The Corner House Girls

I decided to search for examples of lesser-known early series books and discovered The Corner House Girls, subtitled How They Moved to Milton What They Found and What They Did, which was written by Grace Brooks Hill, and published in 1915. The book tells the adventures of four Kenway sisters – Ruth, Aggie, Tess and Dot. The girls are between the ages of sixteen and eight years, and though I never figured out each of the girls’ ages, I did learn that Ruth is the oldest and Dot the youngest.

The book begins with four impoverished orphan girls living in an ugly tenement building, on an ugly street, in the ugliest district in Bloomingsburg. It was a good thing the long subtitle told me they’d be moving to Milton, because things were sure dire at the beginning.

Their father had been killed in the Philippines, but no information was given about why he had been there. (His girls were too young for him to have been killed during the Spanish-American War.) Mrs. Kenway had died two years before the story began, and the majority of the sisters’ income was from their father’s pension.

The only adult living with the girls was Aunt Sarah Stower, who wasn’t really their aunt, but only their mother’s uncle’s half-sister, and Aggie said “that’s a relationship that would puzzle a Philadelphia lawyer to figure out.” (Apparently the author couldn’t figure it out, for Sarah seems to have been a step-sister, and not a half-sister.) Aunt Sarah hated housework so she never did any, but she sat around all day sewing, crocheting and knitting, which was better than nothing.

One day Tess and Dot were out buying vegetables, plus the five cents worth of peppermints the family bought each week for grouchy Aunt Sarah. A trouble-making boy named Tommy Rooney tried to steal the peppermints from them, but was prevented from doing so by a well-dressed gentleman named Mr. Howbridge. The gentleman, who was a lawyer, asked the girls where the Kenway family lived, for he had come to tell them of Uncle Peter Stower’s death.

Uncle Peter had been the family’s only rich relative, and was Aunt Sarah’s step-brother (the author calls him a half-brother), but he hadn’t liked her. The Kenway sisters were the only living relatives, and were to inherit their uncle’s large Corner House in Milton, plus many rental properties he’d owned.

Mr. Howbridge had drawn up Peter Stower’s Will, but alas, Uncle Peter had been a secretive man and no one could find where the Will had been hidden. However the Probate Court agreed that the only known heirs were to receive everything, and since the Kenway sisters were all underage, Mr. Howbridge would be their guardian.

Arrangements were made for the girls to move to the big Corner House, which had three stories, plus an attic. Ruth gave away most of their furniture to poor neighbors, but Aunt Sarah kept her favorite rocking chair. The family packed up their personal possessions, and as they were preparing to leave town they met up with that trouble-making Tommy Rooney, who informed them he was planning on running away from home.

When they arrived at Uncle Peter’s mansion the sisters were awed by what they saw, but Aunt Sarah had lived there before she’d gone to stay with the Kenways, and she knew what she wanted. After her step-father had died her step-brother had made her move into a dinky room in the servants’ quarters, but now she took possession of the nicest second-floor bedroom, where she sat in her rocking chair and began crocheting. It would take a lot of work to get the old house in proper order, but Aunt Sarah had no intention of helping out.

Mr. Howbridge hired a widowed lady named Mrs. McCall to be the family’s housekeeper, and soon afterward an elderly black man, Uncle Rufus, came by asking for work. For twenty-four years he had been Uncle Peter’s servant, and though he was now supposed to be retired, he wanted to return to his former duties. Ruth wasn’t sure if Mr. Howbridge would approve, but she hired Uncle Rufus out of pity for the man.

Even though Uncle Rufus was advanced in age he was of great help to the family. Unfortunately he talked in what I’ll call Old Time Loyal Southern Servant dialog, and whenever he spoke I had to wade through misspelled words and guess at what he was saying.

The Kenway girls met lots of friendly people, but no one wanted to come and visit them because the Corner House was haunted. There was a ghost who lived in the attic, and it could be seen on stormy days. Another disturbing thing was that food kept disappearing, which couldn’t be attributed to the ghost, for ghosts don’t eat, do they? And at times the youngest girls claimed to see glimpses of a boy that looked just like Tommy Rooney, the former neighbor boy who had wanted to run away.

The Kenways had many adventures in their new hometown. They discovered Uncle Peter had been miserly in keeping his rental buildings in proper repair, so Ruth asked Mr. Howbridge for help in making improvements. The lawyer approved of her interest in the poor but hard-working tenants, and he agreed to most of what she wanted to spend.

Unfortunately the lawyer-guardian was out of town when a problem more distressing than an attic ghost showed up at the Corner House. Mrs. John Augustus Treble (who soon acquired the nickname of “Mrs. Trouble”) marched into the house with her spoiled-brat daughter, and announced that her deceased husband had been the nephew of Peter Stower, she was the true heir to the Stower fortune, and she intended to kick out the Kenway girls and Aunt Sarah.

Oh dear, the girls had not yet found Uncle Peter’s missing Will, and what if they never did? What if Mrs. Treble found the Will and destroyed it so she would inherit everything?

I won’t tell the ending of the story, but will let you know that there were at least a dozen Corner House Girls books published, so rest assured that Ruth, Tess, Aggie and Dot were able to stay at the Corner House. And even though Aunt Sarah wasn’t the most useful person when it came to housework, she did know a thing or two about where that pesky Uncle Peter liked to hide important papers.

As for the ghost in the attic, it wasn’t a real ghost, and the girls were able to persuade some of their new friends to come to the Corner House for a ghost-reveal party. The mystery of the missing food was solved, and it turns out that there was a good reason why the youngest girls thought they saw someone who looked just like that boy who’d said he was going to run away from home.

I enjoyed The Corner House Girls enough to read the second book, The Corner House Girls at School, though I don’t have any immediate plans to read more of series.

If you would like to learn more about the girls adventures The Corner House Girls can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/38743

The Corner House Girls at School can be downloaded at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/21034

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