Chapter III. The Runaway Boy
 

It was a pleasant trip for Freddie and Bert to ride with their father in the automobile along the shady shores of the lake. The little twin, and the bigger one, sat back on the cushions, now and then bouncing up and down as the machine went over a rough place in the road.

Freddie, being lighter than Bert, bounced up and down oftener, but then he was so fat, almost "like a lump of butter," as his mother used to say, that he did not much mind it.

"I wish we could take this machine to Meadow Brook Farm with us," said Bert, as they neared the lumber yard of Mr. Mason, with whom Mr. Bobbsey had business that day.

"We can ride in one of Uncle Daniel's carriages," said Freddie. "Or maybe I can ride horse-back. That would be fun!" he cried, his bright eyes sparkling.

"It's fun--if you don't fall off," Bert said.

As the automobile passed around a curve in the road, where the lake could be seen stretching out its sparkling waters in the bright sun, Bert suddenly uttered a cry, and pointed ahead.

"Look!" he exclaimed. "There are two little girls drifting out in that boat, and they don't seem to know how to row to shore."

Mr. Bobbsey steered the machine down to the edge of the lake, over the grass at one side of the road. As he did so he and the two boys heard voices faintly calling:

"Help!! Help! Oh, somebody please come and get us!"

"I'll get them--I can row, and there's another boat on shore," said Bert, pointing to a craft drawn up on the sand.

"I guess I'd better go out--you stay with Freddie," directed the lumber merchant, as he brought the automobile to a stop, and jumped out.

"I'm coming!" he called to the two little girls in the drifting boat. "Don't be afraid, and sit still! Don't stand up!"

He needed to caution them thus, for one of the girls, seeing that help was on the way, grew so excited that she stood up, and this is always dangerous to do in a rowboat on the water. Rowboats tip over very easily, and sometimes even good swimmers may be caught under them.

"I wish I could help get them," sighed fat Freddie, as he saw his father run down to the shore of the lake, and shove the other boat into the water.

"It's best to let papa do it," said Bert, though he himself would have liked to have gone to the rescue.

"They'll mind papa, and sit down and keep still, but they wouldn't mind us," went on Bert, explaining matters to his little brother.

"That's right," agreed Freddie. "Girls are awful 'fraid in a boat, anyhow. I'm not afraid."

"Well, not all girls are afraid, either," said Bert with a smile. "Nan isn't afraid."

"Of course not--she's our sister, and so is Flossie!" exclaimed Freddie, as if that made a difference!

Mr. Bobbsey was now rowing out to the two small girls in the drifting boat. They did not seem to have any oars, and Bert and Freddie heard their father call to them again to sit down, so they would not tip over.

Then the lumber man reached the drifting craft, and carefully fastened it by a rope to the boat he was in.

"Now sit quietly and I'll pull you to shore," he said to the girls. "You must not come out in a boat all alone. Where is your home?"

"Up there," replied the older girl, pointing to a house back of the lake shore road. "We didn't mean to come out," she went on. "We just sat in the boat when it was tied fast to the dock, but the knot must have come loose, and we drifted out. We're ever so much obliged to you for coming out to us."

"Well, don't get in boats again, unless some older person is with you," cautioned Mr. Bobbsey. By this time he had towed the boat, with the girls in it, to shore. As he did so a woman came running from the house, calling out:

"Oh, what has happened? Oh, are they drowned?"

"Nothing at all has happened," said Mr. Bobbsey, quietly. "Your children just drifted out, and I went and got them."

"Oh, and I've told them never, never to get into a boat!" cried the mother. "Girls, girls! What am I going to do to you?" she went on. "You might have fallen overboard."

"Yes, that is true, they might have," said Mr. Bobbsey. "But I think this will be a lesson to them, and no harm has come to them this time. But it is best for children to keep out of boats."

"Indeed it is," agreed the lady. "Oh, I can't thank you enough, sir!" she said to Mr. Bobbsey. "I have told Sallie and Jane never to go out on the lake unless Frank is with them, but he isn't here now."

"Is Frank their brother?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.

"Not exactly a brother. My husband is his guardian," the lady went on. "I am Mrs. Mason."

"Oh, I am glad to know you," said Mr. Bobbsey. "I am on my way to your husband's office now, to see him on business. I am glad I could do you a favor."

"Indeed it is more than a favor," said Mrs. Mason. "I cannot thank you enough. When Frank was home I did not worry so much about the girls, as he looked after them. But my husband thinks he is now old enough to help in the lumber yard, and so he keeps him down at the office. You are going down there, you say?"

"Yes," replied Mr. Bobbsey. "I am going along the river road."

"I can show you a shorter route," said Mrs. Mason, who now had tight hold of her daughters' hands, as though she feared they would run down to the boats again. "My husband has cut a new road through the orchard, down to his office," she went on. "You can come that way in your machine, and save nearly a mile."

"I shall be glad to do that," Mr. Bobbsey answered, "as I haven't very much time today. We are getting ready to go away."

Mrs. Mason showed Mr. Bobbsey where he could cross the main road, and take a short cut through an old orchard, to reach the lumber office, and soon, after waving good-bye to the frightened little girls, Mr. Bobbsey, Bert and Freddie were again on their way.

"Is--is the lake very deep where those girls were?" Freddie wanted to know.

"It doesn't make much difference whether it is deep or not," said Mr. Bobbsey, "they would probably have been drowned if they had fallen overboard. You must always be careful about boats," he cautioned the little fellow.

"I will," Freddie promised.

"That must be the lumber yard!" exclaimed Bert a little later, when they turned from the new orchard road into another highway.

"Yes, that is it," Mr. Bobbsey agreed. "I never came this way before. It is a good road to know when you are in a hurry."

Mr. Mason's lumber yard, like that of Mr. Bobbsey, was partly on the edge of the lake, so the logs, boards and planks could be easily loaded and unloaded from boats. Part of the yard was on the other side of the road, back from the lake, and it was on this side that the office was built.

As Mr. Bobbsey and his two boys rode up in the automobile, they saw out in front of the office a strange and not very pleasant sight. A man stood there, roughly shaking a boy about Bert's age. The boy seemed to be crying, and trying to get away, but the man held him tightly by one arm, and shook him again and again.

"I don't like that," said Mr. Bobbsey in a low voice, as he stopped the automobile.

"What makes him do it?" asked Freddie. "Is the boy bad?"

"I'll teach you to make me lose money that way!" cried the man as he again roughly shook the boy. "You ought to have better sense than to be cheated that way! It wasn't your money that you lost, it was mine, and money isn't so easily made these days!"

"But I couldn't help it!" the boy cried, trying to pull his arm away. He could not do this, for the man held it too tightly.

"Yes, you could help it too, if you'd had your eyes open!" the man said in harsh tones. "I left you in charge of the office, and you ought to have been sharp enough not to be fooled and cheated. I--I don't know what to do to you!"

Again he shook the boy.

"Ouch! You hurt, Mr. Mason!" cried the lad.

"Well, you deserve to be hurt, losing money that way," was the answer. "I--I've a good notion to--"

But the sentence was not finished. Just then, by a sudden motion, the boy pulled away from the man who was shaking him, and ran down the road. For a moment it seemed as if the man would run after him, but he did not. The two stood looking at one another, while Mr. Bobbsey, having alighted from the automobile, walked up toward the lumber office.

"You'd better come back here, Frank," called the man who had been shaking the boy. "You'd better come back."

"I'll never come back!" was the answer. "I--I'm going to run away! I'll never live with you again! You treat me too mean! It wasn't my fault about that bad money! I couldn't help it. I'm going to run away, and I'm never coming back again. I can't stand it here!"

Bursting into tears, the boy raced off down the road in a cloud of dust.