Chapter XVIII. A Queer Ride
 

Nan and Bert, who were in the room with their mother and father when the letter was read, looked quickly at Mr. Bobbsey. Flossie and Freddie had gone to the next apartment to play with Laddie.

"Does that mean we've got to go back?" asked Bert.

"We haven't seen half enough of New York," added Nan.

"Oh, no, you won't have to come back with me," said Mr. Bobbsey. "You'll stay here at the hotel, and I'll return in a few days."

"What's it all about?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Uncle Jack," answered her husband.

"You mean the woodchopper who was so kind to Flossie and Freddie?"

"Yes, and because he was so kind I can't refuse to do what he wants me to."

"What is it he wants you to do?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey. "Did he write to you?"

"No, he got some one to do it for him, and my bookkeeper sent the letter on to me."

"But I thought Uncle Jack was going to the hospital," Bert said.

"So he is, Son. In fact, he is in the hospital now, but he is so ill that they fear he will not get better, even if the doctors do all they can for him. He is afraid he might die and he wants to see me before then. He says he has something he wants to tell me."

"What do you suppose it can be?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.

"I haven't the least idea. Perhaps it's about his folks. He may have found some of them, or know where they are. If he has any relations they ought to know about him, and not leave him among strangers. Of course I'll do all I can for him. Mr. Whipple has given me some money to spend on Uncle Jack, so I think the poor old woodchopper will be all right, if he can only get well."

"Then you're going to see him?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Yes, I think I had better," answered Mr. Bobbsey. "He did me a great favor, caring for Flossie and Freddie, and I must do what I can for him. He says it will make his mind easier if he can talk to me before the doctors try to make him well in the hospital."

"Then we can't go to the Natural History Museum to-day!" exclaimed Nan.

"Oh, yes; your mother can take you."

"I fear I can't tell you, as well as Daddy can, about the different things," said Mrs. Bobbsey, smiling; "but I'll do the best I can."

"Oh, Momsey! Of course we love to have you!" cried Nan, kissing her mother.

"I know, but you want Daddy, too! I don't blame you. But we must give him up for a little while, if it is to help Uncle Jack."

"Oh, of course we will!" cried Nan, and Bert nodded his head to show that he agreed.

"I'll just about have time to catch a train for Lakeport," said Mr. Bobbsey, looking at his watch. "Where are Flossie and Freddie? I want to say good-bye to them."

"They are playing with Laddie," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "I'll get them."

The two younger Bobbsey twins felt sorry that their father had to go away, but they were told he would soon be back again. But as Flossie and Freddie were having such fun playing with Laddie, they did not really think much about Mr. Bobbsey going away, except for five minutes or so.

"Give our love to Uncle Jack," said Freddie, as he kissed his father, and started back for the Whipple rooms, where he and Laddie were building a bridge of books for the toy train of cars to cross a river, which was made of a piece of broken looking glass.

"And here's an extra kiss I'll give you for him," said Flossie, as she hugged her father in bidding him good-bye. "I love Uncle Jack."

So Mr. Bobbsey went back to Lakeport, and Mrs. Bobbsey got ready to take Nan and Bert to the Natural History Museum. At first it had been planned to take Flossie and Freddie, but, as they said they did not care much about stuffed animals, and as they were having such fun with Laddie, Mrs. Whipple told Mrs. Bobbsey she would look after the smaller twins and give them their lunch.

"Then I'll leave them with you," said the mother of Flossie and Freddie. "I hope they will be no trouble."

"I'm sure they'll be all right," said Laddie's aunt. "Don't worry about them."

So Flossie, Freddie and Laddie built the bridge of books, and on it safely ran the toy locomotive and cars over the river of shiny looking glass.

When they grew tired of this game they played automobile. To do that Laddie had to turn an old rocker upside down and stick on one leg a broken drum he had left from his Christmas toys. The drum was the steering wheel, and it made enough noise, when pounded on with a stick, to pretend it was an automobile horn.

Flossie and Freddie rode in the back part of the overturned chair, and Laddie sat in front of them and made believe he was a chauffeur of a taxicab, running about the streets of New York.

As Laddie knew the names of many places where the real taxicabs stop, he could call them out from time to time. So that Flossie and Freddie went to the Grand Central Terminal, to Central Park, to the Public Library and many other places (make-believe, of course) in the queer pretend automobile.

"Oh, I'm going to stop off at the Public Liberry!" called out Flossie, while the play was going on.

"What you going to stop off at the Public Liberry for?" asked Freddie.

"I'm going to get a great big picture book," returned the little girl.

"'Bout Cinderella?" questioned her brother.

"No. I'm going to get a picture book with all kinds of stories in it."

"We can't stop now!" yelled out Laddie. "We're three blocks past the liberry already."

"Well, then I won't bother," answered Flossie.

After that they played steamboat, a tin horn being the whistle, which was tooted every time the boat stopped or started. This game was great fun, and the children played it for some time until down in the street Laddie heard the tooting of fire engines and the clanging of bells.

"Oh, there's another fire!" he cried. "Let's go down to see it."

"No, indeed!" cried Mrs. Whipple, with a laugh, coming into the room just then. "No more fires for you boys. You can look out the window, but that's all."

And so they had to be content with that. The fire did not seem to be a large one, though it was somewhere near the hotel.

Down in the street were a number of engines and hose carts, and also two police automobile wagons, which had brought the officers who were to keep the crowd from coming so close as to get in the way of the fireman.

But there is not much amusement in looking out of a window at a fire which cannot be seen, and Flossie, Freddie and Laddie soon tired of this fun--if fun it was. Mrs. Whipple had left the room, to see a lady who called, when Freddie, taking a last look from the window to the street below, said:

"I know how we could have some fun!"

"How?" asked Laddie.

"Get in one of the police wagons and have a ride," went on the small Bobbsey boy.

"Oh, let's do it!" cried Flossie, always ready for anything that Freddie proposed. "How you going to do it?" she asked her brother.

"Why, we can go down in the elevator," Freddie said. "There's nobody in the police wagon now, for all the policemans are at the fire, but we can't see them or it. And the driver on the front seat of the wagon won't see us if we crawl in the back."

"Oh, so he won't!" cried Flossie. "'Member how we crawled in the empty ice-wagon once?" she asked Freddie.

"Yep. I tore my pants that day. But we had a nice ride. We'll have a nice ride now," he went on. "We can get in when they don't see us."

"But when the policemans comes back from the fire they'll see us and maybe arrest us," said Laddie in a whisper.

"They won't if we hide under the seats," returned Freddie. "See, there are long side seats in the police automobile wagon, and we can lie down under 'em and make believe we're in a boat."

"Oh, if it's a make-believe game, I'll do it," said Laddie. "I guess my aunt won't care, as long as it isn't goin' to a fire."

"Then come on," answered Freddie.

One of the police patrol wagons, or, to be more correct, automobiles, stood near the curb not far from the front entrance to the hotel. It had brought several policemen to the scene of the fire, and was waiting to take them back.

As Freddie had said, the chauffeur on the front seat could not see what went on in the back of the wagon, for there was a high board against which he leaned. And there were two long seats, one on each side of the auto patrol, under which three children could easily hide if the police were not too particular in looking inside their wagon as they rode back to the station house.

The three children hurried out into the hall and got in the elevator, which Laddie called to the floor by pressing the electric signal button.

"Am yo' all gwine far?" asked George, the colored elevator boy, as he shot up to the tenth floor and opened the door.

"I guess not very far," answered Freddie. None of them knew how long a ride they would get.

Out the front entrance of the hotel went the three tots. Because of the fire no one paid much attention to them, and the hotel help were used to seeing the children come and go, and perhaps thought Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey, or Mrs. Whipple, were not far away.

So Flossie, Freddie and Laddie had no trouble in getting out, and then they walked quietly down to the automobile patrol. No one was near it, for automobiles--even police ones--are too common to look at in New York, especially when there is a fire around the corner, even if the blaze is a small one.

So, as it was, no one noticed the children climb into the patrol, and the driver, half dozing, did not hear them.

As Freddie had said, there was plenty of room for such small tots as these three to crawl under the long seats. And when they were stowing themselves away, Freddie found some blankets, which covered himself, his sister and Laddie.

"Now they can't see us!" said Freddie. "But we must keep still!"

"Hush!" cautioned Flossie. "Somebody's coming!"

And somebody was coming. It was the policemen coming back to take their places in the patrol, for the fire was out. Laughing and talking, they took their places on the long seat, never noticing the children hidden below.

And, a few seconds later, away started the automobile, taking the two Bobbsey twins and Laddie on a queer ride.