Chapter XVII. In the Storm
 

Dinah was certainly very much frightened, but Nan was not. She knew better than to believe in such things as "ghosts," and, though the sandwiches might have disappeared, the little girl felt sure there must be some reasonable explanation about the mystery.

"I'll call mamma, Dinah," offered Nan. "She won't want you to leave us now, when we have just started on this trip."

"Go on, honey lamb, call yo' ma," agreed the fat cook. "But I ain't gwine t' stay on dish yeah boat no mo'! Dat's settled. Call yo' ma, honey lamb, an' I'll tell her about it."

Mrs. Bobbsey had heard the excited voice of Dinah and had come down to the dining-room of the houseboat to see what it was all about.

"What is it, Dinah?" she asked.

"It's ghostests, Mrs. Bobbsey--dat's what it is," said the cook. "Ghostests what takes de sandwiches as fast as I make 'em--dat's de trouble. I can't stay heah no mo'!"

Mrs. Bobbsey looked to Nan for an explanation. The little girl said:

"Dinah made a plate of sandwiches for our picnic---"

"Dat's right, for de excursnick," put in Dinah.

"And she left them on the table," went on Nan. "But when she went to get a basket to put them in, and came back---"

"Dey was clean gone!" burst out the colored cook, finishing the story for Nan. "An' ghostests took 'em; ob dat I'se shuah. So you'd bettah look fo' anoder cook, Mrs. Bobbsey."

"Nonsense, Dinah! We can't let you go that way. It's all foolishness to talk about ghosts. Probably the door was left open, and Snap might have taken the sandwiches, though I never knew him to take anything off the table. But it must have been Snap."

"No'm, it couldn't be," said Dinah. "It wasn't Snap."

"How do you know?"

"Could Snap come through a closed do', Mrs. Bobbsey. Could Snap do that?"

"Come through a door? No, I don't believe he could. But he might open it. Snoop can open doors."

"Yes, maybe do's that hab a catch on, but not knob-do's, Snoop can't open, an' Snap can't neither. Besides, de do' was shut when I left de sandwiches on de table an' went fo' de basket."

"Oh, was it?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey, trying to think of how the pieces of bread and meat could have been taken.

"It shuah was," went on Dinah. "Nobody took dem sandwiches, but a ghostest, an' I can't stay in no boat what has ghostests."

"Nonsense!" laughed Mrs. Bobbsey. "I know how it was done, Dinah. I know how the sandwiches were taken."

"How, Mrs. Bobbsey?" asked the colored cook, as she stood looking first at the empty plate on the table, and then at Nan and lastly at Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Why, through that window," said the twins' mother, pointing to an open window on the side of the Bluebird. "Snap must have come in that window, and taken the sandwiches. He was probably very hungry, poor dog, though he knows better than to do anything like that." "No'm, Mrs. Bobbsey," went on Dinah. "Snap couldn't hab come in fru dat window, fo' it opens right on to de watah. He'd hab to stand in de watah to jump in, an' he can't do that."

"No, perhaps not," admitted Mrs. Bobbsey. "Oh, I dare say you forgot where you put the sandwiches, Dinah. Now don't worry a bit more about them. Just make some fresh ones, and we'll go on our little picnic."

"But I'se gwine t' leab," said Dinah. "I ain't gwine stay on a boat, where ghostests takes sandwiches as fast as I can make 'em."

"You shall come with us on the picnic," said Nan's mother. "When we come back, there won't be any ghost. Now don't fuss. Just make some fresh sandwiches, and we'll go. I'm sure it was Snap."

"And I'se shuah it were a ghostest," murmured Dinah, as she went out to the kitchen.

"Mamma, who do you think it could have been?" asked Nan of her mother.

"Why, Snap, to be sure, little daughter."

"But with the door shut, and the window opening out on the water?" went on Nan.

"Oh, dogs are very smart," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "Smarter than we think. Now suppose you help Dinah make more sandwiches. We are late."

Nan went out to the kitchen, while Mrs. Bobbsey made her way up on deck, where she found her husband talking to Captain White about the motor engine of the houseboat.

"Richard, I want to speak to you," said Mrs. Bobbsey, and when she and the twins' father were in a quiet corner of the deck, Mrs. Bobbsey went on:

"Richard, I think there are thieves about here."

"Bless my soul!" he exclaimed. "Thieves! What do you mean?"

"Well, I mean that Dinah says a plate of sandwiches was just taken, and you remember the time the corn muffins were missing?"

"Yes, but perhaps Dinah was mistaken both times, or Snap might have taken a bite between meals."

"Hardly Snap this time," Mrs. Bobbsey went on, "and Dinah, though she does forget once in a while, would not be likely to do so twice in such a short time. No, I think some tramps along shore must have come along quietly in a boat, reached or climbed in through the window and taken the sandwiches."

"Well, perhaps they did," Mr. Bobbsey, said. "I'll tell Captain White, and we'll keep a lookout. We don't want thieves coming around."

"No, indeed," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "Dinah threatens to leave, if any more queer things happen."

"Well, we wouldn't know how to get along without Dinah," said Mr. Bobbsey, with a smile. "I'll put some wire netting over the windows. I was going to do it anyhow, for the mosquitoes will soon be buzzing around. The netting will keep thieves from reaching in and taking our nice sandwiches."

"Yes, I think the netting would be a good idea," said his wife. "But it certainly is queer."

A little later, the Bobbsey twins--both sets of them--with their cousins, mother, father, and Dinah went ashore for the little picnic in the woods, taking with them the fresh sandwiches that Nan had helped to make.

"You shan't have any of these--at least not until we want you to have them," said Nan to Snap, the dog, who, of course, was not left behind. Yet, the more she thought of it the more sure Nan was that Snap had not taken the others.

"But, if he didn't, who did?" she wondered.

"Oh, isn't it just lovely in these woods!" exclaimed Dorothy, as they walked along on the soft moss under the trees. At the seashore, where she lived, the woods were too far away to allow her to pay many visits to them, and she always liked to walk in the cool forests.

Harry, though he lived in the country, not far from the woods, liked them as well as did the Bobbsey twins, and the children were soon running about, playing games, while Snap raced about with them, barking and wagging his tail.

Dinah sat down near the lunch basket.

"Don't you want to walk around a bit?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.

"No'm," answered the fat cook. "I ain't gwine t' leab dish yeah basket ob victuals until dey's eaten. Dey ain't no ghostests, nor no dogs, gwine t' git nothin' when I'se heah! No'm!" and Dinah slipped her fat arm in through the handle of the basket.

"Let's look for chestnuts!" cried Freddie. "I love chestnuts!"

"It's too early for them," said his father. "But if you find me a willow tree, I can make you some whistles."

The children found one, near a little brook, and Mr. Bobbsey was soon busy with his knife. The bark slipped off easily from the willow wood, which is why it is so often used for whistles.

Soon all four children were blowing whistles of different tones, and making so much noise that, with the barking of Snap, who seemed to think he must bark every time a whistle was blown, Mrs. Bobbsey cried out for quietness.

"Come on, we'll go farther off in the woods and play Indian," suggested Bert, and soon this game was under way.

It was lunch time almost before the children knew it, and what fun it was to sit around the table cloth Dinah spread out on the grass, and eat the good things from the basket. Snap was given his share, but Snoop, the black cat, had not come along, staying on the houseboat with Captain White.

"Isn't this fun?" cried Nan to Dorothy.

"Indeed it is! Oh, I can't tell you how glad I am that you asked me to come on this trip!"

"Oh! Look at that big bug!" suddenly cried Freddie, and he made a jump toward his mother, to get out of the way of a big cricket that had hopped onto the white table cloth.

"Look out, Freddie!" called his father. "You'll upset your glass of lemonade!"

Mr. Bobbsey spoke too late. Freddie's heel kicked over the glass, and the lemonade spilled right into Mrs. Bobbsey's lap.

"Oh, Freddie!" cried Bert.

"Never mind--it's an old dress," laughed Mrs. Bobbsey, "and there's more lemonade. Accidents will happen on picnics. Never mind, Freddie."

The cricket was "shooed" away by Nan, Freddie's glass was filled again, and the picnic went on merrily. Soon it was time to go back to the boat.

As they walked along through the woods, Mr. Bobbsey glanced up now and then through the trees at the sky.

"Do you think it's going to rain?" his wife asked.

"Not right away, but I think we are soon going to have a storm," he said.

"Oh, well, the houseboat doesn't leak, does it?"

"No, but I don't want to go out on Lake Romano in a storm, and I intended this evening to go on up the creek until we reached the lake. But I'll wait and see what the weather does."

"Well, did anything happen while we were gone?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey of Captain White, as they got back to the houseboat.

"No, not a thing," he answered. "It was so still and quiet here, that Snoop and I had a nice sleep," and he pointed to the black cat, who was stretched out in his lap, as he sat on deck.

As it did not look so much like a storm now, Mr. Bobbsey decided to move the houseboat farther up the creek, almost to where the stream flowed from Lake Romano, so as to be ready to go out on the larger body of water in the morning, if everything was all right.

The engine was started, and just before supper, the Bluebird came to a stop in Lemby Creek about a mile from the big lake. She was tied to the bank, and then supper was served.

Then followed a pleasant hour or two on deck, and when it was dark, the children went into the cabin and played games until bedtime--Nan and Bert, as well as the smaller twins and the cousins, were asleep when Mrs. Bobbsey, who had sat up to write some letters, heard her husband walking about on deck.

"What are you doing?" she called to him through a window.

"Oh, just looking at the weather," he answered. "I think we're going to have a storm after all, and a hard one, too. I'm glad we're safely anchored."

Sure enough. That night, about twelve o'clock, the storm came. There was at first distant, muttering thunder, which soon became louder. Then lightning followed, flashing in through the windows of the houseboat, so that Mrs. Bobbsey was awakened.

"Oh, it's going to be a terrible storm," she said to her husband.

"Oh, perhaps not so very bad," he answered. "Here comes the rain!"

Then it began to pour. But the houseboat was well built, and did not leak a bit.

Next the wind began to blow, gently at first, but finally so hard that Mr. Bobbsey could hear the creaking of the ropes that tied the boat to trees on shore.

"I think I'd better look and see if those ropes are well tied," he said, getting up to dress, and putting on a raincoat.

He had hardly gotten out on deck, before the houseboat gave a sudden lurch to one side, and then began to move quickly down stream.

"Oh, what has happened?" cried Mrs. Bobbsey.

At the same time Flossie and Freddie awakened, because of the loud noise from the storm.

"Mamma! Mamma!" they cried.

"Richard, has anything happened?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Yes!" he shouted. "The strong wind has broken the ropes, and we are adrift. But don't worry. We'll soon be all right!"

Faster and faster went the Bluebird, while all about her the rain splashed down, the wind blew, the thunder roared, and the lightning flashed.