Chapter XIV. Stray Children
 

"Nice pussy! Come and let me rub you!" said Freddie softly, as he held out his hand toward the stray cat.

"Yes, come here, Snoop!" added Flossie, as she walked along with her brother.

"'Tisn't Snoop, and you mustn't call him that name," ordered Freddie.

"Well, he looks like Snoop," declared Flossie.

"But if that isn't his name he won't like to be called by it, no more than if I called you Susie when your name's Flossie," went on the little boy.

"Do you s'pose cats know their names?" asked Flossie.

"Course they do!" exclaimed her brother. "Don't our Snoop know his name when I call him, same as our dog Snap does?"

"Oh, well, but our cat is a very, very, smart cat!"

"Maybe this one is, too," Freddie said. "Anyhow, we'll just call him 'Puss' or 'Kittie,' and he'll like that, 'cause that's a name for any cat."

"That's so," agreed Flossie.

So calling to the stray cat in their soft, little voices, and holding out their hands to pet the animal, Flossie and Freddie walked farther away from the sight-seeing car, and soon they were petting the cat that, indeed, did look a bit like Snoop.

They stroked the soft back of the cat, rubbed its ears, and the animal rubbed up against their legs and purred. Then, suddenly, the cat heard a dog barking somewhere, and ran down toward the side entrance of a large, handsome house.

"Oh, come on!" cried Freddie to his sister, as he saw the cat running away. "Maybe there's some little cats back here, and we could get one to take home with us! Come on, Flossie!"

Flossie was willing enough to go, and in a moment they were in the rear yard of one of the big houses, and out of sight from the street where the auto stood, while the man was putting water in the radiator.

The cat, once over its fright about the barking dog, seemed quieter now, and let the two little Bobbsey twins pet it again. Freddie saw a little box-like house in one corner of the yard and cried:

"I'm going to look here, Flossie! Maybe there's kittens in it!"

"Oh, let me see!" exclaimed the little girl. Forgetting, for a time, the stray cat they had started to pet, she and her brother ran over to the little box-like house.

"Better look out!" exclaimed Flossie, as they drew near.

"Why?" asked Freddie.

"'Cause maybe there's a strange dog in that box."

"If there was a dog in this yard I guess this cat wouldn't have come in here," replied Freddie. "The cat ran when the other dog barked, and there can't be a dog here, else the cat wouldn't come in."

"I wonder what's there?" murmured Flossie.

"We'll soon find out," her brother said, as he bent over the little house, which was made of some boxes nailed together. There was a tiny window, with a piece of glass in it, and a small door.

Freddie began to open the little door, and he was not very much afraid, for now the cat was purring and rubbing around his legs, and the little boy felt sure that there could be no dog, or anything else scary, in the box-house, or else the cat would not have come so close.

"Maybe there isn't anything in there," suggested Flossie.

"Oh, there's got to be something!" declared Freddie. "It's a place for chickens, maybe."

"It's too little for chickens," said Flossie.

"Well, maybe it's a place for----"

That is as far as Freddie got in his talk, for, just then, a voice called from somewhere behind the children:

"Hi there! What do you want?"

"Oh!"

Freddie and Flossie both called out in surprise as they turned. They saw, standing on the back steps of the big house, a boy about as big as Bert.

"We came in after this cat," said Freddie, and he pointed to the stray pussy that was rubbing against his legs.

"Is it your cat?" the boy wanted to know.

Flossie shook her head.

"We just followed after him," she said. "He was out on the street, and we saw him, and we got down to rub him, and he heard a dog bark, and he ran in here, and we ran after him."

"Oh, I see," and the boy on the back steps smiled in a friendly way. "So it isn't your cat."

"No," answered Freddie, "Is it yours?"

The boy shook his head.

"I never saw the cat before," he answered. "It's a nice one, though, and maybe I'll keep it if you don't want it."

"Oh, we don't want it!" Freddie said quickly. "We have a cat of our own at home. His name is Snoop."

"And we have a dog, too," added Flossie. "But his name is Snap. And we have Dinah and Sam. Only they aren't a cat or a dog," she went on. "Dinah is our cook and Sam's her husband."

"Where do you live?" the boy asked.

"Oh, away off," explained Freddie. "We live in Lakeport, and we go to school."

"Only now there isn't any school," went on Flossie. "We can't have a fire 'cause something broke, and we came to Washington."

"Have you come here to live?" the strange boy questioned.

"No, only to visit," explained Freddie. "My father has to see Mr. Martin. Do you know Mr. Martin?"

The strange boy shook his head.

"I guess he doesn't live around here," he remarked. "I've lived here all my life; but there's nobody named Martin on this block. Where did you come from?"

"Offen the auto," explained Freddie. "We were riding on the auto with Billy Martin and Nell, and our father and mother and Nan and Bert and--- -"

"Say, there are a lot of you!" cried the boy with a laugh.

"It was a big auto," explained Flossie. "But the man had to stop and give it some water, so we got down to pet the cat. It's a nice cat."

"Yes, it's a nice cat all right," agreed the strange boy, and he came down the steps and began to rub the animal. "I like cats," he went on to the children. "What's your names?"

"Flossie and Freddie Bobbsey," answered Freddie. "What's yours?"

"Tom Walker," was the answer. "I guess I know where you came from. It's one of those big, sight-seeing autos. They often go through this street, but I never saw one stop before. You'd better look to see that it doesn't go off and leave you."

"Oh, the man said we could get down," returned Freddie. "And one man is going to stretch his legs. I'd like to see a man stretch his legs." he went on. "I wonder how far he can stretch them?"

"Not very far, I guess," remarked Tom Walker. "But I'm glad to see you, anyhow. I've been sick, and I had to stay home from school, but I'm better now, and I'm going back to-morrow. But I haven't had any one to play with, and I'm glad you came in--you and the cat."

"'Tisn't our cat!" Flossie hastily explained.

"Oh, I know!" agreed the boy. "But he came in with you."

"We thought maybe there were kittens in that box," and Freddie pointed to the one he had been about to open.

"Oh, that was the place where I used to keep my rabbits," said Tom. "I haven't any now, but maybe I'll get some more; so I left the little house in the yard. I like rabbits."

"So do I!" declared Freddie.

"And their nose goes sniff-snuff so funny!" laughed Flossie. "Rabbits eat a lot of cabbage," she said. "If I had something to eat now I would like it."

"Say, I can get some cookies!" cried Tom. "Wait, I'll go in the house after some. You wait here!"

"We'll wait!" said Freddie.

Into the house bounded Tom, and to the cook in the kitchen he called:

"Oh, please give me some cookies. There's a stray cat in our yard and some stray children, and I want to give 'em something to eat, and----"

"My goodness, boy, how you do rattle on!" cried the cook. "What do you mean about stray cats and stray children?"