Chapter XV. Sad News
 

Bert and Nan Bobbsey were so interested when they heard that Freddie and Flossie were going to see some sort of a camping scene at Mr. Whipple's store that they, too, begged to be allowed to join the party.

"Come right along!" exclaimed the merchant. "The more the merrier. I hope you'll like it."

"Is it a real camp, with trees and all?" asked Freddie.

"Well, there are some real bushes, and make-believe trees," said Mr. Whipple. "I couldn't grow real big woodland trees in my store, you know. But the tent is real, so is the fire, and the men who are camping out eat real food."

"I'd like that part," said Flossie.

"Well, come along, then," invited Mr. Whipple.

Mrs. Bobbsey, as well as Mrs. Whipple, were to go with the five children, and they made up a merry party as they set out for the uptown department store.

"Oh, we're going in an automobile!" cried Freddie, as they came out of the Parkview Hotel and saw a big car standing at the curb. The chauffeur got down off his seat and opened the door as he saw Mr. and Mrs. Whipple.

"Yes, this is our machine," said the merchant. "I don't care much for riding around New York, though in the Summer I take long trips in the car. But as we have so many children with us to-day," and he looked at Nan, Bert, Flossie, Freddie and Laddie, "it will be better to go in the machine."

On the way up, through the streets of the great city, the Bobbsey twins, as did Laddie, looked out of the windows at the many sights. Once Freddie saw a fire engine speeding on its way to some blaze.

"Oh, let's get out and watch!" he begged.

"Of course we can't do that!" said Mrs. Bobbsey.

"But maybe the fireman who rescued me will be there," went on Freddie. "I'd like to see him again."

"I'll take you around to his fire house some time," promised Mr. Whipple. "Won't that do as well?"

Freddie thought it would, and then he noticed a street piano, on top of which perched a monkey.

"Maybe that's the one who tore your hat, Flossie," he said.

"No, this is a bigger one," returned the little girl. "Besides, if he is the same one I don't want to see him. I feel sorry about the nice cherries on my hat."

"Don't you like the one you and your brother bought in my store?" asked Mr. Whipple, with a laugh.

"Oh, yes, it's awful nice," said Flossie. "But it hasn't any cherries on it. But I like it just as well," she went on quickly, thinking, I suppose, that it might not be polite to say she did not.

"And now for the woodland camp!" cried Mr. Whipple, as they got out of his automobile in front of his store. "You see," he explained to Mrs. Bobbsey, "I sell a good many things that campers use--tents, pots, pans, fishing rods and lines, lanterns, axes, cook stoves, boats, canoes, guns and so on. Every year I set up, on the top floor of the store, a sort of woodland scene--a camp. I get real bushes from the woods and some logs. Then my men fix up a place to make it look as nearly like the real woods as we can. We have real moss and dirt on the ground, and a little spring of water. There is a real tent--two of them, in fact--and in one there are cots for sleeping, while in the other the meals are cooked.

"I hire some real campers to stay in my store camp, and they live almost as they would if they were actually camping out. This is to show the people how to use the camping things I sell. It is a new kind of advertisement, you see."

"And a very good one, I should think," said Mrs. Bobbsey.

"It sounds great!" cried Bert. "I wish we could go camping! Do you think we ever could, Mother?"

"Well, I don't know," answered Mrs. Bobbsey slowly. "I did hear your father say something about going to camp this Summer, but warm weather is a long way from us yet. We'll see."

"Oh, I believe we can go camping!" cried Nan to Bert in an excited whisper, as they entered the store elevator. "Won't it be wonderful?"

"Great!" said Bert "I wouldn't want anything better than to camp on an island in some lake."

By this time they were up on the top floor of the big department store owned by Mr. Whipple, and at one end the twins and Laddie could see a number of persons.

"That's the camp," said Mr. Whipple. "I don't believe you've seen it this year, have you, Laddie?"

"No, Uncle Dan. Is it different from last year?" for the store-owner had the camp set up each Winter.

"Yes, it's a little different. There is a new kind of tent, and the men are different."

Mr. Whipple found a good place for the children to look in on the store camp. As he had said, there were the two tents, and, on some earth and moss between them, a real camp fire was burning, while a man, dressed just as you have seen campers in pictures, was cooking something in a pot over the blaze.

In one tent a table was set for a meal, and while the Bobbsey twins and the others looked on, the two men and a boy, who made up the store camping party, put their food on the table and began to eat.

They acted as though they were in a real camp, and as though they were not being watched by hundreds of eyes. They talked among themselves, washed their dishes after the dinner and then shot at a target with a small rifle, which sent out real bullets.

The boys--Bert, Freddie and Laddie--liked this part very much.

"It certainly looks like the real thing," was Bert's remark. "And the best part of it is, everything is so new and clean."

"It makes me feel hungry to look at 'em eat," was Laddie's comment.

"Oh, look at them shoot at that target!" cried Freddie excitedly. "I'd like to do that."

"You'd have to be careful, so that you didn't shoot yourself," replied his brother.

All about the tents in the store camp were things Mr. Whipple sold for those who wanted to take them to a real camp.

"There are some things here I'd like when I go camping," said Bert. "I'm going to ask my father to get them," he told Mr. Whipple.

"That will be nice. I asked your father to meet us here and have lunch," said the store owner, for there was a restaurant in his building. "I thought perhaps he'd like to see the camp himself."

"I'm sure he would," said Bert. "I hope he comes."

Then the Bobbseys and others looked at the camp some more, Bert being very much interested in a small canoe, which, he said, would be just right for him and Tommy Todd to paddle.

"Wouldn't you let me paddle with you?" asked Nan. "I know how--a little."

"Sure I'll let you," agreed her brother. "Oh, I do hope Dad will let us go camping!"

Mr. Bobbsey came in a little later, and he liked the store camp very much. He said he and his wife had talked of going to a camp in the Summer, and taking the children with them, but it was not all settled as yet.

"There's no better fun than camping out," said Mr. Whipple. "I used to do it when I was a boy, and I made up my mind that if ever I kept a store, which I always wanted to do, I'd sell camping things in it. And that's just what I'm doing," he added with a laugh.

"Doesn't this place make you think of our woods at home?" asked Nan of Bert.

"Yes, it does look like the woods around Lake Metoka," was his answer.

"And it's just like the place where Uncle Jack has his camp!" cried Freddie.

"Have the children an uncle who is a camper?" asked Mr. Whipple.

"No," answered Mr. Bobbsey, "but there is an old woodchopper, who lives in a log cabin near our town of Lakeport. He makes a living by chopping firewood. He lives all alone, and really sort of camps out. Every one calls him Uncle Jack. He was very good to Flossie and Freddie one day when they fell out of Bert's ice-boat.

"Poor Uncle Jack!" went on Mr. Bobbsey, with a sigh. "I am sorry to say I have bad news about him," he went on to his wife, but the children heard, though he spoke in a low voice.

"Uncle Jack!" cried Nan. "I hope he isn't dead!"

"No," answered her father, "but he is very ill, and he must go to a hospital, I am told. It's too bad about him."