Chapter XX. A Midnight Scare
 

"Sometimes I'm afraid in the bed tent over there," said Sandy to Freddie. "'Cause there ain't nothing to keep the dark out but a piece of veil in the door."

"Mosquito netting," corrected Freddie. "I would be afraid to sleep outdoors that way too. 'Cause maybe there's snakes."

"There sure is," declared the other little fellow, cuddling up closer to Freddie. "'Cause one of the boys, Tommy his name is, killed two the other day."

"Well, there ain't no snakes around here," declared Freddie, "an' this bed was put in this room, right next to mama's, for me, so you needn't be scared when Aunt Sarah comes and turns out the lights."

Both little boys were very sleepy, and in spite of having so many things to tell each other the sand-man came around and interrupted them, actually making their eyes fall down like porch screens when someone touches the string.

Mrs. Bobbsey came up and looked in at the door.

Two little sunny heads so close together!

"Why should that little darling be left alone over in the dark tent!" she thought. "See how happy he is with our own dear son Freddie."

Then she tucked them a little bit, half closed the door, and turned out the hall light.

Everybody must have been dreaming for hours, it seemed so at any rate, when suddenly all were awake again.

What was it?

What woke up the household with such a start?

"There it is again!" screamed Flossie. "Oh, mamma, mamma, come in my room quick!"

Sandy grabbed hold of Freddie.

"We're all right," whispered the brave little Freddie. "It's only the girls that's hollering."

Then they both put their curls under the bedquilts.

"Someone's playing the piano," Bert said to Harry; and, sure enough, a nocturnal solo was coming up in queer chunks from the parlor.

"It's a crazy burglar, and he never saw a piano before," Flossie said.

The hall clock just struck midnight. That seemed to make everybody more frightened.

Uncle Daniel was hurrying down the stairs now.

"There it is again," whispered Bert, as another group of wild chords came from the piano.

"It must be cats!" exclaimed Uncle Daniel. "Harry, come down here and help light up, and we'll solve this mystery."

Without a moment's hesitation Bert and Harry were down the stairs and had the hall light burning as quickly as a good match could be struck.

But there was no more music and no cats about.

"Where is Snoop?" asked Uncle Daniel.

The boys opened the hall door into the cellarway, and found there Snoop on his cushion and Fluffy on hers.

"It wasn't the cats," they declared.

"What could it be?"

Uncle Daniel even lighted the piano lamp, which gave a strong light, but there didn't seem to be any disturbance about.

"It certainly was the piano," he said, much puzzled.

"And sounded like a cat serenade," ventured Harry.

"Well, she isn't around here," laughed Uncle Daniel, "and we never heard of a ghost in Meadow Brook before."

All this time the people upstairs waited anxiously. Flossie held Nan so tightly about the neck that the elder sister could hardly breathe. Freddie and Sandy were still under the bedclothes, while Mrs. Bobbsey and Aunt Sarah listened in the hall.

"Dat sure is a ghost," whispered Dinah to Martha in the hall above. "Ghosts always lub music," and her funny big eyes rolled around in that queer way colored people have of expressing themselves.

"Ghosts nothin'," replied Martha indignantly. "I dusted every key of the piano to-day, and I guess I could smell a ghost about as quick as anybody."

"Well, I don't see that we can do any good by sitting around here," remarked Uncle Dan to the boys, after the lapse of some minutes. "We may as well put out the lights and get into bed again."

"But I cannot see what it could be!" Mrs. Bobbsey insisted, as they all prepared to retire again.

"Neither can we!" agreed Uncle Daniel. "Maybe our piano has one of those self-playing tricks, and somebody wound it up by accident."

But no sooner were the lights out and the house quiet than the piano started again.

"Hush I keep quiet!" whispered Uncle Daniel. "I'll get it this time, whatever it is!"

With matches in one hand and a candle in the other he started downstairs in the dark without making a sound, while the piano kept on playing in "chunks" as Harry said, same as it did before.

Once in the parlor Uncle Daniel struck a match and put it to the candle, and then the music ceased.

"There he is!" he called, and Flossie thought she surely would die.

Slam! went the music-book at something, and Sandy almost choked with fear.

Bang! went something else, that brought Bert and Harry downstairs to help catch the burglar.

"There he is in the corner!" called Uncle Daniel to the boys, and then began such a slam banging time that the people upstairs were in terror that the burglar would kill Harry and Bert and Uncle Daniel.

"We've got him' We've got him!" declared Harry, while Bert lighted the lamp.

"Is he dead?" screamed Aunt Sarah from the stairs.

"As a door-nail!" answered Harry.

"What is it?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey, hardly able to speak.

"A big gray rat," replied Uncle Daniel, and everybody had a good laugh.

"I thought it might be that," said Mrs. Bobbsey.

"So did I" declared Nan. "But I wasn't sure."

"I thought it was a big black burglar," Flossie said, her voice still shaking from the fright.

"I thought it was a policeman," faltered Sandy. "'Cause they always bang things like that."

"And I thought, sure's yo' life, it was a real ghost," laughed Dinah. "'Cause de clock jest struck fer de ghost hour. Ha! ha! dat was suah a musicanious rat."

"He must have come in from the fields where John has been plowing. Like a cat in a strange garret, he didn't know what to do in a parlor," said Uncle Daniel.

Harry took the candle and looked carefully over the keys.

"Why, there's something like seeds on the keys!" he said.

"Oh, I have it!" exclaimed Bert. "Nan left her hat on the piano last night, and it has those funny straw flowers on it. See, the rat got some of them off and they dropped on the keys."

"And the other time he came for the cake," said Aunt Sarah.

"That's it," declared Uncle Daniel, "and each time we scared him off he came back again to finish his meal. But I guess he is through now," and so saying he took the dead rodent and raising the side window tossed him out.

It was some time before everybody got quieted down again, but finally the rat scare was over and the Bobbseys turned to dreams of the happy summer- time they were enjoying.

When Uncle Dan came up from the postoffice the next morning he brought a note from the fresh-air camp.

"Sandy has to go back!" Nan whispered to Bert. "His own father in the city has sent for him, but mamma says not to say anything to Sandy or Freddie - they might worry. Aunt Sarah will drive over and bring Sandy, then they can fix it. I'm so sorry he has to go away."

"So am I," answered Nan's twin. "I don't see why they can't let the little fellow alone when he is happy with us."

"But it's his own father, you know, and something about a rich aunt. Maybe she is going to adopt Sandy."

"We ought to adopt him; he's all right with us," Bert grumbled. "What did his rich aunt let him cry his eyes out for if she cared anything for him?"

"Maybe she didn't know about him then," Nan considered. "I'm sure everybody would have to love Sandy."

At that Sandy ran along the path with Freddie. He looked like a live buttercup, so fresh and bright, his sunny sandy curls blowing in the soft breeze. Mrs. Bobbsey had just called the children to her.

"We are going over to see Mrs. Manily today, Sandy," she said. "Won't you be awfully glad to see your own dear Mamma Manily again?"

"Yep," he faltered, getting a better hold on Freddie's hand, "but I want to come back here," he finished.

Poor darling! So many changes of home in his life had made him fear another.

"Oh, I am sure you will come to see us again," Mrs. Bobbsey declared. "Maybe you can come to Lakeport when we go home in the fall."

"No, I'm comin' back here," he insisted, "to see Freddie, and auntie, and uncle, and all of them."

"Well, we must get ready now," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "John has gone to bring the wagon."

Freddie insisted upon going to the camp with Sandy, "to make sure he would come down again," he said.

It was only the happiness of seeing Mamma Manily once more that kept Sandy from crying when they told him he was to go on a great big fast train to see his own papa.

"You see," Mrs. Manily explained to Mrs. Bobbsey, "a wealthy aunt of Edward's expects to adopt him, so we will have to give him up, I am afraid."

"I hope you can keep track of him," answered Mrs. Bobbsey, "for we are all so attached to him. I think we would have applied to the Aid Society to let him share our home if the other claim had not come first and taken him from us."

Then Freddie kissed Sandy good-bye. It was not the kind of a caress that girls give, but the two little fellows said good-bye, kissed each other very quickly, then looked down at the ground in a brave effort not to cry.

Mrs. Bobbsey gave Sandy a real mother's ove [sic] kiss, and he said:

"Oh, I'm comin' beck - to-morrow. I won't stay in the city. I'll just run away and come back."

So Sandy was gone to another home, and we hope he will grow to be as fine a boy as he has been a loving child.

"How lonely it seems," said Nan that afternoon. "Sandy was so jolly."

Freddie followed John all over the place, and could not find anything worth doing. Even Dinah sniffed a little when she fed the kittens and didn't have "dat little buttercup around to tease dem."

"Well," said Uncle Daniel next day, "we are going to have a very poor crop of apples this year, so I think we had better have some cider made from the early fruit. Harry and Bert, you can help John if you like, and take a load of apples to the cider mill to-day to be ground."

The boys willingly agreed to help John, for they liked that sort of work, especially Bert, to whom it was new.

"We'll take the red astrachans and sheepnoses to-day," John said. "Those trees over there are loaded, you see. Then there are the orange apples in the next row; they make good cider."

The early apples were very plentiful, and it took scarcely any time to make up a load and start off for the cider mill.

"Old Bennett who runs the mill is a queer chap," Harry told Bert going over; "he's a soldier, and he'll be sure to quiz you on history."

"I like old soldiers," Bert declared; "if they do talk a lot, they've got a lot to talk about."

John said that was true, and he agreed that old Ben Bennett was an interesting talker.

"Here we are," said Harry, as they pulled up before a kind of barn. Old Ben sat outside on his wooden bench.

"Hello, Ben," they called out together, "we're bringing you work early this year."

"So much the better," said the old soldier; "There's nothing like work to keep a fellow young."

"Well, you see," went on John, "we can't count on any late apples this year, so, as we must have cider, we thought that we had better make hay while the sun shines."

"How much have you got there?" asked Ben, looking over the load.

"About a barrel, I guess," answered John "Could you run them through for us this morning?"

"Certainly, certainly!" replied the others. "Just haul them on, and we'll set to work as quick as we did that morning at Harper's Ferry. Who is this lad?" he asked, indicating Bert.

"My cousin from the city," said Harry, "Bert's his name."

"Glad to see you, Bert, glad to see you!" and the old soldier shook hands warmly. "When they call you out, son, just tell them you knew Ben Bennett of the Sixth Massachusetts. And they'll give you a good gun," and he clapped Bert on the back as if he actually saw a war coming down the hill back of the cider mill.

It did not take long to unload the apples and get them inside.

"We'll feed them in the hopper," said John, "if you just get the sacks out, Ben."

"All right, all right, my lad; you can fire the first volley if you've a mind to," and Ben opened up the big cask that held the apples to be chopped. When a few bushels had been filled in by the boys John began to grind. He turned the big stick round and round, and this in turn set the wheel in motion that held the knives that chopped the apples.

"Where does the cider come from?" asked Bert, much interested.

"We haven't come to that yet," Harry replied; "they have to go through this hopper first."

"Fine juicy applies," remarked Ben. "Don't know but it's just as well to make cider now when you have a crop like this."

"Father thought so," Harry added, putting in the last scoop of sheepnoses. "If it turns to vinegar we can use it for pickles this fall."

The next part of the process seemed very queer to Bert; the pulp or chopped apples were put in sacks like meal-bags, folded over so as to hold in the pulp. A number of the folded sacks were then placed in another machine "like a big layer cake," Bert said, and by turning a screw a great press was brought down upon the soft apples.

"Now the boys can turn," John suggested, and at this both Bert and Harry grabbed hold of the long handle that turned the press and started on a run around the machine.

"Oh, there she comes!" cried Bert, as the juice began to ooze out in the tub. "That's cider, all right! I smell it."

"Fine and sweet too," declared Ben, seeing to it that the tub was well under the spout.

"But I don't want you young fellows to do all my work."

"Oh, this is fun," spoke up Bert, as the color mounted to his cheeks from the exercise. A strong stream was pouring into the tub now, and the wholesome odor of good sweet cider filled the room.

"I think I'll try to get a horse this fall when my next pension comes due," said old Ben, "I'm a little stiff to run around with that handle like you young lads, and sometimes I'm full of rheumatism too."

"Father said he would sell our Bill very cheap if he wasn't put at hard work," Harry said.

"We have had him so long we don't want to see him put to a plow or anything heavy, but I should think this would be quite easy for him."

"Just the thing for a worn-out war-horse like myself," answered Ben, much interested. "Tell your father not to think of selling Bill till I get a chance to see him. I won't have my pension money for two months yet, but I might make a deposit if any more work comes in."

"Oh, that would be all right," spoke up John. "Mr. Bobbsey would not be afraid to trust you."

"There now!" exclaimed Ben; "I guess you've got all the juice out. John, you can fill it in your keg, I suppose, since you have been so good as to do all the rest. Will you try it, boys?"

"Yes, we would like to, Ben," Harry replied.

"It's a little warm to make cider in July," and he wiped his face to cool off some.

Ben went to his homemade cupboard and brought out a tin cup.

"There's a cup," he said, "that I drank out of at Harper's Ferry. I keep it in everyday use, so as not to lose sight of it."

Bert took the old tin cup and regarded it reverently.

"Think of us drinking out of that cup," reflected Bert. "Why, it's a war relic!"

"How's the cider?" asked the old soldier.

"Couldn't be better," said Harry. "I guess the cup helps the flavor."

This pleased old Ben, for the light of glory that comes to all veterans, whether private or general, shone in his eyes.

"Well, a soldier has two lives," he declared. "The one under fire and the other here," tapping his head and meaning that the memories of battles made the other life.

The cider was ready now, and the Bobbseys prepared to leave.

"I'll tell father about Bill," said Harry. I'm sure he will save him for you."

"All right, sonny - thank you, thank you! Good-bye, lads; come again, and maybe some day I'll give you the war cup!" called the soldier.

"That would be a relic!" exclaimed Harry. "And I guess father will give him Bill for nothing, for we always do what we can for old soldiers."

"I never saw cider made before," remarked Bert, "and I think it's fun. I had a good time to-day."

"Glad you did," said John, "for vacation is slipping now and you want to enjoy it while it lasts."

That evening at dinner the new cider was sampled, and everybody pronounced it very fine.