Chapter II. The Queer Old Man
 

The first impulse of Bert and Nan Bobbsey was, of course, to rush out of the yard and go with Charley Mason to see the train wreck. And, naturally, as soon as Bert and Nan began to run, Flossie and Freddie, forgetting snow men, snow houses, and even Dinah's cookies, started after their older brother and sister.

"Go on back!" cried Bert to the two smaller children. "You can't come with us!"

"We want to see the wreck!" declared Freddie. "Maybe it's on fire, an' if I'm goin' to be a fireman I must see fires!"

He always declared he was going to be a fireman when he grew up, and he was eager to see the engines every time they went out in answer to an alarm of fire.

"Come on, Bert, if you're coming!" called Charley Mason, from the street in front of the Bobbsey home. "It's a terrible wreck--cars off the track--engines all smashed up--everything!"

"Here, Nan, you take Flossie and Freddie into the house! I'm going with Charley!" said Bert.

"I want to see the wreck, too!" objected Nan. "You go into the house, Freddie, and I'll bring you a lollypop when I come back," she added. "Don't want a lollypop! I want to see the busted engines!" declared Freddie almost ready to cry.

"So do I!" chimed in Flossie. She generally did want to see the same things Freddie saw.

"Oh, dear! what shall we do?" exclaimed Nan.

Just then, from the door, Mrs. Bobbsey called:

"Children, children, what's the matter? What was that loud noise that seemed to shake the house?"

"It's a train wreck and I want to go down with Charley Mason to see it!" answered Bert. "But Flossie and Freddie want to come, and they're too little and--and--"

Then Flossie and Freddie began to talk, and so did Nan and so did Charley, and there was so much talking that I will wait a few minutes for every one to get quiet, and then go on with the story. And, while I am waiting, I will tell my new readers something about the Bobbsey twins as they have been written about in the books that come before this one in the series.

The four children lived in the eastern city of Lakeport, at the head of Lake Metoka. Mr. Bobbsey was in the lumber business, and boats on the lake in summer and trains on the railroad in winter brought piles of boards to his yard.

"The Bobbsey Twins" is the name of the first book of this series, and in it you may read of the fun Bert and Nan and Flossie and Freddie had together, playing with Charley Mason, Danny Rugg, Nellie Parks and other children of the neighborhood. Sometimes the children had little quarrels, as all boys and girls do, and, once in a while, Bert and Nan would be "mad at" Charley Mason or Danny Rugg. But they soon became friends again, and had jolly times together. Just at present Charley and Bert were on good terms.

The second book is called "The Bobbsey Twins in the Country," and those who have read it remember the summer spent on the farm of Uncle Daniel Bobbsey and his wife Sarah, who lived at Meadow Brook.

Another uncle, named William Minturn, a brother-in-law of Mrs. Bobbsey's, lived at Ocean Cliff; and in the third book, called "The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore," you may learn of the good times Bert and the others had playing on the beach and having adventures.

After that the Bobbsey twins went to school, and they spent part of a winter at Snow Lodge. Some time later they made a trip on a houseboat, and stopped again at Meadow Brook. The next adventures of the children took place at home, and from there they went to a great city where many wonderful things happened. Blueberry Island was as nice a place as the name sounds, and Bert, Nan, Flossie, and Freddie never forgot the fun they had there. It was almost as exciting as when they traveled on the deep, blue sea. But you can imagine how happy the Bobbsey twins were when their father told them he was going to take them to Washington!

The book about the Washington trip, telling of the mystery of Miss Pompret's china, comes just before the one you are now reading, and it was on their return from that capital city that the children were having fun in the snow.

Christmas had come and gone, bringing much happiness, and it was because they had discovered some of Miss Pompret's missing china in a very strange way that the Bobbsey twins had a much nicer Christmas than usual.

After the holidays winter set in hard and fast, but of course it could not last forever, and there were some who said this snow storm, which gave the Bobbsey twins such a fine chance to have fun, would be the last of the season.

It was, as I have told you, while Bert, Nan, Flossie, and Freddie were making a snow house and a snow man that they had heard the loud crash and Charley Mason had called out about the wreck.

"Has there really been an accident?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey, when the talk had somewhat quieted down.

"Oh, yes'm!" exclaimed Charley. "From my house up on the hill I can look right down into the railroad cut. I was out feeding my dog, and I heard the noise and I looked and I saw the two engines all smashed together and cars off the track and a lot of people running around and--and--everything!"

Charley had to stop to catch his breath.

Mrs. Bobbsey looked down the street and saw a number of men and women and some girls and boys hurrying to the railroad tracks.

"We want to go to see it!" begged Bert.

"And we want to go, too!" pleaded Freddie.

Sam Johnson, the husband of Dinah, the cook, came around the corner of the house.

"There's somethin' must 'a' happened down by the railroad," he said to Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Yes, it's a wreck," she answered. "The children want to go, but I can't have them going alone. You may take them down, Sam, but if it is too bad--you know what I mean, too many people hurt--bring them right back."

"Yassum, I'll do that there!" agreed Sam, glad himself to get the chance to see what all the excitement was about. "Come along, chilluns!" he added, with a smile.

"Oh, now we can go!" cried Flossie, as she raced over and took one of Sam's hands. "Now we can go!"

"Yep! Sam'll take care of us. Won't you, Sam?" asked Freddie as he took the other hand. "And if there's a fire I can go near tie firemen, can't I?" he begged.

"We'll see," said the colored man, with a nod to Mrs. Bobbsey to show that he understood how to look after the smaller twins.

"Come on!" cried Charley. "I want to see that wreck!"

"So do I!" added Bert, as he hurried on ahead with Nan and Charley. Sam, leading Flossie and Freddie by the hands, followed more slowly out into the street, where the sidewalks had been cleared of snow so the walking was easier. Snap, the dog, tried to follow, but fearing that he might get hurt, Bert drove him back.

The railroad ran at the foot of the street on which the Bobbsey house stood. The street went downhill to the tracks, and the railroad passed through what Charley had called a "cut."

That is, a cut had been made through the side of the hill so the tracks would be as nearly level as possible. Sometimes, when a hill is too high the railroad has to go through it in a tunnel. And a "cut" is a tunnel with the top taken off.

As Bert, Nan, and the others hurried along the street they saw many other persons hastening in the direction of the wreck. In a cutter, drawn by a horse that had a string of jingling bells on, Dr. Brown passed, waving to the Bobbsey twins.

"I guess there must be somebody hurt, or Dr. Brown wouldn't be going," said Charley Mason.

"I guess so," agreed Bert. "I never saw a big wreck."

"Well, this is a big one!" cried Charley. "I saw the two engines all smashed up."

A little later the Bobbsey twins, in charge of Sam, came to the edge of the cut. They could look down to the railroad tracks and see the wreck. Surely enough, two trains had come together, one engine smashing into the other. Both trains were on the same track, and had been going in opposite directions. There was a curve in the cut, and neither engineer had seen the other train coming until it was too late to stop.

"Why--why, they just bunketed right together, didn't they?" cried Freddie. "They just bunketed right together, like my express wagon when it ran into Henry Watson's push-o-mobile the other day."

"That's just what happened," said Bert.

For a moment the Bobbsey twins stood and looked down at the wreck. Just as Charley had said, the two engines were smashed and there were some cars knocked off the track. But the wreck was not as bad as it had seemed at first, and I am glad to say no one was killed, though a number of people were hurt.

The Bobbsey twins could see these persons, who had been passengers on one or the other of the trains, moving about down in the railroad cut. Some of them did not seem to know just what had happened. The accident had so frightened them that they were in a daze.

Trainmen, policemen, and even some firemen, were helping the injured persons away from the wreck. There had been no fire, and, much as Freddie liked to see the engines, he was glad there was no blaze to make matters worse for the poor people who were hurt.

"Dat suah is a smash!" declared Sam, as he stood on the bank, holding the hands of Freddie and Flossie. "Dey suah did bump togedder lickity- smash!"

"Let's go down closer!" suggested Charley Mason.

Bert looked at Sam, as if asking if this might be done.

"No, indeedy!" exclaimed the faithful colored man. "Yo'all jest stay right yeah! Yo'all's ma tole me to look after yo', an' I'se gwine to do it! Yo'all kin see whut dey is to see right yeah! If you goes any closter one ob dem bullgines might blow up!"

"I don't want to be blowed up; do I, Sam?" put in Flossie.

"No, indeedy!" he answered.

"Well, I'm going down!" declared Charley.

And, not having any one with him to make him mind, he slid down the snow-covered bank to the tracks, where there was quite a large crowd now gathered.

The railroad men were starting to work to get the wreck off the tracks, so other trains might pass. The injured persons were being cared for by Dr. Brown and others, and the worst of the wreck seemed over. Still there was much for the Bobbsey twins to look at.

Flossie and Freddie kept tight hold of Sam's hand, and Bert and Nan stood a little way off, gazing down into the cut. As the Bobbsey twins stood there they saw, climbing up a narrow foot-path on the side of the railroad hill, a queer old man. He was dressed somewhat as the children had seen Uncle Daniel Bobbsey dress on a cold day at the farm, with a red scarf about his neck. And this man was carrying his hat in one hand while in the other he held a banana half-pealed and eaten.

The queer man seemed very much frightened, and he was hurrying up the hill path as though trying to run away from something. Bert had just time to see that there was a cut on the man's head, which was bleeding, when, all at once, the queer character cried:

"There! I forgot my satchel! I thought this was it!" and he looked at the banana he was carrying. He turned, as though to hurry back down toward the wreck, and then he slipped and fell in the snow.

"Mah goodness!" cried Sam, as he dropped the hands of the smaller Bobbsey twins and sprang toward the man. "You's gwine to slide right down on de tracks ag'in ef you don't be keerful!" And Sam caught the queer man just in time.