Chapter XIX. The Goat
 

Everything would have been all right if Flossie had not sneezed. At least that's what Freddie said afterward, and Freddie ought to have known, for he was right there. Laddie Dickerson did not say it was Flossie's fault, but then it is only brothers who say such things to their sisters. And Freddie did not really intend to make Flossie feel bad.

"But we might have had a bigger ride if you hadn't sneezed," said Freddie, after it was all over.

"Well, I couldn't help it," was what Flossie said. "And I guess you'd have sneezed, too, if that fuzzy blanket kept tickling your nose; so there!"

It was in the police patrol automobile that Flossie sneezed. With Freddie and Laddie, she was having a ride, you remember, the three children having hidden themselves under the seats, wrapped up in blankets, when the machine stood in front of the hotel while the policemen were at the fire.

For a time the two small Bobbsey twins and Laddie rode along in silence, the policemen not knowing the children were at their very feet. And after they had ridden about ten blocks, Flossie sneezed.

"A-ker-choo!" she cried, when a piece of the fuzzy blanket tickled her nose. "A-ker-choo!"

"Hello! What's that?" asked one of the policemen in the automobile.

"Sounded like a sneeze," said another.

"Sure it was a sneeze," came from a third.

"Maybe it was Mike, the chauffeur," suggested the first officer.

"It didn't sound like him," ventured a policeman, close to where the driver sat behind his wooden back-rest. "I say, Mike!" called the policeman, "did you sneeze?"

"Nope! Haven't time for sneezes now," answered the chauffeur.

"Then it was back here in this automobile," went on the first policeman, who was quite fat.

"Maybe it was a cat," suggested some one.

"Or a dog," added another.

Just then Freddie laughed--snickered would be more like what he did, I suppose--and once more Flossie sneezed. And Laddie snickered, too. They really could not help it any more than Flossie could help sneezing. For the two boys thought it very funny to listen to what the policemen were saying about Flossie's sneezes. And when the little girl's nose was tickled the second time by the fuzzy blanket, and she sneezed again, and the boys laughed or snickered--the policemen knew where the noises came from.

"It's in here--right in our automobile!" said the fat policeman again.

"And it sounded right at my feet," added another.

Then all the policemen in the automobile leaned over and looked down. Even Flossie was laughing now, for it all seemed so funny, and she was wondering what her father and mother would say.

The laughter of the children made the blankets, under which they were hiding, shake as though the wind was blowing them, and seeing this one of the officers pulled loose one corner of the robe and there he saw Flossie, Freddie and Laddie.

"Well, I do declare!" cried a policeman with a red mustache. "It's children!"

"Three of 'em!" cried another.

The the two Bobbsey twins crawled from under the seat, and Laddie came with them, to stand up in the swaying automobile between the two rows of policemen.

"Where in the world did you come from?" asked one officer.

"Under there," answered Freddie, and he pointed to the place where the blankets were still rolled up.

"And how did you get there?"

"We crawled in to get a ride," said Flossie, "and I couldn't help sneezing. That fuzzy blanket tickled my nose so!"

The policemen laughed at this.

"But who are you and where do you belong?" asked one of the officers who, having some stripes on his sleeve and some gold lace on his cap, seemed to be the leader.

"We're part of the Bobbsey twins," said Freddie. "The other half of us--that's Nan and Bert--have gone to see a stuffed whale."

"No, the whale isn't stuffed--it's the sea lion, or wallyrus--I forget which," put in Flossie. "The whale's only made out of plaster and wood."

"Well, anyhow, Nan and Bert are there," said Freddie.

"And you're here," said the red-mustached policeman, "That's easy to see, though what he means about being half of the Bobbsey twins is more than I can guess. How many is twins, anyhow?"

"Two," some one said.

"We're four--that is, two sets," explained Flossie painstakingly. "Bert and Nan are older than us."

"Oh, I see," said the policeman whom the other officers called Captain, or "Cap." for short. "Well, where did you come from and where are you going?"

"We live at the Parkview Hotel," said Freddie, "and we got in here to have a ride. We didn't think you'd find us so soon."

"It is too bad," said the captain, with a laugh. "And I'm afraid I can't give you a ride any farther than to the station house. I suppose you know who you are and where you live," he went on, with a smile; "but, as we have to do things by rule in the police department, I'll have to make sure. So I'll take you to my office and telephone to the hotel. If I find you belong there I'll take you back."

"Then we'll have another ride!" said Flossie. "That will be nice, won't it, Freddie?"

"Um, I guess so. Only I'd like to sit out in front with the driver as long as you sneezed and told 'em we were here."

"I didn't sneeze any more than you giggled!" cried Flossie. "And, anyhow, I couldn't help it. That fuzzy blanket----"

"Of course, that was it!" laughed the captain. "Never mind. No harm has been done, and you shall have a ride back home. Though I think, for the sake of your folks, I'll send you back in a taxicab, instead of in this patrol auto, and with an officer in plain clothes, instead of one wearing a uniform. It will look better at the hotel," he explained to his men.

"Sure," was their answer.

And so the two little Bobbsey twins and Laddie were given a ride to the precinct station house in the big automobile patrol, and they sat on the laps of the kindly policemen.

Quite a crowd of children gathered around the doors of the police station as Flossie, Freddie and Laddie were lifted out of the automobile, and there were all sorts of stories told about them. Some believed the children had been rescued from the fire; others that they had been taken from a robbers' cave, and still others that these were the children, who, playing with matches, had caused the fire.

But all these guesses were wrong, as we know, Flossie, Freddie and Laddie had just gone for a ride, and they had one, though it did not turn out exactly as they expected. However, they had a good time.

It did not take the police captain long to find out that what Freddie had said was true--that the three youngsters lived at the Parkview Hotel.

"Your aunt has been looking all over for you," said the captain to Laddie, after telephoning. "I sent word that I'd soon have you safely back, and you mustn't run away again."

"I asked him to," said Freddie, telling the truth like a little man. "I asked him and Flossie to come."

"Well, next time you'd better ask before you crawl into a police automobile," said the captain, with a laugh. "You can't always tell where it is going. However, no harm is done this time. Come and see me again," he added.

Then the captain called a taxicab and sent the children to the hotel in charge of one of his policemen, who did not wear a uniform. This was done so no crowd would gather in front of the hotel to stare at Freddie, Flossie and Laddie, as would have happened if a policeman in uniform, with his bright brass buttons, had gone with them.

"Oh, Laddie! how could you do it and worry me so?" cried Mrs. Whipple, when her little nephew had come back to the hotel with the Bobbsey twins.

"I asked him," said Freddie, willing to take all the blame. "We wanted a ride and we just crawled in and hid. I'm awful sorry."

"And I'm sorry I sneezed," said Flossie. "If I hadn't maybe we'd have had a longer ride."

"No, we wouldn't," declared Freddie, shaking his head. "We got to the station house, anyhow, and that's where the automobile lives when it isn't workin'. Anyhow, we had fun!"

"Yes, we did," said Laddie; "and I liked it."

"But you mustn't go away again without telling me," said his aunt.

"I won't," he promised.

"Next time we'll take you with us," said Flossie. "You'll like it, only I hope a fuzzy blanket doesn't make you sneeze."

So the Bobbsey twins, with their little friend, had a ride away and a ride back again, and when Mrs. Bobbsey came home that afternoon from the Natural History Museum with Bert and Nan, and heard what had happened, she was so surprised she did not know what to say.

Of course she made Flossie and Freddie promise never to do it again, and of course they said they never would.

"I never saw such little tykes as Flossie and Freddie have gotten to be lately," said Mrs. Bobbsey to Nan that night.

"This being in a big city seems just to suit them, though," returned Nan.

"Yes. But I wish your father would come back. I feel rather lost without him in this big hotel."

"I'm here," said Bert, with a smile.

"Yes, you'll have to be my little man, now. And do, please, keep watch of Flossie and Freddie while your father is away. There's no telling what they'll do next."

And really there was not. For instance, who would have supposed that a goat--

But there, I'd better start at the beginning of this part of my story.

It was a few days after the ride in the automobile patrol that Mrs. Bobbsey received word that a friend whom she had known when they were both small children was living in New York. This lady asked Mrs. Bobbsey to call and see her.

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"We do not live in a nice part of New York," wrote the lady--who was a Mrs. Robinson--in her letter, "for we can't pay much rent. But our apartment house is not hard to reach from your hotel, and I would very much like to see you. Come and bring the children. They can watch the other children playing in the streets. I know the streets are not a very nice place to play in, but that's all we have in New York."

       *       *       *       *       *

So Mrs. Bobbsey decided to call on her old friend, whom she had not seen for many years. She said she would take Flossie and Freddie with her. Nan and Bert were going to a moving picture show with another boy and girl and the latter's mother.

Mrs. Robinson lived on the east side of New York, in what is called an apartment house. Some called them tenements, and in them many families are crowded together, for room is very valuable in the big city of New York.

After Mrs. Bobbsey had talked for a while with her former girlhood friend, Flossie and Freddie, who had been sitting still in the parlor, asked if they could not go out in the street and watch the other children at play.

"Yes, but don't go off the steps," said their mother.

The two Bobbsey twins promised, but something happened that made them forget. This was the sight of a red-haired, snub-nosed boy, driving a goat, hitched to a small wagon, up and down the street.

"Oh, look at that!" cried the excited Freddie. "Isn't that great!"

"It's cute," said Flossie. "I wonder if he'd give us a ride?"

"Let's ask him," said Freddie. "I've got ten cents. Maybe he'd ride us for that. Come on!"

And so, forgetting all about their promise not to go off the steps of the apartment house where their mother's friend lived, the two small Bobbsey twins hurried down to look at the goat.