Chapter IV. The Old Woodchopper
 

While Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey, Bert and Nan picked themselves up from where they had fallen and slid along the ice, the ice-boat, with Flossie and Freddie snugly tucked in among the blankets and robes, was skimming down the lake, blown by a strong wind.

At first the two small twins hardly knew what had happened. They had felt the ice-boat tilt to one side, they remembered that they had nearly fallen out, and then they had sailed on again. It was not until Flossie opened her eyes (she always shut them when anything surprising was happening) that she saw she and Freddie were alone in the Bird.

"Why! Why!" she exclaimed. "Where are Daddy and Mother?"

"Yes, and Bert and Nan?" added Freddie. "Where is everybody?"

Then the two small twins looked back over the icy lake and far behind them saw their father and mother, with Bert and Nan, standing on the ice and waving their hands.

"Oh, they've jumped off and left us to sail the boat alone!" cried Freddie. "Now I can steer! Isn't that good?"

Flossie was not quite sure that this was "good," but, for a few seconds, she believed what Freddie had said--that the others had jumped off the ice-boat. She did not know that they had been spilled out, as Bert said afterward.

"Now watch me steer!" cried Freddie, crawling back toward the tiller, which was the last thing Bert had let go of, as he shot from the boat.

"Oh, can you?" asked Flossie. "Do you think you can steer?"

"Of course I can," was the answer. "You just watch me. I'll make this boat go faster!"

"But you want to be awfully careful, Freddie."

"Oh, I'm always careful, ain't I?"

"Well, I s'pose you are--most times," answered Flossie, somewhat slowly. She did not wish to hurt her twin's feelings.

"Oh, I know what I'm doing," was Freddie's confident reply. "You just watch me! I'll make this boat go just as fast as anything!"

As it had happened, a rope had become caught around the tiller, or handle, of the rudder, thus holding it so that the ice-boat sailed straight before the wind. Otherwise it would have darted from side to side, and perhaps Flossie and Freddie would have been tossed out as the others had been. But it so happened that they sailed along nicely, no one being at the helm.

Straight down the lake sailed the Bird with the two little twins aboard. They had been a bit frightened at first, but now Freddie was thinking only of how he could steer the craft, and Flossie was waiting to see what her brother would do.

"I wonder what they're waving to us for?" asked Flossie, as she looked back and saw the frantic signals of her father and mother, Bert and Nan. "And they're running after us, too!" she added.

"Maybe they want us to come back," suggested Freddie. But as the ice-boat was too far away for the older Bobbseys to make their voices heard by Flossie and Freddie, Mr. Bobbsey and the others could only wave their hands.

"We must catch that boat!" cried Bert. "No telling what it will do to them if it upsets. Come on! Run, everybody!"

He set off as fast as he could go, his father with him, while Mrs. Bobbsey and Nan came along more slowly.

"I guess they want us to come back and get them," said Freddie. "They must be tired. Well, I'll steer the boat back and we'll give them a ride. Won't it be fun, Flossie?"

"Ye-yes, maybe. If you can do it."

"Do what?"

"Steer the ice-boat back."

"Of course I can do it!" cried Freddie. "I can squirt water from my fire engine, can't I? And that isn't any harder than this."

Freddie did not know so much about ice-boats as he thought he did, and when he had crawled back to the tiller, still held fast in a loop of the rope, the small boy found it harder to move than he had expected. Flossie stayed among the rugs and robes.

Freddie knew enough about boats to be sure that to steer one the tiller ought to move from side to side. So, finding that the rope, which was fast to the sail, was keeping the rudder handle from moving, he began to loosen the coils.

As soon as he did that the rudder moved from side to side, and this, of course, made the ice-boat do the same thing.

"Oh, dear!" cried Flossie, "don't jiggle it so, Freddie!"

"I--I can't--help it!" chattered Freddie, his words coming jerkily, for he was being "jiggled" himself, as the rudder shook from side to side in his hand. "This--this is the way to--to steer an ice-boat."

"Well, I don't like it," Flossie announced, "It makes me homesick!"

"Do you mean--seasick?" asked Freddie, trying his best to hold the tiller still.

"No, I mean homesick! I want to go home!"

"But we're having a nice ride, Flossie."

"I don't care! I want papa and mamma! I can't see them now!"

The ice-boat, sailing down the lake, had turned around a point of land, and this hid from view the rest of the Bobbsey family.

"I'll turn around and go back and get them," Freddie said. By this time he had taken the rope from the tiller, so the rudder handle moved freely from side to side. And then, all of a sudden, the Bird shot ahead more swiftly than before.

The wind was blowing more strongly, and when Freddie moved the rudder he steered the ice-boat so that the wind sent it straight ahead instead of a little to one side.

"Oh! oh!" cried Flossie, "this is too fast! How can we stop the ice-boat, Freddie?"

"I--I don't know," answered the little boy. "Don't you like to go fast, Flossie?"

"Not so fast as this. I can't make my nose work--I can't get any air!"

Indeed they were sailing even more swiftly than when Bert was steering, and Flossie was frightened. So was Freddie, but he was not so quick to say so.

"Please stop the boat!" cried Flossie again.

"Well, I'll try," promised Freddie. "I guess this is the rope you pull on," and he took hold of the one fast to the end of the sail--the rope that kept the big piece of white canvas from blowing away.

Freddie pulled on this, but it could not have been the right rope, or else he pulled it the wrong way, for, in an instant, the ice-boat seemed to "stand on its ear," as Bert spoke of it afterward. Flossie and Freddie were almost tossed out.

"Oh, don't do that!" cried the little girl.

"I--I didn't mean to," Freddie told her. "I guess I pulled on the wrong rope. Here's another. I'll try that."

By this time the ice-boat was more than two miles down the lake, for the wind was blowing hard and the Bird sailed swiftly. The children could not see their father, mother, Bert or Nan now. They would soon be at the end of the lake, and before them Flossie and Freddie could see big drifts of snow near the edge of the frozen lake and between it and the forest beyond.

"I--I guess we'd better stop pretty soon," faltered Freddie. "If we don't we'll run ashore."

With all his strength, he pulled on another rope, at the same time shoving the tiller over as far from him as it would go. The result was a surprise to him and to Flossie. The ice-boat turned quickly, and then, like a frightened horse, it darted toward shore.

Over the ice it skimmed. Then it turned up on one side, buried the bow, or front part, deep in a big snow drift and with another motion sent Flossie and Freddie, together with the robes and blankets, flying into a pile of soft snow. Down came the Bobbsey twins with a soft thud, not being in the least hurt.

For a moment neither of the children spoke. Then Flossie, brushing the snow from her face, looked around, and seeing Freddie near her, doing the same thing, she asked:

"What--what happened?"

"I guess I steered right up on shore instead of away from it," replied Freddie. "I must have turned the handle the wrong way. Are you hurt, Flossie?"

"Nope. Are you?"

"Nope. I hope the ice-boat isn't broken. Bert wouldn't like that. Let's go and look."

As the children floundered out of the snow, which had been left from a storm that had swept over the country before the lake had frozen, they heard a voice calling to them. Looking in the direction of the woods, they saw coming toward them an old man, wearing a big, ragged overcoat, a fur cap and mittens, while over his shoulder was an axe.

"Oh! oh!" said Flossie in a low voice. "Who--who's that, Freddie?"

"Oh, I know him. That's Uncle Jack, the woodchopper. He'll help us get the boat on the ice again, and I can sail it back home."

"Nope!" cried Flossie, shaking her flaxen curly head. "I'm never going to ride in an ice-boat with you any more. Never! You go too fast, and stop too quick. I'm going to walk home!"

"What's the matter, children?" asked Uncle Jack, and he came plowing his way through the snow. "Ah, your ice-boat is upset, I see! Well, you two are pretty small potatoes to be out sailing alone. 'Most froze, too, I'll warrant ye! Come on to my cabin. It's warm there, whatever else it is!" and he helped Flossie and Freddie from the snowdrift.

"Thank you," said Flossie. "But we're not potatoes, Uncle Jack."

"Well, little peaches, then. Anyhow, your cheeks look like red apples," said the man, laughing.