Chapter III. The Washington Children

There was no doubt of it. Flossie and Freddie were not under the pile of hay that had fallen on them. The hay had all been cast aside now, so far away from the place where it had fallen that it could not serve for a hiding place. And Bert and Nan could see the bare floor of the barn.

"Where are they?" asked Bert, looking in surprise at Nan. "Where are Flossie and Freddie?"

"Dat's whut I wants to know!" declared Dinah. "Where is dey? Has yo' all been playin' a trick on ole Dinah?" and she looked sadly at Bert and Nan.

"Playing a trick?" cried Nan.

"We didn't play any trick!" exclaimed Bert. "Flossie and Freddie were down under that hay!"

"But they're not there now!" went on Nan.

"No," said Dinah, as she poked aside some of the wisps of hay with her foot. "Dey isn't heah now, an' where is dey? Dat's whut I'se askin' yo' all, Bert an' Nan? Where is dem two little lambkins?"

Bert looked at Nan and Nan looked at Bert. It was a puzzle. What had become of Flossie and Freddie between the time they disappeared under the sliding pile of hay and now, when it had been cleared away to another part of the barn.

"I saw them playing on the floor," said Nan. "Then, when Bert and I let go the ropes and jumped in the mow, a lot of hay came down all at once, and then I--I didn't see Flossie and Freddie any more. They surely were under the hay!"

"Yes," agreed Bert, "they were. But they aren't here now. Maybe they fell down through the floor!" he added hopefully. "The cow stable is under this part of the barn."

"Yes, but there isn't any hole in the barn floor here," said Nan. "And the cracks aren't big enough for Flossie and Freddie to slip through."

"No, dey didn't go t'rough de flo', dat's suah!" exclaimed Dinah. "It's mighty queer! I guess yo' all had best go call Sam," she went on to Nan. "Mebby he know something 'bout dish yeah barn dat I don't know. Go git Sam an'--"

Just then there came a joyous shout from the big barn doors behind Nan, Bert and Dinah.

"Here we are! Here we are! Oh, we fooled you! We fooled you!" cried two childish voices, and there stood the missing Flossie and Freddie, hay in their fluffy, golden hair, hay hanging down over their blue eyes, and hay stuck over their clothes.

"Here we are!" cried Freddie. "Did you was lookin' for us?"

"I should say we did was!" cried Bert, laughing, now, at Freddie's queer way of speaking, for, though the little fireman usually spoke quite properly, he sometimes went wrong.

"Where have you been?" asked Nan. "And how did you get out?"

"We crawled out from under the hay when it fell on us," explained Flossie. "Then Freddie says let's play hide and coop and we climbed up the little ladder and went up in the haymow and then we slid out of the little window and got outside the barn and then we just hid an' waited to see what you'd do." By this time Flossie was out of breath, having said all this without pause.

"But you didn't come after us," said Freddie, "and so we came to see where you were. And we fooled you, didn't we? We fooled you bad."

"I should say you did!" cried Bert. "We were digging the hay away. I thought you'd be away down underneath."

"We were," went on Flossie. "But we wiggled out, an' you didn't see us wiggle."

"No," agreed Nan, "we didn't see you. But, oh, I'm so glad you are all right!" she cried, and she hugged Flossie in her arms. "You aren't hurt, are you?"

"No, but I was tickled," said Flossie. "The hay did tickle me in my nose, and I wanted to sneeze."

"But I wouldn't let her!" explained Freddie. "I held my hand over her nose so she couldn't sneeze."

"I tried hard so I wouldn't," said Flossie, "and Freddie helped me. It feels awful funny not to sneeze when you want to. It tickles!"

"And the hay tickled me," went on Freddie. "It's ticklin' me now. There's some down my back," and he wiggled and twisted as he stood in the middle of the barn floor. Snap, the big dog, put his head to one side, and cocked up his ears, looking at the two smaller twins as if asking what it was all about, and what the digging in the hay was all for.

"Well, it's mighty lucky laik dat it wasn't no wuss!" exclaimed fat Dinah, with a sigh of relief. "I suah was clean skairt out ob mah seben senses when yo' come runnin' into mah kitchen, Nan, an' says as how Flossie an' Freddie was buried under de hay!"

"And they were!" said Nan. "I saw the hay go down all over them."

"So did I!" added Bert.

"But we wiggled out and hid so we could fool you!" laughed Freddie. "Didn't you see us crawl out?"

"No," answered Bert, "I didn't. If I had I wouldn't have dug so hard."

"Ouch! Something tickles me awful!" complained Freddie, twisting around as though he wanted to work his way out of his clothes. "Maybe there's a hay-bug down my back!" he went on.

"Good land of massy!" cried Dinah, catching him up in her arms. "Yo' come right in de house wif me, honey lamb, an' ole Dinah'll undress yo' an' git at de bug--if dey is one!"

"I guess we've had enough fun in the barn," said Nan. "I don't want to play here any more."

"I guess we'll have to put back the hay we knocked down," said Bert. That was one of the Bobbsey rules--to put things back the way they had been at first, after their play was done.

"Yes, we must put the hay up in the mow again," agreed Nan. "Daddy wouldn't like to have us leave it on the floor. I'll help you, Bert, 'cause I helped knock it down."

Dinah led the two younger twins off to the kitchen, with a promise of a molasses cookie each and a further promise to Freddie that she would take out of his clothes whatever it was tickling his back--a hay-bug or some of the dried wisps of grass.

Bert and Nan had not long been working at stacking the hay back in place before Sam came in. He had heard what had happened from Dinah, his wife, and he said, most kindly:

"Run along an' play, Bert an' Nan! I'll put back de hay fo' yo' all. 'Tain't much, an' it won't take me long."

"Thank you, Sam!" said Bert. "It's more fun playing outdoors to-day than stacking hay in a barn."

"Are you very sure you don't mind doing it, Sam?" asked Nan, for she wanted to "play fair."

"Oh, I don't mind!" exclaimed the good-natured Sam. "Hop along!"

"Didn't you ever like to play outdoors, Sam?" questioned Bert, as he and Nan started to leave the barn.

"Suah I did," answered Sam. "When I was a youngster like you I loved to go fishin' and swimmin' in the ole hole down by the crick."

"Oh, Sam, did you like to swim?" went on the Bobbsey boy quickly.

"I suah did, Bert. Down in our pa'ts I was considered the bestes' swimmer there."

"Some day I'm going to see you, Sam," declared Bert. "Maybe you could teach me some new strokes."

"I doan know about that, Bert. You see, I ain't quite so limber as what I used to be when I was your age or jest a little older. Now you jest hop along, both of you, and enjoy yourselves."

So Nan and Bert went out to find some other way of having fun. They wanted to have all the good times they could, as school would soon begin again.

"But we'll have a vacation at Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's," said Nan, as she and her brother talked it over.

"Thanksgiving's a long way off," said Bert, with a sigh.

The two children were walking along the side path toward the front yard when suddenly Snap, their dog, gave a savage growl. It was the kind of growl he never gave unless he happened to be angry, and Bert knew, right away, something must be wrong.

"What is it, Snap? A tramp?" asked the boy, looking around. Often Snap would growl this way at tramps who might happen to come into the yard. Now there may be good tramps, as well as bad ones, but Snap never stopped to find out which was which. He just growled, and if that didn't scare away the tramp then Snap ran at him. And no tramp ever stood after that. He just ran away.

But now neither Bert nor Nan could see any tramp, either in the yard or in the street in front of the house. Snap, though, kept on growling deep down in his throat, and then, suddenly, the children saw what the matter was. A big dog was digging a hole under the fence to get into the Bobbsey yard. The gate was closed, and though the dog might have jumped the fence, he didn't. He was digging a hole underneath. And Snap saw him. That's why Snap growled.

"Oh, Bert! Look!" cried Nan.

As she spoke the dog managed to get through the hole he had dug, and into the Bobbsey yard he popped. But he did not stay there long. Before he could run toward Bert and Nan, if, indeed, he had that notion, Snap had leaped toward the unwelcome visitor.

Snap growled and barked in such a brave, bold way that the other dog gave one long howl, and then back through the hole he wiggled his way, faster than he had come in. But fast as he wiggled out, he was not quick enough, for Snap nipped the end of the big dog's tail and there was another howl.

"Good boy!" cried Bert to his dog, as Snap came back to him, wagging his tail, having first made sure, however, that the strange dog was running down the street. "Good, old Snap!"

And Snap wagged his tail harder than ever, for he liked to be told he had been good and had done something worth while.

"I wonder what that dog wanted?" asked Nan.

"I don't know," answered Bert. "He was a strange one. But he didn't stay long!"

"Not with our Snap around!" laughed Nan.

The two older Bobbsey twins were wondering what they could do next to have a good time, when they heard their mother's voice calling to them from the side porch. She had come back from a little visit to a lady down the street, and had heard all about the accident to Flossie and Freddie.

"Ho, Nan! Ho, Bert! I want you!" called Mrs. Bobbsey.

"I guess she's going to scold us for making the hay slide on Flossie and Freddie," said Bert, rather anxiously.

"Well, we couldn't help it," replied his sister. "We didn't know it was so slippery. Yes, Mother; we're coming!" she answered, as Mrs. Bobbsey called again.

But, to the relief of Nan and Bert, their mother did not scold them. She just said:

"You must be a little more careful when you're playing where Flossie and Freddie are. They are younger than you, and don't so well know how to look out for themselves. You must look out for them. But now I want you to go down to daddy's office."

"What do you want us to do?" asked Nan.

"Here is a letter that he ought to have right away," went on Mrs. Bobbsey. "It came to the house by mistake. It should have gone to daddy's lumber office, but the postman left it while I was out, and Dinah was out in the barn with you children, so she could not tell him to carry it on down town. So I wish you'd take it to daddy. He has been expecting it for some time. It's about some business, and I don't want to open the letter and telephone what's in it. But if you two will just run down with it--"

"Of course we will!" cried Bert. "It'll be fun!"

"And may we stay a little while?" asked Nan.

"Yes, if you don't bother daddy. Here is the letter."

A little later Nan and Bert were in their father's office. The clerks knew the children and smiled at them, and the stenographer, who wrote Mr. Bobbsey's letters on the clicking typewriter machine, took the twins through her room into their father's private office.

As the door opened, Bert and Nan saw a strange man talking to Mr. Bobbsey. But what interested them more than this was the sight of two children--a boy and a girl about their own age--in their father's private office. The boy and girl were sitting on chairs, looking at the very same lumber books--those with pictures of big woods in them--that Nan and Bert often looked at themselves.

Mr. Bobbsey glanced up as the door opened. He saw his two older twins, and, smiling at them, said:

"Come in, Nan and Bert. I want you to meet these Washington children!"