Chapter IX. Freddie Loses Himself
 

CHRISTMAS was now but four weeks away, and the stores of Lakeport had their windows filled with all sorts of nice things for presents. Nan and Bert had gazed into the windows a number of times, and even walked through the one big department store of which the town boasted, and they had told Freddie and Flossie of many of the things to be seen.

"Oh, I want to see them, too!" cried Flossie, and begged her mother to take her along the next time she went out.

"I want to go, too," put in Freddie "Bert says there are sixteen rocking horses all in a row, with white and black tails. I want to see them."

"I am going to the stores to-morrow," answered Mrs. Bobbsey. "You can go with me, after school. It will be better to go now than later on, when the places are filled with Christmas shoppers."

The twins were in high glee, and Freddie said he was going to spend the twenty-five cents he had been saving up for several months.

"Let us buy mamma something for Christmas," said Flossie, who had the same amount of money.

"What shall we buy?"

That question was a puzzling one. Flossie thought a nice doll would be the right thing, while Freddie thought an automobile that could be wound up and made to run around the floor would be better. At last both consulted Nan.

"Oh, mamma doesn't want a doll," said Nan. "And she ought to have a real automobile, not a tin one."

"Can't buy a real auto'bile," said Freddie. "Real auto'biles cost ten dollars, or more."

"I'll tell you what to do," went on Nan. "You buy her a little bottle of cologne, Freddie, and you, Flossie, can buy her a nice handkerchief."

"I'll buy her a big bottle of cologne," said Freddie. "That big!" and he placed his hands about a foot apart.

"And I'll get a real lace handkerchief," added Flossie.

"You'll have to do the best you can," said practical Nan, and so it was agreed.

When they left home each child had the money tucked away in a pocket. They went in the family sleigh, with Sam as a driver. The first stop was at Mr. Ringley's shoe store, where Mrs. Bobbsey purchased each of the twins a pair of shoes. It may be added here, that the broken window glass had long since been replaced by the shoe dealer, and his show window looked as attractive as ever.

"I heard you had a window broken not long ago," said Mrs. Bobbsey, when paying for her purchases.

"Yes, two bad boys broke the window," answered the shoe dealer.

"Who were they?"

"I couldn't find out. But perhaps I'll learn some day, and then I mean to have them arrested," said Mr. Ringley. "The broken glass ruined several pairs of shoes that were in the window." And then he turned away to wait on another customer.

Soon the large department store was reached and Mrs. Bobbsey let Freddie and Flossie take their time in looking into the several windows. One was full of dolls, which made the little girl gape in wonder and delight.

"Oh, mamma, what a flock of dolls!" she cried. "Must be 'bout ten millions of them, don't you think so?"

"Hardly that many, Flossie; but there are a good many."

"And, oh, mamma, what pretty dresses! I wish I had that doll with the pink silk and the big lace hat," added the little girl.

"Do you think that is the nicest, Flossie?"

"Indeed, indeed I do," answered the little miss. "It's too lovely for anything. Can't we get it and take it home?"

"No, dear; but you had better ask Santa Claus to send it to you," continued her mother with a smile.

Some wooden soldiers and building blocks caught Freddie's eye, and for the time being his favorite fire engines were forgotten.

"I want wooden soldiers," he said. "Can set 'em up in a row, with the sword-man in front, an' the man with the drum."

"Perhaps Santa Claus will bring you some soldiers in your stocking, Freddie."

"Stocking ain't big enough--want big ones, like that," and he pointed with his chubby hand.

"Well, let us wait and see what Santa Claus can do," said Mrs. Bobbsey.

Inside of the store was a candy counter near the doorway, and there was no peace for Mrs. Bobbsey until she had purchased some chocolate drops for Flossie, and a long peppermint cane for Freddie. Then they walked around, down one aisle and up another, admiring the many things which were displayed.

"Bert said they had a lavater," said Freddie presently. "Mamma, I want to go in the lavater."

"Lavater?" repeated Mrs. Bobbsey, with a puzzled look. "Why, Freddie, what do you mean?"

"He means the stairs that runs up and down on a big rope," put in Flossie.

"Oh, the elevator," said the mother. "Very well, you shall both ride in the elevator."

It was great sport to ride to the third story of the store, although the swift way in which the elevator moved made the twins gasp a little.

"Let us go down again," said Freddie. "It's ever so much nicer than climbing the stairs."

"I wish to make a few purchases first," answered the mother.

She had come to buy a rug for the front hallway, and while she was busy in the rug and carpet department she allowed the twins to look at a number of toys which were located at the other end of the floor.

For a while Freddie and Flossie kept close together, for there was quite a crowd present and they felt a little afraid. But then Flossie discovered a counter where all sorts of things for dolls were on sale and she lingered there to look at the dresses, and hats, and underwear, and shoes and stockings, and chairs, trunks, combs, and brushes, and other goods.

"Oh, my, I must have some of those things for my dolls," she said, half aloud. There was a trunk she thought perfectly lovely and it was marked 39 cents. "Not so very much," she thought.

When Freddie got around to where the elevator was, it was just coming up again with another load of people. As he had not seen it go down he concluded that he must go clown by way of the stairs if he wanted another ride.

"I'll get a ride all by myself," he thought, and as quickly as he could, he slipped down first one pair of stairs and then another, to the ground floor of the store. Then he saw another stairs, and soon was in the basement of the department store.

Here was a hardware department with a great number of heavy toys, and soon he was looking at a circular railroad track upon which ran a real locomotive and three cars. This was certainly a wonderful toy, and Freddie could not get his eyes off it.

In moving around the basement of the store, Freddie grew hopelessly mixed up, and when he started to look for the elevator or the stairs, he walked to the storage room. He was too timid to ask his way out and soon found himself among great rows of boxes and barrels. Then he made a turn or two and found himself in another room, filed with empty boxes and casks, some partly filled with straw and excelsior. There was a big wooden door to this room, and while he was inside the door shut with a bang and the catch fell into place.

"Oh, dear, I wish I was back with mamma," he thought, and drew a long and exceedingly sober breath. "I don't like it here at all."

Just then a little black kitten came toward him and brushed up affectionately. Freddie caught the kitten and sat down for a moment to pet it. He now felt sleepy and in a few minutes his eyes closed and his head began to nod. Then in a minute more he went sound asleep.

Long before this happened Mrs. Bobbsey found Flossie and asked her where Freddie was. The little girl could not tell, and the mother began a diligent search. The floorwalkers in the big store aided her, but it was of no avail. Freddie could not be found, and soon it was time to close up the establishment for the day. Almost frantic with fear, Mrs. Bobbsey telephoned to her husband, telling him of what had occurred and asked him what had best be done.