The Bobbsey Twins at Home/Chapter 21
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Chapter XXI: The Strange Man
|Chapter XXII: Happy Days→|
THE STRANGE MAN
The two Bobbsey twins stood in the snowstorm, looking at each other. Though they were both brave they were rather worried now, for they did not know which way to go to get home. If there had been no snow it would have been easy, but the white flakes were so thick that they could hardly see ten feet ahead of them.
"What are we going to do, Freddie?" Flossie asked.
"Well, I don't know," he answered. "I guess we'll just have to keep on walking until we come to a house, and then we can ask which way our home is. Maybe somebody in the house will take us home."
"But we can't see any houses. How can we ask?" said Flossie, and her voice was trembling.
Indeed, the storm was so thick that no houses were in sight. There might have been some near by, but the children could not see any.
Nor were any persons to be seen passing along the street. If there had been, one of them might easily have set the twins right. But the truth of it was that Flossie and Freddie had taken the wrong turn in coming out of Mrs. Todd's house, and instead of walking toward their home they had, in the confusion of the storm, walked right away from it. Every step they took put them farther and farther away from their own house.
And now, as they learned later, they were on the far edge of the city of Lakeport, beyond the dumps, on what was called the "meadows." In Summer this was a swamp, but with the ground frozen as it was it was safe to walk on it. But no houses were built on it, and there were only a few lonely paths across this meadow stretch.
In the Summer a few men cut a coarse kind of hay that grew on the meadows, but as hay-cutting is not done in Winter no one now had any reason for going to the meadows.
"Well, we mustn't stand still," said Flossie, after a bit.
"Why not?" asked Freddie. "Can't you stand still when you're tired?"
"Not in a snowstorm," Flossie went on with a shake of her head. "If you stand still or lie down you may go to sleep, and when you sleep in the snow you freeze to death. Don't you remember the story mother read to us?"
"Yes," answered Freddie. "But I don't feel sleepy now, so it's all right to stand still a minute while I think."
"What are you thinking about?" asked his sister.
"I'm trying to think which way to go. Do you know?"
Flossie looked all about her. It was snowing harder than ever. However, it was not very cold. Indeed, only that they were lost, the Bobbsey twins would have thought it great fun to be out in the storm.
They were well wrapped up, and they had on high rubbers, so they were not badly off except for being lost. That was not any fun, of course.
"Do you know where we are?" asked Freddie of his sister.
"No," she answered, "I don't. It doesn't look as if we were on any street at all. Look at the tall grass all around us."
Standing up through the snow was the tall meadow grass that had not been cut. Freddie looked at it.
"Oh, now I know where we are!" he cried. "We're down on the meadows. Bert brought me here once when he was looking for muskrats. He didn't get any, but I remember how tall the grass grew. Now I know where we are."
"All right, then you can take me home," Flossie said. "We're not lost if you know where we are."
"But I don't know which way our house is," Freddie went on, "and I can't see to tell with all these flakes coming down. I'll have to wait until it stops."
"S'posin' it doesn't stop all night?" asked Flossie.
"Oh, I guess it will," said Freddie. "Anyhow, we know where we are. Let's walk on
and maybe we'll get off the meadows and on to a street that leads to our house."
Flossie was glad to walk, as it was warmer than when standing still; and so she and Freddie went on. They did not know where they were going, and, as they found out afterward, they went farther and farther from their home and the city with every step.
"Oh, look!" suddenly cried Flossie.
"What is it?" asked her brother, stumbling over a little pile of snow as he hurried up beside his sister, who had gone on ahead of him. "Did you find the right path, Flossie? But then I don't believe you did. I don't believe anybody, not even Santa Claus himself, could find a path in this snow storm."
"Yes he could," insisted Flossie. "Santa Claus can do anything. He could come right down out of the sky now, in his reindeer sleigh, and take us home, if he wanted to."
"Well, then," said Freddie, shaking his head as a snowflake blew into his ear and melted there with a ticklish feeling, "I just wish he would come and take us home. I'm—I'm getting tired, Flossie."
"So'm I. But I did see something, Freddie," and the little girl pointed ahead through the drifting flakes. "It wasn't the path, though."
"What'd you see?" demanded Freddie, rubbing his eyes so he could see more clearly.
"That!" and Flossie pointed to a rounded mound of snow about half as high as her head. It was right in front of her and Freddie.
"Oh, it's a little snow house!" cried Freddie.
"That's what I thought it was," Flossie went on. "Some one must have been playing out here on the meadows, and made this little house. It's awful small, but maybe if we curl up and stick our legs under us, we can get inside out of the storm."
"Maybe we can!" cried Freddie. "Let's try."
The children walked around the pile of snow, looking for the hole, such as they always left when they built snow houses.
"The front door is closed," said Freddie. "I guess they shut it after them when they went away."
"Maybe they're inside now," remarked Flossie. "If we knocked maybe they would let us in. Only it will be awful crowded," and she sighed. She was very cold and tired, and was worried about being lost. It was no fun, and she would have been glad to go inside the little snow house, even though some one else were in it also.
"There's no place to knock," Freddie said, as he looked about on every side of the round pile of snow. "And there's no door-bell. The next time I make a snow house, Flossie, I'm going to put a front door-bell on it."
"That'll be nice," his sister said. "But, Freddie, never mind about the door-bell now. Let's get inside. I'm awful cold!"
"So'm I. And another snowflake just went into my ear. It makes me wiggle when it melts and runs down inside."
"I like to wiggle," Flossie said. "I'm going to open my ears real wide and maybe a snowflake will get in mine. Does it feel funny?"
"Terribly funny. But you can't open your ears any wider than they are now, Flossie. They're wide open all the while—not like your eyes that you can open and shut part way."
"Maybe I can open my ears wider," Flossie said. "I'm going to try, anyhow."
She stood still in the snow, wrinkling her forehead and making funny "snoots" as Freddie called them, trying to widen her ears. But she gave it up finally.
"I guess I can't get a snowflake to tickle me," she said with a sigh.
"You can have the next one that goes into my ear," offered Freddie. "But they melt so soon and run down so fast that I don't see how I am going to get them out."
"Never mind," said Flossie. "I can get a snowflake in my ear when I get home. Just now let's see if we can't get inside this little house. If the door is frozen shut, maybe you can find a stick and poke it open. Look for a stick, Freddie."
"All right, I will," and Freddie began kicking away at the snow around his feet, hoping to turn up a stick. This he soon did.
"I've found one!" he cried. "Now we can get in and away from the storm. I'll make a hole in the snow house!"
With the stick, which was a piece of flat board, Freddie began to toss and shovel aside the snow. The top part came off easily enough, for the flakes were light and fluffy. But underneath them there was a hard, frozen crust and this was not so easily broken and tossed aside. But finally Freddie had made quite a hole, and then he and Flossie saw something queer. For, instead of coming to the hollow inside of the snow house, the little boy and girl saw a mass of sticks, dried grass and dirt. Over this was the snow, and it was piled up round, like the queer houses the Eskimos make in the Arctic regions.
"Oh, look!" cried Flossie. "It isn't a snow house at all. It's just a pile of sticks."
"Maybe it's a stick house, with snow on the outside," Freddie said. "I'm going to dig a little deeper."
He did so, tossing aside the grass, sticks and dirt. Flossie was watching him, and suddenly the two children saw something moving down in the hole that Freddie had dug. Presently a furry nose was thrust out, and two bright, snapping eyes looked at them.
"Oh, see! What is it?" cried Flossie.
Freddie dropped his stick shovel, and stumbled back. Flossie went with him. The sharp, furry nose was thrust farther out, and then they could see that it was the head of some animal, looking at them from inside the snow-covered stick house.
"Some one lives there after all," whispered Flossie. "Is it a—a bear, Freddie? If it is, we'd better run."
"Bears don't live in houses like this," said her brother. "They sleep all winter in hollow logs."
"Well, what is it then?" Flossie questioned, "Will it come after us?"
But the little animal seemed satisfied to look out of the hole in its house to see who had done the mischief. Then it began pulling the sticks and grass back into place with its paws and jaws.
"Oh, I know what it is!" Freddie cried. "It's a muskrat. They live in these mounds on the meadows. Bert told me so. This one's house looked extra big because it was all covered with snow. There wouldn't be room for us inside there, Flossie."
"I'm glad of it," answered the little girl. "I wouldn't want to crawl in with a lot of rats."
"Muskrats are nice," Freddie said. "Bert told me so."
"Well, I don't like 'em!" declared Flossie. "Come on, Freddie. Let's get away from here. That muskrat might chase us for breaking in his house, though we didn't mean to do any harm. Come on, Freddie," and the two little ones went on once more.
The storm was growing worse, and it was getting dark now with the heavy clouds up above.
"Say, Freddie," said Flossie, after a bit, "I'm tired. Why don't we holler?"
"Holler?" asked Freddie, trying to turn his overcoat collar closer around his neck. "What do we want to holler for?"
"For help," answered Flossie. "Don't you know, in books and stories, every time people get lost they holler for help?"
"Oh, that's right," Freddie said. "I forgot about that. Well, we can holler."
The twins shouted as loudly as they could, but their voices were not very strong, and the wind was now blowing so hard that even if any one had been near at hand he could hardly have heard the little ones calling.
"Help! Help!" shouted Flossie and Freddie together several times.
They listened, but all they could hear was the howling of the wind and the swishing of the snowflakes.
"Well, let's walk on some more," said Freddie, after a bit. "No use standing here."
"And it isn't much use walking on," returned Flossie; and her voice trembled. "We don't know where we're going."
Still she followed as Freddie trudged on.
"You walk behind me, Flossie," he said, "and that will keep some of the wind off you."
"Thank you, Freddie," was Flossie's answer. "But I'd rather walk by the side of you. You—you can hold my hand better then."
Hand in hand the twins went on. The wind seemed to blow all ways at once, and always in the faces of the tots. All at once, as Freddie made a stop to get his breath, he gave a shout.
"What's the matter?" asked Flossie. "Do you see something?"
"Yes, I guess it's a house," Freddie answered. "Look!"
He pointed to something that loomed up black in the midst of the cloud of snowflakes.
"I guess we'll be all right now," Flossie said. "We'll go in there and ask our way home."
But when they reached the black object they found that it was only an old shed which had been used to store some meadow hay. The door of the shed was shut, but Freddie tried to open it.
"We can go in there to get warm," he said, "if I can open it."
"I'll help you," said Flossie.
The two were struggling with the latch of the door when they saw some black object coming toward them out of the storm.
"Oh, maybe it's a cow," said Flossie.
"It's a man," cried Freddie, and so it proved. A tall, nice-looking man, his black beard white with snow, walked toward the children.
"Well, well!" he cried. "What does this mean? Such little tots out in this storm!"
"We're lost!" said Flossie.
The strange man laughed.
"Lost? So am I!" he cried. "It isn't the first time, either. I've been lost a whole lot worse than this. Now, as we're lost together, we'll see if we can't get found together. Here, we'll go in out of the storm a minute and you can tell me about yourselves."
With one pull of his strong arms he opened the shed door and went inside with Flossie and Freddie.