Chapter IV. At the Houseboat
 

"Did--did I hurt you, Dinah?" asked Bert, after he had gotten his breath. "I'm--I'm sorry--but did I hurt you?"

"Hurt me? Hurt me, honey lamb? No indeedy, but I done reckon yo' has hurt yo'se'f, honey! Look at yo' pore haid!" and she pointed her fat finger at Bert.

"Why, what's the matter with my head?" he asked, putting up his hand. He felt something sticky, and when he looked at his fingers, he saw that they were covered with white stuff.

"Oh, it's the frosting off the cake!" said Nan with a laugh. "You look something like one of the clowns in the circus, Bert, only you haven't enough of the white stuff on."

"And look at Dinah!" laughed Freddie. "She's turning white!"

"What's dat, honey lamb? Turnin' white?" gasped the big, colored cook. "Don't say dat!"

"It's the cake frosting on Dinah, too!" said Mrs. Bobbsey. "Oh, Bert! why aren't you a little more careful?"

"I'm sorry, mamma," Bert said, as he watched Dinah wipe the frosting off her face with her apron. "I didn't know she was coming through the door then."

"And I shore didn't see yo', honey lamb," went on the cook. "Land ob massy! Look at mah cake!" she cried, as she gazed at the mass in her lap. "All de frostin' am done slid off it!"

"Yes, you're a regular wedding cake yourself, Dinah," said Mr. Bobbsey, who had come in to see what all the noise meant. "Well, this seems to be a day of excitement. I'm glad it was no worse, though. Better go up stairs and wash, Bert."

"The cake itself isn't spoiled," said Mrs. Bobbsey, lifting it from Dinah's lap, so the colored cook could get up. It was no easy work for her to do this, as she was so fat. But at last, after many groanings and gruntings, she rose to her feet, and took the cake from Mrs. Bobbsey.

"I'll put some mo' frostin' on it right away, ma'am," she said. "An' I hopes nobody else runs inter me," she went on with a laugh. "I shuah did feel skeered dat Bert was hurt bad."

They could all laugh at the happening now, and after Mr. Bobbsey had told a little more about the new houseboat, he went back to the office.

"Come on, Flossie," suggested Freddie. "Now you've found the book straps, we can hitch Snap to the express wagon. Where'd you find 'em?"

"The straps were on our books, under the hall rack," said Flossie.

"That's just where I left 'em!" exclaimed Freddie. "I knew I left 'em somewhere."

"But next time you must remember," cautioned his mother. "And remember another thing--no more bicycle rides--you stay on your velocipede."

"Yes'm," said Freddie. "Come on, Flossie. Where's Snap?"

When the little twins went to look for their big, shaggy pet, who could do so many circus tricks, they could not find him.

"Have you seen Snap?" asked Freddie of Dinah's husband, Sam Johnson, who was out in the barn.

"Snap?" repeated the colored man. "Why, Freddie, I done jest see Snap paradin' down de road wif dat black dog from Mr. Brown's house."

"Then Snap's gone away again," said Flossie with a sigh. "Never mind, Freddie. Let's play steamboat, and you can be the fireman."

"All right," he agreed, much pleased with this idea. "We'll make believe we're in our new houseboat. Come on."

"Steamboat" was a game the smaller twins often played on the long Saturdays, when there was no school. All they needed was an old soap box for the boat, and some sticks for oars. Then, with some bits of bread or cake, which Dinah gave them to eat, in case they were "shipwrecked," they had fine times.

Meanwhile, Bert and Nan had asked permission of their mother to go over to where some of their boy and girl friends lived, so they were prepared to have a good time, too.

"Oh, but what fun we'll have on the houseboat, won't we, Bert?" said Nan.

"That's what we will," he agreed with a laugh.

Monday morning came, after Sunday (as it always does if you wait long enough) and the two sets of Bobbsey twins started for school.

"I wish we didn't have to go," said Bert, as he strapped up his books. "I want to go down to our new houseboat."

"But you must go to school," said his mother with a smile. "There will not be many more days now. June will soon be over, and you know school closes a little earlier than usual this year. So run along, like good children."

Off they hurried and soon they were mingling with their boy and girl friends, who were also on their way to their classes.

"You can't guess what we're going to have," said Freddie to a boy named Johnnie Wilson, who was in his room.

"Kittens?" asked Johnnie.

"No."

"Puppies?"

"No."

"I give up--what is it?"

"A houseboat," said Freddie. "It's a house on a boat, and you can live in it on water."

"Huh!" said Johnnie. "There isn't any such thing."

"Yes, there is, too, isn't there, Flossie?" and Freddie appealed to his small sister.

"'Course there is," she said. "Our papa bought one, and Freddie's going to be the fireman, and I'm going to cook the meals, so there! Haven't we got a houseboat, Nan?"

"Yes, dear," answered the older sister, who was walking with Bert. At this, coming from Nan, Johnnie had nothing to say, except that he murmured, as he walked away:

"Huh! A houseboat's nothing. We've got a baby at our house, and it's got hair on its head, and two teeth!"

"A houseboat's better'n a baby," was Freddie's opinion.

"It is not!" cried Johnnie.

"It is so!" Freddie exclaimed.

"Hush!" begged Nan. "Please don't dispute. Houseboats and babies are both nice. But now it's time to go to school."

The Bobbsey twins could hardly wait for the classes to be out that day, for their mother had promised to call for them after lessons, and, with their father, they were going to see the Bluebird. The houseboat had been brought up the lake by Mr. Marvin, and tied to a dock not far from Mr. Bobbsey's lumber office. The boat was now the property of Mr. Bobbsey, but that gentleman had not yet fully planned what he would do with her.

Just as the children were trooping out of the school yard, along came Mrs. Bobbsey. Nan and Flossie saw their mother and hastened toward her, while Freddie and Bert came along more slowly.

In a little while all five of them were at Mr. Bobbsey's lumber office. He came out of his private room, when one of his clerks told him Mrs. Bobbsey and the children were there.

"Ah, what can I do for you to-day?" asked Mr. Bobbsey of his wife, just like Mr. Fitch, the grocery-store-keeper. "Would you like a barrel of sawdust, ma'am; or a bundle of shingles to fry for the children's suppers?" and Mr. Bobbsey pretended he was no relation to his family.

"I think we'll have a houseboat," said his wife with a laugh. "Have you time to take us down to it? I can't do a thing with these children, they are so anxious to see the Bluebird." "Well, I hope they'll like her," said Mr. Bobbsey, "and not pull any feathers out of her tail."

"Oh, is there a real bird on the boat?" asked Flossie.

"No, papa is only joking," said Nan, with a smile.

Mr. Bobbsey put on his hat, and soon the whole Bobbsey family had reached the place where the boat was tied. At the first sight of her, with her pretty blue paint and white trimming, Nan cried:

"Oh, how lovely!"

"And how big it is!" exclaimed Freddie his eyes large and round with wonder.

"Let's go aboard--where's the gang-plank?" asked Bert, trying to use some boat language he had heard from his father's lumbermen.

The Bluebird was indeed a fine, large houseboat, roomy and comfortable. The children went inside, and, after looking around the main, or living room, and peering into the dining-room, Nan opened the door of a smaller compartment. Inside she saw a cunning little bed.

"Oh, may I have this room?" she asked. "Isn't it sweet!"

"Here's another just like it," said Mrs. Bobbsey, opening the next door.

"That will be mine," said Flossie.

"My room's going to be back here, by the engine," spoke Bert, as he picked out his sleeping place.

"And I'll come with you," said Freddie. "I'm going to be fireman!" Gleefully the children were running about, clapping their hands, and finding something new and strange every minute.

"Where is your room, mamma?" asked Nan. "We ought to have let you and papa have first choice."

"Oh, there are plenty of rooms," said Mr. Bobbsey. "Let's go up on deck and---"

He stopped suddenly, and seemed to be listening.

"What is it?" asked his wife.

"There seems to be some one on this boat beside ourselves," answered Mr. Bobbsey. "I'll go look."