Bunny Brown and His Sister Sue at Camp Rest-a-While/Chapter 12
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THE CROSS MAN
"Come on! Come on!" whispered Tom to Bunny and Sue, as he led them still deeper back in among the bushes. "Don't let him hear you! Come on, and we'll hide!"
"Who is it? What's the matter?" Bunny wanted to know.
"Hush!" whispered Tom. "It's that man! He's after me, I guess. I'll tell you about it when we get away. He's coming! Hurry!"
Certainly someone, or something, was coming along the path from which Tom and the two children had just stepped to go in among the bushes. Tom was in such a hurry that he pulled Bunny and Sue along with him harder than he meant to. Finally Bunny said:
"Oh, Tom, I'm spilling the milk!"
Bunny was carrying the pail of milk they had bought at the farmhouse, and, though the pail had a cover on it, some of the milk had splashed out, and was running down Bunny's stocking.
"Set the pail down here, and we'll get it when we come back—after that man goes," Tom said, in a whisper.
Bunny put the pail down on the ground, near a big stone, so he would know where to look for it again. Then, to hide, they all squeezed as far back in the bushes as they could, and waited.
"Is he coming after us?" asked Sue in a whisper.
"No, I guess he's only after me," answered Tom. "He won't touch you or Bunny."
"Is it a Gypsy man?" Bunny wanted to know.
"No, he isn't a Gypsy," replied Tom. "He's just a cross, bad man; and I don't want him to see me. Keep your heads down."
Bunny and Sue did so. Like frightened rabbits they crouched among the bushes. Tom kept hold of their hands, and though the children knew that Tom was afraid, for he had said so, still Bunny and Sue were not very much frightened, as long as the man was not a Gypsy and did not want them.
"There! He's gone past!" exclaimed Tom, as he stood up to look over the tops of the bushes. "He's gone, and we can come out. He didn't see us—he won't get me this time."
"But who was he?" Bunny wanted to know. Tom, however, did not seem to hear him. Still holding Bunny and Sue by the hand, Tom led them back to the path. Bunny picked up the pail of milk.
"I'll carry it for you," Tom said. "We've got to hurry back to camp."
"Why?" asked Sue. "I can't hurry very much, for my legs hurt."
"I'll carry you," said Tom, "if Bunny will take the milk pail."
"Yes, I'll do that," said the little boy.
Once more he took the pail, while Tom hoisted Sue up onto his shoulder.
"Give me a piggy-back!" Sue begged, so Tom carried her pickaback, while Sue held tightly to her doll. Tom marched ahead along the path, and soon they were safely at the tent. Before Tom could say anything, Bunny and Sue, seeing their father and mother, called out:
"Oh, Tom saw a man, and we hid!"
Mr. and Mrs. Brown did not know what this meant.
"What sort of man was he?" asked Mrs. Brown quickly.
"He wasn't a Gypsy man," Bunny said.
"But he was after Tom, only he didn't see us," added Sue. "And I had a piggy-back ride home, and some milk got spilled on Bunny's stocking, but not mwch, and I'm hungry!"
Sue believed in telling everything at once, to have it over with.
"What is it all about?" asked Mr. Brown of Tom. "Did you and the children really hide from a man?"
"What man was it? I hope there aren't any tramps in these woods."
"Oh, no, he wasn't a tramp. He was the farmer I told you about—the one I worked for, and from whom I ran away. I guess he was looking for me," Tom answered.
"Hum,'^ said Mr. Brown. "Well, I suppose we'll have to wait and see what he wants. Was he coming this way?"
"No, he seemed to be wandering through the woods, as if he didn't know where to go."
"Oh, well, maybe he won't find you," said Mrs. Brown.
"I hope he doesn't," returned Tom, looking over his shoulder.
No strange man came to camp that night, and Bunny and Sue soon forgot all about the little fright Tom had had. But two days later, just as dinner was finished, there came a man rowing in a boat to the little wooden camp-dock Bunker Blue had built out into the lake.
Out of the boat climbed a man with black whiskers. He had on big, heavy boots, and in one hand he carried a whip. He walked up the path from the lake, and when he saw Mr. Brown and his family at the table, under the tent, which was wide open, the man stood still.
"Camp Rest-a-While, eh?" he said in rather a rough voice, as he read the sign. "Well, maybe this is the place I'm looking for. Have you seen a boy—a ragged boy—about fifteen years old in these woods?" he asked.
Before Mr. Brown could answer, Tom Vine, who had gone to the spring for a pail of water, came back. At the sight of the man Tom dropped the pail, spilling the water. At the same time the "ragged boy" cried out:
"There he is! There's the man! He's after me! Oh, please don't let him take me away!"
Tom turned to run back into the woods, but Mr. Brown called to him:
"Stay right where you are, Tom! This man won't hurt you. Stay where you are."
Though he was much frightened, Tom stood still.
"Now then, what do you want?" asked Mr. Brown of the man with the whip.
"I want that boy!" answered the man, pointing the whip at poor Tom. "I hired him to work for me, but he ran away. I want him back, and I'm going to have him!"
And oh, what a rough, cross voice the man had! He wasn't at all nice, Bunny and Sue thought.
"I've been looking for that boy, and now I've found him. I want to take him back with me," the cross man went on. "I was hunting all through these woods for him, and yesterday I heard that a boy like him was in a camp over here. So I came for to find out about it, and I've found him!"
"Is that the man you saw in the woods, when we went after milk the other day, Tom?" asked Bunny in a whisper.
"Yes," nodded Tom.
"Well, if this boy doesn't want to go with you I'm not going to make him," said Mr. Brown. "He came to us, and said you had not treated him well. I'll not send him back to you. Are you the farmer who hired him?"
"Yes, I'm that farmer," said the man, scowling. "Jake Trimble is my name, and when I want a thing I get it! I want that boy!"
"Oh, please don't make me go back to work for him!" begged Tom. "He beat me, and he didn't give me enough to eat!"
"Don't be, afraid," said Mr. Brown. "He shan't have you!"
"I say I will!" cried the cross man. "That boy hired out to work for me, and I want him!"
"You can't have him," said Mr. Brown quietly. "And I want you to go away from here. This is my camp, and it is a private one. Go. You can't have this boy."
"But he ran away from me!" said the cross man.
"Perhaps he did. He said he could not stand the way you treated him. Any boy would have run away," replied Mr. Brown. "I'm looking after this boy now, and I say you can't have him."
"Well, I'll get him, somehow, you see if I don't!" cried the cross man, as he turned to go back to his boat. And he shook his whip at Tom. "I'll get you yet!" he said. "And when I do I'll make you work twice as hard. You'll see!"
"Don't be afraid, Tom," said Mr. Brown, when the unkind man was gone. "I won't let him hurt you."
Tom picked up the overturned pail, and went again to the spring for water. When he came back he said:
"That was the farmer I met in the city. He took me out to his place, and was very mean to me. I just had to run away. I didn't think he'd try to find me. But I knew he must be looking for me when we saw him in the woods that day. I hid away from him then, but now he knows where I am."
"Don't you care," said Sue. "My daddy won't let him hurt you; will you. Daddy?" and she put her arms around her father's neck.
"We'll take care of Tom," said Mr. Brown, "I guess that man won't come back."