Chapter XVIII. The Oriental Children
 

At first Mrs. Bobbsey was too sleepy, from having been so quickly awakened, to really understand what Freddie was saying. She turned over in bed, so as to get a better look at the small boy, who was in his night gown, and with his hair all tousled and frowsled from the pillow. There was no mistake about it--Mrs. Bobbsey was not dreaming. Her little boy was really standing beside her and shaking her. And once more he said:

"Wake up, Momsie! There's a real fire! This house is on fire, and we've got to get out. I can hear the fire engines!"

"Oh, Freddie! you're walking in your sleep again," said his mother as she sat up, now quite awake--"You have been dreaming, and you're walking in your sleep!"

Freddie had done this once or twice before, thought not since he had come to Washington.

"The excitement of going to Mount Vernon, and your ringing of the fire bell on the boat has made you dream of a fire, Freddie," his mother went on. "It isn't real. There isn't any fire in this hotel, nor near here. Go back to sleep."

"But, Momsie, I'm awake now!" cried Freddie. "And the fire is real! I can see the red light and I can hear the engine puffin'! Look, you can see the light!"

Freddie pointed to a window near his mother's bed. And, as she looked, she certainly saw a red, flickering light. And then the heard the whistle which she knew came from a fire engine. It was not like a locomotive whistle, and, besides, there were no trains near the hotel!

"Oh, it is a fire!" cried Mrs. Bobbsey. "Freddie, call your father!"

Mr. Bobbsey slept in the next room with Bert, while Nan had a little bed chamber next to her mother's, on the other side of the bath room.

But there was no need to call Mr. Bobbsey. In his big, warm bath robe he now came stalking into his wife's room.

"Don't be frightened," he said. "There's a small fire in the building next to this hotel. But it is almost out, and there is no danger. Stay right in bed."

"But it's a real fire, isn't it, Daddy?" cried Freddie. "I heard the engines puffin', and I saw the red light and it woke me up and I comed in and telled Momsie; and it's a real fire, isn't it?"

"Yes, Freddie, it's a real fire all right," said Mr. Bobbsey. "But don't talk so loud, nor get excited. You may awaken the people in the other rooms around us, and there is no need. I was talking to the night clerk of the hotel over the telephone from my room, and he says there is no danger. There is a big brick wall between our hotel and the place next door, which is on fire. The blaze can't get through that."

"Can't I look out the window and see the engines?" Freddie wanted to know.

"Yes, I guess it would be too bad not to let you see them, as long as they are here, and it's a real fire," answered Mrs. Bobbsey. "I hope no one was hurt next door," she added to her husband.

"I think not," he replied. "The fire is only a small one. It is almost out."

So Freddie had his dearest wish come true in the middle of the night--he saw some real fire engines puffing away, spouting sparks and smoke, and pumping water on a real fire. Of course the little boy could not see the water spurting from the hose, as that was happening inside the burning building. But Freddie could see some of the firemen at work, and he could see the engines shining in the light from the fire and the glare of the electric lamps. So he was satisfied.

Bert and Nan were awakened, and they, too, looked out on the night scene. They were glad it was not their hotel which was on fire. As for Flossie, she slept so soundly that she never knew a thing about it until the next morning. And then when Freddie told her, and talked about it at the breakfast table, Flossie said:

"I don't care! I think you're real mean, Freddy Bobbsey, to have a fire all to yourself!"

"Oh, my dear! that isn't nice to say," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "We thought it better to let you sleep."

"Well, I wish I'd seen the fire," said Flossie. "I like to look at something that's bright and shiny."

"Then you'll have a chance to see something like that this afternoon," said Mr. Bobbsey to his little girl.

"Where?" asked all the Bobbsey twins at once, for when their father talked this way Nan and Bert were as eager as Flossie and Freddie.

"How would you all like to go to a theater show this afternoon--to a matinee?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.

"Oh, lovely!" cried Flossie.

"Could Nell and Billy go?" asked Nan, kindly thinking of her little new friends.

"Yes, we'll take the Martin children," Mr. Bobbsey promised.

"And will there be some red fire in the theater show?" Flossie wanted to know.

"I think so," said her father. "It is a fairy play, about Cinderella, and some others like her, and I guess there will be plenty of bright lights and red fire."

"Will there be a fire engine?" asked Freddie. Of course you might have known, without my telling you, that it was Freddie who asked that question, But I thought I'd put his name down to make sure.

"I don't know about there being a fire engine in the play," said Mr. Bobbsey. "I hardly think there will be one. But the play will be very nice, I'm sure."

"I think so, too," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "We'll have a fine time."

"Will there be any cowboys or Indians in it?" Bert asked.

"Well, hardly, I think," his father answered. "But if we don't like the play, after we get there, we can come home," he added, his eyes twinkling.

"Oh, Daddy!" cried all the Bobbsey twins at once. And then, by the way their father smiled, they knew he was only joking.

"Oh, we'll stay," laughed Bert.

"Oh, it's snowing!" cried Freddie as they left the breakfast table and went to sit in the main parlor of the hotel. "It's snowing, and we can have sleigh rides."

"If it gets deep enough," put in Bert. "I guess it won't be very deep here, will it, Daddy?"

"Well, sometimes there is quite a bit of snow in Washington," answered Mr. Bobbsey. "We'll have to wait and see."

"The snow won't keep us from going to show in the theater; will it?" asked Nan.

"No," her mother said. "Nor to see the show given there," she added, smiling.

After a visit to the Martins, to tell them of the treat in store, the tickets were purchased, the Bobbseys had dinner, and, in due time, the merry little party was at the theater.

They were shown to their seats, and then the children looked around, waited eagerly for the curtain to go up, while Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey talked together. More and more people came in. There were a large number of children, for it was a play especially for them, though, of course, lots of "grown-ups" came also.

The musicians entered and took their places on the funny little place back of a brass rail. Then came the delicious thrills of the squeaking violins as they were tuned, the tap-tap of the drum, the tinkle of a piano, and the soft, low notes of a flute.

"Oh, it's going to begin soon," whispered Nell to Nan.

"I hope it's a good show," said Bert to his chum Billy, and trying to speak as if he went to a matinee every other day at least.

"Oh, they have pretty good shows here," Billy said.

"Look!" suddenly whispered Nan, pointing to a box at their left. "Look at the Chinese children!"

And, surely enough, into a near-by box came several boys and girls about the age of the Bobbsey twins, and some almost babies, but they were dressed in beautiful blue, golden and red silken garments. And with them came their father, who also wore a silk robe of blue, embroidered with golden birds.

"Who are they--some of the actors in the play?" asked Bert.

"No, that's the Chinese minister and some of his family, and I guess some of their friends," explained Billy. "I've seen them before. They don't often dress up in the same kind of clothes they wear in China, but they did to-day."

"Oh, aren't they cute!" said Nell to Nan.

"Too lovely for anything!" agreed Nan enthusiastically.

Many eyes were on the box, but the Chinese minister and his beautifully dressed children did not seem to mind being looked at. The children were just as much interested in staring about the theater as were the Bobbsey twins, and the Oriental tots probably thought that the other children were even more queer than the American boys and girls thought the Chinese to be.

Having given a good deal of attention to the Chinese children in the box, the Bobbseys looked around the theater at the other little folk in the audience.

"Oh, look at the funny fat boy over there!" cried out Freddie in a loud voice.

"Hush, hush, Freddie!" whispered Nan quickly. "You mustn't talk so loud. Every one will hear you."

"But he is awful fat, isn't he?" insisted Freddie.

"He isn't any fatter than you'll be if you keep on eating so much," remarked Bert.

"Oh, I don't eat any more than I have to," declared the little boy. "When you are really and truly hungry you can't help eating. Nobody can!"

"And you're hungry most all the time," said Bert.

"I'm not at all! I'm hungry only when--when--I'm hungry," was Freddie's reply.

Then the orchestra began to play, and, a little later, the curtain went up and the fairy play began.

I am not going to tell you about it, because you all know the story of Cinderella. There she was, sitting among the ashes of the fire-place, and in came the godmother who made a pumpkin turn into a golden coach, and did all the other things just like the story.

The play was a little different from the story in some books. In one scene a bad fairy sets off a lighted fire cracker under the palace of the princess. And on the stage, when this happened, there was a loud banging noise, just as Bert and Nan had often heard on the Fourth of July.

"Bang'!" went the fire cracker.

"Oh!" cried Nell, and she gave a little jump, she was so surprised. And many other were surprised, too, including the little Oriental children. And they were so surprised that the smaller ones burst out crying.

"Oh dear! Oh dear!" they cried, in their own language, of course, and the two smallest hid their faces down in their father's lap and cried salty tears on his beautiful blue robe. But he didn't seem to mind a bit.

He patted the heads of the little, sobbing tots, and every one in the theater looked over toward the box, for the crying of the Chinese children, who were frightened by the bang of the fire cracker, was very loud crying indeed.