Chapter XVIII. What Freddie Saw
 

For a few seconds Bert and Harry, his cousin, stared at the boy on the hay-wagon. Then Harry, who knew him well, asked:

"Say, Jim Bates, are you joking or did you really hear about some wild animals escaping from the circus?"

"Indeed I'm not joking!" cried Jim. "I did hear it! Bill Snowden told me. You know he lives over on the road that runs from Rosedale to Blaisdell and the circus went there. It went right past his house in the night, and he looked out of his window and saw the camels and elephants and wild animal cages."

"I saw the elephants, too!" exclaimed Freddie. "I took hold of one's big toothpick tooth. Elephants eat hay. Were they eating any hay when that boy saw 'em? I wish elephants would go past our house."

"Quiet, Freddie dear, please," said Nan. "We want to hear about the wild animals. Did they really get loose?" she asked, and she looked over her shoulder, as did Flossie and Mabel Herold.

"Well, that's what Bill Snowden said," replied Jim Bates. "Of course I didn't see 'em run away myself, but I'm all ready for 'em, if I meet any bears, or lions or tigers," he added.

"Ready for 'em--how do you mean?" asked Bert.

"I've got a big club, and some stones," answered Jim, and he took up from the seat beside him a stout stick, and showed where he had made a little pile of stones in the wagon.

"They wouldn't hurt a lion," said Freddie. "Lions or tigers aren't afraid of sticks or stones. I'm going to get my fire engine. It squirts water, and wild animals is afraid of water."

"Yes, we've heard that story before," said Bert, with a laugh. "But don't you go out hunting for wild animals with that toy engine of yours, Freddie!" his older brother advised.

"No, indeed," added Nan. "Oh, I think we ought to go home, Bert."

"I'm going home," said the boy on the wagon, "and if I meet any animals on the way; I'm going to throw stones at 'em."

"Pooh! They won't be afraid of stones," declared Freddie.

"Yes, they will, too!" declared Jim Bates. "I read in a book that a bear's nose is very soft and tender, and if you hit him on it he'll howl, and run away."

"I heard that, too," said Harry. "I hope it's true."

"Well, if a bear's nose is tender, a lion's or a tiger's must be tender also," went on Jim, "and if I meet any wild animals I'm going to hit 'em on the nose."

"That's a good idea," Bert said, with a laugh. "But how can you be sure you'll hit 'em on the nose?"

"Oh, I can't be sure," admitted Jim, "but I'm a pretty good shot throwing stones, and I've got plenty, so if I miss the first time I'll hit 'em on the nose later. There isn't any wild animal going to get me. No sir!" and he looked at the stones and his stout club.

"I should think," said Mabel Herold, "that if you had a good team of horses you could drive fast and get away from any wild animals you might meet."

"Well, I could do that, too," replied the boy On the hay-wagon. "And if I throw all my stones, and don't hit a lion or a bear on the nose, I'll whip up and get away."

"Well, I'm going to get away now," decided Nan. "Come on, Flossie and Mabel. We won't go berrying to-day. Bears like blackberries, so I've read, and no one can tell but that there might be one in the berry patch where we are going."

"Oh, I don't think so!" exclaimed Bert. "Maybe there isn't any truth in that story after all, about the wild animals escaping. That other boy didn't see 'em get away, did he?" asked Bert of Jim.

"No, he didn't exactly see 'em," admitted the boy on the hay-wagon, "but he heard the circus men talking in the night about how the lion and the bear and the tiger got out of their cages."

"Oh, come on home, Nan! Come on home!" begged Flossie. "This is worse than the shooting in the moving pictures. Let's go home."

Nan was very willing to go, and so was Mabel. Freddie, too, after thinking it over, decided that he had better go back with the girls, and get his toy fire engine ready for any possible danger.

"What do you say, Bert, shall we go back?" inquired Harry.

"Well, I don't know," slowly replied the older Bobbsey lad. "I don't really believe in the least that any wild animals are loose, but if the girls aren't going berrying there's no use in us going."

"I guess that's right," agreed Tom. "No use going on alone."

And, though none of the older boys would admit it, I think they, too, were rather glad to turn back after having heard the story of the escape of the wild circus animals.

"Well, I'm all ready for 'em, if I meet any," declared Jim, as he drove on, having told the news.

On the way back Bert and the others met several farmers who knew Harry or Tom, and each of these men said they had also heard the story of the escape of a lion, tiger and bear.

"And if they are loose, some of us may miss some cattle or sheep," declared Mr. Ames, who lived not far from Uncle Daniel. "I think we farmers will have to get up a hunting party."

"I'd like to come," broke in Freddie. "I've got a fire engine, and wild animals is afraid--"

"That will do, dear," said Nan, gently putting her finger across his lips. "Little boys can't go hunting wild animals."

By the time the Bobbsey twins and their friends had almost reached Meadow Brook, on their way back, they had met several persons--men or boys--who spoke of having heard of the escape of the circus animals.

When the children came up the gravel walk of the farmhouse, Mrs. Bobbsey, seeing them from the side porch, where she was sitting, stringing beans for supper, called out:

"Well you are back early. Did you get many berries?"

"We didn't get any, mother," said Nan. "We--"

"It's wild animals!" burst out Freddie, unable to keep quiet any longer. "A lion, a tiger and a bear! They got away from the circus, and they--they--"

"What's all this?" interrupted Aunt Sarah, coming out with her sewing in her hands.

Then, by turns, with many interruptions from Freddie, the story was told. Dinah listened with wide-opened eyes, and if she could have turned pale I think she would have done so. But of course she could not, for she was the color of a chocolate cake, and had to stay that way.

"Oh, I don't believe a word of it!" exclaimed Uncle Daniel, when he heard the tale. "Every time a circus comes to town there is a story of wild animals escaping, but I've never seen any yet. I don't believe it at all!"

But the children did, and later, when Uncle Daniel came back from a visit to the village store that evening, he had to admit that several persons had spoken to him about the wild beasts being loose.

"Hadn't you better see if your shot gun is loaded?" his wife asked him.

"Well, I will, if it will make you feel any easier," he agreed. "But there's no danger of any of them coming near here, even if they have escaped, which I don't believe."

The children were rather frightened that night, and would not go far from the porch to play in the moonlight, which they usually did before going to bed.

Of course Bert and Harry were not as frightened as were Flossie and Freddie, but they looked nervously over their shoulders at the dark places under the bushes as they passed them.

Freddie, true to his promise, got out his toy fire engine, and filled the tank with water, winding up the spring that worked the pump and sent out the stream from the little rubber hose.

"Now I'm ready for a lion or a tiger or a bear," he said.

"Well, don't dream of them," said his mother. "Now it's time for bed."

Whether the talk of the circus animals had made Freddie nervous, or whether he did dream of them, he could not clearly tell afterward. All he knew was that he did not sleep well, and, some time after going to bed he awakened with a start.

There was no light in his room, but the moon shone in. He could look across to where Flossie was asleep in her crib.

Then Freddie heard a noise. It came from outside and sounded like: "Wuff!"

"Oh! Oh!" whispered Freddie to himself. "That's him! That's one of the wild animals! It's a bear! That's how bears go--'wuff!' Oh, it's come, and what shall I do!"

He sat up in bed listening. He heard the noise again!

"Wuff! Wuff!"

Then Freddie decided he must be brave. Without waking Flossie, the little fellow slid from bed, and crossed to the window. The bear, if such it was, could not be in his room. He was sure of that, for the place was made bright by the moonlight that streamed in the window.

Over to this window Freddie went. He looked out, and as he did so, he saw something shaggy and black walk under the lilac bush in front of the house.

"There he is!" whispered Freddie to himself. Then in his shrill childish voice he called loud:

"Mamma! Bert! Nan! It's come! The bear! He's out in front under the bush! Oh! Oh! Oh!"