted for another woman almost at
once, and she came from the fire with two plates of steaming hot
stew—either of rabbits or squirrels, Tess did not know which. And
neither she nor Dot cared.

They were, indeed, very hungry. A diet of blueberries is not a filling
one—especially when one has been without anything else to eat for so
long as had the little Corner House girls. The woman with whom they had
come into the camp sat down with them, having reported to the big man,
and ate, too. They sat cross-legged on the grass, and had only spoons to
eat with, and thick slices of very good ryebread to sop up the gravy of
the stew. The woman said her name was Mira, and the children found her
very pleasant and talkative.

“I wish our folks would come along in the automobile,” Tess said,
longingly, when their hunger was partly appeased.

“Do you s’pose they _will_ come this way?” asked Dot of Mira.

“We shall see. _He_ will ’tend to that,” said the woman, coolly, nodding
towards the big man in the chair.

Tess was very curious. “Who _is_ he?” she asked, in a whisper. “Who is
the man in the chair?”

“King David,” said Mira.

“Oh!” gasped Dot. “I’ve heard of him. Didn’t he play on a salt-cellar?”

“Oh, dear me!” cried Tess. “A ‘psalter,’ Dot—a ‘psalter’!”

“Well, what’s the difference?” asked the smallest Corner House girl,
pouting.

“A good deal,” declared Tess, although she had no idea herself just what
a psaltery was, and was unaware that she had made a mistake quite as
inexcusable as Dot’s. “And, anyway,” pursued Tess, whose confidence
swamped her ignorance of the subject and duly impressed Dot, “anyway,
this can’t be the same King David.”

“No,” said the woman. “He is King David Stanley. We are English
Gypsies.”

“But—but you and he didn’t talk English?” Tess suggested, hesitatingly.

“Among ourselves we talk Egyptian,” said the woman, proudly. So she
called the language of the Gypsies. “We are all Romany folk.”

Of course, the children did not understand much about this. But Dot was
anxious upon one point, and she whispered to Tess:

“How can that big man be a king? He doesn’t wear a crown. Don’t all
kings wear ’em? I never saw a picture of a king without one on his
head—though I should think ’twould make ’em bald.”

“Sh!” whispered back Tess. “Maybe they aren’t comfortable to wear.”

“Well! where’s his scalper?”

“His _what_?” gasped Tess.

“His scalper,” declared Dot. “Kings always carry ’em in their hands.”

“Oh, for mercy’s sake!” ejaculated Tess. “A sceptre, you mean.”

“Aren’t they what kings scalp folks with?”

“Dear me, Dot Kenway!” said Tess, in despair. “Kings aren’t like
Indians. They don’t scalp folks.”

“But they order their heads cut off if they don’t please ’em,” said Dot,
unconvinced, and eyeing King David askance.

The Gypsies were, however, all very kind to the visitors. Mira would not
allow the wild and scantily dressed children of the camp to annoy the
little Corner House girls. And she always drove the dogs away when they
came too near, for Dot was frankly afraid of the hungry looking beasts.

But Mira brought a clothes-basket out of one of the tents, and covered
in that were six little blind, black puppies, “too cute for anything,”
as Dot admitted. There were kittens, too, and a hutch of little
chickens, and some tame rabbits. When the visiting children were shown
two little kids—twins—gamboling around the mother goat, their delight
knew no bounds.

These interests held their attention for much of the forenoon—especially
Dot’s. But Tess began to wonder if something would not soon be done
about finding the automobile and their friends. She grew more anxious as
noon approached and nothing was said about this mystery.

The King of the Gypsies had disappeared some time before. Mira was busy.
And Dot, in spite of a lapful of kittens, began to ask her sister:

“Tess, when are we going to find Ruth and Aggie? I—I don’t want to stay
here much longer, do you?”



CHAPTER XV—ANOTHER CLUE


Neale O’Neil’s early morning visit to the Gypsy camp had been very
disappointing. The camp had been fully aroused, and there were plenty of
children about; but none of these were Tess and Dot.

“But say!” Sammy Pinkney whispered to Neale in an awestruck voice, “you
know how the Gypsies do when they steal kids, don’t you? They stain ’em
with walnut juice and you can’t tell ’em then from their own kids.”

“Well, I guess we should know Tess and Dot, if they were stained as
black as Petunia Blossom’s pickaninnies,” snorted Neale. “The little
girls aren’t in this bunch, for sure!”

Meanwhile the constable had shown his star to King David Stanley and
explained the errand they were here upon. The chief Gypsy vigorously
denied having seen the lost children—as indeed he had not at that
time—but he promised to look for them and have the tribe look in that
vicinity immediately after breakfast.

“And if we find them you shall learn of it at once, young sir,” the big
Gypsy assured Neale. “I will myself bring you word at the village where
you are stopping.”

He spoke very good English, did the king, and seemed to be really
sympathetic. But Neale O’Neil turned the automobile about, and with
anxious heart drove back to Arbutusville.

They made him go to bed, once he arrived at the lodging where the older
girls and Mrs. Heard were staying. Neale was completely worn out, and
even Agnes refrained from letting him see how troubled and distraught
they all were because of his non-success in finding Tess and Dot.
Therefore, Neale was sound asleep when a man wearing brown velveteen and
with gold rings in his ears rattled into town in a ramshackle old buggy,
but behind a high-stepping horse. It was King David Stanley, and he
hunted out Constable Munro at once and told him that the two lost
children had been found and had been brought into the Gypsy camp.

Not being entirely sure that Tess and Dot were the two in which the
automobile party were interested, the chief of the Romany tribe had
judged it better to bring the news rather than the children.

“You know how our people are sometimes looked upon by the Gentiles,” he
said gravely. “If I had taken the little girls away from the camp, and
their friends had appeared there, asking for them, my act in removing
them would look suspicious.”

“You’re an all-right feller, if ye be a Gyp.,” declared Mr. Munro, and
he took King David over to the lodging where the automobile party was
staying.

By this time the girls and Mrs. Heard were in the lowest depths of
despair. Ruth was even seriously discussing sending a telegram to Mr.
Howbridge.

“Though what he could do more than we are doing ourselves, I don’t see,”
Mrs. Heard sighed.

“We are not doing anything!” cried Agnes, beginning to cry again. “I
believe if they’d have let me go with them into the woods last night, I
could have found poor, precious little Dot and Tessie. What _shall_ we
do——”

“I’ll go with you, too, Aggie,” declared Sammy, having hard work to keep
back the tears himself. “I bet you and I can find ’em.”

“It is the easiest thing in the world to be a critic,” Ruth said
quietly. “But we should first know how better to do a thing before
finding fault with the person who has done it. I think——”

And just then Constable Munro and the big Gypsy appeared in their
sitting-room, and immediately their despair was changed to joy. Neale
came stumbling out of the bedroom, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes,
and led the cheering. For a few moments the automobile tourists
certainly were quite beside themselves.

Nothing would do but all must run out to the encampment to get the lost
little girls. And although King David started before them, the motor car
passed him and his swift pacer on the road and arrived at the Gypsy
encampment a good fifteen minutes before he appeared.

Tess and Dot, by this time, had become rather lachrymose. They dared not
ask Mira again about their lost friends; and even the lapful of kittens
palled at last on Dot. With the coming of the automobile, however, all
this was changed. At once both Tess and Dot could see nothing but good
in their friends, the Gypsies. Ruth and Agnes, with Sammy, had to be led
all about the encampment, to see the pets and to learn how the Gypsies
lived in their wagons and tents, and otherwise to be shown the wonders
of the place. Mrs. Heard and Ruth ransacked their purses for pennies to
distribute to the bare-legged children attached to the camp.

“And _we_ were wild girls, too—for a little while,” said Dot. “Weren’t
we, Tess?”

“Too bad you were so wild that I didn’t find you when I was over this
way early this morning,” grumbled Neale O’Neil. “Anyway, if I hadn’t
insisted on coming we wouldn’t have found the kids yet.”

“My! aren’t you smart?” scoffed Agnes, who felt happy enough to bicker
with him now. “Well! somebody, I suppose, must blow a horn for you—why
not yourself?”

“Oh, I don’t make a practice of parading my virtues,” began Neale, when
Agnes stopped him with:

“I should say you didn’t, Neale O’Neil. Let me tell you it takes quite a
number to make a _parade_.”

“Got me there! Got me there!” admitted the boy, grinning. He did not
mind the tartness of his girl chum’s tongue, now that the little ones
were found. Everybody was joyful over the reunion.

The king of the Gypsies had been examining the automobile most curiously
during this time.

“Fine car,” he said to Neale. “I’m thinking some of getting one myself.
Only trouble is, sure to frighten the horses, and if we didn’t have
horses to trade they wouldn’t believe we were Gypsies,” and he smiled
with a wonderful flash of strong, white teeth.

Neale laughed. “I suppose pretty soon all up-to-date Gypsies will go
about the country in auto-vans instead of those green and yellow painted
wagons,” he suggested.

“Mebbe,” said the man. “We had a couple of men here one night not long
ago with a car. They came from Milton. At least, I heard one of them say
so.”

Agnes was beside Neale. Suddenly she seized his arm and squeezed it
tightly.

“Oh, Neale!” she gasped.

The boy had noted the significance of King David’s speech too. He nodded
to the girl and asked the big Gypsy at the same time:

“What sort of car did those fellows have?”

“Oh, it was a small car. A runabout—Maybrouke make. Good car, but not
like this.”

“Mr. Collinger’s runabout,” whispered Agnes. “That was his make.”

“When were these fellows here?” asked Neale. Then he explained: “We’re
very much interested. One of our friends lost a car like the one you
describe. Can you remember just when it was?”

“Oh, yes, young sir. It is fixed in my memory,” and the Gypsy mentioned
a date immediately following the day on which the car of the county
surveyor had been taken away from the Milton court house.

“It was those men!” cried Agnes decidedly.

King David looked at her curiously. “They tried to sell the car to me,”
he said. “I was not sure they came by it honestly. So many people try to
foist stolen goods on us because we are Gypsies.”

This was a new light on that subject; yet Neale O’Neil thought it might
be quite true. “Give a dog a bad name and hang him” is not only a trite
saying, but a true one.

“What did the fellows look like?” he asked the chief, and quickly
described in particular the fellow they knew as Saleratus Joe.

“No mistaking him, young sir,” said the chief Gypsy. “He was one. The
other was an older man.”

“I don’t know him so well,” admitted Neale. “But I am sure it is lucky
you did not buy the car. There would have been trouble. Do you know
where they went from here?”

“No. They remained over night with us because a storm came up. I
sheltered the car in one of our tents. But about a week ago I saw them
and the car again,” he added.

“No!” cried Neale, in surprise.

“Yes. I drove over into what they call the Fixville district—it’s beyond
Parmenter Lake—to look at a horse. There is a big farm over there that
isn’t being worked this year—owned by a man named Higgins. They’re only
getting the hay off it. You see, last winter the house burned to the
ground and Mr. Higgins, who is an old man, was badly burned and isn’t
able yet to take up his work again. He is with friends somewhere. Well,”
went on the Gypsy, “the outbuildings and barns were saved. As I drove by
the place I saw this freckled chap and that other backing the car into
one of the big hay barns. It was just at nightfall. Of course, I don’t
know that they stayed there more than one night.”

Neale and Agnes were greatly excited by this story. It seemed as though
it were the clearest clue yet discovered regarding the stealing of Mr.
Collinger’s runabout. From the Gypsy Neale obtained a very clear and
particular account of the place where the suspected men and car had last
been seen, and how to get there.

“We’ll just go around that way after we leave the hotel at Parmenter
Lake,” declared Agnes. “Why! maybe we’ll find the car right there.”

“It’s too late for _May_ bees,” grinned Neale. “This is July.”

But he had some little hope of tracing the lost car himself, in spite of
his fun. However, as Mrs. Heard declared with decision, first of all the
party would run on to the hotel at Parmenter Lake where they had rooms
and their trunks awaiting them, and there recuperate.

“So much excitement is not good for me, I declare,” said the lady. “I
feel it in my legs.”

That puzzled Dot Kenway immensely. Yet she was too polite to ask Mrs.
Heard how it could be. Nevertheless, she whispered to Tess:

“How do you suppose she could feel _our_ being lost in _her_ legs? We
did the walking.”

Tess failed to give a satisfactory reply.

They arrived not long after mid-afternoon at the resort on Parmenter
Lake, which was, indeed, a very popular inland summer place. Mrs. Heard
felt the need of quietness, and Ruth spent most of her time watching the
children; but Agnes felt no necessity for “recuperation.”

She had a delightful time the two days and evenings they spent at the
hotel. There was a dance each night, and she danced more than she ever
had before in her life in forty-eight successive hours.

There were so many young people of about her age at the hotel and in
neighboring cottages, that Agnes was sure to have her fill of enjoyment.
Neale, meanwhile, overhauled the motor car and made all shipshape for
their continued tour.

Tess and Dot lived in a sort of Land of Romance because of their recent
adventure. They were much sought after by other little girls because
they had been lost, had stayed in the woods all night, and had joined
(if for only a brief time) a band of Gypsies.

Master Sammy was tipped out of a boat on the lake and came near
drowning. Then he led a newly formed crew of “fresh water pirates” in a
raid on an orchard and was caught and well spanked by the owner. He
certainly was a trial; but he was growing strong and healthy looking.
This outing was doing Sammy Pinkney a world of good, whether the older
members of the touring party benefited or not.

When they finally left the Parmenter Lake hotel the motor car was in
fine fettle and so were all the young people in it. And Mrs. Heard
declared that her nerves had recovered from the shock they had suffered
when Tess and Dot were lost.

Agnes and Neale, one may be sure, had not forgotten what King David
Stanley had told them about Saleratus Joe and the missing runabout. They
had heard nothing further about the stolen car, although both had asked.

Neale had looked up the roads in the guide book and they now sped
directly over the nearest route for the abandoned farm where Joe and the
car had last been observed by the Gypsy chief.

Mrs. Heard was quite as eager as Agnes and Neale to learn if trace of
her nephew’s car could be found in this neighborhood. She had written
one letter to Mr. Collinger regarding their suspicions of Joe Dawson and
his appearance with a runabout in this part of the State.

They ran on beyond the end of the lake and thence into a much more
scantily populated country than that through which they had previously
traveled.

They struck into the road at last on which King David had said the site
of the burned farmhouse was. Not another dwelling was on this cross
highway, and the road map gave its length as twelve miles.

Save for the cleared acres of the Higgins farm, on both sides thick
woods bordered the road. Of course, they could not mistake the farm
itself when they came to it. The fire had left nothing of the great
house but the cellar walls.

However, there were several good outbuildings, especially the hay barns.
The Gypsy had told Neale clearly into which of the two barns he had seen
the men running the automobile.

“I’m going to have a squint, anyway,” said Neale, stopping the car and
promptly getting out.

“Be careful,” urged Mrs. Heard. “Don’t get into trouble,” though how he
could do that in this forsaken place it was not easy to guess.

There was not a soul around the place as far as the touring party could
see.



CHAPTER XVI—SEARCHING THE BARN


“I’m going too! I’m going too!” exclaimed Sammy Pinkney, scrambling out
of the car after Neale O’Neil.

Agnes was opening the door on her side of the car, but Neale said
quietly:

“Now, wait a little, both of you. Aggie, you’d spoil everything. And,
Sammy, you keep still,” and he tossed that offended youngster back into
the front seat.

“Aw, say!” bristled Sammy.

“You’re so bossy, Neale O’Neil,” declared Agnes. “I’d like to know——”

“See here,” interrupted the youth, with his back to the burned house and
the barns, “if there _should_ be anybody on watch, it wouldn’t do to let
’em see we’d come here just for the sake of looking into that hay barn.”

“Oh!” observed Agnes, sitting down again.

Neale had opened the hood and made a pretense of fumbling inside.

“You see,” he said, still in a low voice, “I want it to appear that
something has happened to our car. Now I’m going to hunt in the tool
kit——”

“Whuffor?” demanded Sammy. “I’ll find it for you.”

“You’ll sit where you are,” declared Neale O’Neil sternly. “I’m supposed
to be hunting for something I can’t find. Then I’ll go up to that old
barn and try to find it. It won’t look right if everybody gets out of
the car and goes snooping around.”

“I admire your language, Neale O’Neil,” sighed Ruth.

“Do go ahead and see what you can find, boy,” urged Mrs. Heard, very
much excited now.

“Goodness!” murmured Agnes. “He acts as though he expected to find that
barn full of robbers.”

“Nothin’ but rats in it, I bet,” grumbled Sammy, feeling much abused.

“Oh, there! You don’t catch _me_ going near it, then!” cried Agnes.

Neale, undisturbed by either Ruth’s criticism or Agnes’ fun-making,
proceeded to act as though the motor car had really met with an
accident. Finally he started for the barn, which stood some distance
back from the road.

“Look out for the rats—oh, _do_ look out for the rats, Neale!” Tess
called after him.

“He can’t whisper to the _rats_, anyway,” remarked Dot. “I guess Neale
O’Neil, even if he did come from a circus, can’t tame _all_ animals.”

The approach to the barn was by a broad, well graveled drive which
sloped smoothly upward to the wide barn door. Almost at once Neale
O’Neil saw that there had been an automobile on this piece of gravel. He
could see where the wheels had skidded and disturbed much of the surface
of the drive—whether when the car entered the barn or when it came out,
he could not say.

He looked sharply around on all sides, but saw nobody. By the strands of
twisted hay hanging from the closed loft door he presumed the upper part
of the barn was filled with the only crop being harvested on the Higgins
farm this year. On trying the main door, Neale found it barred; but
there was a small door beside the great one, and this opened at his
touch upon the latch.

The great barn was filled with a brown dusk in which Neale O’Neil could
see nothing at first. But by stepping within and leaving the door open,
he was able to obtain some idea of what was on the barn floor. On either
side were the mows, the hay stacked in them down to the ground. The
loosely boarded loft over the runway of the barn had also been filled,
he supposed. The sweet, dusty odor of the cured grasses was almost
overpowering at first. Dim outlines of a few old agricultural tools were
to be seen in the gloom. These were shoved back out of the way so as to
clear the middle of the course.

Neale, still curious, fumbled at the bar which held closed the
two-leaved door, and finally opened this. The door swung open slowly and
the strong July sunlight rushed in. Millions of motes danced in the
sunshine that spread across the barn floor. Now all was revealed.

“Can you find it?” cried Agnes from the seat of the automobile.

Neale had to wag his head in negation. There was nothing here that
looked like a motor car. Back, at the rear of the barn floor, the hay
had overflowed the mows and loft, and was heaped in a fragrant pile on
the barn floor to the height of the floor of the loft.

“One sure thing, they’ve got an abundant hay crop stored away,” thought
Neale O’Neil. “Uncle Bill Sorber’s elephants would find plenty of fodder
here.”

He laughed, barring the big doors again securely. As he came out of the
barn he glanced sharply around, but saw nobody save his own friends in
the motor car.

Naturally his examination of the other farm buildings was hasty; but he
neglected to look into no shed large enough to have housed the runabout
of which he was so eagerly in search. He came back to the Corner House
automobile with the assurance that there was no car but their own at the
Higgins farm, and made the statement boldly.

“Well, but,” pouted Agnes, shaking her head at him, “I’d feel much more
satisfied if you had let me look.”

“Me, too,” grumbled Sammy. “I bet I could see into smaller places than
_you_ could, Neale O’Neil.”

Neale just grinned at them. “This isn’t a flivver we are looking for,
I’d have you know. The Maybrouke is some car, believe me! You folks talk
like the funny-man who went into the flivver factory to look around; and
when he came out he kept scratching himself—said he was sure he had got
one of the things on him!”

There was no use of waiting around on this lonely road any longer, so
Neale got in and started the car again. As they had got off their
original route some distance in coming to this farm, it would be
impossible to make a good hotel that night.

“But,” as Mrs. Heard said, “we have nothing to fear after that lodging
in Frog Hollow——”

“Arbutusville, Mrs. Heard—do!” laughed Agnes, in correction.

“Well. That woman had the hardest beds I ever saw. If the street
pavements had been as hard they would certainly have had good roads in
that town.”

They stopped at a countryside store for lunch and bought crackers and
cheese and milk, and feasted while sitting in the automobile under the
shade of a great elm.

“We’re almost like Gypsies ourselves,” said Tess, ruminating as she
crunched the crackers and cheese. “Aren’t we, Dot?”

“No. We’re cleaner,” said the smallest Corner House girl; “and we
haven’t any little goaties—_and_ pigs! But this is lots of fun, just the
same; and I wish we _could_ sleep out again all night—just for once—all
of us, of course.”

She came near having her wish that very night, or so it seemed when
sunset came. In some way they got off the marked route they had been
following, and, on stopping at a crossroads to ask a blacksmith who was
just closing his shop, they found that they were far away from the
beaten track of automobile tourists.

“We might have known that,” grumbled Ruth, “from the state of the
roads.”

“The worst of it is,” said Mrs. Heard, a little worried, “it is going to
be hard on the children. They are tired out now. And it is a dark
night.”

“No moon till late—that’s a fac’, ma’am,” said the blacksmith, leaning
on the mud-guard while Neale lit the lamps.

“And have we got to go back over that rocky piece of road to get to the
Tailtown Pike?” asked Agnes, trying to study out the lost route in the
guide book.

“It’s forty-five miles to Tailtown, where we were going to stop. And
over the meanest roads in the State, I bet,” growled Neale.

“Dear me!” sighed Ruth.

“There are _some_ objections to touring the country roads in an
automobile,” admitted Mrs. Heard. “And things seemed to be going so
smoothly!”

“I dunno what you’ll do,” drawled the blacksmith. “’Nless you talk to
mother.”

“To _whom_?” chorused the older girls and the chaperone.

“Mother. Mebbe she kin advise ye,” drawled the man. “We live down the
road jest a piece. I dunno what she’d say——”

“Does she know the roads better than you do?” asked Neale bluntly.

The blacksmith laughed mellowly. “I don’t reckon she does—’cept the road
to Heaven, son,” he said. “She sure knows all about _that_. But she
might be helpful. I’ve been takin’ her advice, off and on, for forty
years, and whenever I’ve took it I’ve not been sorry.”

“Come!” exclaimed Ruth suddenly, “let us drive on to this gentleman’s
house.”

“Where is it?” asked Neale, getting in behind the steering wheel again.

“You can see our kitchen lamp twinkling in the window yonder,” said the
blacksmith, stepping upon the running-board as Neale started the car.

They jolted down the rough road, and quickly came to the house in
question. As far as they could see, it was rather a large country house
with a terraced lawn before it and a driveway running up beside the
dwelling to the rear premises.

“Drive her right up to the door, young man,” advised the blacksmith.

“Room to turn around up there?” asked Neale, the careful.

“Plenty,” agreed the man. “Don’t have no fear about that.”

Neale immediately turned the car up the little incline and the
blacksmith leaped to the ground as it stopped.

“Now,” he said jovially, “one of you young misses just go up there on
the porch and tell mother how you’re fixed. You can git out, ma’am, I’m
sure,” he added, to Mrs. Heard, as Ruth jumped from the car. “Get out
your baggage too—this here little shaver can help at that,” and he
rumpled Sammy’s hair with his big hand.

“But—but——Do you mean we can stay here?” gasped Mrs. Heard.

Ruth had scarcely reached the door when it was opened from within. A
comfortable figure of a woman, with spectacles and gray hair, faced the
oldest Corner House girl.

“Well, well!” said “Mother,” in just the hearty tone of voice a mother
should possess. “An automobile party? Well, well! how many of you air
there, my dear?”

“But, my goodness me!” gasped Ruth. “You’re not going to take us in
‘sight unseen,’ in this way, are you?”

The woman laughed. “Why not?” she asked. “If you are going to do
anything for anybody, it ain’t perlite to hem and haw about it, I’m
sure. Leastways, that’s the way _I_ was brought up, my dear. And there’s
little children with you, too! Of course you shall stay.”

Ruth and the others were speechless. Such hospitality—and evidently this
was not a house of public entertainment—was quite unexpected.

“That you, Buckley?” she called to her husband. “You see to putting up
the car. How many did you say there was? I want to know how much ham to
slice,” and she chuckled unctuously again.

“There’s seven of ’em, Mother,” called the blacksmith’s mellow voice
from the dark, “_and_ a dog. B’sides, mebbe you’d better take notice
that two of ’em’s boys, and like enough they’ve got their appetites with
’em,” and he broke into another mellow guffaw.

“Well,” Agnes later whispered to Ruth, “this is certainly the unexpected
end of a perfect day! Goodness! what should we have done if these good
people hadn’t taken us in? The blacksmith says they are rebuilding the
bridge over Mason’s Creek and we couldn’t have got across.”

“Oh!”

“And that would have made us go around so far that the run to Tailtown
would have been nearer sixty miles than forty-five.”

They were all glad; and such a supper of ham and eggs as they ate! The
accommodations the blacksmith’s wife put at the party’s disposal were
ample too.

“Just the same,” yawned Neale, before retiring, “this has sure been an
empty day. There hasn’t been much doing.”

“Well, what do you expect to happen in these perfectly civilized
places?” responded Agnes.

“And we have surely had enough excitement to last us for a while—the
children getting lost, and all,” Ruth said.

“And you hunted for that car of Mr. Collinger’s,” said Agnes, slyly.
“_That_ was exciting, I’m sure.”

“Oh—ouch!” yawned Neale. “Don’t knock, Aggie. We may find that car—and
Saleratus Joe—yet.”

“Your desire for low company shocks me, Neale,” giggled Agnes.
“Saleratus Joe, indeed!”

“Don’t say a word,” the boy retorted. “You and Ruth met the gentleman
first—don’t forget that,” and they separated for the night with
laughter.



CHAPTER XVII—ONE THING AFTER ANOTHER


Things began to happen, however, bright and early the next morning. “The
kids,” as Neale called the two smaller Corner House girls and Sammy
Pinkney, were out of their beds betimes, and out of doors as soon as
they were dressed. The blacksmith’s house was an old-fashioned place,
and there were many things interesting to the little folks about it.
Besides, if there had not been a thing in sight, the three juveniles
would have dug up something interesting in a very short time.

The blacksmith was already off to start his smithy fire in the shop at
the fork of the roads. “Mother,” with the help of a neighbor’s daughter
called in for this emergency, was hurrying about the kitchen and dining
room preparing the huge breakfast she thought necessary for these
unexpected guests.

Neale O’Neil came out, yawning as he had gone to bed, and opened the
door of the shed in which the automobile had been lodged in lieu of a
proper garage. Neale always looked over the car before they started the
day’s run, as all careful chauffeurs should.

The children ran for the automobile, of course, before Neale could back
it out of the shed; and as Tess and Dot and Sammy jumped on the steps to
ride out, a white hen flew from the tonneau with a wild squawk.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake!” cried Tess. “What do you s’pose that hen was
doing there?”

The hen had flown to the top rail of the calf pen, and there proceeded
to “cut, cut, cu-da-cut!” just as loud as she could.

“Aw, what are you squalling about?” Sammy demanded. “Nobody hurt you.”

“Maybe she wants to go to ride with us in our automobile,” said Dot
demurely.

When the automobile was backed out upon the gravel it was Tess who
looked into the tonneau and spied the reason for Mrs. White Hen’s loud
remarks. There it lay, white and warm, upon the rear seat.

“Goodness! Goodness me!” gasped Tess, with clasped hands. “Isn’t that
cunning? She laid an egg right here for us, Dot.”

“My,” Dot observed, “maybe she thought she could pay for a ride with
us.”

“I guess she must know something about the way gas has gone up,”
chuckled Neale O’Neil, “and she wanted to pay for her share.”

They had to secure that egg at once and run to ask “mother” if they
could have it. Though, as Dot Kenway declared:

“It’s the most mysteriousest thing why that blacksmith calls her
‘mother’ when she isn’t, but she’s his wife.”

However, that “mysteriousest thing” was not on the carpet just then. It
was the egg found in the automobile that was in question, and the
blacksmith’s wife said:

“Yes, of course you shall have it. Them dratted hens lay everywhere. I
guess they’d lay in the parson’s hat.”

“Oo-oo! not if he had it on,” murmured Dot.

Then immediately, there was another subject of discussion. What should
they do with the fresh-laid egg?

“Eat it, of course,” said Sammy.

“It won’t go far—one egg—among three such savage appetites as you kids
possess,” Neale declared.

“Why—no,” murmured Tess. “You couldn’t very well divide an egg in three
parts.”

“Not till it’s cooked,” Sammy put in, promptly. “Let’s have it fried.”

“Oh! I like eggs soft-boiled,” Dot exclaimed.

“Why! then we can’t divide it even after it’s cooked,” cried Tess; “for
I like my eggs hard-boiled.”

“It can’t be done, then,” said Neale O’Neil, solemnly, but vastly
amused. “You can’t first boil an egg hard, and then soft, and then fry
it.”

“She—she ought to have laid three eggs,” growled Sammy.

“You should speak to her about that,” Neale returned. Then he added, as
a suggestion: “Why don’t you cast lots for it?”

“Cast lots for _what_, Neale O’Neil!” demanded Dot, wonderingly.

“Is—isn’t that _wicked_—like gambling?” asked Tess, slowly, “or playing
marbles for keeps?”

“No,” Neale told her, “I don’t believe it is. You can take three straws
of different lengths. I’ll hold ’em. The one that draws the longest
straw takes the egg—and can have it cooked any way she or he pleases.”

“But then the others won’t get any,” wailed Dot, whose appetite was
evidently sharpened by the morning air.

“Shucks!” said Neale, washing his hands of the matter. “Give it to Tom
Jonah, then. He’ll eat it raw—shell and all.”

“Oh, no,” said Tess, with sudden inspiration. “We must give it to Mrs.
Heard for her breakfast. I’ll ask the blacksmith’s wife to cook it.”

That suited everybody and Tess and Dot ran to make the proper culinary
arrangements for the wonderful egg laid on the automobile seat.

It was a very hilarious breakfast, indeed; and the older girls and Mrs.
Heard thought the “automobile egg” quite wonderful indeed. And such a
breakfast as it was—with eggs galore, and fried chicken, and hot bread,
and honey from “Mother’s own combs.”

When Dot heard that, she was puzzled a good deal at first, for all the
comb she had seen about the blacksmith’s wife was a high-backed,
old-fashioned tortoise-shell comb that was prominent in the woman’s
“bob” of hair. It had to be explained to the smallest Corner House girl
what “honey from the comb” meant. All of that succulent dainty Dot had
ever seen before had been strained honey.

The blacksmith’s wife put up a hamper of lunch for the automobile
tourists, too, and when they drove away at nine o’clock the Corner House
girls and their companions felt as though they were bidding good-bye to
two old and valued friends. It did not seem possible that they had never
met the jolly blacksmith and his kindly wife before the previous
evening; and they promised to stop again, if only to call, on their
return journey.

“I’m sure we shall never forget the dears,” Agnes sighed, some hours
later, when they had stopped for lunch. “Just _look_ at all this fried
chicken!”

“We won’t forget ‘Mother’ while the grub holds out, that’s sure,”
grinned Neale O’Neil.

“Horrid boy!” retorted Agnes. “We girls, I should hope, think of
something besides our stomachs.”

“Hm—yes. But you weren’t _talking_ about anything else,” rejoined Neale.

The party had another subject of thought the next moment, however. Neale
was just setting up the tripod, and Sammy was scurrying about for dry
wood for the fire to be built under it, when a tall and roughly dressed
man broke through the brush into the open patch of turf on which the
party was preparing camp, and at once hailed them:

“Hey, you! what are ye doing here, I’d like to know?”

Neale took it upon himself to reply—and he did not feel very pleasant
about it. The man did not speak in a nice way.

“I don’t know that it’s any of your affair,” the boy said quietly; “but
we are just preparing lunch.”

“Oh, you _be?_” snarled the fellow. “Wal, by jinks! ye _ben’t_ neither!
We don’t want no ortermobile parties here. Get out!”

“Do you own this land?” asked Neale, his voice shaking.

“Never mind him. Come away—do!” cried Ruth to Neale, while she retreated
to the car, dragging the hamper with her.

“I hate to do that,” said the boy, who was very angry. “I don’t believe
he has any right to send us away. We’re doing no harm.”

“Ye air trespassin’,” declared the man. “Going to build a fire, too, was
ye? That’s against the law, anyway.”

“To build a campfire?” demanded Neale, quickly. “I guess not. And you’ve
got to prove trespass.”

“I’ll prove it with the flat o’ my hand on your ears, ye young rascal!”
declared the man, hotly. “You ain’t paid anybody for the right to camp
here, have you?”

“_Paid_ anybody? Of course not. Who’d we pay?” demanded Neale, still
inclined to stand his ground.

“Shows ye don’t know the law in _this_ town,” said the man, with
satisfaction. “I’m a consterble—see?” and he threw back his coat and
showed a big, shiny star pinned to his “gallus.” “I got the authority.”

“You’ve got the authority to _what?_” asked Neale, sourly. “Trying to
tree us for a collection, are you? I—guess—not!”

“Oh, Neale,” begged Ruth. “Do come away.”

“The boy is right,” said Mrs. Heard, vigorously. “I believe the man is
overstepping his rights. But we don’t want to fight him here. Oh! what
is that child about?”

Sammy Pinkney had procured several smooth pebbles of about the size of
hen’s eggs, and now approached the contending parties. Tom Jonah, too,
stood beside Neale and began to show his remaining fangs.

“What are you going to do with those stones, Sammy Pinkney?” demanded
Agnes.

“Goin’ to give some of ’em to Neale if he wants ’em,” declared the
youngster, with a grin.

Neale O’Neil laughed at that. “I guess we won’t come to blows, Sammy,”
he said. “We’ll just get in the car and have our lunch. This constable
can’t keep us from eating on the county road, that is sure. Get out the
alcohol lamp, folks, if you want your tea.”

They put up the board, and unlimbered the lamp and soon had the kettle
boiling; but the constable sat down near by and watched them—and with no
pleasant face—the while. Evidently, although they had obeyed his
command, he was not wholly satisfied.

It was while they were still eating their lunch that the sky became
overcast.

“It really looks as though we should have a tempest, and we ought to get
under cover,” remarked Mrs. Heard.

“Oh, yes, do!” said Agnes, eagerly. “I dislike getting drenched.”

They were some distance on the road to Tailtown, however, before the
first flash of lightning assured them that the storm was going to
overtake them before they could reach any haven.

Neale stopped immediately and put up the top and drew the curtains on
either side. He made Agnes get back into the tonneau, although that
crowded the others somewhat. But under the rubber blanket in front there
was scarcely room for Sammy, Neale, and Tom Jonah.

The rain began drumming on the top of the car before they started again.
They were in a locality where there seemed to be no farms. At least they
had not passed a barn within the hour that promised shelter for the car.
So it was better to go ahead and risk it, than to run back.



CHAPTER XVIII—A VERY ANNOYING SITUATION


In a minute or two the rain was falling torrentially—beating upon the
automobile cover and quickly turning the sandy road to an actual mire.

It grew rapidly dark, although it was only mid-afternoon. Overhead the
lightning crackled and the thunder ricochetted from the distant hills.
The trees bordering the road swayed in the wind and the weight of the
falling rain bent them like saplings.

Neale O’Neil could not drive the automobile rapidly, much as they
desired to reach a place of refuge from the storm, for the wind-shield
was blurred so that he had to poke his head out at the side every now
and then to watch the road.

The roar of the elements was appalling. The girls and Mrs. Heard shut
their eyes and cowered in the tonneau when the sharp flashes of
lightning came. But they were perfectly dry.

Sammy was in a state of hysterical delight. He was not frightened, but
he jumped every time the thunder broke above them. Once Neale told him
to keep still, but Sammy cried:

“I can’t, Neale. I don’t mean to jump—and I wouldn’t if it wasn’t for
that old thunder. I know the bolt of lightning I see won’t hit me—my dad
told me that. I guess if I was deaf so I wouldn’t hear the thunder, I’d
keep as still as still!”

Not much was said by the girls, and Tom Jonah merely hung his pink
tongue out like a flag, whining sometimes when the thunder rolled; for,
like Sammy, he was mostly disturbed by it.

The narrow road ahead, as they swooped down into a hollow, seemed to be
flooded. The shallow gutters could not contain the amount of water which
had fallen, and the wheels of the automobile rolled through a brown
stream of sand and water. At the bottom of this hill was a sharp turn;
but Neale saw this in plenty of time. However, what lay beyond was
completely hidden by an outthrust bank. The water in the driveway
deepened as they descended. Despite the hard going the automobile gained
momentum from the descent, and Neale steered carefully.

“Just like riding through a river, ain’t it, Neale?” shrieked Sammy.

Tom Jonah, as excited as Sammy himself, barked. Neale punched the horn,
although he did not expect to meet anybody or anything in such a storm
and in such a lonely place. He slipped in the clutch at the bottom of
the hill, turning out slightly to make the turn. He could not foresee
the result of this last move; but he realized his mistake in just ten
seconds—when it was too late.

The rear wheels skidded a little, and then the car, on the right side,
slumped down into the mud and water, hub deep, and stopped dead!

The girls screamed, and Mrs. Heard, too, was frightened by the sudden
jolt and the way the car tipped over. It did seem for a moment or two as
though there might be a complete overturn.

“Now you’ve done it, Neale O’Neil!” cried Agnes, in her excitement.

“I s’pose I made it rain, too,” sniffed Neale, in disgust. “You give me
a pain, Aggie.”

“What nonsense to blame Neale,” Ruth, the fair-minded, hastened to put
in. “What shall we do?”

“Stay where we are and keep dry,” Mrs. Heard declared, with decision.

“But Neale can’t get the car out of the mud with us in it,” Agnes cried.

“Nor with you out of it, I reckon,” said the boy, crossly; “wait till I
see.”

He crawled out with some difficulty to look the situation over, having
to drive back Sammy and Tom Jonah with decision. “I don’t want you two
ramping around out here,” he growled.

Neale had put on his slicker when the downpour began, and it was well he
had, for this was no ordinary rain. The rush of water had filled the
gutter with sand in solution, and there was now a regular quagmire where
the wheels of the automobile stood. The fury of the storm had somewhat
relaxed, but the rain fell steadily. Even should the rain stop, the
water would not run out of this spot for hours. It did not take “half an
eye,” as Neale himself said, to see that they were stuck.

“And this is a nice place to spend the night in,” complained Agnes.

“Can nothing really be done, Neale?” asked Mrs. Heard, much worried.

“I can’t get her out without help,” admitted the boy, in a discouraged
tone.

Tess and Dot were crying a little, and Sammy looked at them scornfully.
“Aw, you kids make me sick,” he said. “You don’t see me bawling, do you?
S’pose you was in a pirate ship, ‘way out in the ocean, and she was
wrecked?”

“I don’t want to be a pirate—so there!” sobbed Dot.

Tess said, solemnly: “Wait till you get hungry, Sammy Pinkney.”

This silenced Sammy—for the time being, at least.

Suddenly Agnes cried aloud: “Oh, dear me! here it comes again.”

It certainly sounded as though the tempest were returning, there was
such a rattling and jangling behind them on the hill. Neale ran around
the automobile to look.

A big wagon with a tarpaulin over it, making it look as large as a load
of hay, and drawn by a pair of drenched horses, came rattling down the
hill. There were two figures in slickers and rubber hats on the seat
under the hood.

“A tin peddler’s outfit, sure as you live,” he cried.

“Oh, dear, Neale,” said Ruth, “maybe they will be rough men and will not
help you.”

“I reckon they’ll help us if we make it worth their while,” said the
boy, with assurance, peering through the rain to try to make out the
faces of the two on the wagon seat.

“Be careful, boy,” said Mrs. Heard. “Don’t show them much money. We
don’t know what sort of men they may be. Peddlers——”

Neale reached back into the car and seized a heavy wrench. “Nothing like
‘preparedness,’” he said, with a grin.

“My goodness!” exclaimed Agnes, giggling suddenly, “they’ll think you
are a highway robber.”

“I’m going to hold them up all right,” returned Neale O’Neil, with
assurance.

The wagon was evidently hung with a large supply of tinware and the
like, but all under the canvas cover. Yet it came down the hill at such
a pace that the horses must not have found their load a heavy one to
draw.

Of course the two strangers saw Neale, and the stalled car could not be
overlooked, either. The one driving pulled in his team. Neale could make
out the features of neither, for the turned-down brims of their hats hid
their faces.

But the one driving called out in a very pleasant and unexpectedly
cultivated voice:

“Hello there! What’s the matter? In a hole?”

“That’s just what we _are_ in,” Neale responded, and immediately tossed
the wrench back into the car. He knew they had nothing to fear from a
man with a voice like that.

“Is she in deep?” asked the stranger.

“You can see how she’s bogged down,” Neale returned. “No chance of my
humping her out under her own engine, that’s sure.”

“You need something more—about two-horse power, eh?” said the driver of
the peddler’s cart, with a laugh.

“It must be a very annoying situation,” said the second person on the
seat of the cart.

Neale fairly jumped. It was a most astonishing thing, and he gaped
impolitely for a moment up into the speaker’s face. It was a girl!

Neale O’Neil was sure that she laughed at his surprise. But the young
man said nothing further as he wrapped the lines around the whipstock
and began to climb down.

By this time the Corner House girls were peering out of the curtains of
the automobile, very much interested. The young man, when he got upon
the ground, appeared to be about twenty-one, and his face was keen and
pleasant, if not handsome. It seemed very queer indeed to find two young
people of this character driving a tin peddler’s wagon through the
country.

“It is a girl!” whispered Agnes, shrilly. “Goodness me! what fun!”

“And a _nice_ girl, too,” murmured Ruth. “That man looks like a college
student.”

“Do you s’pose they are on their honeymoon?” suggested the romantic
Agnes.

“For pity’s sake don’t ask them till you are a little better
acquainted,” begged Ruth.

Mrs. Heard asked the strange girl: “Won’t you get wet up there?”

“Oh, no; I’m quite dry, thanks. And then I can go inside the wagon if it
gets _too_ rough.”

Not only Mrs. Heard, but the girls expressed their surprise at this
statement.

“You see,” explained the girl, “we have the cart fixed like a van
inside. We can sleep in it if we don’t want to put up our tent. It’s
very cozy indeed.”

“Why,” said Mrs. Heard, “this seems to be an entirely new idea. And do
you really peddle tinware?”

“Oh, yes. Just like other peddlers. Only the country people would rather
trade with us, for we look honest,” and she laughed merrily. “Besides,
we did it last summer, too, and almost everybody remembers us in this
country.”

“I should think it would be splendid!” cried Agnes, with her usual
enthusiasm over anything new.

“Oh, yes; it’s fine. And we are having a nice vacation, Luke and I. Luke
is my brother. Luke Shepard. I am Cecile.”

Ruth at once gave in turn the names of the automobile party. Meanwhile
Dot said to Tess:

“I guess _she_ knows how to be a wild girl better’n you and me did,” and
Tess agreed, though with a whispered protest over her sister’s grammar.

Neale and young Mr. Shepard had finally decided that the only way to get
the car out of the mire was to unhitch the team from the peddler’s wagon
and use that “two horse power engine.”

“You’ll all have to get out while it’s being done, too,” said Neale to
his party. “There’ll be weight enough for one pair of horses, at best.”

At once Cecile Shepard hopped down from the seat of the cart, and while
the boys unhitched the horses, she got an umbrella and took Mrs. Heard
first from the automobile to the rear of the van. There were steps and a
door which gave entrance to the strange vehicle; and a lamp was quickly
lighted inside. Then Cecile came back with the umbrella for the girls,
and the entire touring party, save Neale and Tom Jonah, but including
Sammy, were soon cozily ensconced in the peddler’s wagon.

The Corner House girls were delighted with the way the van was
arranged—and they were delighted with the cheerful, intelligent Cecile
Shepard, too. They had a very talkative time while the boys worked hard
to get the stranded automobile out of the mud.

The rain thundered down upon the huge tarpaulin that covered the van. A
sweet breath of damp air blew through the wagon from the opening in
front to the open door behind. Cecile told them something of the
experiences of herself and her brother as tin peddlers.

Luke had a rope long enough to surround the body of the stalled
automobile, so that the strain could be properly distributed. He and
Neale tackled on the horses and carefully started them.

At the second trial the automobile wheels came out of the mud, and she
rolled out upon the harder center of the road.

“Whoop—ee!” yelled Neale. “Now we’re all right. And—and the rain is
stopping! What do you know about that?”



CHAPTER XIX—THE TIN BADGE OF THE LAW


“The roads will be full of mudholes for miles,” said Luke Shepard.
“Never mind if it does stop raining, it will be bad traveling for an
automobile. You see, I know this section of the country pretty well.”

“Cracky!” groaned Neale. “We may get into another mess, then.”

“You’re likely to do so,” agreed Luke. “Of course, by morning, if it
rains no more, the water will have practically all run off. The roads
being sandy hereabout they soon dry out.”

“And meanwhile we’ll be running risks every mile,” growled Neale O’Neil.

“Every rod,” said Luke, smiling.

“Cracky! but you’re a cheerful fellow,” said the boy from Milton. “Don’t
let the girls hear you say it. Agnes, especially. She’ll go up in the
air.”

“You’d better take shelter with us, then,” proposed the young tinware
peddler.

“How’s that?” asked Neale, curiously. “Not in that party-wagon of yours?
We’d sure be a ‘close corporation.’”

“Oh, no!” and the other laughed. “We’re going to Alonzo Keech’s barn.
It’s up a side road a piece—just around this turn. That’s where sis and
I were heading for. You see,” Luke Shepard further explained, “we have
established a regular route for our wares, and we have been here
before—and put up at Keech’s barn, too.”

Meanwhile Cecile Shepard had suggested the same thing to Mrs. Heard and
the Corner House girls. They all agreed to this, for to the automobile
touring party it was “any port in a storm.”

The boys rehitched the span of very good horses to the peddler’s wagon,
Luke got on the driver’s seat and the girls and Sammy returned to the
automobile, and the procession started, the peddler’s wagon going ahead
to lead the way.

Neale was very careful to keep in the middle of the road thereafter; for
although the rain had ceased, as Luke foretold, the roads were still
rivers. The branch road they turned into led back in the same general
direction from which the tourists had come; but that made no difference
now. It was shelter for the night they wanted, and in the on-coming
darkness and the storm they all felt only too glad to be led without
question.

In a half hour or so, they came out of the woods, after surmounting a
hill, and found open fields all about them. The sky remained overcast
and it was a dark night; but it was better here in the open than in the
woods where the accident to the automobile had happened. There was not a
gleam of lamplight anywhere; and when the peddler’s wagon stopped
finally in front of a great hay barn, Luke Shepard assured them that the
dwelling of the owner of the farm was beyond a patch of woods and could
not be seen even in daylight.

“I hope he will not object to our stopping here,” Mrs. Heard said, when
she climbed down from the van, in which she had stayed for the ride to
the barn.

“Yes. We have had one experience with the natives,” Agnes said,
laughing, “that was not pleasant.”

“Oh! Mr. Keech will not object,” Cecile assured them. “We have found the
people around here very nice indeed.”

“So have we—for the most part,” Ruth hastened to say. “Nobody could be
nicer than the people we stayed with last night”; and she told the
Shepards about the blacksmith and “Mother.”

“Oh, we know them! _They_ are the salt of the earth!” cried Cecile.

“Then that constable that wouldn’t let us eat our lunch in the woods
over yonder must be the pepper,” said Neale, with a grin.

Luke and Cecile had to be told about that. But they did not recognize
the officious constable.

“He must be a new one, and feels his oats,” said Luke.

“I think he was a cheap grafter and wanted to be tipped,” said Neale
O’Neil. “That’s what _I_ think.”

“But of course he was an officer of the law,” Mrs. Heard said. “He wore
a badge.”

“‘The tin badge of courage,’” said Luke with a laugh. “I don’t know who
he could be. But this Mr. Keech who owns this place is the county
sheriff. So we have the law on our side while we stop here. Mr. Keech is
our friend. We shall stop at his house to-morrow and spend most of the
day. We always do when we get around this way.”

The door of the barn was found unbarred, and with the automobile lights
and Luke’s lanterns, the party “made camp” very nicely indeed. The
automobile was backed in on the floor of the barn, and the big doors
left open. The Shepards’ tent—a very good wall tent—was erected on a
well-drained piece of ground. It was decided that Mrs. Heard and the
girls should sleep in the tent and in the van, while the male members of
the two parties put back the motor car cover and made themselves
comfortable on the cushioned seats of the car.

Of course, supper came before this scheme of retiring had been adjusted.
And a delightful time they had getting the meal and eating it. The food
was mostly supplied by the “tin peddlers,” as Agnes insisted upon
calling Luke and Cecile Shepard.

“I shall lay in some condensed foods myself just as soon as we find a
town again,” declared Mrs. Heard. “These chances of being caught in
lonely places without anything to eat come too frequently. Touring the
country in a motor car is not very different from being cast away on a
desert island!”

The children, of course, thought the experience quite as exciting as
anything that had previously occurred.

“I like it better than the Gypsy camp,” said Dot, warmly. “That cart we
are going to sleep in is just the _cutest_ thing.”

“Just the same, I am glad Tom Jonah is with us this time,” Tess said.
“Everything is so sort of open around here.”

The presence of the big dog made them all feel safer when the time to
retire came, although the Shepards were used to camping out, and had
never yet been molested in their two years’ experience.

The two parties gave each other full personal particulars. The brother
and sister had friends in Milton, whom the Corner House girls knew. And
then, there was another bond between Luke and Cecile Shepard and the
four Corner House girls. They were all orphans.

Luke was in his sophomore year at college. Cecile was attending a
preparatory school, and was going to have a college education, too. But
they had partly to work for it, for their only relative was a maiden
aunt who could help them but little, and there had been only money
enough left by their mother to partly educate the brother and sister.

“And we get a nice vacation and lots of fun and some money by going out
with our van for three months each year,” Cecile explained. “The rest of
the year we rent the horses and van and the route to a man who has a
little restaurant business at the shore in the summer. So we do pretty
well.”

Tom Jonah, as watchman, made no sound all night long. The weather
gradually cleared, and at daybreak there was every promise of a
beautiful day, with everything washed clean by the rain.

The motoring party decided to make an early start—and without breakfast.
The Shepards knew just where there was a good roadside hotel only twenty
miles away, and Neale was sure they would get there in season for
breakfast.

Their host and hostess, however, insisted upon their having coffee
before they started, and when the automobile got under way, the Corner
House girls and their party felt, as they had the morning previous, that
they were leaving some very good friends behind. They hoped to meet Luke
and Cecile again on their return trip; if not, Cecile was to write to
Ruth. The “tin peddlers” had also promised to make the old Corner House,
in Milton, a visit during the next winter.

“Dear me suz!” sighed Agnes, as they wheeled away, using one of Mrs.
MacCall’s exclamations, “isn’t this just delightful? I think touring the
country in this way, and meeting folks, and making friends, is just
delightful.”

“Not so delightful last night when that storm was beating down upon us,”
Mrs. Heard reminded her.

“And you did your share of the kicking then, all right all right,” put
in Neale O’Neil. “Oh, you did squall, Aggie.”

“Horrid thing!” exclaimed Agnes. “Don’t remind me of unpleasant things
this morning. I feel—I feel as happy as a big sunflower.”

Just then they turned a curve in the level road and saw a lanky man in a
drooping-brimmed hat, standing in the middle of the way.

“Hul-_lo_!” ejaculated Neale, slowing down.

“Is the man deaf?” demanded Mrs. Heard.

Neale punched the horn a couple of times, and the man merely turned to
face them and held up a warning hand.

“Oh, cracky!” cried Neale. “Another tin-badger.”

“And he’s holding one of those tin watches on us, too,” said Agnes, in
despair.

“Say!” observed Sammy, the sharp-eyed. “That’s the cop that wouldn’t let
us build the fire yesterday.”

“It certainly _is_,” gasped Ruth. “Now what shall we do?”

“I feel like bumping him,” growled Neale. Nevertheless, he shut off the
engine as the constable seemed to have no intention of moving out of the
road.

“Wal!” said the tall man, finally facing them completely and snapping
the case of his watch shut in a very business-like way. “Got ye that
time, I swan! Comin’ fifty mile an hour if ye was an inch——”

Suddenly he discovered that he was not entirely a stranger to the
touring party. His mouth sagged open for a moment and he did not
continue his remarks before Neale got in a word or two.

“You are very much mistaken, constable,” he said. “I could not drive
this car on this road at the speed you state—and if you knew anything
about an auto _you’d_ know it, too.”

“Oh, don’t, Neale!” whispered Ruth, from behind.

“So! I’ve seen ye before, have I, young cock o’ the walk?” snarled the
constable. “You was running over speed, an’ don’t you fergit it. And I’m
goin’ to take ye all back to Tuckerville and let Jedge Winslow tell ye
sumpin’.”

“Oh, dear me!” moaned Agnes. “And we haven’t had breakfast!”

Mrs. Heard here put in her word—and she spoke sternly:

“You are making a grave mistake, Mr. Officer. We do not drive our
automobile at any time faster than the law allows. And certainly we were
not doing so now. How do you _know_ how fast we were coming? You could
not even see us until we came around that curve.”

“Oh, I’ve had experience, _I_ have, ma’am,” said the fellow with a mean
grin on his homely face.

“This is a regular hold-up!” exclaimed Neale, in wrath. “Why didn’t you
pull a gun and tell us to hold up our hands while you went through our
pockets? It wouldn’t be any worse.”

“I’m likely to pull me a good switch an’ wear it out on ye, ye fresh
Ike!” declared the constable. “Don’t you hand me no more sass—now I warn
ye.”

“But to go away back to Tuckerville!” groaned Ruth.

“And not a hotel there,” Agnes said.

“I do not believe any justice of the peace will uphold this fellow if we
_do_ appear before him,” Mrs. Heard said.

“If ye don’t want to go,” said the constable, whose ears seemed to be as
preternaturally keen as they were unnaturally large—“if ye don’t want to
go back to Tuckerville, ye kin pay yer fine right here—ten dollars.
That’ll be about right, unless I add on a coupla dollars more to pay for
this boy’s sass.”

“What did I tell you?” exclaimed Neale, to the others. “It’s a hold-up!”



CHAPTER XX—EXCITEMENT


Neale O’Neil may not have been very wise in talking so plainly in the
hearing of the mean-spirited fellow; but he could not be blamed for
being indignant. It was positive that the Corner House girls’ automobile
had not been speeding when the man with the badge stopped it. And now
his demand for ten dollars showed plainly that his petty mind was
interested only in getting money easily rather than in enforcing the
law.

“You’d better keep a civil lip on you, young man,” said the constable,
scowling at Neale. Then to Mrs. Heard he added: “Come now, lady, you can
pay the fine to me and drive on; or you can go back to Tuckerville under
arrest and pay it to Jedge Winslow. Take yer ch’ice.”

“Oh, dear me!” whispered Agnes. “Let’s give him the money and go on to
the hotel Cecile Shepard told us about. Tuckerville, they say, is an
awful place.”

“Yes. Pay him the ten dollars—do, Mrs. Heard,” Ruth urged the chaperone.

“Very well,” said the lady. “I disapprove of such a thing, but it at
least will relieve us of this man’s presence——”

“Here comes another car,” cried Tess, who was not wholly attentive to
the argument.

“Now you’ll get a chance to sting another party,” snapped Neale, glaring
at the constable.

But the latter made him no reply. In fact, he had suddenly changed his
attitude. Instead of standing boldly before the machine, he cringed
along to the tonneau door with his hand held out for the money Mrs.
Heard was selecting from her bag.

“Hold on!” exclaimed Neale, suddenly. “Don’t pay that fellow too
quickly. Let’s have witnesses. Here comes the car.”

“You pay me now, or ’twill be too late,” cried the constable, angrily.

Just then the coming car appeared around the curve—a heavy roadster. The
plainly frightened constable gave the single occupant of the car one
glance, and instantly turned without the money and ran.

“Hi! stop that fellow!” shouted the man in the car.

“With all my heart,” responded Neale O’Neil, joyfully, and, scrambling
out of his seat, he gave chase to the lanky man.

The fellow did not keep long to the road, but vaulted a rail fence and
started across a muddy field. Neale, protected by his leggings, did not
mind the mud, and kept on after the rascal. He had a pretty well defined
idea that this fellow who had tried to collect money from Mrs. Heard had
merely played constable and was nothing more than a cheap robber. Neale
was so angry that he was determined not to let the fellow get away.

He heard the second automobile stop, and supposed the man in it was
following, too; but he did not glance back to see. Just then he felt
that he could master the lanky man alone, if need be.

And that is exactly what happened. The fellow got to the other side of
the field with Neale gaining on him at every jump. Once in the woods
there, however, the Milton boy feared the fugitive would be able to hide
from him. So Neale increased his pace, sprinting for the last few rods,
and caught the fellow just as he reached the fence. Neale tackled low,
in true football fashion, and brought the long-legged man down with a
crash. There they both rolled on the muddy ground, Neale clinging to the
fellow’s knees, and the latter clawing and snarling like a wildcat.

Sammy Pinkney had followed the chase as far as the top rail of the
roadside fence, where Mrs. Heard had commanded him in no uncertain tone
to stop. There the little fellow stood, waving his cap and yelling
encouragement to Neale O’Neil, while the stranger from the second
automobile strode across the field at a rapid gait.

“Good boy!” shouted this stranger, heartily. “Hang on to him.”

Neale hung. His face was scratched and his clothing muddy; but the
long-legged fellow could not do him very much harm before help came.
Indeed, when he once saw that he was bound to be captured he stopped
struggling and began actually to blubber.

“I was only foolin’,” he whined. “Lemme up, boy. I wouldn’t hurt ye.”

“I know you won’t hurt me,” snapped Neale. “I won’t let you—that’s why.”

“Hold on to him!” shouted the other man again.

Neale let the rascal up; but he hung to his coat-collar with both hands.

“I was just a-foolin’,” repeated the captive, and he actually shook with
terror. “Ye know, Sheriff, I’m always foolin’.”

Neale looked then with increased interest upon the big man who was
approaching. This must be Sheriff Keech, Luke Shepard’s friend.

“So you got the ornery critter, did you?” demanded the county officer,
panting from his exertions. “Good boy.”

“Aw, say, now, Sheriff! you know I’m only foolin’,” almost wept the
captive.

“Oh, I know you’re the town cut-up, Abe,” growled the sheriff. “But this
time you’ll have a chance to think it over in jail. Why!” he added, to
Neale, “I knew who this must be the minute Luke Shepard told me about
him; and as I saw him come down the road about an hour ago, I had a
hunch I’d just about catch him at his capers.”

“Aw, Sheriff,” begged the fellow. “Don’t you be too hard on me. I jest
found that star——”

“You are a rascal!” snapped the county officer. “You sent off to a
mail-order house and bought that bum badge and just couldn’t keep from
flirting around with it. Showing what you thought you’d do if you _was_
a constable. Oh, I’ll put you where the dogs won’t bite you.”

“I—I never collected no money from ’em,” whined the would-be constable.

“No. That’s because I came along just a little too soon. I wish you had
got the money. Then I would have had you to rights, sure enough,”
declared the sheriff, bitterly.

“Oh, let him go, young man. He won’t run now; for if he does he’ll be
resisting arrest, and that’ll fix him with the judge for sure.”

“Why, say, he isn’t right in the head, is he?” demanded Neale O’Neil,
wonderingly. “Making out to be a constable, and robbing people, and all
that?”

“He’s one of these half-baked critters you find once in so often that
take correspondence school courses to learn to be detectives, and all
that sort of mush. Ugh!”

“Abe” was a very forlorn looking creature as he came out to the road.
Sammy on the fence waved his cap again and cheered.

“I tell you, Neale, you’re some runner,” declared the boy,
enthusiastically. “What are you going to do—hang him?”

“That horrid child!” exclaimed Agnes. “I never heard of such a
bloodthirsty boy before.”

But the rest of the party were inclined to feel that the punishment to
be meted out to the fellow who had posed as constable could not be too
harsh.

Sheriff Keech ordered Abe to get into his car, and seemed to have no
fear that the mean-spirited fellow might try to run away again.

“I know Abe,” he said to Mrs. Heard, when she suggested this
possibility. “He hasn’t any more character than a dishrag. He’s arrested
now, and he knows it. He wouldn’t dare run away from me once I’ve put my
hand on him.

“Now, ma’am, tell me all about it.”

Mrs. Heard had plenty of help in relating the circumstances surrounding
the touring party’s two adventures with this Abe. Everybody wanted to
tell what he or she thought of the fellow, even to Dot. The latter said,
with conviction:

“He is not a nice man at all, and I’m awfully glad he doesn’t live
anywhere near _our_ house.”

“I don’t know that any neighborhood would give Abe a bonus for moving
into it,” chuckled Mr. Keech. “Well! I won’t detain you. I can scare him
bad enough as it is. And thirty days in jail will do Abe a world of
good. I won’t keep you folks as witnesses; you’ve had trouble enough.”

So the matter was settled very amicably, and the touring party from
Milton hastened on to the Wayside Rose Inn, at Brampton, for breakfast.

“One thing we never thought about,” Agnes said to Neale, when they had
bidden Sheriff Keech good-bye.

“What’s that?”

“Why, about Mr. Collinger’s car and that Joe Dawson fellow. My! what
mean people we _do_ manage to meet.”

“And a little while ago you were thinking what good folks we had met,”
laughed Neale. “But you are mistaken, Aggie. I spoke to the sheriff
about Saleratus Joe and his mate and the lost car. Nothing doing. I’ve
asked everybody else we have talked with—the blacksmith and Luke Shepard
and all—about that bunch.”

“Oh! have you, Neale?” cried Mrs. Heard. “And has nothing come of it?”

“Well, Mrs. Heard,” said the boy, “all trace of that car and those
fellows seems to have ended right there at the Higgins’ farm—where the
Gypsy king saw them for the last time. That’s the way it looks to me.”

“Oh, dear me!” sighed Agnes. “I wish you’d have let _me_ hunt in that
barn for the car.”

“Or _me_,” put in Sammy, with confidence.

“Say! you two give me a pain,” cried Neale, and refused to talk about it
any further.

They made a fine run that day, getting on good roads again, and they
spent the night with friends of Mrs. Heard’s who had been on the lookout
for them for two days. A letter was waiting for the chaperone from her
nephew, stating that the police were looking for Saleratus Joe and
another man in connection with the disappearance of the Maybrouke
runabout, and that the information she had sent might aid in the arrest
of the automobile thieves.

“Well,” said Agnes, “of course I hope the police catch them; but it
would be fun if _we_ could bring about their arrest and find the
machine, too, Neale.”

“Don’t let it worry you, Aggie,” he advised. “There isn’t any reward
offered, so you’d have your work for your pains.”

Just the same, neither of them forgot the matter, and it was a topic of
conversation between them, now and then, throughout the entire tour.

They went on as far as Fort Kritchton, and spent the week-end at the
Monolith Hotel there, to which their trunks had been forwarded. The car
needed some slight repairs, and the girls found pleasant friends. This
point was to be the farthest they expected to travel from Milton.

Neale found a party of boys camping up in the woods above the hotel, and
he enjoyed himself, too; but he had to take Sammy along with him most of
the time, and he declared to Agnes that if he ever went anywhere again
and had his choice of taking Sammy or a flea, he would choose the flea!

“You have no more idea of where to find him from one moment to another
than a flea,” growled the older boy. “I’m coming to the old bachelor’s
belief in the treatment and bringing up of boys.”

“What is that?” asked the amused Agnes, who had had her own experiences
with Sammy Pinkney.

“Why, the crabbed old bachelor, who had six small nephews, declared he
believed all boys should be taken at about three years of age and put in
barrels, the heads nailed on, and that they should be fed through the
bungholes.”

“Goodness!” laughed Agnes. “And when they grew up?”

“‘Drive in the bungs,’” declared Neale, seriously. “That was his creed
and I am about ready to subscribe to it.”

Sammy, however, had a good time. He confided to Mrs. Heard and Ruth that
he had never had such a good time in his life. He got letters and money
from his mother and father, just as the Corner House girls did,
likewise, from home; and he was actually growing sturdy looking as well
as brown.

“Whether this tour does anybody else good or not, Sammy P. is being
helped,” declared Mrs. Heard.

“‘Sammy P. Buttinsky,’” sniffed Agnes. “Such a plague. I believe his
mother will lose ten years of her age in appearance during this time of
Sammy’s absence. She certainly ought to be our friend for life.”

After all, however, they none of them could really be “mad at” Sammy, as
Tess said. He was a plague; but there was something really attractive
about him, too.

“He is the most un-moral child I ever heard of,” Ruth said. “He seems to
have stepped right out of the stone age.”

Mrs. Heard smiled at that statement. “My dear girl,” she said, “most
boys are that way. Philly Collinger was—and look at him now,” for Mrs.
Heard was very proud indeed of the county surveyor. “I think there is
one very helpful thing that you Corner House girls are missing.”

“What is that, Mrs. Heard?” asked Ruth, in curiosity.

“You have missed having a brother or two. They are great educators for
the feminine mind,” laughed the lady.

However, Sammy behaved himself pretty well—considering—all the time the
touring party remained at the Monolith Hotel. The little girls whom Tess
and Dot played with looked somewhat askance at Sammy, for his boasted
intention of following in the sanguinary wake of Captain Kidd,
Blackbeard, and Sir Henry Morgan, set him as a creature apart from the
rest of boykind. In fact, among the little folk, Sammy Pinkney was quite
the sensation for several days. Then little Eddie Haflinger developed a
carbuncle on the back of his neck and Sammy’s swashbuckling tendencies
rather paled before the general interest in Eddie’s stiff neck.

However, everybody had a good time at Fort Kritchton; but the “call of
the wild,” as Agnes expressed it, was the stronger. They had had so many
adventures—pleasant as well as disconcerting—on the road, that even Mrs.
Heard was glad when the time came to leave the resort.

“Let’s send our trunks right back to Milton,” Agnes said. “No more
‘Fluffy Ruffles’ for mine till we get home. Let’s rough it.”

Their bags in the automobile really did contain all they would need, so
it was agreed to live in plain and serviceable garments for the rest of
the trip.

“If we run short of clean linen and handkerchiefs,” said Ruth, “we shall
have to stop and do our washing in a brook. How about that?”

“I suppose you’ll want to stretch lines over the auto and dry your
clothes as we travel,” growled Neale O’Neil. “_Then_ if we meet some
fidgety old farmer-woman with a more fidgety horse—_good_-night!”

“I wish,” Agnes declared, “that we had brought a tent with us—a nice one
like the Shepards have. Wouldn’t it have been fun to camp out every
night—just like those Gypsies?”

“How about it when it rained?” asked Ruth.

“Well, we’ve been out in one rainstorm—and we’re neither sugar nor
salt,” said her sister, sticking to her guns.

“But never again—if I can help it,” cried Mrs. Heard. “It is all right
for you young folks; but my blood is not so young as yours; nor is my
appetite for adventure and what you call ‘fun’ quite so keen as it used
to be.”

It was a fact. The young folks only laughed at that memorable experience
when they were overtaken by the storm. It was all what Agnes called
“fun.”

The touring party planned a roundabout way home to Milton, in order to
see a part of the country that they had not before driven through.

“And we’ll take the good roads, too. I understand more about this map
and guide book than I did,” proclaimed Neale O’Neil.

However, at one point they agreed to leave the better traveled roads so
as to spend another night with the crossroads blacksmith and “Mother.”
And they half hoped to meet the Shepards near there, also.

“That’ll bring us around past the Higgins farm, too,” Neale said,
thoughtfully.

“Oh, Neale! I want to take a look into that barn myself,” cried Agnes.

“Pshaw!” responded her boy friend. “If that car of Mr. Collinger’s was
ever there, Saleratus Joe and his chum have got it away long since, of
course.”

But Agnes was hopeful. She usually was of a sanguine mind.



CHAPTER XXI—THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS


The automobile party did not travel all day long—whirling over the dusty
roads, past flower-spangled fields, or through pleasant woods. No,
indeed.

Little folks especially—like Tess and Dot and Sammy—cannot sit
patiently, even in an upholstered touring car, hour after hour. It was
pleasant to ride so smoothly through the lovely country; it was nicer
still to halt by the wayside and hunt for adventure.

Tom Jonah, who was by nature a tramp, enjoyed the excursions away from
the automobile as much as did the children—and he was never again off
their trail at such times. If Tess and Dot and Sammy left the party,
somebody would be sure to speak to the old dog, and up he would get in
order to follow the children. He had not forgotten the occasion when the
two smallest Corner House girls had escaped his watchful eye. So Tom
Jonah was what the slangy Sammy Pinkney called “Johnny on the Spot” one
day when something quite exciting happened.

They had stopped beside the road for lunch, as they almost always did,
and as soon as they had eaten the children were anxious to explore.

The almost dry bed of a water-course attracted their attention, and as
they could step from rock to rock, and so keep their feet dry, they
started up this ravine. Sammy, of course, led and recklessly leaped from
rock to rock with the assurance of a goat. The little girls were agile
enough; but Tess gave much attention to Dot, and the latter had to be
sure that the Alice-doll got into no difficulty.

“You mustn’t go so fast, Sammy,” urged Tess. “You know we haven’t got to
catch a train. And _do_ go away, Tom Jonah! You’re all wet. When you
shake yourself I’d just as lief be walking close behind a
sprinkling-cart.”

Both the boy and the dog laughed at her; but Dot, realizing that Alice’s
best gown might be ruined, almost fell off her stepping-stone as Tom
Jonah deliberately shook himself again and she tried to shield her
doll’s finery.

“Oh, bully!” shouted Sammy, suddenly. “There’s blackberries.”

The bushes were overhanging the steep wall of the ravine on one side.
Tess looked doubtfully up the rocky slope.

“They’re mostly red, Sammy,” she objected. “Or green.”

“Some of ’em’s black enough,” declared the boy. “Come on! Let’s get
some.”

Sammy scrambled up the rough side of the gully. Tom Jonah bounded after
him and then looked back at his little mistresses to see if they were
coming too.

“Well! I won’t be beaten by a boy,” said Tess, with sudden decision.
“Let’s go too, Dot.”

It was a rather hard pull for the little girls; and Dot got her knees
“scrubby,” although she saved the Alice-doll’s dress. They came to the
top of the height all but breathless and with flushed faces.

Sammy was coolly picking the best berries and cramming them into a mouth
which betrayed to all who might behold his greediness. “You better hurry
up,” he advised, with a lofty detachment from all chivalry, “or there
won’t be any left. There _ain’t_ many ripe ones, after all.”

“Well, I do declare!” exclaimed Tess. “You aren’t very polite, Sammy
Pinkney.”

“You—you might have saved us _some_!” protested Dot.

The little girls looked all about. They did not see any other blackberry
bushes in the vicinity. But Tess sighted something else.

“Oh, Dot! Roses! Lovely, pink, wild, roses! Did you ever see so many?”

There was a veritable hedge of the pretty, fragrant, delicate flowers at
the far side of this little field. The two girls raced over to them at
once, forgetting both Sammy’s greediness and the berries. Tom Jonah
bounded after them, and rushed through a gap in the rose hedge.
Instantly there was excitement on the far side of the hedge, just out of
sight.

An angry and excited voice rose in a familiar: “Bla-a-a-t! bla-a-a-t!”

“Oh, my! what’s that?” asked Dot, startled.

“It sounds just like Billy Bumps,” said Tess.

Again it sounded: “Ba-a-a! bla-a-a-t!” Tom Jonah barked. Sammy came
running over to them.

“Hear that old Billy goat?” he shouted. “I bet Tom Jonah’s treed him!”

He dived through the break in the hedge and perforce, because of their
curiosity, the little Corner House girls were drawn after him. There
they found both Tom Jonah and the boy dancing about a rather
savage-looking black-faced ram that had been tied to a stump and that
was now so wound up in his rope that he could do little but stamp his
hoofs and shake his horns at his tormentors.

“Oh, Sammy! don’t worry the poor goat,” begged Dot.

“Come here, Tom Jonah!” commanded Tess sternly, and the dog obeyed if
the boy did not.

“Aw, what’s the odds? He can’t get at us,” said Sammy, careless of both
his grammar and the ethics of the case. “And he’s only an old goat.”

“That is just horrid of you, Sammy Pinkney!” declared Tess. “Suppose it
was our own poor Billy Bumps?”

The girls, no more than the boy, did not recognize the difference
between the goat they knew well and the ram that they had never seen
before. The black-faced rogue had been tied because it was not safe to
let him run loose with the herd.

“We _must_ help him,” declared Tess, having made Tom Jonah go to the
rear. “We can’t leave him tied here to suffer—and all wound up in that
rope. If Neale were only here——”

“Oh, yes!” agreed Dot. “Neale would fix it all right.”

“Say,” declared Sammy, spurred to the quick, “_I_ ain’t afraid. If Neale
could do it, I guess I can. But just the same, I bet if we let him loose
he’ll chase us.”

“Oh, no! he wouldn’t do that, would he?” cried Dot.

“He wouldn’t be so ungrateful,” said Tess severely.

“Poor, poor old Billy,” cooed Dot, putting out her hand to the ram.

“He—he doesn’t look just like our goat; but I know he’s suffering,” Tess
declared.

The noise the ram made would naturally lead one to think that he was
suffering. If not urged on by this appearance, Sammy desired to make a
certain impression upon his companions. He walked boldly up to the stump
to which the ram was tethered. Things began to happen immediately! That
black-faced ram had no more idea of gratitude than a rattlesnake.

Sammy got two loops of the rope off the stump, and another off the ram’s
hind leg. The beast immediately put down its head and bumped Sammy just
as hard as he possibly could.

“Ow! Ouch!” yelled Sammy. “Get out, you mean thing!”

“Bla-a-at!” said the ram, and tried to charge again. Sammy attempted to
scramble out of the way; the little girls screamed; Tom Jonah began to
bark and to jump about the excited party.

The ram ran several times around the stump in the right direction to
unwind his rope; but in so doing he got Sammy and the rope entangled. In
a moment more the modern pirate was lashed to the post, yelling
vigorously, while the ram was brought to a stop again on too short a
rope to do the boy any damage with his ugly horns, although he
threatened Sammy continuously.

The screams of the three children and the barking of Tom Jonah was bound
to raise the neighborhood. A shout soon replied, and the screaming of
other youthful voices. Into the field at its far end came a man,
running, and close upon his heels several ragged and bare-legged
children, both boys and girls.

“What are ye doin’ there, ye little imps?” roared the man, bearing down
on the little Corner House girls and their unfortunate champion in a
very ugly way.

“Oh, _do_ help Sammy!” begged Tess, with clasped hands, of the ugly man.

[Illustration: “Oh, do help Sammy!” begged Tess, with clasped hands.]

Dot, hugging the Alice-doll closely, stared wonderingly at the horde of
little ragamuffins that came dancing and screeching to the scene of
Sammy’s disaster.

“Take him off, mister, an’ lemme get away,” cried Sammy. “I won’t never
do it again.”

It was so natural for Sammy Pinkney to be blamed in whatever situation
he found himself, that he offered his apologies at once. The ugly man
scowled down at him.

“I’d oughter let old Dewey lam’ you good,” he growled.

“Cut the rope and let old Dewey go for ’em, Uncle Jim!” yelled one of
the young savages.

At that both Tess and Dot burst into despairing wails. At the same
moment Neale O’Neil and Agnes burst through the bushes, having been
drawn to the spot by the uproar.

“Oh, Aggie!” shrieked Tess.

“Oh, Neale!” cried Dot.

Sammy pluckily held his tongue; but the way he looked at the bigger boy
belonging to the automobile party would have touched a much stonier
heart than that of Neale O’Neil.

“Keep away from here,” commanded the ugly man, to Neale.

“I guess not,” responded the boy sharply. “_You_ don’t seem to be doing
anything to help him.”

“What did he want to get tangled up with the ram for, then?” demanded
the fellow.

“He was trying to help the poor Billy goat,” Tess sobbed, from the
shelter of Agnes’ arms.

“You city folks are too fresh, anyhow,” cried one of the ragged
children. “We ought to stone you kids. Hadn’t we, Uncle Jim?”

But the man was busy with Neale. “Let that rope alone!” he commanded, as
the boy approached the entangled Sammy.

“Stand out of my way,” said Neale, taking out his pocketknife and
opening the big blade. “And run your old sheep out of here when I cut
him free.”

“Don’t you do that!” cried the man.

But with one stroke of the sharp blade Neale freed both the ram and
Sammy.

“Ba-a-a! Bla-a-a-t!” uttered the ram, and shook his horns threateningly
at Neale.

“Butt him, Dewey!” yelled the ragamuffins.

But Neale delivered a hearty kick that resounded upon the ram’s ribs.
With another blat the beast switched around, lowered his head, and
charged directly at the ugly man.

“Git out, ye derned nuisance!” yelled the fellow, and only by leaping
high and spreading wide his legs did he escape the ram’s furious charge.

Missing his object, the ram kept on across the field and, whooping, the
rag-and-bobtail crew strung along after him. The man remained to bluster
and threaten Neale for a while; but the boy from Milton paid very little
attention to him.

“Let’s go! Let’s go!” Agnes kept saying, and the little girls,
thoroughly frightened, kept urging the same thing.

But when they got down into the ravine again, and the ugly man was out
of sight, Agnes sent the trio of little folks ahead, and said to Neale:

“Do you know, Neale, who that horrid man was?”

“Huh?” grunted Neale, puzzled.

“Didn’t you see who he was when he stood right there before you?”

“Er—‘Hawkshaw, the detective’!” scoffed Neale, grinning widely.

“Don’t try to be funny,” implored Agnes. “Where were your eyes? _That_
was the man we saw the last time with Saleratus Joe, when they passed us
in that strange automobile,” declared the girl earnestly.

“No?” gasped Neale.

“Yes, it was. I could never forget his ugly face. He is the very man, I
believe, who helped Joe steal Mr. Collinger’s car.”

Neale wagged his head. “Whether he is one of the thieves or not, he’s a
bad man all right. You can see that,” the boy agreed. “I wonder if we
ought to hunt up Sheriff Keech?” But they were a long way from the
residence of the sheriff whose acquaintance they had previously made.

That night the touring party stopped with the blacksmith and his wife.
The Shepards had not returned to this neighborhood, and the Corner House
party did not wish to waste any time. They were to make a long detour
from this point before going back to Milton. They desired to see a part
of the country altogether strange to them.

“Shall we go around by the Higgins farm again?”

That was the query Neale O’Neil propounded before bedtime that evening
after they had eaten another of “Mother’s” wonderful suppers.

“I don’t really see the use,” Mrs. Heard said. “I haven’t heard a word
from Philly Collinger about it. And I told him everything that Gypsy
told you, Neale.”

“And how Neale hunted in the barn and found no trace of Mr. Collinger’s
car?” suggested Ruth.

“Oh, yes.”

“But he _did_ find something!” cried Agnes.

“What did he find, I’d like to know?” asked her sister.

“He saw where the auto wheels had skidded on the path going up to the
barn—didn’t you, Neale?”

“Yes,” the boy agreed. “But the car wasn’t there.”

“Pooh! you didn’t find it,” said the girl scornfully.

“My goodness, Aggie!” cried Ruth, “when you set out to be, you can be
the most stubborn person!”

“Oh, well,” Mrs. Heard said soothingly, “what if we do go around by that
barn and satisfy Agnes? It won’t be much out of our way.”

It was over a good bit of rough road, however, and that rough road
brought calamity to the Corner House car. Neale O’Neil knew something
was wrong before they had climbed the long hill to the level of the
Higgins farm.

“What’s that thumping noise, Neale?” asked the sharp-eared Agnes, who
had chosen to ride with the young chauffeur and Sammy and Tom Jonah in
the front of the machine.

Neale was scowling. “Ask me an easier one,” he growled. “I’m no
soothsayer.”

“Well! you needn’t be so pie-crusty,” she said. “Is the car falling to
pieces?”

“Maybe.”

“Why don’t you stop and find out?”

“On this hill? Not much!” declared the boy, his brow still wrinkled with
anxiety.

“Well! It’s—go-ing—to—stop!” jerked out the prophetic Agnes, as the
wheels of the rumbling car seemed to turn more and more slowly.

“What is the matter?” demanded Ruth, from the tonneau. “Is the car
stopping?”

Neale manipulated the levers, and the engine roared spitefully; but the
speed did not increase, and that sepulchral thumping under the car
continued.

“I hope you haven’t run out of gasoline again, Neale?” suggested Mrs.
Heard.

Neale grunted. Agnes giggled. “My! you could bite nails, couldn’t you?”
she whispered.

It was most exasperating—no mistake about it! The machine had acted so
well all along, that perhaps he had grown careless. Yet Neale could not
imagine what it was that had happened now. And away out here in the
wilderness! He was sure that rumbling and thumping spelled trouble.

“Don’t you mean to stop?” gasped Ruth.

“Not here, I tell you,” snapped the exasperated youth. “You want us to
get stalled here out of sight of a house, even?”

“We won’t be in sight of many houses when we get to the top of the hill,
if I remember rightly,” murmured Agnes.

Neale made no further reply. The thing continued to thump and the engine
to roar. But they reached the top of the hill and continued staggering
along toward the farm buildings, which looked as deserted as they had on
the previous occasion when the party had stopped here.

“How near are we to a repair garage?” asked Mrs. Heard.

“About twenty miles,” Agnes told her. “Sweet prospect, isn’t it?”

“But what is the matter?” repeated Ruth.

“If you ask _me_,” said Agnes, with conviction, “I think the old thing
has the epizootic.”

“Oh, my!” gasped Dot. “That’s what the stableman’s horse had—and it
died. Could our automobile have the same sickness?”

“I don’t know; but it acts as if it were going to die,” growled Neale.

“Shall—shall we get out and walk?” asked Tess. “Maybe it can’t carry so
many now.”

“Hear the kid!” scoffed Sammy. “’Tain’t nothing but an old mess of
iron-work. It _can’t_ get sick.”

There certainly was something, however, seriously the matter with the
Corner House girls’ automobile. Just as they came abreast of the drive
that led up to the big hay barn the engine coughed two or three times,
and then stopped dead.

“All out!” ejaculated Neale, in disgust. “This looks like the end of our
day’s journey.”

“And not a house in sight,” murmured Mrs. Heard.



CHAPTER XXII—SAMMY INVESTIGATES


It was a lovely afternoon, and there were still two or three hours
before sunset. The intention had been merely to stop at the abandoned
Higgins farm to satisfy Agnes’ desire to make another search of the
premises for the lost motor car.

“I believe you wanted to look down the well to see if it was there,”
Neale remarked, grumpily. “Well! you’ve time enough to do it.”

“Oh, Neale! don’t be nasty,” said his girl chum. “I’m sorry if the old
car is going to make you trouble——”

“_Us_ trouble, I should say,” Ruth said, rather sharply. “Do you realize
that we are an unconscionable long way from civilization?”

“Well, don’t let us become savage, if the wilderness is,” said Mrs.
Heard, recovering her own good temper. “Of course, Neale, you don’t know
just what the matter is with the machine?”

“Not yet; but I’m going to find out,” he returned, hauling his overalls
and jumper out of the tool-box.

“And us,” cried Dot. “Let’s look around for the place where we’re going
to camp. Why! we’ll be just like the Gypsies again.”

“My goodness!” groaned Mrs. Heard. “That child is uncanny. Does she
_know_ that we are going to be marooned here all night? And not a soul
in sight!”

“We got something to eat,” said Sammy, who had investigated. “I’ll get
the fire ready to light. Neale won’t let me have matches.”

“I’m sure we could clean out one of those small houses, and make it nice
and comfortable for us to live in,” said Tess, falling in with the idea
with enthusiasm.

“Me for the hay!” cried Agnes, running up to the barn door. “We’ll sleep
in the hay!”

“Remember the rats!” hissed Neale, as he crept under the car with a
hammer and a collection of wrenches.

“Mean thing!” cried Agnes. “I won’t believe there _are_ such things, so
now!”

When she opened the small barn door, however, she had a fright right at
the start. Something whisked out at her feet, and Agnes leaped aside
with a scream.

“Oh! it’s a pussy-cat,” cried Dot delightedly. “Then somebody _does_
live here!”

It was a beautiful blue Maltese cat, and although she was a little wild
at first, she must have been used to children when the farmer lived
here, for Dot and Tess soon coaxed her to come to be petted.

“Anyway,” Agnes said, “I’m not going to worry about rats with a fine
puss like her around. _She_ can handle the rats.”

“Sure. She eats ’em alive,” called Neale from beneath the car.

Agnes went inside and struggled with the bar of the big barn door. Sammy
finally went to her assistance and they swung the doors open so that the
sunlight might flood the interior. Nothing seemed to be changed since
Neale had made his search more than two weeks before.

Mrs. Heard and Ruth were wandering about the premises, looking into the
other outbuildings. The stable was empty, of course. There was no stock
on the place. But on the other side of the ruins of the burned dwelling
they made quite an important discovery.

There was a fenced-in garden patch. It was weed-grown for the most part;
but there were berry bushes loaded with dew-berries and raspberries,
both black and red; besides ripening gooseberries and currants. Here was
a feast for the children, and Ruth was about to call them when Mrs.
Heard said:

“Wait. If we should have to remain to-night, this fruit will help out
for supper and breakfast. We have plenty of sugar and canned evaporated
milk.”

“Goodness me, Mrs. Heard! Don’t talk so perfectly recklessly!” Ruth
exclaimed. “It can’t be that we shall have to remain here. Why, we
_can’t_!”

“What are you going to do—walk to the next town?” asked Agnes, who came
to them in time to overhear this statement of her sister’s.

“Where is the next town?” asked Mrs. Heard quickly.

“Just sixteen miles away by the map—and fourteen at least as the crow
flies,” Agnes said promptly.

“And we’re not crows,” murmured Ruth.

“We can never walk fourteen miles—or more,” Mrs. Heard said, with
conviction. “Where is the nearest house?”

“Goodness only knows. There is no other farm on this road—we know that.
And I don’t remember seeing any very near to where we turned into it at
either end, do you?” said Agnes.

“No, I don’t,” Ruth admitted, shaking her head. “We _are_ in a fix if
Neale can’t repair the car himself—and quickly.”

“Don’t say anything to him,” begged Agnes. “He’s as cross as a bear with
a sore head.”

Meanwhile Mrs. Heard and the two girls were approaching the automobile.

“Ouch!” grunted Neale from under the car, and Agnes giggled.

“Now he’s bumped his poor head again, and it’s sorer than ever.”

They waited for the final verdict—Mrs. Heard in a serious mind if the
girls were not. Finally Neale backed out from beneath the machine. He
held a casting in his hand, and it was so badly cracked that, when he
pressed the halves apart, it broke in two pieces.

“There’s the blamed thing!” he pronounced, with scowling emphasis.

“Sh!” exclaimed Ruth. “Don’t use such language. Can’t it be fixed?”

“Oh, yes. They grow these things on bushes right out yonder in the
fields. All I’ve got to do is to go and pick one that fits this breed of
car. Oh, yes!” retorted Neale O’Neil.

“It is tragic!” gasped Mrs. Heard.

“Then we surely will have to stay here to-night,” said Agnes, and she
did not sound as though the prospect worried her much.

“And to-morrow night—and the next night—and for several more, if you ask
me,” growled Neale. “That is, unless I can get a wagon and drive you all
to the nearest railroad station, and send you back to Milton.”

“_Nev-air_!” cried Agnes. “Let you stay here and have all the fun?
Stingy!”

“My goodness, child,” murmured the chaperone. “What do you call fun?”

“At least, it would be a novel experience,” Ruth admitted.

“You, too?” gasped Mrs. Heard. “I thought _you_ had better sense, Ruth
Kenway.”

“Well—I haven’t,” admitted the oldest Corner House girl, smiling. “How
are you going to get the thing repaired, Neale?”

“Wire to the makers. Take two or three days to get the new casting. And
we can’t run a yard without it.”

“Where will you send your telegram from?” Ruth asked.

“From the flag station—Hickton—and that’s seven miles away. I’ll have to
walk it unless I find some one to drive me there.”

“Oh, Neale! To-night?” cried Agnes.

“No. Couldn’t get to the station before it was closed, anyway. I’ll make
an early start. That is, unless you want me to hike right out now and
find a farmer who will cart you all to some place where you can get
regular beds.”

“Oh, no!” cried Agnes, again. “You sha’n’t have all the fun, Neale.”

“No-o, Neale,” said Ruth, more slowly. “I think it will be possible for
us all to stay here with you. The weather is so nice.”

“Oh, let’s stay! Let’s stay!” cried the three juveniles in chorus, and
even Tom Jonah, becoming excited too, barked his approval.

“Well, what can I do,” Mrs. Heard demanded, “with every one against me?”

So it was agreed to stay. First of all, Neale declared the car must be
got into the barn, for it might rain; and then, it did not look well to
have the automobile standing out in the open road.

“I’d like to know who you suppose is going to see it here?” demanded
Agnes, with a sniff. “I don’t believe anybody ever drives through this
road more than once a month—or unless there is a funeral in the family!”

“Maybe Saleratus Joe and that other fellow will be driving through in
Mr. Collinger’s runabout,” said Neale slyly.

“Oh, if they only would!” gasped Agnes.

“A fat chance!” returned Neale. “And what if they did? Would you hold
’em up the way that imitation constable did us, and take the car away
from them?”

“I don’t know what I’d do,” said Agnes. “But I’d do something.”

Meanwhile the boy rummaged around in the barn and found a set of blocks
and the necessary tackle. This he rigged to a beam inside the barn and
carried the rope to the car at the foot of the sloping driveway.

With the purchase this arrangement gave them, the young folks all
“tailed” on to the rope like sailors and managed to drag the automobile
into the barn; but they were more than an hour and a half at the work,
and it was growing dark when they finished.

Meanwhile nobody had appeared to forbid their camping on the Higgins
premises. A fire had been built in the open and the tripod set up. Mrs.
Heard tucked up her skirts and grilled bacon (and her face) at the fire.
There were eggs, too, and canned tongue and biscuits and plenty of
fruit. They all thought it great fun.

After supper, as it was still too early for bed, the three children
entered into a boisterous game of hide-and-go-seek. Sammy, burrowing in
the great heap of hay at the rear of the barn floor, suddenly lost his
interest in the game. He dragged something out of the hay and brought it
to Neale, who sat on the sill of the big door with pad and pencil,
composing the telegram he intended to send to the automobile
manufacturers from Hickton the next morning.

“What’s that you have, Sammy P.?” demanded Agnes, as the little fellow,
too excited to speak, put the object in Neale’s hands.

“Great cracky!” ejaculated Neale O’Neil. “Where did you get it?”

“Under the hay. There’s something there. I broke the wire that held
it—see?” said Sammy, excitedly.

“A license plate!” gasped Agnes.

“State license number! What do you know about that? Ask Mrs. Heard——”

Agnes was away like the wind. Mrs. Heard and Ruth were washing dishes at
the horse trough. The girl brought the chaperone in a hurry.

“What was Mr. Collinger’s license number, do you know?” Neale asked her.
“I mean his automobile license number.”

“The license number is twenty-four hundred and thirty-two. Goodness! I
ought to remember it.”

Neale stood up with the license plate in his hand. “We’ve found the car,
sure as you live!” he said, with conviction.



CHAPTER XXIII—ROUGHING IT


Agnes had an excellent opportunity to say “I told you so!” to Neale; but
did not even mention to her boy chum the fact that he could not have
searched the barn very thoroughly upon his first visit to the place.

For Mr. Collinger’s stolen automobile was there under the hay. By the
light of their own automobile lanterns Neale uncovered the runabout and
finally hauled it out on the barn floor.

“What do you suppose is the matter with it?” asked Ruth.

“Why, nothing, of course,” cried Mrs. Heard, almost in tears, she was so
happy. “Philly will be so delighted.”

“Guess I’d better telegraph to him in the morning when I send for that
casting—eh?” said Neale.

“Oh! if you will, Neale,” said the chaperone. “He can come and get the
car himself. Oh, dear me! isn’t this just the finest thing that’s
happened to us during our tour?”

“It is, indeed, Mrs. Heard,” Ruth agreed.

“And all because of Sammy,” said Neale. “Sammy, you’re some kid.”

“Of course I am,” agreed that irrepressible. “I guess you’re all glad
_now_ that I came with you, ain’t you?”

There was nothing bashful about Sammy Pinkney. He demanded and received
all the credit due him.

Nor did Agnes and Neale begrudge him the honor—and certainly not Mrs.
Heard. The discovery of the stolen car was sufficient to make Mrs. Heard
forget their present discomforts; while Neale and Agnes felt that their
suspicions of Saleratus Joe and the ugly man had been proved true.

“The Gypsy king told us the exact truth,” Agnes said. “I thought he was
an honest man.”

“Of course,” Dot said wonderingly. “Wasn’t he a _king_, even if he
didn’t wear a crown and carry a scalper?”

“And won’t Philly Collinger be glad? _Won’t_ he be glad?” Mrs. Heard
cried, over and over again.

Meanwhile Neale was going carefully over the recovered runabout; but he
could not examine it thoroughly by lantern-light.

“Of course, it broke down or something,” he said. “Or they wouldn’t have
abandoned it here. Just as soon as the farmer came for some of his hay
he’d have found the car. Saleratus Joe couldn’t have intended to leave
it here for long unless it needed repairing. That is, it doesn’t seem as
if he would.”

“He may come back here—he and the ugly man—_any time!_” whispered Agnes
in his ear.

“Sh! nonsense!” commanded Neale. “Anyway, we have Tom Jonah. I’ll give
the car a thorough going over when I come back from the railroad
to-morrow.”

The excitement occasioned by Sammy’s discovery kept them all awake
longer than usual. Besides, camping out in this way had not become
familiar enough to the party for them to have become used to it. Only on
the night they had remained with Luke and Cecile Shepard had they
experienced anything at all like this present situation.

It was agreed by all that they should bed in the hay. With robes and
dust-cloths from their car they made themselves very comfortable in the
heaped-up, fragrant mass of dried grass at the back of the barn.

“We are ‘bedding down’ just like cattle,” giggled Agnes. “Isn’t it fun?”

It was very comfortable, whether it was fun or not, and they soon went
to sleep and slept as heavily as the seven sleepers—whoever they may
have been—until daybreak. Tom Jonah lay at the open barn door and kept
faithful watch.

Neale was astir first, and he built a fire and made coffee. Agnes
smelled the coffee, and soon ran out in her stocking feet with her shoes
in her hand.

“Oh, Neale!” she whispered shrilly. “This is the life! Isn’t it just
great? I could live this way always. Where do you wash?”

“At the horse-trough,” said the boy.

“Oh-o! I don’t like that,” she objected.

“Dear me!” responded Neale, in a shrill falsetto, and grinning at her.
“And you could live this way always!”

“Mean thing!” she retorted. “Folks can be nice if they do live like
Gypsies.”

“Or hoboes,” added the boy.

“Well——”

“Pump fresh water for yourself, of course,” said Neale. “And put on your
shoes or you’ll bruise your feet on these pebbles.”

“My, yes! I feel as if I were doing penance,” confessed Agnes, hastening
to pull on her shoes.

They had a cozy time drinking the hot coffee and munching crackers
before the others were even astir.

“I’ll bring back a lot of grub,” promised Neale.

“And a tube of cold-cream; Ruth and I are all out. And a bottle of witch
hazel, and some animal crackers, because the kids like ’em. And some
hand lotion for Mrs. Heard—I know her bottle is almost empty. And _do_
get good tea. And don’t forget the stuffed olives——”

“Hold on,” interposed Neale, beginning to count on his fingers. “Let’s
see if I can remember all those. First, a tub of cold cream——”

“Tube! tube!” cried Agnes.

“Oh! Ah! There is a difference, isn’t there?” he responded, grinning,
and named the other articles over with some exactness. “All right. If my
memory—and my money—doesn’t give out I’ll bring them all, even if I have
to hire a four-horse wagon to cart the stuff.”

He started away at once, and was out of sight before the rest of the
party appeared from the barn, yawning but deliciously rested.
Sweet-smelling hay for a bed cannot be improved upon.

“Only,” Tess observed, “I don’t feel just right because I haven’t been
all undressed. Don’t you s’pose, Ruthie, that we could take turns having
a bath in the horse-trough?”

The others laughed at her; and it was agreed that it was not going to be
much of a cross, after all, to remain on the abandoned farm for the few
days it would be necessary to wait for the new part for the automobile.

Neale O’Neil was two hours in getting to Hickton, for it was a long
seven miles and the roads were sandy. And along the way he did not pass
a dozen houses, and none of them was very near to the Higgins farm.
Still, it was not later than eight o’clock when he sent the telegram to
the automobile factory, which was not very far away; and he ordered the
new casting sent C. O. D. to the Hickton station.

Then he telegraphed to Mr. Collinger, at Milton, in Mrs. Heard’s name.
The surveyor’s aunt had written her message carefully, so that the
ordinary reader would not understand just where the stolen car was. Mr.
Collinger was to come to Hickton and there inquire for the party of
motor car tourists.

There were two stores in sight of the railway station, and in them Neale
managed to buy enough food to last his party several days, including
eggs and milk and country butter and cheese.

Neale could never have carried all these things back to the farm, but he
found a long-legged boy with a rattling wagon drawn by a pony, and
bargained with the youth for transportation to the Higgins farm. When
the boy learned that a touring party was camped at the site of the
burned farmhouse, he was greatly amused.

“Guess old man Higgins don’t know about it, does he?” the lad asked.

“I don’t suppose he does,” admitted Neale. “But we are not doing any
harm there.”

“He, he! I reckon yer critters won’t eat up his hay, that’s sure.”

“No. Our motive power feeds on gasoline,” Neale laughed.

“By jinks! I s’pose that’s so. But I’ll drive around to old man Higgins
and tell him yer camping there—jest ter see what he’ll say.”

Neale told Mrs. Heard this, and the chaperone decided to send a note to
the owner of the place, requesting permission to remain at the abandoned
farm and offering to pay for the accommodation if the owner so desired.

The party was quite settled in the camping place by this time.

“We really _are_ Gypsies,” Mrs. Heard said. “And I never in my life saw
children so delighted as these of ours are at the present time.
Goodness! they will never want to live properly again.”

It was not alone the little folks who fully enjoyed the situation. Ruth
found a big, clean galvanized iron pail and proceeded to wash all the
clothes that did not need starch and a hot iron. She had filled a long
line before Neale returned from Hickton.

After the noon meal Neale went to work on the stolen car. He made an
important discovery in a very short time. There was absolutely nothing
the matter with Mr. Collinger’s car, though there was no gasoline in the
tank!

“I wonder if those fellows found it out before they abandoned it here?”
Mrs. Heard queried.

“Well, if they went away just to get some gas for it, they’ve been gone
a long time,” giggled Agnes. “But Neale might have saved himself the
walk to Hickton if he’d found this out last night.”

“Oh, yes; if the rabbit hadn’t stopped to take a nap he’d have won the
race over Mr. Tortoise,” retorted Neale. “We know all about those
might-have-beens.”

“But—really—I wonder,” said the chaperone slowly.

“You wonder what, Mrs. Heard?” asked Ruth.

“I wonder what became of those maps and things that Philly was so
careful of. If they were in the car——”

“Then Saleratus Joe got ’em,” said Neale promptly.

“No. I don’t believe the politicians who instigated the robbery have
obtained what they hoped to find in this car. I—wonder—where—they—are.”

“Not in the gasoline tank, that’s sure,” said Neale. “I looked in it.”

They all laughed at that, and Mrs. Heard abandoned the puzzling subject.

There was nothing to do of importance but to wait for the message from
the automobile factory. Neale tried out the car that had been stolen
from Mrs. Heard’s nephew and Mrs. Heard herself enjoyed a ride in it. It
was a very good car indeed, and beautifully upholstered.

“I know Philly told me he had this car built according to his own plans,
and I’ve wondered since if he didn’t have a place built in it in which
to hide his private papers,” Mrs. Heard said. “It would be just like
him.”

“Oh! wouldn’t that be great?” cried Agnes.

“And then maybe the maps and things are in the car,” Ruth said.

“Who knows? I am quite confident, because of what my nephew said, that
the bundle the thieves got in the car was worthless. I remember his
saying: ’Those rascals won’t get what they want unless they tear my car
to pieces.’ Now, what could he have meant by _that_?”

The problem interested the older Corner House girls and Neale very much.
Agnes examined the upholstering and the panel-work of the runabout very
closely.

“Perhaps Saleratus Joe did find the papers. That’s why the car was
abandoned here,” she said to Neale, with a sigh.

“Well, if they found the secret panel,” said the boy, grinning, “they
didn’t leave it open so we could find it, did they?”

“You needn’t make fun,” said Agnes. “If I find the papers I won’t tell
you—so now!”

“Help yourself,” he returned. “I’m not half so much interested in Mr.
Collinger’s affairs as I am in our own car. I hope the factory hustles
that casting right along.”

They could not expect it yet, and the remainder of the day was spent in
roaming about the farm. The children found the biggest huckleberry
pasture any of them had ever seen. Mrs. Heard’s housewifely desires were
spurred.

“I do wish these berries were near Milton,” she declared. “I’d can
enough of them to last the winter through for huckleberry pies.”

They were getting supper, Gypsy fashion, when the lanky boy with the
pony drove up with the answers to the telegrams Neale had sent that
morning from the Hickton station.

“Hurrah!” shouted Neale, the moment he read his message. “The thing is
already shipped. When does the first train from the south stop at
Hickton in the morning?” he asked the messenger.

“Eight-thirty,” was the reply.

“It will be on that. I’ll run over in Mr. Collinger’s car and get it.”

“And Philly says he’ll come up here some time to-morrow, too,” announced
Mrs. Heard. “We sha’n’t have to live in a barn but one night more.”

“Oh, say!” drawled the country lad. “Old man Higgins says you kin stay
here as long as ye want to, if ye don’t burn up the rest o’ the
buildings.”



CHAPTER XXIV—SOMETHING REALLY EXCITING


A very red-faced sun awoke the touring party the next morning, his first
rays shooting directly into the broad doorway of the barn—an intruder
that Tom Jonah, faithful watchman as he was, could not keep out. The
sunshine shone directly into the eyes of the Corner House girls and
their friends.

All were quickly astir. They expected to be on their way again before
night; and although roughing it had been fun, there were some drawbacks
to it.

“We’ll sleep in regular beds again to-night,” Agnes said, with some
satisfaction.

“But I don’t believe it will be half so nice,” Tess observed. “This hay
is so sweet and smelly.”

“Now, Sammy Pinkney!” cried Dot, suddenly spying that youngster in
mischief, “don’t pull that nice pussy’s tail. It hurts her.”

“Ain’t pulling her tail,” replied Sammy promptly. “I’m only holding her
tail. The cat’s doing all the pulling.”

Agnes bore down upon him and he immediately ceased holding poor pussy’s
tail.

“Say! you’re awful particular,” complained the boy. “I wasn’t really
hurting the old cat, Aggie. And—and it ain’t polite to always be
interferin’ with a feller.”

“Now you’ve got it, Aggie,” chuckled Neale O’Neil. “You see you’re not
polite. And politeness costs nothing.”

“Oh! doesn’t it?” returned Agnes. “Suppose you’d put ‘very respectfully
yours’ at the end of that telegram you sent to the auto factory? I guess
you’d have found it cost something.”

“Stung again!” admitted Neale.

“Why, what is all this I hear?” demanded Ruth, coming up from the horse
trough pump bearing a brimming pail of water. “Did somebody get out of
bed on the wrong side this bright and beautiful morning?”

“It was the cat,” said Neale, in a sepulchral voice. “_She_ started it.”

“Which side is the wrong side of a hay-mow bed, Ruthie?” Tess asked.

“That’s a poser,” Neale said. “You’ll have to ask somebody else about
that, eh, Ruth? Now, hustle along the breakfast, you girls, for I must
start for Hickton.”

“And I’m going with you, Neale,” Agnes declared. “You can speed up that
runabout as fast as you want to. The others won’t be along to object.”

This last remark she whispered in Neale’s ear.

“I tell you, Aggie, you’re a speed maniac,” responded Neale. “But if
Mrs. Heard says you may go off alone with me, all right.”

Agnes had learned by this time to wheedle the good-natured chaperone
into agreeing to almost anything the girls desired; and of course she
had no objection to Agnes’ going anywhere with Neale. Whether the Corner
House girls realized it or not, they could not have had a brother any
more careful for them or better to them than Neale O’Neil.

So the girl and boy chums were on the road in the runabout soon after
eight. Mr. Collinger’s was a good machine, and it ran smoothly. But
Agnes suddenly had an unhappy thought.

“Oh, Neale!” she said, clasping her hands.

“Shoot!” advised the boy, with his eyes on the road ahead.

“We’re riding in a stolen car.”

“Sure we are. What of it?”

“And all the constables and sheriffs and policemen all over the State
have the description of this car and her license number. What are you
going to do if an officer holds us up?”

“Cracky! never thought of it,” admitted the boy. “I expect they’ll jail
us.”

“Horrid thing! But we _may_ have an unpleasant time explaining it.”

“Well, let us hope nothing like that occurs,” he said; but Agnes was
troubled by the possibility of arrest all the way to the station and
back again.

The casting was waiting for them and Neale paid the expressman and then
the runabout was headed for the Higgins farm. As Neale and Agnes came in
view of the farm buildings none of their party was in sight; but coming
across a distant field were two men who seemed to be carrying something
heavy between them.

“First natives we’ve seen wandering around here,” Neale observed. “And
where are the folks?”

“All gone berrying,” Agnes replied. “They said they were going to fill
every receptacle we have before leaving the Higgins place. I never _did_
see so many berries.”

Neale ran the runabout up to the barn, but did not drive it inside. The
big doors had been closed and their own car stood within on the barn
floor, but out of sight.

“Let’s go berrying too, just as soon as I slip this thing into place,”
Neale suggested.

Although the broken casting had caused so much trouble, it did not take
five minutes to put the new one into place. He tried the engine, and
everything worked well.

“All right,” he announced, coming out of the small door of the barn
again. “Shall we chase over after the others?”

“Yes. And tell them it’s all right. We can start off any time now,”
Agnes said.

“Hullo! I guess we’ll have to wait for Mr. Collinger to show up for his
car.”

“Oh, dear me, yes. I did not think of that,” Agnes returned. “I—I wish
Mrs. Heard hadn’t telegraphed for him. Then we could have driven his car
to Milton with ours too. _I_ could have driven it.”

“No license, Aggie,” said Neale. “You can’t drive a car. Say! did you
see that?”

“See what, Neale?” she asked him, looking all around.

“I thought I saw a man slip behind that far shed.”

“Why! what’s become of those two men we saw crossing the field yonder?”
demanded the girl, with interest.

“Oh, they must have reached the road by this time,” and Neale went on
again. “I guess we needn’t bother about them.”

But after a moment he said, in a puzzled tone: “That fellow dodged
behind the shed as though he did not want to be seen. Funny——”

“They might steal some of our things,” Agnes said. “We ought not to
leave the place unguarded. Come on back, Neale.”

“Well—maybe you are right,” admitted the boy. “Though probably they are
harmless folks.”

“They could steal the automobiles,” declared Agnes.

“Now, don’t work yourself up into a conniption fit,” chuckled Neale.
“You think everybody you see is an automobile thief.”

“Oh! what’s that?”

The sudden sputtering of an engine was audible. Somebody was trying the
starter of the runabout they had left standing in the shade before the
barn.

“Fooling with it, of course!” muttered Neale, starting to run.

“They are stealing it!” whispered Agnes, determined to believe the
worst.

It seemed as though, on this occasion, Agnes was right. As they dashed
around the corner of the stable and reached the open yard, the runabout
began to “chug-chug” regularly, and they saw it being steered out of the
Higgins premises.

“Hey, there! Stop!” yelled Neale.

“Oh, Neale!” wailed Agnes. “It’s that Saleratus Joe and the ugly man.”

She was correct. The freckled-faced fellow who had been Mr. Jim Brady’s
chauffeur was driving the re-stolen automobile, while the ugly man sat
beside him. The latter turned around and laughed at the excited boy and
girl as the runabout swerved into the road and took the direction of the
railroad at a fast clip.

“Oh, dear me! what will Mrs. Heard say?” gasped Agnes.

“What will Mr. Collinger say? That’s more to the point,” growled Neale.
“Who would have thought that those fellows were around here? And there’s
the can they brought with them. Gasoline, of course. They didn’t have to
use it, for the tank of the runabout is nearly full.”

“What _shall_ we do, Neale?” cried Agnes.

Neale was practical, when once he recovered from his first amazement. He
dashed into the barn and swung open the big doors.

“They didn’t see our car,” he cried. “And let me tell you they can’t get
away from it. I can drive our car much faster than they can run that
little one—believe me!”

He tried the starter, glanced into the gas tank, and then got in behind
the steering wheel.

“Well, Neale O’Neil!” cried Agnes. “You’re not going alone—not much!”

As the car started she swung herself aboard. Neale said, hastily:

“I don’t know about your going with me, Aggie. There may be trouble——”

“I don’t care. I’m going,” she said, with determination. “I wouldn’t
miss this for a farm!”

“Hang on!” he cried, as the big car rumbled out of the barn.

The mechanism worked all right, and when they turned into the road the
stolen motor car was not yet out of sight.

“And we won’t let it get out of sight,” Neale declared. “I just wish
we’d run into that Sheriff Keech again. But he lives a long way from
here.”

“Why, Neale!” laughed his girl companion, “he isn’t even sheriff over
here. Don’t you remember that we’re in another county now?”

“Cracky! I’d forgotten that. Well, we’ve got no pull with the officers
of the law in this county, perhaps; but neither has Saleratus Joe. I’m
going to hang right to those fellows until there’s a chance of getting
them arrested.”

For once Agnes was satisfied with the speed of the car. It roared along
the road, jolting over the uneven spots, thundering over a wooden bridge
which spanned a creek, finally shooting into the main highway to the
railroad station, not a hundred yards behind the stolen car.

By this time the ugly man, who often looked around, was not laughing at
the Corner House girl and her companion. Without doubt Saleratus Joe was
driving the runabout at top speed; but the small car did not have the
powerful engine that had been built into the larger car.

They passed nobody on the road—no vehicle at least. And that was a good
thing, too; for almost any horse would have been frightened by the
onrush of the two cars.

“What do you suppose they mean to do? Where are they going?” shouted
Agnes in Neale’s ear.

“I haven’t the least idea,” returned the boy. “But I know what _I’m_
going to do.”

“What is that?” she asked.

“Hang to ’em! Hang just like a bulldog to a tramp’s coat-tail,” declared
Neale O’Neil.

At that moment the little station at Hickton came into sight. There were
two men, talking excitedly, standing directly in the middle of the
highway, and, when they sighted these two men, the thieves in the
runabout slowed down.



CHAPTER XXV—WELCOME HOME


“Oh, Neale!” gasped Agnes, hanging to his arm as the big car came
roaring down to the Hickton railway station. “Oh, Neale! that’s that
horrid Brady man.”

It was plain to be seen that one of the men in the middle of the road
was the Milton politician, Jim Brady. But the other man——

“It’s the surveyor. I know him,” whispered Neale, shutting off the
engine. “Mr. Philip Collinger, Mrs. Heard’s nephew. It’s all over now
but the shouting, Aggie. I bet he doesn’t let that car of his get away
again.”

Indeed, the two men from Milton had stopped the runabout, and the
freckled-faced fellow and the ugly man with him were caught, red-handed.

“Get out of my car!” Neale and Agnes heard Mr. Collinger command the two
rascals. “I’d like to know how you got it again? I know that it was in
the hands of friends of mine yesterday. This henchman of yours, Brady,
is a born thief.”

“He’s a born fool,” growled the fat man, mopping his bald brow and
glaring at the cringing Joe.

The other fellow was quietly slipping around the corner of the railroad
station. He was not going to be present during this altercation.

“He’s something besides a fool,” said Mr. Collinger sternly. “It’s
_you_, Brady, who have shown a lack of wit. I know very well you put
this fellow up to taking my car because you thought I was carrying those
road maps around in it.”

“You think a whole lot, Collinger,” snarled the big man. “But you can’t
prove a thing.”

“No. Not unless Joe, here, turns state’s evidence, and he wouldn’t dare
do that. I know the sort of hold you have on such fellows, Brady. But,
nevertheless, _you_ are the goat in this matter.”

“Huh?” queried the politician.

Mr. Collinger went to his car, drawing a bunch of keys from his pocket
as he did so. He selected a flat key and quickly inserted it in a tiny
aperture in the face-panel of the seat—an aperture that the uninitiated
would never dream was a keyhole.

To the amazement of all, the county surveyor slipped aside the panel and
displayed a shallow closet filled with rolls of parchment.

“Just what I thought, Brady,” he said, with scorn. “You had ’em in the
stolen auto all the time. Now the time has come to deliver them to the
commission and I sha’n’t carry them any more. Now, who was the fool,
Brady?”

But the big man was stamping away to the platform. Saleratus Joe slunk
after him like a whipped cur.

“You are two of the young folks my aunt is traveling with, I take it?”
said Mr. Collinger, turning to Neale and Agnes. “And I guess you were
chasing those fellows.”

“Yes, Mr. Collinger,” Agnes said. “And they would not have got away from
us.”

“I am sure they would not,” he returned, smiling. “Tell me about it.”

So the story was told, and then Mr. Collinger decided to drive back to
the Higgins place and see Mrs. Heard before starting for Milton. He was
warm in his praise of the Corner House girls and Neale, as well as of
Sammy Pinkney, for what they had done toward aiding him in securing the
car.

The girls did not understand fully the reasons underlying the stealing
of the runabout, or why Mr. Collinger did not intend to prosecute Jim
Brady and the freckled-faced man.

“I wouldn’t make anything out of it,” the surveyor said. “And I have the
car back and, best of all, the maps and papers they wanted to get from
me. I am satisfied.”

He remained to dinner with the touring party, and then started back for
Milton. But it was not the intention of the Corner House girls and their
party to go home immediately.

They spent four more days on the road—days of pure delight for all the
Kenway sisters, for even Sammy behaved well during that part of the
tour.

Yet, after all, they were glad to get home when the car rolled up to the
Willow Street gate of the Stower homestead. Mrs. MacCall and Linda ran
out of the gate to welcome them. Uncle Rufus hobbled around from the
garden, swinging his tattered straw hat and cheering. Even Aunt Sarah
Maltby appeared on the porch to welcome somewhat grimly her nieces and
Neale O’Neil.

Then, from across the street came Mrs. Pinkney, with a delighted scream
of welcome.

“Oh, Sammy! How you’ve grown!” she declared, when she had hugged and
kissed the would-be pirate, and then stood off to look at him.

“Huh! that’s Ruth’s fault,” he said. “She made me wash so often. You
know, watering things like that is what makes ’em grow.”

“This Corner House is the loneliest place in the world without you
lassies in it,” declared Mrs. MacCall, having hugged the four girls in
rotation, and then started all over again.

Aunt Sarah expressed herself as glad to see her nieces again. “As long
as you haven’t been killed in that automobile, I presume we should all
be thankful,” she said. “But I did not expect to see you all return with
whole bones.”

“And one time, when me and Tess were lost, and before we found the
Gypsies,” confessed Dot, “I thought that funny bone in my back _was_
broke, Aunt Sarah. But it got mended again.”

There was a regular “party” of all the Corner House girls’ young friends
soon after their return, and the adventures of the tour by automobile
were related to everybody.

Ruth could remember all about the beautiful scenery they saw and the
queer old inns they stopped at. She really had gained much entertainment
from the trip.

Agnes’ mind was full of the incidents of the stolen automobile, and how
it had been found, and how she and Neale had chased the thieves to the
Hickton station where the car was captured. To hear her tell it, it had
been a most exciting time.

Dot’s mind seemed full of the Gypsies and her adventures with Tess when
they were lost and had slept all night under a tree. “And that old owl
that shouted at us and wanted to know our names,” she said. “Just as
plain as could be, he hollered: ‘Who? Who? Who?’”

But Tess was thoughtful. Somebody asked her what she was thinking of.

“Why, I’ll tell you,” said the next to the smallest Corner House girl.
“I can’t get over Neale being so—so _stingy_. I’ve asked him, and I’ve
asked him, and he just _won’t_.”

“He won’t what?”

“Why, he won’t tell me what he whispered into the ear of Mrs. Heard’s
brown pony to make him go. And I think he might!”

                                THE END



Charming Stories for Girls

THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS SERIES

By Grace Brooks Hill

Four girls from eight to fourteen years of age receive word that a rich
bachelor uncle has died, leaving them the old Corner House he occupied.
They move into it and then the fun begins. What they find and do will
provoke many a hearty laugh. Later, they enter school and make many
friends. One of these invites the girls to spend a few weeks at a
bungalow owned by her parents, and the adventures they meet with make
very interesting reading. Clean, wholesome stories of humor and
adventure, sure to appeal to all young girls.

   1 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS.
   2 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AT SCHOOL.
   3 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS UNDER CANVAS.
   4 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS IN A PLAY.
   5 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS’ ODD FIND.
   6 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A TOUR.
   7 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS GROWING UP.
   8 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS SNOWBOUND.
   9 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A HOUSEBOAT.
  10 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AMONG THE GYPSIES.
  11 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON PALM ISLAND.
  12 THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS SOLVE A MYSTERY.
  13 THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS FACING THE WORLD.

Publishers
BARSE & CO.
New York, N. Y.—Newark, N. J.



ELIZABETH ANN SERIES
By Josephine Lawrence

For Girls from 7 to 12

Elizabeth Ann is a little girl whom we first meet on a big train,
travelling all alone. Her father and mother have sailed for Japan, and
she is sent back East to visit at first one relative’s home, and then
another. Of course, she meets many new friends, some of whom she is
quite happy with, while others—but you must read the stories for
yourself. Every other girl who reads the first of these charming books
will want all the rest; for Elizabeth Ann is certainly worth the
cultivating.

  THE ADVENTURES OF ELIZABETH ANN.
  ELIZABETH ANN AT MAPLE SPRING.
  ELIZABETH ANN’S SIX COUSINS.
  ELIZABETH ANN and DORIS.
  ELIZABETH ANN’S BORROWED GRANDMA.
  ELIZABETH ANN’S SPRING VACATION.
  ELIZABETH ANN and UNCLE DOCTOR.

Publishers
BARSE & CO.
New York, N. Y.—Newark, N. J.



HAT MAY
An Enchanted Princess

By
Lucy Thurston Abbott

For girls from 8 to 14
NET $1.00

This charming story is concerned with the fortunes of a little girl whom
a whim of Fate has placed in charge of a woman and her lame husband
living on the New England coast—the Winkiepaw pair—and the woman, whom
Hat May always looks upon as a cruel ogress of her imaginary fairy
world, treats her very badly indeed.

The story covering Hat May’s doings is everything that a book for girls
between the ages of eight and fourteen should be. The characters are
skillfully drawn and true to nature; also while there is considerable
pathos connected with the ill-treatment of Hat May; so too there is
discovered in the telling an abundance of childish and delightful humor.

Publishers
BARSE & CO.
New York, N. Y.—Newark, N. J.



THE RUSTY-CATS
A story of Hat May and her friends.

BY
Lucy Thurston Abbott

Author of “Hat May.”
(For Girls from 8 to 14)

Summer has come again to Carey Hill bringing with it the “rusticators,”
or, as the Carey children are called, the “rusty-cats.” With them comes
happiness to Hat May the little enchanted princess, and hope of recovery
to her little crippled friend, Hank. The mystic rites of The Seven
Bloody Bones baffle prying Mrs. Winkiepaw who is forced to grant more
freedom to her slave, Hat May. The success of Ariel’s wonderful play,
written especially for the Seven, buys a wheel-chair for Hank, and then
when the summer is over, and life with the ogress becomes too hard to
bear, Phin cleverly rescues Hat May and defeats the ill-tempered ogress.
Can anyone guess the beautiful word which disenchants Hat May and takes
her from her dreary and sordid existence to one of beauty and happiness?

Price Net $1.00

Publishers
BARSE & CO.
New York, N. Y.—Newark, N. J.





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