Chapter VI. Aunt Emeline
 

When Bert Bobbsey reached home that afternoon, having stopped his play on the lumber piles with Charley and Danny earlier than usual, the small boy saw his father and mother talking together on the side porch. Nan, Nellie Parks, and Grace Lavine were down in the yard under the shady grapevine playing.

"Well, I don't see anything for us to do except to go out West," Bert heard his father saying.

"Oh, do you really mean that?" cried the boy. "Are we going out West where there are Indians and cowboys and ponies and mountains and--and everything?"

His eyes were wide open with excitement.

"I didn't think you were around, or I wouldn't have spoken so loudly," said Mr. Bobbsey, with a laugh.

"But, tell me, Daddy! Are we really going out West?" asked Bert. "I've always wanted to go there, and I guess Nan has, too."

"Oh, you can depend upon it, Nan will always want to go where you go, and so will Flossie and Freddie, for that matter!" said Mrs. Bobbsey, with a laugh.

Bert had passed his small brother and sister as he entered the yard. They were playing with a little cart of Freddie's, and, as you can easily guess, Freddie was pretending he was a fireman.

"When are we going?" asked Bert. "Can't we go right away? School is almost over, and I know I'm going to pass 'cause the teacher said so. Nan is, too!"

"My, but you are getting in a hurry!" said Mr. Bobbsey. "We have only just begun to talk of the West and here you are stopping school to go."

"But what is it all about?" Bert went on. "Why do you have to go out West, Daddy? Aren't you going to have the lumberyard any more?"

"Oh, indeed I am, and perhaps a larger one than before if things turn out the way I expect," answered Mr. Bobbsey. "But here comes Nan," he went on. "I think we might as well tell her and Bert all about it," he said to his wife. "If we go out West Bert and Nan will have to make believe they are almost grown up."

"What's it all about?" asked Nan, as she sat down on the steps beside her brother. Grace and Nellie had gone home to help their mothers get supper.

"Well, to begin at the beginning," said Mr. Bobbsey, "I had a letter to-day from some lawyers out West. Children, your mother has been left a cattle ranch and a lumber tract by a relative who died and made his will in your mother's favor."

"A cattle ranch?" cried Nan. "Oh, I know what that is! We have a picture of one in our geography! There's a lot of cattle in the picture, and cowboys are catching them with lassos."

"Yes, that's one of the things that happen on a ranch," said Mr. Bobbsey. "Well, your mother now owns one of those."

"She does?" cried Nan with wide-open eyes. "Oh, what are you going to do with it?"

"I'm going to be a cowboy on it!" decided Bert, as quickly as that. "I've always wanted to be a cowboy, and now I'm going to. When can I go on your ranch, Mother?" and jumping up eagerly he stood beside her, waiting for her answer.

"Oh, but, dear boy! I don't know anything about it yet," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "The letter has just come, and your father and I were talking over the news when you came. Poor Uncle Watson! I never knew him very well, though I had heard he was quite rich. But I never expected he would leave me his fine ranch, to say nothing of a lumber tract."

"What's a lumber tract?" Nan asked. "Is it a lumberyard like yours, Daddy?"

"No, my dear," answered Mr. Bobbsey. "A lumber tract is what you children would call big woods. It is a place where trees grow that may be cut down and made into lumber. All the boards and planks in my lumberyard were once big trees, growing out West, or up North, or down South. Now it seems that your mother's uncle owned a big forest of trees where lumber is cut, as well as owning a cattle ranch."

"And has he left them both to you?" asked Bert.

"Yes," his mother answered. "And the letter from the lawyers who made Uncle Watson's will tells me that I had better come out to look after the property that has been left to me."

"Are you going?" Nan wanted to know.

"I think I must," Mrs. Bobbsey replied. "It isn't every day I have so much property given me. I must go out West to look after it. But daddy is coming with me, so I'll be all right."

"Hurray!" cried Bert, tossing his hat into the air.

"What are you 'hurrahing' about?" asked his father.

"'Cause I'm going to be a cowboy on mother's ranch!" answered Bert. "Whoop-la! I'll be a lumberman, too, part of the time!"

"Now wait a minute, Son," said Mr. Bobbsey gently. "I don't want to spoil your fun, but we can't take you out West with us."

"You can't?" cried Bert. "Why, I thought we could all go--Nan, Flossie, Freddie, everybody!"

"No, I don't see how we can take you children," said Mr. Bobbsey, while his wife also shook her head. "You see we have to leave in a hurry, and it would not do to take you youngsters out of school. We will not be gone longer than we can help."

"And have we got to stay here all alone?" asked Nan, and there was a suspicion of tears in her voice.

"You won't mind staying here," said her mother. "There will be Dinah to cook for you and to look after Freddie and Flossie. Sam will be around the house all the while, and there will be Mr. Hickson, too. Besides this we have a surprise for you."

"What is it?" cried Bert. "Are you going to take us after all? Oh, say you are! Tell me you were only fooling when you said we would have to stay here all alone!"

"No, I wasn't fooling," replied his mother. "I don't really see how we can take you children West with us. But the surprise is this. I am going to ask Aunt Emeline to come and stay with you, to keep house for you while your father and I are away. Aunt Emeline will come."

"Oh, Aunt Emeline!" gasped Nan.

"Aunt Emeline!" cried Bert. "Why she--she--"

Then he stopped short. He knew what he had been going to say was not polite.

"Aunt Emeline will be very kind to you," went on Mrs. Bobbsey. "I will go in and write to her now, asking her to come."

"And I must go in and telephone," said Mr. Bobbsey. "If I am to go West I shall have a lot of work to do to get ready."

Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey entered the house, leaving Nan and Bert sitting out on the steps. For a moment or two the Bobbsey twins said nothing. They could hear Flossie and Freddie in the front yard laughing together as they played their games. Then Bert looked at Nan.

"Aunt Emeline!" he said, in a strange voice.

"Aunt Emeline!" responded Nan, and she sighed.

"I'll have to wipe my feet three times every time I come into the house once!" went on Bert, in a grumbly voice. "She'll always be looking at my hands to see if they're clean and--and--Oh, I don't want Aunt Emeline to come!" he exclaimed.

"She never likes to have me run," said Nan, and her voice was gloomy. "She won't want me to have the other girls in here to play up in the attic, and she doesn't believe in eating cookies between meals!"

"It's going to be awful--terrible!" exclaimed Bert. "I know what I'm going to do!" he declared desperately.

"What?" asked Nan, in a frightened sort of voice.

"I'm going to run away, like Mr. Hickson's boys did!" Bert went on. "You can run away with me if you want to, Nan!" he added. "I'm going to be a cowboy and you can be the cook at the ranch."

"What ranch?" asked Nan.

"The one mother is going to get by Uncle Watson's will," explained her brother. "That's where I'm going to run to. I wouldn't run away to just any old place, but mother and father won't mind if I run off to our own ranch. They'll be glad to see me. Will you come, Nan?"

His sister shook her head.

"No," she answered. "Aunt Emeline is terrible, but she isn't bad enough to run away from, and maybe she'll be different now."

"She can't ever be any different," declared Bert. "I guess she means to be kind and good, but, say, a fellow can't be always washing his hands and wiping his feet!"

"And a girl's got to run and romp sometimes," added Nan. "But we'll have to do as father and mother want us to, I guess."

"Oh, I s'pose so!" agreed Bert. "Well, maybe I won't run away if you aren't coming with me. But I'd like to!" he said.

Flossie and Freddie heard something of the plans. They did not remember Aunt Emeline very well, though Bert and Nan easily recalled the queer old lady, who really was very particular when it came to children. She never had had any of her own, and perhaps this made a difference.

At first Flossie and Freddie had clamored to be taken out West with their father and mother, as Bert and Nan had done. But when told they must stay at home and help Bert and Nan keep house, they seemed to be satisfied. They were some years younger than the older Bobbsey twins.

"I'll put out the fire if our house starts to burn while you're away," Freddie promised.

"There'll not be much danger of fire with Aunt Emeline here to look after things," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "I wouldn't leave my children with every one, but I know they'll be safe with Aunt Emeline," she said to Dinah.

"Yassum, dey's suah gwine to be safe!" declared the fat, jolly colored cook. "She suah will look after 'em! But will dey gets enough to eat? Dat's whut I'se askin' yo'!" and she looked earnestly at Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Well, you'll be doing the cooking as usual. Dinah," said the children's mother. "I depend on you to feed them well."

"Dat's all right, den!" exclaimed Dinah, with a satisfied air. "I knows she won't starve 'em at de table, even ef she suah has terrible 'tickler manners. But ef she says dey shan't eat 'tween meals, den I'll says to her as how dey can. I ain't gwine to hab mah honey lambs starvin', dat's whut I ain't!" and Dinah shook her woolly head.

"Oh, Aunt Emeline isn't as bad as all that," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "She is strict, I know, but it is for the children's good. I expect a letter from her very soon, saying when she can come. As soon as she can Mr. Bobbsey and I will start for the West."

Bert and Nan tried to be cheerful as the days passed, and they thought more and more of their father and mother going away from them. Flossie and Freddie had fretted a little at first, but, being younger, they were over it more quickly.

At last the letter came from Aunt Emeline. Bert and Nan were home when their mother read it to their father. A look of surprise came over Mrs. Bobbsey's face as she read.

"Dear me," she exclaimed, "this is quite surprising!"

"What is it?" asked her husband.

"Aunt Emeline can't come to stay with the children while we go West," was the answer. "She says she is too old to take charge of a house and four children now, and she begs to be excused. Aunt Emeline isn't coming after all!"

Bert and Nan had hard work not to shout: Hurrah!

Mr. Bobbsey took the letter to read for himself.

"Then I'm sure I don't know what we're going to do," he said. "All our plans are made for going out West to look after the lumber tract and the cattle ranch. If Aunt Emeline can't come to stay with the children, what are we going to do?"