Chapter V. The Strange Boy
 

The Bobbsey twins looked at one another, and then at their mother, as Mr. Bobbsey went out of the living room of the houseboat, toward the stairway that led up on deck.

Bert tried to look brave, and as though he did not care. Nan moved a little closer to her mother. As for Flossie, she, too, was a little frightened, but Freddie did not seem at all alarmed.

"Is it somebody come to take the boat away from us?" he asked in his high-pitched, childish voice. "If it is--don't let 'em, papa."

They all laughed at this--even Mr. Bobbsey, and he turned to look around, half way up the stairs, saying:

"No, Freddie, I won't let them take our boat."

"Pooh! Just as if they could--it's ours!" spoke Bert.

"Who could it be on board here, mamma?" asked Nan.

"I don't know, dear, unless it was some one passing through the lumber yard, who stopped to see what the boat looked like," answered Mrs. Bobbsey. "Papa will soon find out."

The noise they had heard was the footsteps of some one walking about on the deck of the houseboat.

"Perhaps it was one of the men from the office, who came to tell papa he was wanted up there, or that some one wanted to speak to him on the telephone," went on Mrs. Bobbsey. She saw that the children, even Bert, were a little alarmed, for the boat was tied at a lonely place in the lumber yard, and tramps frequently had to be driven away from the piles of boards under which there were a number of good places to sleep.

Mr. Bobbsey did not mean to be unkind to the poor men who had no homes, but tramps often smoke, and are not careful about their matches. There had been one or two fires in the lumber yard, and Mr. Bobbsey did not want any more blazes.

Soon the footsteps of the children's father were heard on the deck above them, and, a little later Freddie and the others could hear the talk of two persons.

"I guess it was one of the men," said Mrs. Bobbsey.

"I'm going to see," spoke Bert, and he moved toward the stairway, followed by Nan, Flossie and Freddie. They went up on deck and saw their father talking to a strange boy. None of the Bobbsey children knew him.

"Are you looking for some one?" asked Mr. Bobbsey kindly, of the strange boy. Often, when he was in distant parts of the lumber yard, and he was wanted at the office, or telephone, his men might ask some boy to run and tell the owner of the yard he was needed. But Mr. Bobbsey had never seen this lad before.

"No, sir, I--I wasn't looking for any one," said the boy, as he looked down at his shoes, which were full of holes, and put his hands into the pockets of his trousers, which were quite ragged. "I was just looking at the boat. It's a fine one!"

"I'm glad you like it," said Mr. Bobbsey with a smile.

"Could you go to sea in this boat?" asked the boy, who was not very much older than Bert.

"Go to sea? Oh, no!" answered Mr. Bobbsey. "This boat is all right on a lake, or river, but the big waves of the ocean would be too strong for it. We don't intend to go to sea. Why? Are you fond of sailing?"

"That's what I am!" cried the boy. "I'm going to sea in a ship some day. I'm sick of farm-life!" and his eyes snapped.

"Are you a farmer?" asked the twins' father.

"I work for a farmer, and I don't like it--the work is too hard," the boy said, as he hung his head.

"There is plenty of hard work in this world," went on Mr. Bobbsey. "Of course too much hard work isn't good for any one, but we must all do our share. Where do you work?"

"I work for Mr. Hardee, who lives just outside the town of Lemby," answered the boy.

"Oh, yes, I know Mr. Hardee," spoke Mr. Bobbsey. "I sold him some lumber with which he built his house. So you work for him? But what are you doing so far away from the farm?"

"Mr. Hardee sent me over here, to Lakeport, on an errand."

"Well, if I were you I wouldn't come so far away from where I left my horse and wagon," cautioned Mr. Bobbsey, for the place where the boat was tied was a long distance from the main road leading from Lakeport to Lemby.

"I didn't come in a wagon," said the boy. "I walked."

"What! You don't mean to say you walked all the way from Lemby to Lakeport?" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey, who had now come up on deck.

"Yes'm, I did," answered the boy. "Mr. Hardee said he needed the horses to work on the farm. He said I was young, and the walk would do me good. So Mrs. Hardee, she gave me some bread and butter for my lunch, and I walked. I'm walking back now, and I came this way by the lake. It's a short cut.

"Then I happened to see this boat here. I like boats, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to come on board."

"Oh, no, that's all right!" said Mr. Bobbsey quickly. "I'll be glad to have you look around, though this is only a houseboat, and not built for ocean travel. So you work for Mr. Hardee, eh? What's your name?"

"Will Watson," the boy said. Mrs. Bobbsey was trying to motion to her husband to come toward her. It seemed as though she wanted to say something to him privately.

"Will Watson, eh?" went on Mr. Bobbsey. "I don't seem to know any family of that name around here."

"No, I don't belong around here," the boy said. "I come from out west --or I used to live there when I was littler. I've got an uncle out there now, if I could ever find him. He's a gold miner."

"A gold miner?" said Mr. Bobbsey, and then his wife came up to him, and whispered in his ear. Just what she said the twins could not hear, but, a moment later Mr. Bobbsey said:

"Bert, suppose you take Will down and show him the boat, since he is so interested."

"Oh, I'm going to!" cried Freddie. "I want to show him where I'm going to be a fireman."

"And I want to show him my room," said Flossie.

The strange boy looked at the little twins and smiled. He had a nice face, and was quite clean, though his clothes were ragged and poor.

"Come along down if you like," said Bert kindly. "There's a lot to see below the deck."

With a friendly nod of his head Will Watson followed the three children. Nan stayed on deck with her parents.

"It's a shame to make him walk all the way from Lemby here and back," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "It must be all of five miles each way."

"It is," said Mr. Bobbsey. "Quite a tramp for a little fellow."

"Can't you find some way to give him a ride back?" asked his wife. "Aren't any of your wagons going that way?"

"Perhaps," replied Mr. Bobbsey. "I'll find out, and I'll send him as near to Mr. Hardee's place as I can."

"Poor little fellow," said Mrs. Bobbsey, and she thought how hard it would be if her son Bert had to go to work for his living so young.

"He seems like a nice boy," spoke Mr. Bobbsey, "and from what I know of Mr. Hardee he isn't an easy man to work for. Well, have you seen enough of the boat, Nan? Do you think you'll like it?"

"Oh, I just love it," Nan answered. "I'm so anxious for the time to come when we can go sailing, or whatever you do in a boat like this. Mamma, may I bring some of my things from home to fix up my room?"

"I think so--yes. We shall have to talk about that later. I think it is time we started home now. Dinah will not want to wait supper for us."

"Well then, run along," said Mr. Bobbsey. "I'll get the others up from down below."

"And you won't forget about trying to give that boy a ride home?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.

"No, indeed," replied her husband. "I'm going right back to the office now, and I'll take him with me. I'll let him ride on the wagon that's going nearest to Lemby."

Mr. Bobbsey met Bert and the strange boy coming up.

"It sure is a dandy boat!" said Will Watson with a sigh of envy. "If ever I go away to sea, I hope I'll have as nice a room as yours," and he looked at Bert. "I just couldn't help coming on the boat when I saw her tied here," he went on. "I hope you didn't mind."

"Not a bit!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey, wishing she had some of Dinah's cake or crullers with her to give to the boy, for the twins' mother thought he looked hungry.

The door, leading into the cabin of the houseboat was locked, and they all went on shore, over the gangplank, the board that extended from the dock to the boat.

"Good-bye, Bluebird!" called Flossie, waving her fat, chubby, little hand toward the houseboat. "We'll soon be back."

"And I'm going to bring my fire engine, when I come again," exclaimed Freddie. "If the boat gets on fire I can put it out."

"Boats can't get on fire in the water!" declared Flossie.

"They can so--can't they, papa?" appealed the little boy.

"Well, sometimes, perhaps. But we hope ours doesn't," replied Mr. Bobbsey with a smile. He led the way off the boat, and as Will was about to walk on along the lake shore, on his return to Lemby, Mrs. Bobbsey said:

"Wouldn't you like a ride back, little boy?"

"Indeed I would," he said. "My feet hurt, on account of my shoes being so full of holes, I guess. I'm pretty tired, but I had a little rest. I don't expect to get back much before dark."

"Well, perhaps you can ride nearly all the way," went on Mrs. Bobbsey. "My husband has some lumber wagons going in your direction."

"Yes, come along and we'll see what we can do for you," put in the twins' father, nodding at the strange boy.

Will went off with Mr. Bobbsey, while Nan, Bert, Flossie and Freddie walked with their mother.

"Oh, mamma, when do you think we can go in our boat?" asked Flossie.

"Well, as soon as school closes, my dear."

"And will we sail across the ocean?" Freddie wanted to know.

"Of course not!" cried Bert. "A houseboat isn't a ship."

"That boy knew about ships," said Nan. "I like him, don't you, mamma?"

"Yes, he seemed real nice. He hasn't a very easy life, I'm afraid, working on a farm. But we must hurry on to supper. We'll talk about the boat after papa comes home."