Chapter IV. Off for Meadow Brook
 

Little Freddie, who sat beside his older brother, Bert, in Mr. Bobbsey's automobile, looked on with wonder in his childish eyes, as he saw the boy Mr. Mason had been shaking run down the road.

"What's the matter with him, Bert?" Freddie asked. "Didn't he like to be shook?"

"I should say not!" exclaimed Bert "And I wouldn't myself. I don't think that man did right to shake him so."

"It was too bad," added Freddie. "Say, Bert," he went on eagerly, "maybe we could catch up to him in the automobile, and we could take him to Meadow Brook with us. Nobody would shake him there."

"No, I guess they wouldn't," said Bert: slowly, thinking how kind his uncle and aunt were.

"Then let's go after him!" begged Freddie.

"No, we couldn't do that, Freddie," Bert said with a smile at his little brother. "The boy maybe wouldn't want to come with us, and besides, papa wouldn't let me run the auto, though I know which handles to turn, for I've watched him," Bert went on, with a firm belief that he could run the big car almost as well as could Mr. Bobbsey.

"Well, when papa comes back I'm going to ask him to go after that boy and bring him with us," declared Freddie. "I don't like to see boys shook."

"I don't, either," murmured Bert.

By this time Mr. Bobbsey had come up to where Mr. Mason was standing.

"Oh, how do you do, Mr. Bobbsey," spoke the other lumber man. "I didn't expect to see you for some days."

"I did come a little ahead of time," went on the twins' father. "But I am going to take my family off to the country, so I thought I would come and see you, and finish up our business before going away."

"I'm always glad to talk business," Mr. Mason said, "but I thought your folks were out somewhere on a houseboat."

"We were, and just came back to-day. But the summer isn't over, and we're going to my brother's place, at Meadow Brook Farm. But you seem to be having some trouble," he went on, nodding down the road in the direction the sobbing boy had run. "Of course it isn't any affair of mine, but--"

"Yes, trouble! Lots of it!" interrupted Mr. Mason bitterly. "I have had a lot of trouble with that boy."

"That's too bad," spoke Mr. Bobbsey. "He seems a bright sort of chap. He isn't your son, is he?"

"No, I'm his guardian. He's my ward. His father was a friend of mine in business, and when he died he asked me to look after the boy. His name is Frank Kennedy."

"Oh, yes, I heard about him," said Mr. Bobbsey.

"Heard about him! I guess you didn't hear any good then!" exclaimed the other lumber man, rather crossly. "What do you mean?"

"Why, we came past your house a little while ago," said Mr. Bobbsey, "and your wife mentioned a Frank Kennedy who used to take your two daughters out rowing. If he had been there to-day the girls probably wouldn't have gone out alone, and drifted away."

"Drifted away! What do you mean?" cried Mr. Mason. "Has anything happened?"

"It's all right, my papa went out in a boat and got 'em!" cried Freddie in his shrill, childish voice, for he heard what his father and Mr. Mason were saying.

"I--I don't understand," said the other lumber dealer, seriously. "Was there an accident?"

"Oh, it wasn't anything," Mr. Bobbsey said. "When I went past your house, near the river, I saw the two girls adrift in a boat, not far from shore. They had floated out while playing. I went after them and your wife, before she showed me this short cut to your place, spoke about an adopted boy, Frank Kennedy, who used to play with the children."

"Oh, I'm much obliged to you," said Mr. Mason, after a pause. "Yes, Frank did look after the girls some. That was he who just ran down the road. But he did better at home than he's doing in my office.

"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Bobbsey, wondering why it was that Mr. Mason had so severely shaken the boy who had run away.

"Well, I mean that Frank just lost twenty dollars for me," proceeded the lumber man.

"Twenty dollars! How was that?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.

"I left him in charge of my office, while I was out on some other business," went on the lumber dealer, "and a strange man came in and bought two dollars worth of expensive boards. Frank gave them to him, and the man took them away with him, as they were not very large, or heavy to carry."

"Two dollars--I thought you said twenty!" exclaimed Mr. Bobbsey.

"So I did. Wait until I tell you all. As I said, Frank sold this strange man two dollars worth of boards. The man gave Frank a twenty dollar bill, and Frank gave him back eighteen dollars in change."

"Well, wasn't that right?" asked Mr. Bobbsey, with a smile. "Two dollars from twenty leave eighteen--or it used to when I went to school."

"That part is all right," Mr. Mason said, bitterly, "but the fact is that the twenty dollar bill Frank took from the strange man is no good. It is bad money, and no one but a child would take it. It's a bill that was gotten out by the Confederate states during the Civil War, and of course their money isn't any better than waste-paper now. I don't see how Frank was fooled that way. I wouldn't have been if I had been in the office."

"Perhaps the boy never saw a Confederate bill before," suggested Mr. Bobbsey.

"No matter, he should have known that it wasn't good United States' money!" declared Mr. Mason. "By his carelessness to-day he lost me twenty dollars; the eighteen dollars in my good money that he gave the man in change, and the two dollars worth of boards. And all I have to show for it is that worthless piece of paper!" and Mr. Mason took from his pocket a crumpled bill.

Mr. Bobbsey looked at it carefully.

"Yes, that's one of the old Confederate States' bills all right," he said, "and it isn't worth anything, except as a curiosity."

"It cost me twenty dollars, all right," said Mr. Mason, with a sour look on his face. "I can't see how Frank was so foolish as to be taken in by it."

"Well, the poor boy knew no better, and probably he is sorry enough now," said Mr. Bobbsey.

"I guess he's sorry enough!" exclaimed Mr. Mason, bitterly. "I gave him a good shaking, as he is too big to whip. I shook him and scolded him."

"Well, almost anyone, not very familiar with money, might have made that mistake," spoke Mr. Bobbsey. "This Confederate bill looks very much like some of ours, and a person in a hurry might have been fooled by it."

"Oh, nonsense!" broke in Mr. Mason. "There was no excuse for Frank being fooled as he was. I won't listen to any such talk! He lost me twenty dollars and he'll have to make it up to me, somehow."

"But how can he, when he has run away?" asked Mr. Bobbsey, and he felt very sorry for Frank, who was not much older than Bert. Mr. Bobbsey knew how grieved he would be if something like that happened to his son.

"Yes, he pretended to run away," said Mr. Mason, "but he'll soon run back again."

"How do you know?" Mr. Bobbsey wanted to know. "Did he ever run away before?"

"No, he never did," admitted Mr. Mason, "but he'll have to run back because he has nowhere to run to. He can't get anything to eat, he has no money, and he can't find a place to sleep. Of course he'll come back!

"And when he does come back," Mr. Mason went on, "I'll make him work doubly hard to pay back that twenty dollars. I can't afford to lose that much money."

"But it was an accident; a mistake that anyone might have made," said Mr. Bobbsey again.

"Nonsense!" cried the other lumber man. "I'll make Frank Kennedy pay for his mistake!"

"Perhaps the strange man did not mean to give him the Confederate bill," went on Bert's father. "Some persons carry those old Southern bills as souvenirs, or pocket-pieces, and this man might have paid his out by mistake. I know that once happened to me with a piece of money. He may come back and give you a good twenty dollar bill."

"I am not so foolish as to hope anything like that will happen," said Mr. Mason. "No, I'm out twenty good hard-earned dollars. That's all there is to it. But I'll get it out of Frank Kennedy, somehow."

"If he ever comes back," said Mr. Bobbsey, in a low voice.

"Oh, he'll come back--never fear!" responded the other lumber dealer. Mr. Bobbsey gently shook his head. He was not so sure of that. Frank, as he ran down the road, crying, seemed to feel very badly indeed, and when he said he would never come back it sounded as though he meant it.

"Poor little chap!" thought Mr. Bobbsey to himself. "I am very sorry for him. I wonder where he will sleep to-night?" And he could not help thinking how badly he would feel if he knew his own two dear boys had to be without a place to sleep, or somewhere to get a meal.

Mr. Mason did not appear to worry about the plight of his ward, for whom he was guardian.

The lumber dealers finished their business and Mr. Mason again thanked Mr. Bobbsey for what he had done for the two girls in the boat.

"I guess I'd better keep Frank at the house after this," went on Mr. Mason. "He's safer there than at the office, and wouldn't lose me so much money. But I'll get it out of him, some way," and he thrust back into his pocket the bad twenty dollar bill.

Bert had understood most of the talk between his father and Mr. Mason, but little Freddie did not know much of what went on except that Frank had run away.

"I wouldn't run away from my home," he said. "I like it too much."

"Yes, but you haven't anyone at your home to shake you as hard as that man did," said Bert. "I don't blame Frank for running away."

"Poor boy!" sighed Mr. Bobbsey. "Life is a hard matter for a little chap with no real home."

In the automobile the lumber man and his two boys went back to Lakeport, passing on their way the house where Mr. Mason lived. The two little girls waved their hands to Freddie and Bert as the boys rode past. But there was no sign of Frank Kennedy.

The sadness of the scene the two Bobbsey boys had witnessed was soon forgotten in the joys of getting ready to go to Meadow Brook. They spent that night in their city house, unpacking only such few things as they needed. When morning came Flossie and Freddie were the first up.

"We're going to the country!" sang Flossie, walking about in a long night-gown that trailed over the floor.

"Going to Meadow Brook!" chanted Freddie. "Where's Snoop? I'm going to take him!"

"And may we take Snap, too?" asked Bert, who had taught the former circus dog many new tricks.

"Yes, we'll take them both," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "Now hurry, children dear. We are going to leave soon after breakfast, and it is a long ride in the train, you know."

"Are we going to ride in the 'merry-go-round car'?" asked Flossie.

"She means a parlor car, with chairs that swing around," said Nan, with a laugh.

"Yes, we'll ride in a chair car," decided Mr. Bobbsey.

The Bobbsey house was soon a very busy place. Valises that had been opened were packed again. Dinah got a quick breakfast. Mr. Bobbsey had much telephoning to do about business matters, and Mrs. Bobbsey--well, she had to do what all mothers do on such occasions--look after everything. Nan and Bert helped as much as they could.

Flossie and Freddie tried to help, but you know how it is with little children. The two smaller twins were very anxious that Snoop, the black cat, be taken with them in his little traveling crate.

"I'll get him and pack him up," said Freddie.

"And I'll help," offered Flossie.

Soon all was in readiness for the start to the depot where the Bobbseys would take the train for Meadow Brook. Just as the automobile came up to the door to take the family, there arose a cry from the direction of the side porch where Flossie and Freddie had gone with the cat-cage, in which to put Snoop.

"Oh, my!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey. "I wonder what has happened now? I hope those twins are all right!"

"I'll go see!" offered Nan, setting off on a run.