Chapter XVI. The Fire Bell
 

Mrs. Bobbsey's cries of alarm, of course, excited all the other passengers who had got back on the sight-seeing auto, ready to start off again. They had had a little rest while the water was being put into the radiator, and the man had "stretched his legs" all he wanted to, it seemed.

"The children can't be far away," said Mr. Bobbsey. "They were here only a moment ago. Even if they have wandered off, which is probably what they have done, they can't be far."

"They're all right," the man who drove the car assured Mr. Bobbsey. "I didn't see 'em go away, of course, as I was busy, but I'm sure nothing has happened."

"But what shall we do?" cried Mrs. Bobbsey, and tears came into her eyes. "It does seem as if more things have happened to Flossie and Freddie since we started on this trip than ever before."

"Oh, they'll be all right," declared Mr. Bobbsey. "I'll look around. Perhaps they may have gone into one of these houses."

"Did you look under the seats?" asked Bert.

"Under the seats!" exclaimed Billy. "What good would that do? Your brother and sister couldn't be under there!"

"Pooh, you don't know much about Flossie and Freddie!" answered Bert. "They can be in more places than you can think of; can't they, Nan?"

"Yes, they do get into queer places sometimes. But they aren't under my seat," and Nan looked, to make sure.

"Nor mine," added Nell, as she looked also.

Some of the other passengers on the auto did the same thing. Mr. Bobbsey really thought it might be possible that Freddie and Flossie, for some queer reason, might have crawled under one of the seats when the big machine stopped for water. But the children were not there.

"Oh, what shall we do?" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey.

"They'll be all right," her husband answered. "They can't be far away."

"That's right ma'am," said a fat, jolly-looking man.

"Some of you go and inquire in the houses near here," suggested the man who drove the auto. "And I'll go and telephone back to the office, and see if they're there."

"But how could they be at your automobile office?" Mrs. Bobbsey wanted to know.

"It might easily happen," replied the man. "We run a number of these big machines. One of them may have passed out this way while I was stopping here for water, and perhaps none of us notice it, and the children may have climbed on and gone on that car, thinking it was this one."

"They couldn't get on if the auto didn't stop," said Billy.

"Well, maybe it stopped," returned the driver. "Perhaps it passed up the next street. The children may have gone down there and gotten on. Whatever has happened, your little ones are all right, ma'am; I'm sure of that."

"I wish I could be!" sighed Mrs. Bobbsey.

Several men volunteered to help Mr. Bobbsey look for the missing twins, and they went to the doors of nearby houses and rang the bells. But to all the answer was the same. Flossie and Freddie had not been seen.

And the reason for this was that the small Bobbsey twins, in following the stray cat, had turned a corner and gone down another street, and were on the block next the one where the auto stood. That was the reason the Walker cook, looking out in front, could see no machine, and why it was that none of those who helped Mr. Bobbsey look for the missing children could find them.

"Well, this is certainly queer!" exclaimed Mr. Bobbsey, when at none of the houses was there any word of Flossie and Freddie.

"But what are we to do?" cried his wife.

"I think we'd better notify the police," said Mr. Bobbsey. "That will be the surest way."

"Yes, I think it will," agreed the auto man. "I telephoned to the office, but they said no lost children had been turned in. Get aboard, every one, and I'll drive to the nearest police station."

Away started the big auto, leaving Flossie and Freddie behind in the home of Tom Walker on the next street. And though Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey, with Nan and Bert and Billy and Nell were much worried, Flossie and Freddie themselves, were having a good time.

For they were playing with Tom, who showed them his toys, and he told them about the rabbits he used to keep.

"I have had as many as six big ones at a time," Tom said. "And I had one pair that had the finest red eyes you ever saw."

"Red eyes!" cried Flossie. "What funny rabbits they must have been!"

"Oh, I know some rabbits have red eyes," declared Freddie. "But not very many. Bert said so."

"I don't believe I'd like to have red eyes," answered his twin sister. "Everybody'd think I'd been crying."

"They're not red that way," explained Tom. "They just have the color red in them; just as some people have black eyes, blue eyes, and brown eyes- -like that."

"Oh! Say, I heard Nan say once that a girl in her room at school had one black eye and one grey eye. Wasn't that funny?"

"It certainly was," answered Tom. And then he showed the little Bobbsey twins a number of picture books and a locomotive which went around a little track.

Freddie and Flossie were having such a good time that they never thought their father and mother might be worried about them.

But, after a while, Mrs. Walker came home. You can well imagine how surprised she was when she found the two lost, strayed children in her house.

"And so they got off one of the sight-seeing autos, did they?" cried Tom's mother. "Oh, my dears! I'm glad you're here, of course, and glad you had a good time with Tom. But your mother and father will be much frightened! I must telephone to the police at once."

"We'll not be arrested, shall we?" asked Freddie anxiously.

"No, indeed, my dear! Of course not! But your parents have probably already telephoned the police, who must be looking for you. I'll let them know I have you safe."

"Why, course we're safe!" cried Flossie.

So Mrs. Walker telephoned. And, just as she guessed, the police were already preparing to start out to hunt for the missing children. But as soon as they got Mrs. Walker's message everything was all right.

"They're found!" cried Mr. Bobbsey to his wife, when a police officer telephoned to the hotel to let the father of the small Bobbsey twins know that the children were safe. "They're all right!"

"Where were they?" asked his wife,

"All the while they were right around the corner and just in the next street from where our auto was standing."

"Oh, dear me!" cried Mrs. Bobbsey, "what a relief"

"I should say so!" agreed Mrs. Martin, who had gone to the hotel, where her friends were staying, to do what she could to help them.

"I'll get a taxicab and bring them straight here," said Mr. Bobbsey.

A little later Flossie and Freddie were back "home" again. That is, if you call a hotel "home," and it was, for the time, to the traveling Bobbseys.

"What made you do it?" asked Flossie's mother, when the story had been told. "What made you go after the stray cat?"

"It was such a nice cat!" said the little girl,

"And we wanted to see if it was like our Snoop," added Freddie.

"Well, don't do such a thing again!" ordered Mr. Bobbsey.

"No, we won't!" promised Freddie.

"No, but they'll do something worse," said Bert in a low voice to his friend Billy, who had also come to the hotel.

So the little excitement was over, and soon the Bobbsey twins were in bed. Not, however, before Nan had asked her father:

"Where are you going to take us to-morrow?"

"To Mount Vernon, I think," was his answer.

"Oh, where Washington used to live!" remarked Bert.

"Where--" But right there Freddie went to sleep.

"Yes, and where he is buried," added Nan.

And then she, too, fell asleep. And she dreamed that Flossie and Freddie were lost again, and that she started out to find them riding on the back of a big cat while Bert rode on a dog, like Snap.

"And I was so glad when I woke up and, found it was only a dream," said Nan, telling Nell about it afterward.

There are two ways of going to Mount Vernon from the city of Washington. Mount Vernon is down on the Potomac River, and one may travel to it by means of a small steamer, which makes excursion trips, or one can get there in a trolley car.

"I think we'll go down by boat and come back by trolley," said Mr. Bobbsey. "In that way we can see more."

"I'd rather go on the boat all the while," said Freddie. "Maybe I could be a fireman on the boat."

"Oh, I think they have all the firemen they; need," laughed his father.

"Is Mount Vernon an old place?" asked Nan. as they were getting ready to leave their hotel after breakfast.

"Quite old, yes," her father answered.

"And do they have old-fashioned things there, like spinning wheels, and old guns and things like those in Washington's headquarters that we went to once?" Nan went on.

"Why, yes, perhaps they do," her father said. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, I was just thinking," went on Nan, "that if they had a lot of old- fashioned things there they might have Miss Pompret's sugar bowl and cream pitcher, and we could get 'em for her."

"How could we?" asked Bert. "If they were there they'd belong to Washington, wouldn't they, Daddy?"

"Well, I suppose all the things in the house once belonged to him or his friends," said Mr. Bobbsey. "But I don't imagine those two missing pieces of Miss Pompret's set will be at Mount Vernon, Nan."

"No, I don't s'pose so," sighed the little girl. "But, oh, I would like to find 'em!"

"And get the hundred dollars reward!" added Bert.

"Don't think too much of that," advised their mother. "Of course it would be nice to find Miss Pompret's dishes, and do her a favor, but I think it is out of the question after all these years that they have been lost."

The weather was colder than on the day before, when Flossie and Freddie had been lost, and the sun shone fitfully from behind clouds.

"I think we are going to have a snow storm," said Mr. Bobbsey, on their way to take the boat for Mt. Vernon.

"Oh, goodie!" cried Flossie. "I hope it snows a lot!"

"So do I!" added Freddie. "Could we send home for our sled if there's lots of snow, Daddy?" he asked.

"I hardly think it would be worth while," said his father. "We are not going to be here much more than a week longer. And it would be quite a lot of work to get your sleds here and send them home again. I think you'll get all the coasting and skating you want when we get back to Lakeport."

"Anyway, we're having a nice time while we're here," said Nan, with a happy little sigh.

"It's fun when Freddie and Flossie don't get lost," added Bert. "I'm going to keep watch of 'em this time."

"I'll help," added Nan. "Oh, here are Billy and Nell!" she called, waving her hand to their new friends. The Martin children were to go to Mount Vernon with the Bobbsey twins, and they now met them near the place from which the boat started.

"All aboard!" cried Freddie, as they went on the small steamer that was to take them to Mount Vernon. "All aboard. I'm the fireman!"

"There aren't any fires to put out," said, Nell, teasing the small chap a little.

"Yes, there is--a fire in the boiler, and it makes steam," said Freddie, who had often looked in the engine room of steamers. "But I'm not that kind of fireman. I put out fires. I'm going to be a real fireman when I grow up," he added.

Soon they were comfortably seated on board the boat, which after a bit moved out into the Potomac. Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey were talking together. Nan, Bert, Billy and Nell were watching another boat which was passing, and Flossie was near them. But Freddie had slipped away, in spite of what Bert had said about going to keep a watchful eye on his small brother.

Suddenly, when the steamer was well out in the river, there was the loud clanging of a bell, and a voice cried:

"Fire! Fire! Fire!"

At once every one on the boat jumped up. The women looked frightened, while the men seemed uncertain what to do.

"Clang! Clang! Clang!" rang the fire alarm bell.