"Why, Dinah! What is the matter?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey, seeing that something was wrong. "Have you lost some more sandwiches?"
"No'm, it ain't sandwiches dish yeah time," Dinah answered. "But I done heard a funny noise jest now down near mah kitchen."
"A funny noise?" repeated Mr. Bobbsey. "What was it like?"
"Jes like some one cryin'," Dinah answered. "I thought mebby one ob de chilluns done got locked in de pantry, but I opened de do', an' dey wasn't anybody dere. 'Sides, all de chilluns is up heah. But I shuah did heah a funny noise ob somebody cryin'!"
Mrs. Bobbsey looked at her husband and said:
"You'd better go see what it is, Richard."
SNAP'S QUEER ACTIONS
The Bobbsey twins looked at one another. Then they glanced at their cousins, Harry and Dorothy. Next the eyes of all the children were turned on fat Dinah.
"Was—was it a baby crying?" Freddie wanted to know.
"Yes, honey lamb—it done did sound laik a baby—only a big baby," explained the colored cook.
"Maybe it was one of Flossie's dolls," the little "fat fireman" went on.
"Flossie's dolls can't cry!" exclaimed Nan. "Not even the one that says 'mama,' when you punch it in the back. That can't cry, because it's broken."
"Well, Flossie says her dolls cry, sometimes," said Freddie, "and I thought maybe It was one of them now."
"It was Snoop, our cat," said Bert, with a laugh. "That's what you heard, Dinah, Snoop crying for something to eat. Maybe she's shut up in a closet."
"Probably that's what it was, Dinah," said Mrs. Bobbsey.
"I'll go let her out," said Mr. Bobbsey, starting toward the lower part of the houseboat.
"'Scuse me, Mr. Bobbsey," said Dinah firmly, "but dey ain't no use yo' going t' let out no cat Snoop."
"Why not, Dinah?"
"Because it wasn't any cat dat I done heah. It was a human bein' dat I heard cryin', dat's what it was, an' I know who it was, too," the colored woman insisted.
"Who, Dinah?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.
"It was de same ghostest dat done took mah cakes an' sandwiches, dat's who it was. I'se mighty sorry t' leab yo', Mrs. Bobbsey, but I guess I'll done be goin' now."
"What, Dinah!" cried her mistress. "Going? Where?"
"Offen dish yeah boat, Mrs. Bobbsey. I cain't stay heah any mo' wif a lot of ghostests."
"Nonsense, Dinah!" exclaimed Mr. Bobbsey. "There isn't any such thing as a ghost, and you know it! It's silly to even talk about such a thing. Now you just come with me, and show me where you heard those noises."
"No, sah, I cain't do it, Mr. Bobbsey," the colored cook exclaimed, moving backward.
"Why not?" Mr. Bobbsey wanted to know.
"'Cause it's bad luck, dat's why. I ain't goin' neah no ghostest—-"
"Don't say that again, Dinah!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey sharply, with a glance at the children.
"Oh, we're not afraid, mother!" chimed in Bert. "We know there's no such thing as a ghost."
"That's right," spoke his father. "But, Dinah, I must get this matter settled. It won't do for you to be frightened all the while. You must come and show me where you heard the noise."
"Has I got to do it, Mrs. Bobbsey?" asked Dinah.
"Yes, I think you had better."
"Well, den, I heard de noise right down in de passageway dat goes from de kitchen to de dinin' room. Dat's where it was. A noise laik somebody cryin' an' weepin'."
"And are you sure it wasn't Snoop, Dinah?"
"Shuah, Mr. Bobbsey. 'Cause why? 'Cause heah's Snoop now, right ober by Miss Dorothy."
This was very true. The little seashore Cousin had been playing with the black cat.
"Snap howls sometimes," said Freddie, who seemed to be trying to find some explanation of the queer noise. "Lots of times he used to howl under my window, and I'd think it was some boy, but it was only Snap. He used to like to howl at the moon."
"Dat's right, so he does, honey lamb," Dinah admitted. "But dere ain't no moon now, an' Snap's eatin' a bone. He don't never howl when he's eatin' a bone, I'se sartain ob dat."
"Oh, well, if it wasn't the dog or cat, it was some other noise that can easily be found," said Mr. Bobbsey. "I'll go have a look."
"I'm coming, too," said Nan.
"And so am I!" exclaimed Bert.
Harry and Dorothy looked at each other a moment, and then Dorothy said, rather unhesitatingly:
"I'm not afraid!"
"I should say not!" cried Mrs. Bobbsey. "What is there to be afraid of, just in a noise?"
"Let's all go!" suggested Harry.
"Good!" cried Mr. Bobbsey, for he wanted his children not to give way to foolish fears. They were not "afraid of the dark," as some children are, and from the time when they were little tots, their parents had tried to teach them that most things, such as children fear, are really nothing but things they think they see, or hear.
"Aren't you coming, Dinah?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey, as they all started for the lower part of the houseboat.
"No'm, I'll jest stay up heah an'—an' git a breff ob fresh air," said the colored cook.
"Come on, children," called Mr. Bobbsey, with a laugh. "We'll very soon find out what it was."
They went down off the deck, to the passageway between the kitchen and dining-room. This place was like a long, narrow hall, and on one side of it were closets, or "lockers," as they are called on ships. They were places where different articles could be stored away. Just now, the lockers were filled with odds and ends—bits of canvass that were sometimes used as sails, or awnings, old boxes, barrels and the like. Mr. Bobbsey opened the lockers and looked in.
"There isn't a thing here that could make a crying noise, unless it was a little mouse," he said, "and they are so little, I can't see them. I guess Dinah must have imagined it."
"Let's listen and see if we can hear it," suggested Mrs. Bobbsey.
All of them, including the children, kept very quiet. Snap, the trick dog, was still gnawing his bone in the kitchen. They could hear him banging it on the floor as he tried to get from it the last shreds of meat. Snoop, the black cat, was up on deck in the sun.
"I don't hear a thing," said Mrs. Bobbsey.
Indeed it was very quiet.
"Hark!" suddenly called Nan. "Isn't that a noise?"
They all listened sharply, and then they did hear a faint sort of crying, or whining, noise.
"Oh!" exclaimed Freddie. "It's a—-"
"It's the boat pulling on one of the anchor ropes," said Mr. Bobbsey, for the Bluebird was anchored out in the lake by two anchors and ropes, one at each end. "The wind blows the boat a little," the children's father explained, "and that makes it pull on the ropes, which creak on the wooden posts with a crying noise."
"I know!" exclaimed Flossie. "Just like our swing rope creaks, when it's going slow."
"Exactly," said her mother. Mrs. Bobbsey was glad that the little girl could think out an explanation for herself that way.
"There it goes again!" suddenly exclaimed Bert.
They all heard the funny noise. There was no doubt but that it was the creaking of the rope by which the boat was tied.
"Here, Dinah!" called Mr. Bobbsey, with a laugh. "Come down here. We've found your ghost."
"I doan't want to see it!" exclaimed the colored cook, "Jest toss it overbo'd!"
"It's nothing but a noise made by a creaking rope," said Nan. "And you can't throw that overboard."
"All right, honey lamb. Yo' can call it a rope-noise ef yo' all laiks," said Dinah, when finally she had been induced to come down. "But I knows it wasn't. It was some real pusson cryin', dat's what it was."
"But you said it was a ghost, Dinah!" laughed Bert, "and a ghost is never a real person, you know. Oh, Dinah!"
"Oh, go long wif yo', honey lamb!" exclaimed the fat cook. "I ain't got no time t' bodder wif you'. I'se got t' set mah bread t' bake t'morrow. An' dere's some corn cakes, ef yo' ma will let yo' hab 'em."
"I guess she will," said Bert, with a laugh. "Some cakes and then bed."
They all thought the "ghost" scare was over, but Mr. Bobbsey noticed that when Dinah went through the passage between the kitchen and dining-room, she hurried as fast as her feet would take her, and she glanced from side to side, as though afraid of seeing something.
Every one slept soundly that sight, except perhaps Dinah, but if anything disturbed her, she said nothing about it, when she got up to get breakfast. It was a fine, sunny day, and a little later the Bluebird was moving across the lake, the motor turning the propeller, which churned the blue water into foam.
Mr. Bobbsey steered the boat to various places of interest on the lake. There were several little islands that were to be visited, and on one of the tiniest, they went ashore to eat their lunch.
"Let's play we're shipwrecked," suggested Freddie, who was always anxious to "pretend" something or other.
"All right," agreed Flossie. "You'll be Robinson Crusoe, and I'll be your man Thursday."
"Friday—not Thursday," corrected Freddie, for his father had read to him part of Robinson's adventures.
The little twins were allowed to take some of their lunch, and go off to one side of the island, there to play at being shipwrecked. Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey sat in the shade and talked, while Nan, Dorothy, Bert and Harry went off on a little "exploring expedition," as Bert called it. Bert was making a collection of stones and minerals that year, and he wanted to see what new specimens he could find.
Suddenly the peacefulness of the little island was broken by a cry of:
"Oh, Mamma! Papa! Come quick! Freddie's in the cave, and can't get out. Oh, hurry!"
"That's Flossie's voice!" cried Mrs. Bobbsey, in alarm.
Mr. Bobbsey did not say anything. He just ran, and soon he came to the place where Flossie and Freddie had gone to play shipwreck. He saw Flossie jumping up and down in front of a little hill.
"Where's Freddie?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.
"In there," Flossie answered, pointing to the pile of dirt that looked to have been freshly dug. "We made a cave in the side of the and Freddie went in to hide, but he dirt slid down on him and he—he's there yet!"
"Gracious!" cried Mr. Bobbsey. "It's a good thing we're here!"
With a piece of board he soon scattered the dirt until he came to Freddie's head. Fortunately the little fellow was covered with only a few inches of the soil, and as a piece of brush had fallen over his face, he had had no trouble in breathing. He was rather badly frightened, however, when he was dug out, little the worse, otherwise, for his adventure.
"What did you do it for?" asked his father, when he and his mother had brushed the dirt from the little chap, while the other children gathered around to look on.
"I—I was making a cave, same as Robinson Crusoe did," Freddie explained. "I dug it with a board in the sand, and I went in—I mean, I went in the cave, and it—it came down—all of a sudden."
"Well, don't do it again," cautioned his mother. "You might have been badly hurt."
They finished their visit on the island, and went back on board the Bluebird again. Snap, who always went with them on these little excursions, bounded on deck, and then made a rush for the kitchen, for he was hungry, and he knew Dinah generally had a bone, or something nice for him.
Mr. Bobbsey, who was following close behind Snap, was surprised to see the dog come to a sudden stop in the passageway between the kitchen and dining-room. Snap growled, and showed his teeth, as he did when some savage dog, or other enemy, was near at hand.
"What's the matter, old fellow?" asked Mr. Bobbsey. "Do you see something?"
Snap turned and looked at Mr. Bobbsey. Then the dog looked at one of the locker doors, and, with a loud bark, sprang toward it, as though he would go through the panels.
AT THE WATERFALL
"What's the matter?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey, who had followed her husband into the passageway. "Snap and Snoop aren't quarreling, are they?"
"Indeed, no," answered Mr. Bobbsey. "But Snap is acting very strangely. I don't know what to make of him."
By this time Mrs. Bobbsey had come up, where she could see the dog. Snap was still standing in front of the door, growling, whining, and, now and then, uttering a low bark.
"What's the matter with him?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey. "Is he hungry?"
"Well, I guess he's always more or less hungry," her husband said, "but that isn't the matter with him now. I think perhaps he imagines he sees Dinah's ghost!" and he laughed.
"Snap, come here!" called Mrs. Bobbsey, and, though the dog usually minded her, this time he did not obey. He only stood near the door, growling.
"Why don't you open it, and let him see what's in there," said Bert. "Maybe it's only some of those mice that made the noise," he went on.
"Perhaps it is," his father answered. "I'll let Snap have a chance at them."
As Mr. Bobbsey stepped up to turn the knob of the "locker," or closet door, there was a noise inside, as though something had been knocked down off a shelf. Snap barked loudly and made a spring, to be ready to jump inside the closet as soon as it was opened.
"What's that?" cried Mrs. Bobbsey, while Flossie and Freddie, a little alarmed, clung together and moved nearer to their mother.
"There's something inside there, that's sure," declared Mr. Bobbsey. "It must be a big rat!"
"Mercy!" cried Mrs. Bobbsey. "A rat!"
"I'll have to set a trap," Mr. Bobbsey went on. "That rat has probably been taking the things to eat that Dinah missed—the corn-cakes and the sandwiches."
"That's right!" cried Bert. "That ends the mystery. Go for him, Snap!"
"Bow wow!" barked the dog, only too willing to get in the closet and shake the rat.
But, when Mr. Bobbsey opened the door, no rat ran out, not even a little mouse. Snap was ready for one, had there been any; but though he pawed around on the floor, and nosed behind the boxes and barrels, he caught nothing.
"Where is it?" asked Flossie.
"I want to see the rat!" cried Freddie. Neither of the smaller twins was afraid of animals. Of course, they did not know that rats can sometimes bite very fiercely, or they might not have been nearly so anxious to see one.
"I guess the rat got away," said Mr. Bobbsey, as he watched Snap pawing around in the locker, even pushing aside boxes with his nose.
"Hab yo' cotched de ghost?" asked Dinah, looking out from her kitchen.
"Not yet—but almost," said Mr. Bobbsey. "I must clean out this closet, and find the rat-hole. Then I'll set the trap. Come away Snap. You missed him that time."
The dog was not so sure of this. He stayed near the closet, while Mr. Bobbsey set out the boxes and barrels, but no rat was to be seen, nor even a mouse. And, the odd part of it was that, when everything was out of the locker, there was no hole to be seen, through which any of the gnawing animals might have slipped.
"That's funny," said the twins' father, as he peered about. "I don't see how that rat got in here, or got out again."
"Perhaps it wasn't a rat," suggested Mrs. Bobbsey.
"What was it, then, that made the noise?" asked her husband.
"I don't know," she answered. "Something might have bumped against the boat outside."
"Yes, that's so," admitted Mr. Bobbsey. "But Snap wouldn't act that way just on account of a noise."
The boxes and barrels were put back into the closet, but even that did not seem to satisfy Snap. He remained near the locker for some time, now and then growling and showing his teeth. Mr. Bobbsey looked in some of the other, and smaller, lockers, but all he found was a tiny hole, hardly big enough for a mouse.
"Perhaps it was a mouse," he said. "Anyhow, I'll set a trap there. Dinah, toast me a bit of cheese."
"Cheese, Massa Bobbsey!" exclaimed the colored cook. "Yo' knows yo' cain't eat cheese. Ebery time yo' does, yo' gits de insispepsia suffin terrible—specially toasted cheese."
"I don't intend to eat it!" answered the twins' father, with a laugh. "I'm going to bait a trap with cheese to catch the mice. I don't care whether they get the indigestion or not."
"Oh! Dat's diffunt," said Dinah. "I'll toast yo' some."
The trap was set, but for two or three days, though it was often looked at, no mice were caught. Meanwhile, several times, Dinah said she missed food from her kitchen. It was only little things, though, and the Bobbseys paid small attention to her, for Dinah was often forgetful, and might have been mistaken.
"I really think we have some rats aboard," said Mr. Bobbsey. "There are some on nearly every boat. I have heard noises in the night that could be made only by rats."
"And Snap still acts queerly, whenever he passes that locker," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "I'm not so sure it is a rat that made that noise, Richard."
"No?" her husband asked. "What was it, then?"
But Mrs. Bobbsey either could not, or would not, say.
"I say, Harry," said Bert to his country cousin one day, when the Bluebird had come to anchor some distance down the lake, "let's try to get to the bottom of this mystery."
"Why, the one about the noise, and the sandwiches and cakes being taken, and Snap acting so funny. I'm sure there's a mystery on this boat, and we ought to find out what it is."
"I'm with you!" exclaimed Harry. "What shall we do?"
"Let's sit up some night and watch that closet," said Bert. "We can easily do it."
"Will your folks let us?"
"We won't ask them. Oh, I wouldn't do anything I knew they didn't want me to do without asking," Bert said quickly, as he saw his cousin's startled glance.
"But there's no harm in this," Bert went on. "We'll go to bed early some night, and, when all the rest of them are asleep, we'll get up and stand watch all night. You can watch part of the time, and when you get sleepy I'll take my turn. Then we can see whether anything is hiding in that closet."
"Do you think there is?" asked Harry.
"I'm sure I don't know what to think," Bert answered. "Only it's a mystery, and we ought to find out what it is."
"I'm with you," said Harry again.
"Are you talking secrets?" asked Nan, suddenly coming up just then.
"Sort of," admitted her brother, laughing.
"Oh, tell me—do!" she begged.
"No, Nan. Not now," said Bert. "This is only for us boys."
Nan tried to find out the secret, but they would not tell her.
Two days later, during which the Bluebird cruised about on the lake, Bert said to Harry, after supper:
"We'll watch to-night, and find out what's, in that closet. Snap barked and growled every time to-day, that he passed it. I'm sure something's there."
"It does seem so," admitted Harry.
Mr. Bobbsey was steering the boat toward shore, intending to come to anchor for the night, when Flossie, who was standing up in front cried:
"Oh, look! Here's the waterfall! Oh, isn't it beautiful!"
Just before them, as they turned around a bend in the bank, was a cataract of white water, tumbling down into the lake over a precipice of black rocks—a most beautiful sight.
WHAT BERT SAW
The waterfall of Lake Romano was still some little distance off, and, as the wind was blowing toward it, only a faint roar of the falling water came to the ears of the Bobbsey twins, and the others on the houseboat.
"Oh, papa!" exclaimed Nan. "May we go close up and see the cataract?"
"Yes," said Mr. Bobbsey. "I intended to give you a good view of the waterfall. We shall spend a day or so here, as it is a great curiosity. There is one place where you can walk right behind the falls."
"Behind it!" cried Harry. "I don't understand how that can be, uncle."
"You'll see to-morrow, when we visit them," said the twins' father. "And there are some oddly-marked stones to be picked up, too, Bert. They will do for your collection."
"Fine!" Bert exclaimed. "Say, this has been a dandy trip all right!"
"It isn't ended yet, is it, Dorothy?" asked Nan.
"No, indeed," replied the seashore cousin, with a smile.
"And we haven't solved the mystery," said Bert in a low voice to Harry. "But we will to-night, all right."
"We sure will," agreed the boy from the country.
The Bobbsey twins stayed up rather later that night than usual. Mr. Bobbsey did not find a good anchorage for the boat for some time, as he wanted to get in a safe place. It looked as though there might be a storm before morning, and he did not want to drift away again. Then, too, he wanted to get nearer to the waterfall, so they could reach it early the next morning and look at it more closely.
So the motor was kept in action by Captain White until after supper, and finally the Bluebird came to rest not far from the waterfall. Then Bert and Nan, with Dorothy and Harry were so interested in listening to Mr. Bobbsey tell stories about waterfalls, and what caused them, that the older twins and their cousins did not get to bed until nearly ten o'clock, whereas nine was the usual hour.
Of course Flossie and Freddie "turned in," as sailors say, about eight o'clock, for their little eyes would not stay open any longer.
"We'll wake up as soon as my father and mother are asleep," said Bert to Harry, as they went to their rooms, which were adjoining ones. "Then we'll take turns watching that closet."
"Sure," agreed Harry. "Whoever wakes up first, will call the other."
To this Bert agreed, but the truth of it was that neither of them awakened until morning. Whether it was that they were too tired, or slept later than usual, they could not tell. But it was broad daylight, when they sat up in their beds, or "bunks," as beds are called on ships.
"I thought you were going to call me," said Bert to his cousin.
"And I thought you were going to call ME," laughed the boy from the country.
Then they both laughed, for it was a good joke on each of them.
"Never mind," spoke Bert, as he got up and dressed. "We'll try it again to-night."
"Try what?" asked Nan from the next room, for she could hear her brother speak. "If you boys try to play any tricks on us girls—-"
"Don't worry," broke in Harry. "The secret isn't about you."
"I think you're real mean not to tell us!" called Dorothy, from her room. "Nan and I are going to have a marshmallow roast, when we go on shore near the waterfall, and we won't give you boys a single one, will we, Nan?"
"Not a one!" cried Bert's sister.
"Will you give me one—whatever it is?" asked Freddie from the room where his mother was dressing him.
"And me, too?" added Flossie, for she always wanted to share in her little twin brother's fun.
"Yes, you may have some, but not Bert and Harry," went on Nan, though she knew when the time came, that she would share her treat with her brother and cousin.
"Well, I didn't hear any noises last night," said Mr. Bobbsey to his wife at the breakfast table.
"Nor I," said she. But when Dinah came in with a platter of ham and eggs, there was such a funny look on the cook's face that Mrs. Bobbsey asked:
"Aren't you well, Dinah?"
"Oh, yes'm, I'se well enough," the fat cook answered. "But dey shuah is suffin strange gwine on abo'd dish yeah boat."
"What's the matter now?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.
"A whole loaf of bread was tooken last night," said Dinah. "It was tooken right out ob de bread box," she went on, "and I'se shuah it wasn't no rat, fo' he couldn't open my box."
"I don't know," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "Rats are pretty smart sometimes."
"They are smart enough to keep out of my trap," said Papa Bobbsey. "I must set some new ones, I think."
"Well, I don't think it was any rat," said Dinah, as she went on serving breakfast.
There was so much to do that day, and so much to see, that the Bobbsey twins, at least, and their cousins, paid little attention to the story of the missing loaf of bread. Bert did say to Harry:
"It's too bad we didn't watch last night. We might have caught whoever it was that took the bread."
"Who do you think it was?" asked Harry.
"Oh, some tramps," said Bert. "It couldn't be anybody else."
They went ashore after breakfast, close to the waterfall.
"Papa, you said you would show us where we could walk under the water without getting wet," Nan reminded him.
"Oh, yes," said Mr. Bobbsey. "I have never been to these falls, but I have read about them." Then he showed the children a place, near the shore of the lake, where they could slip in right behind the thin veil of water that fell over the black rocks, high above their heads. Back of the falling water there was a space which the waves had worn in the stone. It was damp, but not enough to wet their feet. There they stood, behind the sheet of water, and looked out through it to the lake, into which it fell with a great splashing and foaming.
"Oh, isn't this wonderful!" cried Nan.
"It surely is," said Dorothy, with a sigh. "I never saw anything so pretty."
"And what queer stones!" cried Bert, as he picked up some that had been worn into odd shapes by the action of the water.
The Bobbseys spent some little time at the waterfall, and then, as there was a pretty little island near it, where picnic parties often went for the day, they went there in the Bluebird, going ashore for their dinner.
"But I'm not going to play Robinson Crusoe again," said Freddie, as he remembered the time he had been caught in the cave.
At the end of a pleasant day on the island, the Bobbseys again went on board the houseboat for supper.
"We'll watch sure to-night," said Bert to Harry, as they got ready for bed. "We won't go to sleep at all."
"All right," agreed the country cousin.
It was hard work, but they managed to stay awake. When the boat was quiet, and every one else asleep, Harry and Bert stole softly out of their room and went to the passageway between the dining-room and kitchen.
"You watch from the kitchen, and I'll watch from the dining-room," Bert told his cousin. "Then, no matter which way that rat goes, we'll see him."
"Do you think it was a rat?" asked Harry.
"Well, I'm not sure," his cousin answered. "But maybe we'll find out to-night."
"We ought to have something to hit him with, if we see a rat," suggested Harry.
"That's right," Bert agreed. "I'll take the stove poker, and you can have the fire shovel. Now keep very still."
The two cousins took their places, Bert in the dining-room, and Harry in the kitchen. It was very still and quiet on the Bluebird. Up on deck Snap, the dog, could be heard moving about now and then, for he slept up there.
Bert, who had sat down in a dining-room chair, began to feel sleepy. He tried to keep open his eyes, but it was hard work. Suddenly he dozed off, and he was just on the point of falling asleep, when he heard a noise. It was a squeaking sound, as though a door had been opened.
"Or," thought Bert, "it might be the squeak of a mouse. I wonder if Harry heard it?"
He wanted to call out, in a whisper, and ask his cousin in the dining- room, just beyond the passage. Bert could not see Harry. But Bert thought if he called, even in a whisper, he might scare the rat, or whoever, or whatever, it was, that had caused the mystery.
So Bert kept quiet and watched. The squeaking noise of the loose boards in the floor went on, and then Bert heard a sound, as though soft footsteps were coming toward him. He wanted to jump up and yell, but he kept still.
Then, suddenly, Bert saw something.
Standing in the dining-room door, looking at him, was a boy, about his own age—a boy dressed in ragged clothes, and in bare feet, and in his hand this boy held a piece of bread, and a slice of cake.
"You—you!" began Bert, wondering where he had seen that boy before. And then, before Bert could say any more, the boy turned to run away, and Bert jumped up to catch him.
"Come back here!" cried Bert, as he rushed on.
There was the sound of a fall in the passageway, and some one groaned.
"What is it?" cried Harry, running from the kitchen. "What's the matter, Bert? Did you catch the rat?"
"No, but I caught something else," Bert answered. By this time he had run into the passageway, and there, in front of the locker, or closet, where the strange noises had been heard, lay the ragged boy. He had fallen and hurt his head. The cake and bread had been knocked from his hands. The door of the locker or closet was open.
"Why—why—-" began Harry, in surprise. "It's a—a boy."
"Yes, and now I know who he is," said Bert, as the stowaway sat up, not having been badly hurt by his fall. He had tripped in his bare feet.
"Who—who is it?" asked Harry.
"It's that boy who gave us the fish—Will Watson, who worked for the man that made the wire fence—Mr. Hardee."
"Yes, I'm that boy," said the other, slowly. "Oh, I hope your folks won't be very mad at me. I—I didn't know what to do, so when I ran away, I hid on your boat."
"And have you been here ever since?" asked Bert.
"Yes," answered Will. "I've been hiding here ever since."
"And was it you who took the things?" Harry wanted to know.
"Yes, I took them. I was half starved. But I'll pay you back as soon as I get out west, where my uncle lives. He's a gold miner, and I guess he's got lots of money. Oh, I hope your father and mother will forgive me."
"Of course they will," said Bert, seeing tears in the eyes of the ragged boy.
"What's the matter there?" called Mr. Bobbsey. "Has anything happened, Bert?"
"Yes," answered Bert. "We've solved the mystery—Harry and I."
"Solved the mystery!" cried Mr. Bobbsey. "I'll be right there."
"Oh, what can it be?" his wife asked.
Meanwhile, Captain White, Dinah and the little Bobbsey twins had been awakened by the loud voices. Up on deck Snap, the dog, feeling that something was wrong, was barking loudly.
"I—I hope the dog doesn't get me!" said Will, looking about.
"I won't let him hurt you," promised Bert. "So it was you, hiding in the closet that made Snap act so funny?" he asked. "He knew you were there."
"Yes, only I wasn't in the closet all the while. There was a loose board at the back. I could slip out of the closet through that hole. I hid down in the lower part of the boat. I'll show you."
"You poor boy!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey when, with her husband, she had come to see the "mystery," as Bert laughingly called him.
"Indeed we'll forgive you. You must have had a terrible time, hiding away as you did. Now tell us all about it. But first I want you to drink this warm milk Dinah has made for you," for Mrs. Bobbsey had told the cook to heat some. "You look half starved," she said to the boy.
"I am," answered Will. "I—I didn't take any more of your food than I could help, though."
"Yo' am welcome to all yo' want, honey lamb!" exclaimed Dinah. "Mah land, but I shuah am glad yo' ain't no ghostest! I shuah am!" and she sighed in relief, as she saw that Will was a real, flesh-and-blood boy. He was, however, very thin and starved-looking.
"Now tell us all about it," said Mr. Bobbsey. "How did you come on our boat?"
Will told them. After Mr. Bobbsey had stopped the cruel farmer from beating him, Will crawled up to his room to sob himself to sleep. Then he began to think that after the houseboat had gone, Mr. Hardee would probably treat him all the more meanly, on account of having been interfered with.
"So I just ran away," said Will. "I packed up what few things I had, and when I saw your boat near shore, I crept aboard and hid myself away. I easily found a place down—down cellar," he said with a smile.
"I suppose you mean in the hold, or the place below the lower deck," spoke Mr. Bobbsey. "Cellars on a boat are called 'holds.' Well, what happened?"
"I—I just stayed there. I found some old bags, and made a bed on them," Will said. "Then when my food gave out, I used to crawl out during the nights and take some from your kitchen.
"I had some bread when I ran away," Will went on. "I took it from Mrs. Hardee's kitchen, but they owed me money for working, and I didn't take more bread than I ought."
"I'm sure you didn't," said Mrs. Bobbsey, kindly.
"I didn't want you to know I was on board the boat," Will resumed, "for I was afraid you'd send me off, and I didn't want Mr. Hardee to find me again. I was afraid he'd whip me."
"But what did you intend to do?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.
"Well, I heard you say you were going to Lake Romano," said the boy, "and I thought I would ride as far as you went. Then I wouldn't have so far to walk to get to my uncle out west. I'm going to him. He'll look after me, I know. I can't stand Mr. Hardee any more."
"You poor boy. We'll help you find your uncle," said Mrs. Bobbsey.
"And you've been on board ever since?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.
"Yes, sir. I hid down in the 'hold,' as you call it. Then when I got hungry, I found a loose board, so I could get into the closet. Then at night I would come out and get things to eat and a little water or milk to drink. I didn't mean any harm."
"No, I'm sure you did not," the twins' father said. "Well, I'm glad Bert found you," he went on, as Bert and Harry told how they had kept watch. "So it was you who took the things, and who made the noises that frightened Dinah?"
"Yes, but I didn't mean, to scare her," Will said. "That day I got my hand caught in the loose board, and it hurt so, and I felt so bad that I—I cried. That was what she heard, I guess."
"You poor boy!" said Mrs. Bobbsey again.
"And—and did you see any rats in the cellar?" asked Freddie, who was moving about in his little night dress.
"No," answered Will, "I didn't see any rats. It was bad enough in the dark place, without any rats."
"Well, I guess your troubles are over, for a time," said Mr. Bobbsey. "We'll fix you up a bed, and then I'll have a talk with you about this miner uncle of yours."
Will finished his warm milk, and ate some bread and cake—the same he had taken from Dinah's kitchen. He had gone in there and taken it, but Harry had not heard him, for Harry had fallen asleep.
"And so it was a stowaway boy, and not rats or ghosts or anything else that was the mystery," said Mrs. Bobbsey, when everything once more quiet on the Bluebird.
"That's what it was," her husband said "Bert was real smart to sit up and watch."
"And he never told us a thing about it."
"Oh, he wanted to surprise us," laughed Mr. Bobbsey.
"And didn't I see you, the time I fell overboard?" asked Flossie, looking at Will.
"I think you did," he laughed. "I happened to put my head out of a ventilating hole just as you looked. I pulled it in again, soon enough, though. I hope I didn't scare you."
"Not very much," Flossie said. "I was sure I saw you, but nobody else would believe me."
Snap soon made friends with the new boy. It was Will, hiding behind the closet wall, that had made the dog act as though a rat were there.
I must bring my story to a close, now that the mystery is explained. And, really, there is little else to tell. Will had, in the little bundle of things he had brought away from Mr. Hardee's with him, the address of a man he thought knew where the miner uncle was. Mr. Bobbsey wrote several letters, and, in due time, word came back that Will's uncle was well off now, and would look after him. His name was Mr. Jackson. He had lost track of Will for some years and had just begun a search for him, when Mr. Bobbsey's letter came. Enough money was sent on to enable Will to make the trip out west, where he would be well cared for. He could not thank the Bobbsey family enough for what they had done for him.
Mr. Hardee heard where his runaway boy had been found, and tried to get him back, but Mr. Bobbsey would not permit this. So Will's life began to be a pleasant one. The time he had spent on the houseboat, after coming from his hiding place, was the happiest he had ever known.
"Well, what shall we do now?" asked Bert one day, after Will had gone. "It seems queer not to have to be on the lookout for a mystery or something like that."
"Doesn't it," agreed Harry.
"And so that was your secret?" asked Nan.
"Yes, that was it," her brother answered. "But I wish we had something to do now."
"Whatever you do, you want to do in the next two weeks," said Mr. Bobbsey, coming up on deck.
"Why?" asked Bert.
"Because our houseboat trip will come to an end then."
"Oh!" cried the Bobbsey twins in a chorus. "That's too bad!"
"But I have other pleasures for you," went on Mr. Bobbsey. "The summer vacation is not yet over."
And those of you who wish to read of what further pleasures the children had, may do so in the following volume, which will be called "The Bobbsey Twins at Meadow Brook."
"Let's have one more picnic on an island!" proposed Nan, a few days before the trip on Lake Romano was to end.
"And a marshmallow roast!" added Dorothy.
"Fine!" cried Bert. "I'll eat all the candies you toast!"
"And I'll help!" added Harry.
"You boys will have to make the fire," Nan said.
"I'll gather wood!" offered Freddie. "And I'll have my little fire engine all ready to put out the blaze, if it gets too big."
"A pail of water will be better," laughed Bert. "Your engine might get going so fast, like it did once, we couldn't stop it."
"I'll sharpen the sticks to put the marshmallows on," offered Harry.
"I wish Will Watson was here to help us eat these," said Nan a little later that afternoon, when the children were having their marshmallow roast on a little island in the lake. "He was a nice boy."
"Yes, and he will be well looked after now," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "Your father had a letter from the miner uncle to-day, saying he was going to make a miner of Will. He gave up the idea of going to sea."
"And will he dig gold?" asked Flossie.
"I suppose so, dear!"
"Oh, I'm going to dig gold when I grow to be a man," said Freddie. "May I have another marshmallow, Nan?" "Yes, little fat fireman," she laughed.
A few days later, after making a trip around the lower end of the lake, the Bobbsey twins started for home, reaching there safely, and having no more trouble with Mr. Hardee and his wire fence.
And so, as they are now safe at home, we shall say good-bye to the Bobbsey twins and their friends.