Chapter IV. The Old Man's Story
 

Mr. Bobbsey caught Flossie and Freddie up in his arms and started to run with them. At the same time Sam Johnson pulled Nan to one side, catching hold of her hand, and the strange man, who had said he was Hiram Hickson, took hold of Bert.

"We'd better get out of harm's way!" said Mr. Hickson.

As the Bobbsey twins were thus hurried out of any possible danger the two older children looked back over their shoulders, down to where the railroad wreck was strewed about along the tracks. They saw the railroad men and other persons running away after the warning shout had been given, and Bert and Nan wondered what was going to happen.

They saw a big puff of steam shoot out from one of the engines that was partly overturned, and then came a loud noise, as of an explosion.

A few moments later, however, the cloud of steam was blown away by the wind, the noise stopped, and the people no longer ran away.

"I guess the danger is over," said Mr. Bobbsey, as he stopped and set Flossie and Freddie down on the ground a little way back from the edge of the cliff, from which they had been looking at the train wreck. "In fact," went on Mr. Bobbsey, "I don't believe we would have been hurt if we had stayed where we were. But when I heard that shouting I didn't know what was going to happen."

"That's right," returned Mr. Hickson, who had let go of Bert. "You never know what is going to happen in a railroad wreck. I didn't have any idea, when I was riding so easily in my seat, that, a minute later, I'd be thrown out with my head cut and a banana in my hand."

"What happened down there, Daddy?" asked Nan.

"There must have been a blow-out, or an explosion, in the locomotive," answered Mr. Bobbsey. "The fire got too hot after the wreck, and the steam burst out at one side of the boiler. But no one seems to be hurt, and I'm glad of that. The wreck was bad enough."

The railroad men and others who had run out of danger when some one, who saw the boiler about to explode, had given the warning, now came back. They started again to clear the tracks so that waiting trains could pass.

"Well, I don't believe there's much more to see," said Mr. Bobbsey. "We'd better be getting back home, children, or your mother will worry about you."

"Can't I stay and see the firemen just a little longer?" begged Freddie.

"I don't believe they are going to do much more," answered his father. "Their work is nearly done. All the people who were hurt have been taken away."

This was true. The scene of the wreck was now being cleared, and in a little while the damaged engine and cars would be hauled away to the shops to be mended.

"Did you get everything belonging to you, Mr. Hickson?" asked Mr. Bobbsey of the man who had been slightly hurt in the wreck.

"Yes, I have my satchel," he answered. "And as I was going to get out at the Lakeport station I'm right at the place where I was going, even if there had been no wreck." "And so you were coming to see me, were you?" asked Mr. Bobbsey. "Well, I don't know what your plans are, but I would be very glad to have you come to supper with me."

"Maybe your wife mightn't like it," said Mr. Hickson. "She might not be ready for company, and I'd better tell you that I'm quite hungry."

"So'm I!" exclaimed Freddie. "I'm hungry, and I eat a lot. But Dinah-- she's our cook--has lots to eat in her kitchen!"

"Well, then maybe she'd have enough for me," replied Mr. Hickson, with a laugh. "If you're sure it won't put your wife out I'll come," he said to Mr. Bobbsey. "I want to see you, anyhow, and have a talk with you. I want to ask your advice."

"Very well, come along, then," returned the children's father.

"We can talk after supper," went on Mr. Bobbsey, as the little party walked along the Lakeport street away from the railroad wreck. "That is, if you feel able, Mr. Hickson."

"Oh, I'm beginning to feel all right again," said Mr. Hickson. "I was pretty well shaken up and knocked around when the cars stopped so suddenly, and I was a bit dazed, so I didn't know what I was doing-- taking a banana for my satchel, for instance!" And he smiled at Flossie and Freddie, who laughed as they remembered how queer this had seemed to them.

"Yes, I'm all right now, Dick," went on the old man, and Bert and Nan wondered how it was that this stranger called their father by the name their mother used in speaking to her husband.

Mr. Bobbsey saw that Bert and Nan were wondering about this, and he explained by saying that he and Mr. Hickson had known each other for many years.

"We used to know one another," said Mr. Bobbsey to his children. "But it's been a good many years since I have seen him."

"Yes, it has been a good many years," said Mr. Hickson, in rather a sad voice. "And they haven't been altogether happy years for me, either; I can tell you that, Dick."

"I'm sorry to hear you say so," replied Mr. Bobbsey.

"Were you in lots of railroad wrecks, and did the firemans have to come and get you out?" asked Freddie. To him railroad wrecks seemed very bad things, indeed, though having the firemen come was something he always liked to watch.

"No, this is the only railroad wreck I have ever been in," said Mr. Hickson. "I don't want to be in another, either. No, my bad luck didn't have anything to do with wrecks or firemen. I'll tell you my story after supper," he said to Mr. Bobbsey.

"Will you tell us a story, too?" begged Flossie.

"I'm afraid my kind of story isn't the kind you want to hear," said the man, smiling rather sadly.

"Daddy will tell you a story, little fat fairy!" said Mr. Bobbsey as he gently pinched the chubby cheek of his little girl. "I'll tell you and my little fireman a story after supper."

Flossie and Freddie clapped their hands and danced along the sidewalk in glee at hearing this.

The little party was soon at the Bobbsey home, and you can imagine how surprised Mrs. Bobbsey was when she saw, not only her husband, the children, and Sam coming in the gate, but a strange man. She must have shown the surprise she felt, for Mr. Bobbsey said:

"Mary, you remember Hiram Hickson, don't you? He and I used to know each other when I was a boy in Cedarville."

"Why, of course I remember you!" said the children's mother. "Though I don't know that I should have known you if I had met you in the street."

"No, I've changed a lot, I suppose," said the old man.

"And you have been in the wreck! You are hurt!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey. "Shall I get a doctor?"

"Oh, I'm not hurt anything to speak of," said the man. "Just shaken up a bit and scratched. I'll be all right once I get a cup of tea."

After supper Flossie and Freddie, as had been promised, were taken up on their father's lap, and they listened to one of daddy's wonderful make-believe stories.

"Please put a fairy in it!" Flossie had begged.

"And I want a fireman in it!" exclaimed Freddie.

"Very well then, I'll tell about a fairy fireman who used to put out fires by squirting magical water on them from a morning glory flower," said Mr. Bobbsey.

This pleased both the little children, and when they had listened to the very end, with eyes that were almost closed in sleep, they were taken off to bed.

"Now, if you'll come with me to the library I'll let you tell me your story," said Mr. Bobbsey to Hiram Hickson.

Bert and Nan, who did not have to go to bed as early as did Flossie and Freddie, rather hoped they might sit up and hear the queer man's story. But in this they were disappointed.

However, Mr. Bobbsey let them hear, the next morning, the reason why Mr. Hickson had traveled to Lakeport.

"He really was coming to see me," said Mr. Bobbsey. "He wants work, he says, and, as he knows something of the lumber trade and as he knew I had a lumberyard, he came to me."

"But hasn't he any folks of his own?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey who, like the children, was listening to her husband.

"He has two sons, but he doesn't know where they are," answered Mr. Bobbsey.

"Did they get hurt in railroad wrecks?" asked Freddie.

"No, I don't believe so," replied his father. "It is rather a sad story. Hiram Hickson is a strange man. He is kind, but he is queer, and once, many years ago, while his two boys were living with him, there was a quarrel. Mr. Hickson says, now, that it was his fault. Anyhow, his two boys ran away, and he has never seen them since."

"Doesn't he know where they are?" asked Bert.

"No, he hasn't the least idea. At first he didn't try to find them, for he was angry with them, and he thinks they were angry with him. But, as the years passed, and he felt that he had not done exactly right toward his boys, he began to wish he could find them.

"But he could not, though he wrote to many places. His wife was dead, and he was left all alone in the world. He has a little money, but not much, and, as he is strong and healthy, he felt that he wanted to go to work. He has about given up, now, trying to find his two boys, William--or Bill, as he usually called him--and Charles, and what he wants is a home and some work by which he can make a living."

"Where is he going to work?" asked Nan

"He is going to work in my lumberyard," answered her father. "I need a good, honest man, and though Hiram Hickson is a bit queer, I know he is good and honest. I am going to give him work."

"And where is he going to live?" asked Bert.

"Here, with us, for a while," answered Mr. Bobbsey. "We have room for him, and, as he is an old friend, and as he was once very kind to me, I want to do all I can for him.

"I said he could have a room in the house but he says he is used to living alone of late and so he is going to take one of the rooms over the stable, or what used to be the stable, before we got the automobile. Dinah and Sam have their rooms there, but there is another room for Mr. Hickson. So he will be like part of the family, and I want you children to be kind to him, as he has had trouble."

"I like him!" declared Bert.

"So do I," said Nan.

"Come, children," said their mother, "it is time to go to school; and there goes Mr. Hickson to work in daddy's lumberyard!"