Chapter XII. The Wire Fence
 

Mr. Bobbsey did not waste any time talking. With a run and a jump he was on shore, and then he started across the meadow toward the place where the mean farmer was whipping Will, who was crying out loud. For the cruel whip hurt.

"Hold on a minute, Mr. Hardee!" exclaimed Mr. Bobbsey, when he was near enough to make himself heard. Back on the deck of the houseboat Mrs. Bobbsey, the twins, their cousins and Dinah watched and waited to see what would happen.

"You talkin' to me?" sharply demanded the mean farmer of Mr. Bobbsey.

"Yes, Mr. Hardee. I asked you to wait a minute before you keep on whipping that boy. I happened to hear part of what he said, and I think he is in the right."

"In th' right? What do you mean?"

"I mean I think he tells the truth, when he says he fished only during the noon hour. We saw him as he came along, and he gave the fish he had caught to my boy."

"Oh, he did, hey?" exclaimed Mr. Hardee. "I was wonderin' what become of 'em. Give 'em away, did he? Wa'al, he knowed better'n to bring 'em here. I knowed he'd been wastin' his time. When I set a boy to hoein' corn, an' he comes home smellin' of fish, I know what he's been doin' jest th' same as when I see a boy's head wet on a hot day I know he's been in swimmin'! You can't fool me. He's frittered away his time, when he ought t' be hoein' corn, an' now I'm goin' to take it out of him!"

Again he raised the whip, and struck the boy.

"Oh, please don't!" begged Will. "Honest I didn't fish except at noon hour, an' I ate my lunch in one hand, and fished with the other, so I wouldn't waste any time. I only took half an hour, instead of three- quarters you said I could have at noon, and I went right to work hoein' corn again."

"Humph! That's easy enough to say," spoke Mr. Hardee, "but I don't believe you. I told you I'd whip you if you went fishin' ag'in, an' I'm goin' to do it!"

Again the lash fell.

"Please don't!" begged Will, trying to break loose. But the angry farmer held him in too firm a grip.

"Look here!" exclaimed Mr. Bobbsey with flashing eyes. "I believe that boy is telling the truth!"

"Wa'al, I don't," snapped the mean farmer. "An' I'm goin' to give him a good lesson."

"Not that way, Mr. Hardee!" cried Mr. Bobbsey, taking a step forward.

"Huh! You seem to know my name," said the farmer, stopping in his beating of the boy, "but I don't know you."

"My name is Bobbsey," said the twins' lather, and the farmer started. "I'm in the lumber business over at Lakeport. I guess you bought some lumber of me, didn't you, for your house."

"Wa'al, s'posin' I did?" asked Mr. Hardee. "I paid you for it, didn't I?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Wa'al, then that don't give you no right to interfere with me! This is my hired boy, an' I can do as I please with him."

"Oh, no, you can't, Mr. Hardee!" said Mr. Bobbsey quickly.

"What's that? I can't? Wa'al, I'll show you! Stand back now, I'm goin' to give him a good threshin'!"

Again he raised the whip, but it did not fall on poor, timid, shrinking Will. For Mr. Bobbsey snatched it away from the angry farmer's hand and flung it far to one side.

"Here! What'd you mean by that?" demanded Mr. Hardee, his face more flushed than ever with anger.

"I mean you're not going to beat that boy!" replied the twins' father. "He hasn't done anything to deserve it, and I'm not going to stand by and see him abused. Is he your hired boy?"

"I took him out of the poorhouse--nobody would hire him. He's bound out to me until he's of age, an' I can do as I please with him."

"Oh, no, you can't," said Mr. Bobbsey. "I happen to know something of the law. You have no right to beat this boy, and if you try to do it now, or again, and I hear of it, I'll make a complaint against you. Don't you strike him again, especially when he hasn't done anything."

Mr. Hardee seemed so surprised that he did not know what to say. His grip on Will's arm slipped off, and Will quickly stepped to one side. There were tears in his eyes, and on his face.

"I believe this boy was telling the truth," said Mr. Bobbsey. "Even if he did fish a little during the time you call yours, that would be no excuse for using a horsewhip on him."

"I tell you he's bound out to me, and I can. do as I please with him!" cried Mr. Hardee.

"No, you can't," said Mr. Bobbsey. "You have no right to be cruel, even if he is a poor boy, and is bound out to you. Haven't you any folks, Will?" he asked.

"No--no, sir," was the half-sobbed answer. "No near folks. I come from th' poorhouse, just as he says. But I've got an uncle somewhere out west. He's a miner. If he knew where I was, he'd look after me."

"Where is your uncle?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.

"I--I got his address, but I can't write very good, or I'd send him a letter."

"Let me have his address," went on Mr. Bobbsey. "And I'll see what I can do."

"Look here!" cried the farmer. "I won't have you interferin' in my business! You ain't got a right to!"

"Every one has a right to stop a poor boy from being unjustly beaten," said the twins' father. "Will, you get me that address. I'll be here a day or so, in my houseboat, and you can bring it down to me. Do you think you can find it, and let me know where your uncle lives?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then do it."

"Now you look-a-here!" began Mr. Hardee, "I won't have you, nor anybody else, interferin' with my hired help. I---"

"I'm not interfering except to stop you from horsewhipping a boy," said Mr. Bobbsey. "Any one has a right to do that."

"Humph!" was all the farmer said, as he over and picked up the horsewhip Mr. Bobbsey had taken from him. The twins' father thought perhaps the farmer was going to use it again, but he did not. Mr. Hardee turned to Will and said:

"Get along up to the house, and eat your supper! There's lots o' work to be done afore dark. An' if I catch you fishin' any more, I'll make you---"

"But I wasn't fishin' except at the noon hour," the boy interrupted.

"That's enough of your talk!" the farmer cried as he walked toward the barn. "Go on!"

Mr. Bobbsey went back to the houseboat.

"It's all right," he said cheerfully to his wife and children. "I made him stop hurting Will."

"Did he--did he hit him very hard?" asked Freddie, for punishment of that sort was totally unknown in the Bobbsey home. Of course the children did not always do right, but they were punished by having some pleasure taken away from them, and never whipped.

"No, Will wasn't much hurt," said Mr. Bobbsey, for he did not want his children, or their cousins, to worry too much over what they had seen. Yet Mr. Bobbsey could not help but think that the cruel lash must have hurt Will more than the boy himself showed.

"He--he won't whip him any more, will he?" asked little Flossie.

"No, not any more," said Mr. Bobbsey, for he had made up his mind he would, if necessary, take the boy away from the mean farmer before any more whipping could be done.

"Suppah am ready!" called Dinah from the kitchen. "An' I done wants yo' all t' come right away fo' it gits cold!"

"We're coming!" cried Mrs. Bobbsey. "And after supper we'll sit on deck and sing songs."

She wanted to do something to take out of the minds of the children the memory of the unpleasant scene they had just observed.

"I wish it would hurry up and come morning," said Bert.

"Why?" asked his father.

"So Harry and I can go fishing. I'm sure we'll catch some with the grasshoppers for bait."

"Well, I hope you have good luck," laughed Mr. Bobbsey.

The supper was much enjoyed. The fish, which Will had given the Bobbseys, made a fine meal, with the corn muffins and other things Dinah cooked. After supper they all sat out on the deck of the houseboat, enjoying the beautiful June evening. From the farm of Mr. Hardee came the sounds of mooing cows, and whinnying horses, with an occasional grunt of the pigs, or the barking of dogs.

Nothing was seen of the farmer himself, or of poor Will.

"Can you do anything for him?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey of her husband, after the children had gone to bed that night.

"I hope so, yes. If, as he says, he has an uncle somewhere in the West, and I can get his address, I'll write to him, and ask him to look after Will. The boy needs a good home."

"Indeed he does. Oh, I'm so glad you didn't let him get that whipping!"

"I'll help him all I can," promised Mr. Bobbsey.

The twins' father rather hoped that the hired boy might slip down to the houseboat that evening, with his uncle's address, but nothing was seen of him.

In the morning a strange thing happened.

Mr. Bobbsey and Captain White decided that it would be better to take the boat a little farther down Lemby Creek, and tie it fast to the bank in a more shady spot than the one opposite the farm buildings.

"It will be better fishing in the shade, too," Mr. Bobbsey said to the boys.

So the gasoline engine was started, and the boat started off. It had not gone very far, though, before Mr. Bobbsey, who was steering, called to Captain White to shut off the engine.

"What's the matter?" asked Captain White. "You're going farther than this; aren't you?"

"I wanted to, yes. But we can't go any farther."

"Why not?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey. "Nothing has happened to the boat, has there, Richard?"

"No, not to the boat. But look there!" and Mr. Bobbsey pointed ahead. Stretched across a narrow part of Lemby Creek was a strong wire fence, fastened to posts driven into the bottom of the stream. The Bluebird could go no farther on her voyage. The fence stopped her.

As Mr. Bobbsey, the twins and the cousins looked at the strong wire fence, they saw Mr. Hardee come along the shore. He looked at the houseboat, and shook his fist, grinning in no pleasant fashion.

"I guess you won't go no farther!" he cried. "I've put a stop to your fancy trip all right! Huh!"