Bunny Brown and His Sister Sue at Camp Rest-a-While/Chapter 9

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CHAPTER IX


TOM HEARS A NOISE


Bunny Brown and his sister Sue, with their father, mother, Uncle Tad and Bunker Blue, hurried on toward the tent under which was set the dining table. They could see where the ragged boy had made a meal for himself, taking the bread and meat from the ice box. For a refrigerator had been brought to camp, and the iceman came on a boat, once a day, to leave ice.

"Who is he?" asked Bunny Brown, looking toward the bushes behind which the strange boy had run.

"What did he want?" Sue asked.

"I can answer you. Sue, but I can't answer Bunny," said Mr. Brown. "That boy was hungry, and wanted something to eat, but who he is I don't know."

"Poor little chap," said Mrs. Brown in a kind voice. "He didn't need to run away just because he wanted something to eat. I would be glad to give him all he wanted. I wouldn't see anyone go hungry."

"He looked like a tramp," said Bunker.

"But he was only a boy," remarked Uncle Tad.

"I wish he hadn't run away," said Mother Brown. "I don't believe he got half enough to eat. He took only a little." She could tell that by looking in the ice box.

By this time Splash, the big dog, who had not come up with the others, now rushed into camp. He sniffed around, and then, all of a sudden, he made a dash for a clump of bushes, and, standing in front of it began barking loudly.

"Oh, maybe the bear's come back and is hiding in there!" cried Bunny.

"More likely it's that ragged boy," said Uncle Tad. "That's where he made a rush for as soon as we came up."

Splash seemed about to go into the bushes himself, and drive, or drag, out whatever was hiding there.

But Mr. Brown called:

"Here, Splash! Come here, sir!"

The dog came back and then Bunny's father, going over to the bushes, looked down among them.

"You'd better come out," he said, to someone. The children could not see who it was. "Come on out," said Mr. Brown, "we won't hurt you."

Out of the bushes came the ragged boy. In his hand he still had some of the bread and meat he had taken from the ice box.

Bunny and Sue looked at him.

The boy's clothes were very ragged, but they seemed to be clean. He had on no shoes or stockings, but one foot was wrapped up in a rag, as though he had cut himself. He limped a little, too, as he came forward.

"I—I couldn't run very fast with my sore foot, or I'd a' got away from you," he said slowly.

"But why should you want to get away?" asked Mr. Brown.

"Well, I took some of your stuff—I was hungry and I went through the ice box—and I s'posed you'd be looking for a policeman to have me arrested. That's why I ran. But I couldn't go very far, so I hid in the bushes. I thought I could get away when you weren't looking. Here's your stuff," and he held out to Mrs. Brown what was left of the bread and meat. Bunny and Sue thought the ragged boy looked hungrily at the food as he offered to give it back.

"You poor boy!" said Mrs. Brown, "I don't want it! You're welcome to that and more, if you need it. You must be hungry!"

"I am, lady. I haven't had anything since morning. I started to go back to the city, but it's farther than I thought, and I lost my way. When I struck this camp, I saw the sign—'Rest-a-While,' so I sat down to rest. Then I saw the ice box, and I was hungry, and—and I—well, I just helped myself."

His face was sunburned, so it could not be told whether he was blushing or not, but he hung his head as if ashamed of what he had done. He still held out the meat to Mrs. Brown.

Splash, who, now that he knew the boy was a friend of the family, did not bark any more, slid gently up, and began nibbling at the meat and bread in the boy's hand.

"Oh, look at Splash!" laughed Sue.

"Here, Splash! That isn't for you!" cried Mr. Brown. "But you might as well give it to him now, now that he's had his tongue on it," said Mr. Brown to the ragged boy. "We'll give you some more."

"Yes, sit right up to the table," said Mrs. Brown. "I'll get you a good meal."

The boy's eyes filled with tears, and he turned his head away so they would not be seen.

"Where did you come from?" asked Daddy Brown, as Mrs. Brown was setting out some food.

"I come from Benton," the boy answered, naming a city about twenty miles away. "I've lived there all my life until about a week ago, and I wish I was back there now."

"How did you come to leave?"

"Well, all my folks died, and I couldn't make much of a living selling papers, running errands and blacking shoes, so when a farmer down in the city market, said he wanted a boy on his farm, I said I'd come and work for him.

"I rode out on his wagon, after he had sold all his stuff one day, and I came to a place called Fayetteville."

"Yes, I know where that is," said Mr. Brown. "It's on the other side of the lake."

"I went to work for the farmer," said the ragged boy, who gave his name as Tom Vine, "but it was worse than being in the city. I never had a minute's rest and I didn't get enough to eat. I wasn't used to working out in the hot sun, and my legs and arms seemed as if they'd burn off me."

"Yes, I can see you're pretty well burned," said Mr. Brown. "Then you ran away?"

"Yes, sir. I couldn't stand it any longer. The farmer and his hired man used to whip me if I made a mistake, or if I didn't get up early enough. And they used to get up before daylight. So I made up my mind to run away, and go back to the city.

"I used to think the country was nice," the ragged boy went on, "but I don't any more. I don't mind working, but I don't want to be starved and whipped all the while. So I ran off, but I guess I got lost, for I can't find the way back to the city. I don't know what to do. When I got here, and saw that sign about resting, I thought that was what I needed. So I came in."

"And I'm glad you did," said Mrs. Brown. "Now you eat this and you'll feel better. Then I'll look at your sore foot, and we'll see what to do with you."

"You—you won't have me arrested; will you?" asked the boy.

"No, indeed!" said Mr. Brown.

"And you—you won't send me back to that farmer?"

"No, I think not. He has no right to make you work for him if you don't want to. Don't be afraid," said Bunny's father. "We'll look after you."

A little later the ragged boy had eaten a good meal. Then he was given some of Bunker Blue's old clothes, for he was almost as large as the red-haired boy, and the old clothes were thrown away.

Mr. Brown looked at the boy's sore foot, and found that there was a big sharp thorn in one toe. When this thorn had been taken out, and the toe bound up with salve, the ragged boy said he felt much better. Perhaps I shouldn't call him a ragged boy any longer, for he was not, with Bunker's clothes on.

"Mother, is he going to stay with us?" asked Bunny that evening when it was nearly supper time, and the new boy—Tom Vine —had gone after a pail of water at the spring.

"Would you care to have him stay?" asked Mrs. Brown.

"Yes," said Sue. "He's nice. I like him."

"Well, we'll keep him for a while," answered Mrs. Brown. "He needs help, I think."

Tom Vine told more of his story after supper. He had never been away from the city's pavements in all his life before he went out to the country with the farmer who hired him. He had never seen the ocean, or the woods. He did not even know that cows gave milk until he saw the farmer's hired man milking one day.

"I just don't know anything about the woods or the country," the boy said to Bunny and Sue, "so you can fool me all you like."

"Oh, we won't fool you," said Bunny kindly. "We'll tell you all we know."

"Thanks," said Tom Vine.

He had offered to travel on, after supper, and try to get back to the city.

"I don't want to be a trouble to you folks," he said to Mrs. Brown. "In the city I know some fellows, and they'll lend me money enough to buy some papers, and start in business."

"You had better stay with us awhile," said Mrs. Brown. "We have enough room for you, and you can help about camp."

"I can wash and dry dishes!" cried Tom eagerly. "I worked in a restaurant for a week once, and I know how to handle dishes."

"Then we can give you plenty of work," said Mrs. Brown with a laugh. "For if there is one thing, in camp or at home, that I don't like it is washing dishes."

"I'll do them for you!" cried Tom, "and I'll be glad of the chance, too!"

"All right then. You'll be the head dishwasher of Camp Rest-a-While," said Mr. Brown, smiling.

And that is how Tom Vine came to stay with the Browns while they lived in the woods near Lake Wanda.

Tom, indeed, knew very little about the country. As he said, he had never been away from the city pavements, winter or summer, in all his life before. The first night in camp, when he was sleeping next to Bunker Blue, in a little part of the tent that had been curtained off for them, Tom awakened Bunker, by reaching over and punching him in the ribs.

"Hey, listen to that!" cried Tom.

"To what?" asked Bunker, only half awake.

"Somebody is outside the tent, calling: 'Who? Who? Who?'" said Tom. "I didn't do anything, did you? What do they holler 'who' for?"

Bunker listened. Surely enough he heard very plainly:

"Who? Who? Too-who?"

"Hear it?" asked Tom.

"Yes, it's only an owl," Bunker answered, "There's lots of 'em in these woods."

"What's an owl?" Tom wanted to know.

"Oh, it's a bird with big eyes, and it can only see at night. It comes out to get mice and bugs. Owls won't hurt you. Go on to sleep."

Tom did not go to sleep at once. But he was no longer afraid of the owl.

Tom was just going to sleep once more, when he heard another funny noise. This time he was sure some one said:

"Katy did! Katy did! Katy did!"

Tom sat up in his cot. He reached over to punch Bunker, to ask him what this was, when all at once, another voice cried:

"Katy didn't! Katy didn't! Katy didn't!"

"Listen to that, now, would you!" exclaimed Tom. "Bunker! Bunker Blue! Wake up! There's two people outside, and one says Katy did it, and the other says she didn't—who's right?"