Chapter III. Railroad Tennis
 

"Oh, poor little Snoop!" whispered Freddie, right into his kitten's ear. "I'm so glad I got you back again!"

"So are we all," said a kind lady passenger who had been in the searching party. "You have had quite some trouble for a small boy, with two animals to take care of."

Everybody seemed pleased that the mischievous boys' pranks had not hurt the cat, for Snoop was safe enough in the stove, only, of course, it was very dark and close in there, and Snoop thought he surely was deserted by all his good friends. Perhaps he expected Freddie would find him, at any rate he immediately started in to "purr-rr," in a cat's way of talking, when Freddie took him in his arms, and fondled him.

"We had better have our lunch now," suggested Mrs. Bobbsey, "I'm sure the children are hungry."

"It's just like a picnic," remarked Flossie, when Dinah handed around the paper napkins and Mrs. Bobbsey served out the chicken and cold-tongue sandwiches. There were olives and celery too, besides apples and early peaches from Uncle Daniel's farm.

"Let us look at the timetable, see where we are now, and then see where we will be when we finish," proposed Bert.

"Oh yes," said Nan, "let us see how many miles it takes to eat a sandwich."

Mr. Bobbsey offered one to the conductor, who just came to punch tickets.

"This is not the regular business man's five-minute lunch, but the five-mile article seems more enjoyable," said Mr. Bobbsey.

"Easier digested," agreed the conductor, accepting a sandwich. "You had good chickens out at Meadow Brook," he went on, complimenting the tasty morsel he was chewing with so much relish.

"Yes, and ducks," said Freddie, which remark made everybody laugh, for it brought to mind the funny adventure of little white Downy, the duck.

"They certainly can fly," said the conductor with a smile, as he went along with a polite bow to the sandwich party.

Bert had attended to the wants of the animals, not trusting Freddie to open the boxes. Snoop got a chicken leg and Downy had some of his own soft food, that had been prepared by Aunt Sarah and carried along in a small tin can.

"Well, I'se done," announced Dinah, picking up her crumbs in her napkins. "Bert, how many miles you say it takes me to eat?"

"Let me see! Five, eight, twelve, fourteen: well, I guess Dinah, you had fifteen miles of a chicken sandwich."

"An' you go 'long!" she protested. "'Taint no sech thing. I ain't got sich a long appetite as date. Fifteen miles! Lan'a massa! whot you take me fo?"

Everybody laughed and the children clapped hands at the length of Dinah's appetite, but when the others had finished they found their own were even longer than the maid's, the average being eighteen miles!

"When will we get to Aunt Emily's?" Flossie asked, growing tired over the day's journey.

"Not until night," her father answered. "When we leave the train we will have quite a way to go by stage. We could go all the way by train, but it would be a long distance around, and I think the stage ride in the fresh air will do us good."

"Oh yes, let's go by the stage," pleaded Freddie, to whom the word stage was a stranger, except in the way it had been used at the Meadow Brook circus.

"This stage will be a great, big wagon," Bert told him, "with seats along the sides."

"Can I sit up top and drive?" the little one asked.

"Maybe the man will let you sit by him," answered Mr. Bobbsey, "but you could hardly drive a big horse over those rough roads."

The train came to a standstill, just then, on a switch. There was no station, but the shore train had taken on another section.

"Can Flossie and I walk through that new car?" Nan asked, as the cars had been separated and the new section joined to that directly back of the one which the Bobbseys were in.

"Why, yes, if you are very careful," the mother replied, and so the two little girls started off.

Dinah took Freddie on her lap and told him his favorite story about "Pickin' cotton in de Souf," and soon the tired little yellow head fell off in the land of Nod.

Bert and his father were enjoying their magazines, while Mrs. Bobbsey busied herself with some fancy work, so a half-hour passed without any more excitement. At the end of that time the girls returned.

"Oh, mother!" exclaimed Nan, "we found Mrs. Manily, the matron of the Meadow Brook Fresh Air Camp, and she told us Nellie, the little cash girl, was so run down the doctors think she will have to go to the seashore. Mother, couldn't we have her down with us awhile?"

"We are only going to visit, you know, daughter, and how can we invite more company? But where is Mrs. Manily? I would like to talk to her," said Mrs. Bobbsey, who was always interested in those who worked to help the poor.

Nan and Flossie brought their mother into the next car to see the matron. We told in our book, "The Bobbsey Twins in the Country," how good a matron this Mrs. Manily was, and how little Nellie, the cash girl, one of the visitors at the Fresh Air Camp, was taken sick while there, and had to go to the hospital tent. It was this little girl that Nan wanted to have enjoy the seashore, and perhaps visit Aunt Emily.

Mrs. Manily was very glad to see Mrs. Bobbsey, for the latter had helped with money and clothing to care for the poor children at the Meadow Brook Camp.

"Why, how pleasant to meet a friend in traveling!" said the matron as she shook hands with Mrs. Bobbsey. "You are all off for the seashore, the girls tell me."

"Yes," replied Mrs. Bobbsey. "One month at the beach, and we must then hurry home to Lakeport for the school days. But Nan tells me little Nellie is not well yet?"

"No, I am afraid she will need another change of air to undo the trouble made by her close confinement in a city store. She is not seriously sick, but so run down that it will take some time for her to get strong again," said the matron.

"Have you a camp at the seashore?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.

"No; indeed, I wish we had," answered the matron. "I am just going down now to see if I can't find some place where Nellie can stay for a few weeks."

"I'm going to visit my sister, Mrs. Minturn, at Ocean Cliff, near Sunset Beach," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "They have a large cottage and are always charitable. If they have no other company I think, perhaps, they would be glad to give poor little Nellie a room."

"That would be splendid!" exclaimed the matron. "I was going to do a line of work I never did before. I was just going to call on some of the well-to-do people, and ask them to take Nellie. We had no funds, and I felt so much depended on the change of air, I simply made up my mind to go and do what I could."

"Then you can look in at my sister's first," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "If she cannot accommodate you, perhaps she can tell who could. Now, won't you come in the other car with us, and we can finish our journey together?"

"Yes, indeed I will. Thank you," said the matron, gathering up her belongings and making her way to the Bobbsey quarters in the other car.

"Won't it be lovely to have Nellie with us!" Nan said to Flossie, as they passed along. "I am sure Aunt Emily will say yes."

"So am I," said little Flossie, whose kind heart always went out when it should. "I know surely they would not let Nellie die in the city while we enjoy the seaside."

Freddie was awake now, and also glad to see Mrs. Manily.

"Where's Sandy?" he inquired at once. Sandy had been his little chum from the Meadow Brook Camp.

"I guess he is having a nice time somewhere," replied Mrs. Manily. "His aunt found him out, you know, and is going to take care of him now."

"Well, I wish he was here too," said Freddie, rubbing his eyes. "We're goin' to have lots of fun fishing in the ocean."

The plan for Nellie was told to Mr. Bobbsey, who, of course agreed it would be very nice if Aunt Emily and Uncle William were satisfied.

"And what do you suppose those boxes contain?" said Mrs. Bobbsey to Mrs. Manily, pointing to the three boxes in the hanger above them.

"Shoes?" ventured the matron.

"Nope," said Freddie. "One hat, and my duck and my cat. Downy is my duck and Snoop is my cat."

Then Nan told about the flight of the duck and the "kidnapping" of Snoop.

"We put them up there out of the way," finished Nan, "so that nothing more can happen to them."

The afternoon was wearing out now, and the strong summer sun shrunk into thin strips through the trees, while the train dashed along. As the ocean air came in the windows, the long line of woodland melted into pretty little streams, that make their way in patches for many miles from the ocean front. "Like 'Baby Waters'" Nan said, "just growing out from the ocean, and getting a little bit bigger every year."

"Won't we soon be there?" asked Freddie, for long journeys are always tiresome, especially to a little boy accustomed to many changes in the day's play.

"One hour more," said Mr. Bobbsey, consulting his watch.

"Let's have a game of ball, Nan?" suggested Bert, who never traveled without a tennis ball in his pocket.

"How could we?" the sister inquired.

"Easily," said Bert. "We'll make up a new kind of game. We will start in the middle of the car, at the two center seats, and each move a seat away at every catch. Then, whoever misses first must go back to center again, and the one that gets to the end first, wins."

"All right," agreed Nan, who always enjoyed her twin brother's games. "We will call it Railroad Tennis."

Just as soon as Nan and Bert took their places, the other passengers became very much interested. There is such a monotony on trains that the sports the Bobbseys introduced were welcome indeed.

We do not like to seem proud, but certainly these twins did look pretty. Nan with her fine back eyes and red cheeks, and Bert just matching her; only his hair curled around, while hers fell down. Their interest in Railroad Tennis made their faces all the prettier, and no wonder the people watched them so closely.

Freddie was made umpire, to keep him out of a more active part, because he might do damage with a ball in a train, his mother said; so, as Nan and Bert passed the ball, he called,--his father prompting him:

"Ball one!"

"Ball two!"

"Ball three "

Bert jerked with a sudden jolt of the train and missed.

"Striker's out!" called the umpire, while everybody laughed because the boy had missed first.

Then Bert had to go all the way back to center, while Nan was four seats down.

Three more balls were passed, then Nan missed.

"I shouldn't have to go all the way back for the miss," protested Nan. "You went three seats back, so I'll go three back."

This was agreed to by the umpire, and the game continued.

A smooth stretch of road gave a good chance for catching, and both sister and brother kept moving toward the doors now, with three points "to the good" for Nan, as a big boy said.

Who would miss now? Everybody waited to see. The train struck a curve! Bert threw a wild ball and Nan missed it.

"Foul ball!" called the umpire, and Bert did not dispute it.

Then Nan delivered the ball.

"Oh, mercy me!" shrieked the old lady, who had thrown the handbag at Downy, the duck, "my glasses!" and there, upon the floor, lay the pieces. Nan's ball had hit the lady right in the glasses, and it was very lucky they did not break until they came in contact with the floor.

"I'm so sorry!" Nan faltered. "The car jerked so I could not keep it."

"Never mind, my dear," answered the nice old lady, "I just enjoyed that game as much as you did, and if I hadn't stuck my eyes out so, they would not have met your ball. So, it's all right. I have another pair in my bag."

So the game ended with the accident, for it was now time to gather up the baggage for the last stop.