Chapter X. Lost and Found
 

WHEN Freddie woke up all was very, very dark around him. At first he thought he was at home, and called out for somebody to pull up the curtain that he might see.

But nobody answered him, and all he heard was a strange purring, close to his ear. He put up his hand and touched the little black kitten, which was lying close to his face. He had tumbled in the straw and this had proved a comfortable couch upon which to take a nap.

"Oh, dear me, I'll have to get back to mamma!" he murmured, as he struggled up and rubbed his eyes. "What can make it so awful dark? They ought to light the gas. Nobody can buy things when it's so dark as this."

The darkness did not please him, and he was glad to have the black kitten for a companion. With the kitten in his arms he arose to his feet and walked a few steps. Bump! he went into a big box. Then he went in another direction and stumbled over a barrel.

"Mamma! Mamma!" he cried out. "Mamma, where are you?"

No answer came back to this call, and his own voice sounded so queer to him that he soon stopped. He hugged the kitten tighter than ever.

He was now greatly frightened and it was all he could do to keep back the tears. He knew it must be night and that the great store must be closed up.

"They have all gone home and left me here alone," he thought. "Oh, what shall I do?"

He knew the night was generally very long and he did not wish to remain in the big, lonely building until morning.

Still hugging the kitten, he felt his way around until he reached the big wooden door. The catch came open with ease, and once more he found himself in that part of the basement used for hardware and large mechanical toys. But the toy locomotive had ceased to run and all was very silent. Only a single gas jet flickered overhead, and this cast fantastic shadows which made the little boy think of ghosts and hobgoblins. One mechanical toy had a very large head on it, and this seemed to grin and laugh at him as he looked at it.

"Mamma!" he screamed again. "Oh, mamma, why don't you come?"

He listened and presently he heard footsteps overhead.

"Who's there?" came in the heavy voice of a man.

The voice sounded so unnatural that Freddie was afraid to answer. Perhaps the man might be a burglar come to rob the store.

"I say, who's there?" repeated the voice. "Answer me."

There was a minute of silence, and then Freddie heard the footsteps coming slowly down the stairs. The man had a lantern in one hand and a club in the other.

Not knowing what else to do, Freddie crouched behind a counter. His heart beat loudly, and he had dim visions of burglars who might have entered the big store to rob it. If he was discovered, there was no telling what such burglars might do with him.

"Must have been the cat," murmured the man on the stairs. He reached the basement floor and swung his lantern over his head, "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!" he called.

"Meow!" came from the black kitten, which was still in Freddie's arms. Then the man looked in that direction.

"Hello!" he exclaimed, staring in amazement. "What are you doing here? Are you alone?"

"Oh, please, I want my mamma!" cried Freddie.

"You want your mamma?" repeated the man. "Say!" he went on suddenly. "Are you the kid that got lost this afternoon?"

"I guess I did get lost," answered Freddie. He saw that the man had a kindly face and this made him a bit braver. "I walked around and sat down over there--in the straw--and went to sleep."

"Well, I never!" cried the man. "And have you been down here ever since?"

"Yes, sir. But I don't want to stay--I want to go home."

"All right, you shall go. But this beats me!"

"Are you the man who owns the store?" questioned Freddie curiously.

At this the man laughed. "No; wish I did. I'm the night watchman. Let me see, what is your name ?"

"Freddie Bobbsey. My papa owns the lumber yard."

"Oh, yes, I remember now. Well, Freddie, I reckon your papa will soon come after you. All of 'em are about half crazy, wondering what has become of you."

The night watchman led the way to the first floor of the department store and Freddie followed, still clutching the black kitten, which seemed well content to remain with him.

"I'll telephone to your papa," said the watchman, and going into one of the offices he rang the bell and called up the number of the Bobbsey residence.

In the meantime Mrs. Bobbsey and the others of the family were almost frantic with grief and alarm. Mr. Bobbsey had notified the police and the town had been searched thoroughly for some trace of the missing boy.

"Perhaps they have stolen Freddie away!" said Nan, with the tears starting to her eyes. "Some gypsies were in town, telling fortunes. I heard one of the girls at school tell about it."

"Oh, the bad gypsies!" cried Flossie, and gave a shudder. The idea that Freddie might have been carried off by the gypsies was truly terrifying.

Mr. Bobbsey had been out a dozen times to the police headquarters and to the lake front. A report had come in that a boy looking like Freddie had been seen on the ice early in the evening, and he did not know but what the little fellow might have wandered in that direction.

When the telephone bell rang Mr. Bobbsey had just come in from another fruitless search. Both he and his wife ran to the telephone.

"Hullo!" came over the wire. "Is this Mr. Bobbsey's house?"

"It is," answered the gentleman quickly. "What do you want? Have you any news?"

"I've found your little boy, sir," came back the reply. "He is safe and sound with me."

"And who are you?"

"The night watchman at the department store. He went to sleep here, that's all."

At this news all were overjoyed.

"Let me speak to him," said Mrs. Bobbsey eagerly. "Freddie dear, are you there?" she asked.

"Yes, mamma," answered Freddie, into the telephone. "And I want to come home."

"You shall, dear. Papa shall come for you at once."

"Oh, he's found! He's found!" shrieked Nan. "Aren't you glad, Bert?"

"Of course I am," answered Bert. "But I can't understand how he happened to go to sleep in such a lively store as that."

"He must have walked around until he got tired," replied Nan. "You know Freddie can drop off to sleep very quickly when he gets tired."

As soon as possible Mr. Bobbsey drove around to the department store in his sleigh. The watchman and Freddie were on the lookout for him, the little boy with the kitten still in his arms.

"Oh, papa!" cried Freddie. "I am so glad you have come! I--I don't want to go to sleep here again!"

The watchman's story was soon told, and Mr. Bobbsey made him happy by presenting him with a two-dollar bill.

"The little chap would have been even more lonely if it hadn't been for the kitten," said the man. "He wanted to keep the thing, so I told him to do it."

"And I'm going to," said Freddie proudly. " It's just the dearest kitten in the world." And keep the kitten he did. It soon grew up to be a big, fat cat and was called Snoop.

By the time home was reached, Freddie was sleepy again. But he speedily woke up when his mamma and the others embraced him, and then he had to tell the story of his adventure from end to end.

"I do not know as I shall take you with me again," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "You have given us all a great scare."

"Oh, mamma, I won't leave you like that again," cried Freddie quickly. "Don't like to be in the dark 'tall," he added.

"Oh, it must have been awful," said Flossie. "Didn't you see any--any ghosts?"

"Barrels of them," said Freddie, nodding his head sleepily. "But they didn't touch me. Guess they was sleepy, just like me." And then he dropped off and had to be put to bed; and that was the end of this strange happening.