Chapter XV. "Where Are They?"
 

Freddie and Flossie walked slowly up the yard, away from the empty rabbit house, and stood at the foot of the back steps up which Tom Walker had hurried to ask the cook for something to eat for the "stray children." The little Bobbsey twins had not heard what the cook said to Tom after he had asked for something to eat. But the cook repeated her question.

"What do you mean by stray cats and stray children?"

"There are the stray children out in the yard now," answered Tom. "They strayed away from some place, just as that dog I kept for a while once did. There was a stray cat, too, but I don't see it now."

"Stray children, is it?" cried the jolly cook. "Oh, look at the little darlin's!" she exclaimed, as she saw the small Bobbsey twins standing out in the yard, waiting for Tom to come back. Freddie and Flossie certainly did look very sweet and pretty with their new winter coats and caps on, though it was not very cold. It was not as cold in Washington as in Lakeport.

"Do you think he'll bring us anything to eat?" asked Freddie of Flossie, as they stood there waiting.

"I hope he does," the little girl answered. "I'm hungry."

"So'm I!" Freddie admitted. "I guess that cat was, too. Where did he go?"

The cat answered himself, as though he knew he was being talked about. He came out from under the back steps, rubbed up against Flossie's fat, chubby legs with a mew and a purr, and then, seeing a place where the sun shone nice and warm on the steps, the cat curled up there and began to wash its face, using its paws as all cats do.

"Please, Sarah, can't I have something to eat for the stray children, and maybe for the cat?" again asked Tom of the cook.

"Oh, I dunno!" she answered. "Sure an' you're a bother! Your mother's out and I don't know what to do. These must be lost children, and, most likely, their father or mother's lookin' all over for 'em now. But I'd better bring 'em in an' keep 'em safe here, rather than let 'em wander about the streets. How did they come into our yard, do you think, Tom?"

"They just walked in, after the stray cat. They were on one of the big automobiles, and it stopped, so they got off. I told 'em maybe their folks would be looking for them," went on Tom, who was older than Flossie and Freddie. "But they seem to think it's all right."

"Well, they're lost, as sure as anything," declared the cook. "But it's best to keep 'em here until their folks can come after 'em. I'll give you something for them to eat, Tom, and then you must look after 'em, as I'm too busy, getting ready for the party your mother is going to have this night."

The kind cook soon got ready a plate of cookies and some glasses of milk for Flossie and Freddie. And, as Tom began to feel hungry himself when he saw something being made ready for his new little friends, a place was set for him, also, on a side table in the dining room.

"Call 'em in, now!" said the cook. "Everything is ready. And is the cat there?"

"Yes," answered Tom, as he looked out and saw the pussy curled up in the sun on the steps. "It's there."

"Well, I think I'll give it some milk," said the cook.

So, a little later, Flossie and Freddie, the stray children--for that is what they were--sat down to a nice little lunch in a strange, house. Tom Walker sat down with them, and the stray cat had a saucer of milk in the kitchen.

"I looked out in the street," said the cook, as she came back to get Freddie another glass of milk, "but I don't see any automobile there. Did you really ride here in an auto?"

"Oh, yes," answered Freddie. "And the man on it all the time talked through a red horn, but I didn't know what he said."

"That was the man speaking through a megaphone so everybody on the sight-seeing auto would know what they were looking at as they rode along," said Tom. "They often pass through here, though I haven't seen any to-day."

"But what to do about you children I don't know," said the cook, when Flossie and Freddie had eaten as much as they wanted. "If you did come here on an auto it's gone now, and there isn't a sign of it. I think you must have come two or three streets away from the car before you turned in here."

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Freddie. "When we got down off the auto we saw the cat and we came in after it. The auto was right out in front."

"Well, it isn't there now," said the cook. "I guess it must have gone away and taken your folks with it. Maybe they're looking for you. But I guess you'll have to stay here until they come to find you. You're too small to be allowed to go about alone."

"We like it here," said Flossie, settling back comfortably in her chair. "We can stay as long as you want us to."

"And we can stay to supper if you ask us," went on Freddie. "Course mother wouldn't let us ask for an invitation, but if you want to ask us to stay we can't help it."

"'Specially if you have cake," added Flossie, smoothing out her dress.

"Yes, 'specially cake!" agreed Freddie.

"Oh my!" laughed the cook. "Sure an' you're very funny! But I like you. And I only wish I knew where your folks were. But the best I can do is to keep you here until they come. They must know about where they lost you. Come, Tom, take the stray children out and amuse them. Your mother'll be home pretty soon."

If Tom's mother had been at home she would have at once telephoned and told the police that she had two lost--or stray--children at her house, so that in case Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey inquired, as they did, they would know that the tots were all right.

But Mrs. Walker was not at home, and the cook did the best she could. She made sure the children were safe and comfortable while they were with her.

And, after they had eaten, Tom got out some of his toys, and he and Flossie and Freddie had a good time playing about the house and in the yard. The stray cat wandered away while Flossie and Freddie were eating their little lunch, and the Bobbsey twins did not see him again.

Now while Flossie and Freddie were having a pretty good time, eating cookies and drinking milk, there was much excitement on the big sight- seeing car where Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey, Nan, Bert, and the other, still had their seats.

For some little time after the car had stopped to allow the man to put water in the radiator, neither Mr. nor Mrs. Bobbsey missed their smaller twins. They were busy talking, and Bert and Nan were looking about and having a good time, talking to Billy and Nell Martin.

At last, however, the auto man called:

"Everything is all right! Get on board!"

That meant he was going to start off again, and it was not until then that Mrs. Bobbsey thought to look around to see if Flossie and Freddie were all right. And, of course, she did not see them.

"Flossie! Freddie! Where are you?" called Mrs. Bobbsey.

There was no answer, and the seat which the two smaller children had been in on the big bus, was empty.

"Oh, Daddy!" cried Mrs. Bobbsey, "Flossie and Freddie have gone."

"Gone? Gone where?" Mr. Bobbsey asked,

"That's it--I can't say," answered Mrs. Bobbsey. "The last I saw of them was when the auto stopped."

"I saw the two little tots climb down off the rear steps of the car," said the man who had wanted to "stretch his legs." "They seemed to be going after something," he added.

"It was a cat," said the woman next to the big man who had last spoken. "I saw the children get down and go toward a stray cat and then I got to thinking of something else."

"Oh, if it was a cat you might know it!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey with a laugh." I guess they're all right. They can't have gone far. Probably they are on the other side of the street, looking at some bedraggled kitten." But a look up and down the street did not show Flossie and Freddie. By this time the auto was all ready to start off again.

"But we can't go without Flossie and Freddie!" cried Nan.

"I should say not!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey. "Oh, where are they? Where can my darlings have gone? What has happened?"