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Raymond Evelyn
Dorothy on a House Boat

CHAPTER I
A BIG GIFT FOR A SMALL MAID

“Well, of all things!” exclaimed Mrs. Betty Calvert, shaking her white head and tossing her hands in a gesture of amazement. Then, as the letter she had held fell to the floor, her dark eyes twinkled with amusement and she smilingly demanded: “Dorothy, do you want an elephant?”

The girl had been reading her own letters, just come in the morning’s mail, but she paused to stare at her great-aunt and to ask in turn:

“Aunt Betty, what do you mean?”

“Because if you do here’s the chance of your life to get one!” answered the old lady, motioning toward the fallen letter.

Dolly understood that she was to pick it up and read it, and, having done so, remarked:

“Auntie dear, this doesn’t say anything about an elephant, as I can see.”

“Amounts to the same thing. The idea of a house-boat as a gift to a girl like you! My cousin Seth Winters must be getting into his dotage! Of course, girlie, I don’t mean that fully, but isn’t it a queer notion? What in the world can you, could you, do with a house-boat?”

“Live in it, sail in it, have the jolliest time in it! Why not, Auntie, darling?”

Dorothy’s face was shining with eagerness and she ran to clasp Mrs. Calvert with coaxing arms. “Why not, indeed, Aunt Betty? You’ve been shut up in this hot city all summer long; you haven’t had a bit of an outing, anywhere; it would do you lots of good to go sailing about on the river or bay; and – and – do say ‘yes,’ please, to dear Mr. Seth’s offer! Oh! do!”

The old lady kissed the uplifted face, merrily exclaiming:

“Don’t pretend it’s for my benefit, little wheedler! The idea of such a thing is preposterous – simply preposterous! Run away and write the silly man that we’ve no use for house-boats, but if he does happen to have an elephant on hand, a white elephant, we might consider accepting it as a gift! We could have it kept at the park Zoo, maybe, and some city youngsters might like that.”

Dorothy’s face clouded. She had become accustomed to receiving rich gifts, during her Summer on a Ranch, as the guest of the wealthy Fords, and now to have a house-boat offered her was only one more of the wonderful things life brought to her.

Going back to her seat beside the open window she pushed her own letters aside, for the moment, to re-read that of her old teacher and guardian, during her life on the mountain by the Hudson. She had always believed Mr. Winters to be the wisest of men, justly entitled to his nickname of the “Learned Blacksmith.” He wasn’t one to do anything without a good reason and, of course, Aunt Betty’s remarks about him had been only in jest. That both of them understood; and Dorothy now searched for the reason of this surprising gift. This was the letter:

“Dear Cousin Betty:

“Mr. Blank has failed in business, just as you warned me he would, and all I can recover of the money I loaned him is what is tied up in a house-boat, one of his many extravagances – though, in this case, not a great one.

“Of course, I have no use for such a floating structure on top of a mountain and I want to give it to our little Dorothy. As she has now become a shareholder in a mine with a small income of her own, she can afford to accept the boat and I know she will enjoy it. I have forwarded the deed of gift to my lawyers in your town and trust your own tangled business affairs are coming out right in the end. All well at Deerhurst. Jim Barlow came down to say that Dr. Sterling is going abroad for a few months and that the manse will be closed. I wish the boy were ready for college, but he isn’t. Also, that he wasn’t too proud to accept any help from Mr. Ford – but he is. He says the discovery of that mine on that gentleman’s property was an ‘accident’ on his own part, and he ‘won’t yet awhile.’ He wants ‘to earn his own way through the world’ and, from present appearances, I think he’ll have a chance to try. He’s on the lookout now for another job.”

There followed a few more sentences about affairs in the highland village where the writer lived, but not a doubt was expressed as to the fitness of his extraordinary gift to a little girl, nor of its acceptance by her. Indeed, it was a puzzled, disappointed face which was now raised from the letter and an appealing glance that was cast upon the old lady in the chair by the desk.

Meanwhile Aunt Betty had been doing some thinking of her own. She loved novelty with all the zest of a girl and she was fond of the water. Mr. Winters’s offer began to seem less absurd. Finally, she remarked:

“Well, dear, you may leave the writing of that note for a time. I’m obliged to go down town on business, this morning, and after my errands are done we will drive to that out-of-the-way place where this house-boat is moored and take a look at it. Are all those letters from your summer-friends? For a small person you have established a big correspondence, but, of course, it won’t last long. Now run and tell Ephraim to get up the carriage. I’ll be ready in twenty minutes.”

Dorothy hastily piled her notes on the wide window-ledge and skipped from the room, clapping her hands and singing as she went. To her mind Mrs. Calvert’s consent to visit the house-boat was almost proof that it would be accepted. If it were – Ah! glorious!

“Ephraim, did you ever live in a house-boat?” she demanded, bursting in upon the old colored coachman, engaged in his daily task of “shinin’ up de harness.”

He glanced at her over his “specs,” then as hastily removed them and stuffed them into his pocket. It was his boast that he could see as “well as evah” and needed no such aids to his sight. He hated to grow old and those whom he served so faithfully rarely referred to the fact.

So Dorothy ignored the “specs,” though she couldn’t help smiling to see one end of their steel frame sticking out from the pocket, while she repeated to his astonished ears her question.

“Evah lib in a house-boat? Evah kiss a cat’s lef’ hind foot? Nebah heered o’ no such contraption. Wheah’s it at – dat t’ing?”

“Away down at some one of the wharves and we’re going to see it right away. Oh! I forget. Aunt Betty wants the carriage at the door in twenty minutes. In fifteen, now, I guess because ‘time flies’ fairly away from me. But, Ephy, dear, try to put your mind to the fact that likely, I guess, maybe, you and I and everybody will go and live on the loveliest boat, night and day, and every day go sailing – sailing – sailing – on pretty rivers, between green banks and heaps of flowers, and – ”

Ephraim rose from his stool and waved her away.

“Gwan erlong wid yo’ foolishness honey gell! Yo’ dreamin’, an’ my Miss Betty ain’ gwine done erlow no such notionses. My Miss Betty done got sense, she hab, bress her! She ain’ gwine hab not’in’ so scan’lous in yo’ raisin’ as dat yeah boat talk. Gwan an’ hunt yo’ bunnit, if you-all ’spects to ride in ouah bawoosh.”

Dorothy always exploded in a gale of laughter to hear Ephraim’s efforts to pronounce “barouche,” as he liked to call the old carriage; and she now swept a mocking curtsey to his pompous dismissal, as she hurried away to put on her “bunnit” and coat. To Ephraim, any sort of feminine headgear was simply a “bunnit” and every wrap was a “shawl.”

Soon the fat horses drew the glistening carriage through the gateway of Bellvieu, the fine old residence of the Calverts, and down through the narrow, crowded streets of the business part of old Baltimore. To loyal Mrs. Betty, who had passed the greater part of her long life in the southern city, it was very dear and even beautiful; but to Dorothy’s young eyes it seemed, on that early autumn day, very “smelly” and almost squalid. Her mind still dwelt upon visions of sunny rivers and green fields, and she was too anxious for her aunt’s acceptance of Mr. Winters’s gift to keep still.

Fidgetting from side to side of the carriage seat, where she had been left to wait, the impatient girl felt that Aunt Betty’s errands were endless. Even the fat horses, used to standing quietly on the street, grew restless during a long delay at the law offices of Kidder and Kidder, Mrs. Calvert’s men of business. This, the lady had said, would be the last stop by the way; and when she at length emerged from the building, she moved as if but half conscious of what she was doing. Her face was troubled and looked far older than when she had left the carriage; and, with sudden sympathy and pity, Dorothy’s mood changed.

“Aunt Betty, aren’t you well? Let’s go straight home, then, and not bother about that boat.”

Mrs. Calvert smiled and bravely put her own worries behind her.

“Thank you, dear, for your consideration, but ‘the last’s the best of all the game,’ as you children say. I’ve begun to believe that this boat errand of ours may prove so. Ephraim, drive to Halcyon Point.”

If his mistress had bidden him drive straight into the Chesapeake, the old coachman would have attempted to obey; but he could not refrain from one glance of dismay as he received this order. He wouldn’t have risked his own respectability by a visit to such a “low down, ornery” resort, alone; but if Miss Betty chose to go there it was all right. Her wish was “sutney cur’us” but being hers not to be denied.

And now, indeed, did Dorothy find the city with its heat a “smelly” place, but a most interesting one as well. The route lay through the narrowest of streets, where tumble-down old houses swarmed with strange looking people. To her it all seemed like some foreign country, with its Hebrew signs on the walls, its bearded men of many nations, and its untidy women leaning from the narrow windows, scolding the dirty children in the gutters beneath.

But after a time, the lane-like streets gave place to wider ones, the air grew purer, and soon a breath from the salt water beyond refreshed them all. Almost at once, it seemed, they had arrived; and Dorothy eagerly sought to tell which of the various craft clustered about the Point was her coveted house-boat.

The carriage drew up beside a little office on the pier and a man came out. He courteously assisted Aunt Betty to descend, while he promptly pointed out a rather squat, but pretty, boat which he informed her was the “Water Lily,” lately the property of Mr. Blank, but now consigned to one Mr. Seth Winters, of New York, to be held at the commands of Miss Dorothy Calvert.

“A friend of yours, Madam?” he inquired, concluding that this stately old lady could not be the “Miss” in question and wholly forgetting that the little maid beside her might possibly be such.

Aunt Betty laid her hand on Dolly’s shoulder and answered:

“This is Miss Dorothy Calvert and the ‘Water Lily’ is a gift from Mr. Winters to her. Can we go on board and inspect?”

The gentleman pursed his lips to whistle, he was so surprised, but instead exclaimed:

“What a lucky girl! The ‘Water Lily’ is the most complete craft of its kind I ever saw. Mr. Blank spared no trouble nor expense in fitting her up for a summer home for his family. She is yacht-shaped and smooth-motioned; and even her tender is better than most house-boats in this country. Blank must be a fanciful man, for he named the tender ‘The Pad,’ meaning leaf, I suppose, and the row-boat belonging is ‘The Stem.’ Odd, isn’t it, Madam?”

“Rather; but will just suit this romantic girl, here,” she replied; almost as keen pleasure now lighting her face as was shining from Dorothy’s. At her aunt’s words she caught the lady’s hand and kissed it rapturously, exclaiming:

“Then you do mean to let me accept it, you precious, darling dear! You do, you do!”

They all laughed, even Ephraim, who was close at his lady’s heels, acting the stout body-guard who would permit nothing to harm her in this strange place.

The Water Lily lay lower in the water than the dock and Mrs. Calvert was carefully helped down the gang plank to its deck. Another plank rested upon the top of the cabin, or main room of the house-boat, and Dorothy sped across this and hurried down the steep little winding stair, leading from it to the lower deck, to join in her aunt’s inspection of the novel “ship.”

Delighted astonishment hushed for the time her nimble tongue. Then her exclamations burst forth:

“It’s so big!”

“About one hundred feet long, all told, and eighteen wide;” the wharf master explained.

“It’s all furnished, just like a really, truly house!”

“Indeed, yes; with every needful comfort but not one superfluous article. See this, please. The way the ‘bedrooms’ are shut off;” continued the gentleman, showing how the three feet wide window-seats were converted into sleeping quarters. Heavy sail cloth had been shaped into partitions, and these fastened to ceiling and side wall separated the cots into cosy little staterooms. Extra seats, pulled from under the first ones, furnished additional cots, if needed.

The walls of the saloon had been sunk below the deck line, giving ample head room, and the forward part was of solid glass, while numerous side-windows afforded fine views in every direction. The roof of this large room could be covered by awnings and became a charming promenade deck.

Even Aunt Betty became speechless with pleasure as she wandered over the beautiful boat, examining every detail, from the steam-heating arrangements to the tiny “kitchen,” which was upon the “tender” behind.

“I thought the tug, or towing boat was always in front,” she remarked at length.

“Mr. Blank found this the best arrangement. The ‘Pad’ has a steam engine and its prow fastened to the stern of the Lily propels it ahead. None of the smoke comes into the Lily and that, too, was why the galley, or kitchen, was built on the smaller boat. A little bridge is slung between the two for foot passage and – Well, Madam, I can’t stop admiring the whole affair. It shows what a man’s brain can do in the way of invention, when his heart is in it, too. I fancy that parting with his Water Lily was about the hardest trial poor old Blank had to bear.”

Silence fell on them all and Dorothy’s face grew very sober. It was a wonderful thing that this great gift should come to her but it grieved her to know it had so come by means of another’s misfortune. Aunt Betty, too, grew more serious and she asked the practical question:

“Is it a very expensive thing to run? Say for about three months?”

The official shrugged his shoulders, replying:

“That depends on what one considers expensive. It would smash my pocket-book to flinders. The greatest cost would be the engineer’s salary. One might take the job for three dollars a day and keep. He might – I don’t know. Then the coal, the power for the electric lights – the lots of little things that crop up to eat up cash as if it were good bread and butter. Ah! yes. It’s a lovely toy – for those who can afford it. I only wish I could!”

The man’s remarks ended in a sigh and he looked at Dorothy as if he envied her. His expression hurt her, somehow, and she turned away her eyes, asking a practical question of her own:

“Would three hundred dollars do it?”

“Yes – for a time, at least. But – ”

He broke off abruptly and helped Aunt Betty to ascend the plank to the wharf, while Dorothy followed, soberly, and Ephraim with all the pomposity he could assume.

There Methuselah Bonaparte Washington, the small colored boy who had always lived at Bellvieu and now served as Mrs. Betty’s page as well as footman, descended from his perch and untied the horses from the place where careful Ephraim had fastened them. His air was a perfect imitation of the old man’s and sat so funnily upon his small person that the wharf master chuckled and Dorothy laughed outright.

“Metty,” as he was commonly called, disdained to see the mirth he caused but climbed to his seat behind, folded his arms as well as he could for his too big livery, and became as rigid as a statue – or as all well-conducted footmen should be.

Then good-byes were exchanged, after the good old Maryland fashion and the carriage rolled away.

As it vanished from view the man left behind sighed again and clenched his fists, muttering:

“This horrible, uneven world! Why should one child have so much and my Elsa – nothing! Elsa, my poor, unhappy child!”

Then he went about his duties and tried to forget Dorothy’s beauty, perfect health, and apparent wealth.

For some time neither Mrs. Calvert nor Dorothy spoke; then the girl said:

“Aunt Betty, Jim Barlow could tend that engine. And he’s out of a place. Maybe – ”

“Yes, dear, I’ve been thinking of him, too. Somehow none of our plans seem quite perfect without good, faithful James sharing them.”

“And that poor Mr. Blank – ”

“A very dishonest scoundrel, my child, according to all accounts. Don’t waste pity on him.”

“But his folks mayn’t be scoundrels. He loved them, too, same as we love or he wouldn’t have built such a lovely Water Lily. Auntie, that boat would hold a lot of people, wouldn’t it?”

“I suppose so,” answered the lady, absently.

“When we go house-boating may I invite anybody I choose to go with us?”

“I haven’t said yet that we would go!”

“But you’ve looked it and that’s better.”

Just then an automobile whizzed by and the horses pretended to be afraid. Mrs. Calvert was frightened and leaned forward anxiously till Ephraim had brought them down to quietness again. Then she settled back against her cushions and became once more absorbed in her own sombre thoughts. She scarcely heard and wholly failed to understand Dorothy’s repeated question:

“May I, dear Aunt Betty?”

She answered carelessly:

“Why, yes, child. You may do what you like with your own.”

But that consent, so rashly given, was to bring some strange adventures in its train.

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Dorothy on a House Boat

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На этой странице вы можете прочитать онлайн книгу «Dorothy on a House Boat», автора Evelyn Raymond. Данная книга имеет возрастное ограничение 12+, относится к жанру «Зарубежные детские книги».. Книга «Dorothy on a House Boat» была издана в 2017 году. Приятного чтения!