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"Freddie, what in the world are you doing?"
"Flossie! Oh dear! You children! You have the place all upset!"
Mrs. Bobbsey, who had come into the big living room, to see the two younger twins engaged in some strange proceedings, paused at the doorway to look on. Indeed the place was upset, for the chairs had been dragged out from against the walls and from corners to be placed in a row before a large sofa. From one corner of this to a side wall was stretched a sheet, and in another corner, in a pen made of chairs, could be seen the wagging tail of Snap, the trick dog.
"What in the world are you doing?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey. "Oh, dear, how I do dread a rainy day!" for it was pouring outside, and the older, as well as the younger twins had to stay in doors.
"We're playing circus," explained Freddie gravely, as he peered between the "bars" of the cage made of chairs. "Snap is a lion," went on the little fellow. "Growl, Snap!"
And Snap, always ready to have fun, growled and barked to satisfy the most exacting circus lover.
"Oh dear!" cried Mrs. Bobbsey. "I'll never get this room straightened out again."
"Oh, we'll fix it, mamma, after the circus," said Flossie sweetly. "Sit down and see the show. I'll make Snoop do some of the tricks the fat circus lady taught her," and Flossie lifting up one corner of the sheet, showed the black cat curled up on a cushion, while back of her, tied by one leg, was Downy the pet duck.
"This was going to be the happy family cage," explained Flossie, "only when we had Snap in here he kept playing with Downy, and Downy quacked and that made Snoop nervous so we couldn't do it very well."
"So we made Snap the lion, and part of the time he's going to be the tiger," said Freddie. "Dinah is going to give us some blueing that she uses on the clothes, and I'm going to paint stripes on Snap."
"Don't you dare do it," said Mrs. Bobbsey, "The idea of painting blue stripes on poor Snap! Whoever heard of a blue-striped tiger?" and she tried hard not to laugh.
"Well, this is a new kind," said Freddie. "Sit down, mamma, and we'll make Snoop do a trick for you. Make her chase her tail, Flossie."
"No, I'll make her walk a tight rope," said the little girl. "That's more of a trick."
Flossie got her jumping rope, which she had little use for now, and tied it from the back of one chair to the back of another, placed some distance away. Then she pulled the rope tight between them, and, taking Snoop up in her arms, placed the cat carefully on the stretched rope.
Snoop stood still for a minute, meowing a little and waving her tail back and forth. Poor Snoop! The black cat did not like to do tricks as well as did Snap. No cats do. But Snap, when he saw what was going on, was eager to show off what he could do.
He leaped about in his chair "cage," barking loudly, much to the delight of Freddie who liked to hear the "lion" roar.
"Go on, Snoop!" called the twins, and gave the cat a gentle shove. Then Snoop did really walk across the rope, for it was almost as easy as walking the back fence, which Snoop had often done. Only the rope was not as steady as the fence. But the fat circus lady had trained the black cat well, and Snoop performed the trick to the delight of the children.
"That is very good," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "Oh, see! Snap is turning a somersault in his cage. Poor dog, let him out, Freddie; won't you?"
"He isn't a dog--he's a lion," insisted the little boy. "I dassen't let out a lion, or he might bite you."
But Snap had no idea of playing the lion all the while. Suddenly Downy, the duck, with a loud quack, got her leg loose from the string and flew out across the room. This so surprised Snoop, who had started back over the tight rope, that he fell off with a cry of alarm.
This was too much for Snap, who evidently did not think he was having his share of the fun. With a loud bark and a rush he burst from his cage of chairs, intent on playing with Snoop, for he and the cat were great friends.
Just at that moment fat Dinah, the colored cook, came into the room to ask Mrs. Bobbsey something. Snoop, seeing the open door, and being tired of doing tricks for the children, made a dash to get out, darting under Dinah's skirts.
Snap, thinking this was part of the game, rushed after his friend the cat, but when he tried to dive underneath Dinah's dress there was an accident.
He knocked the feet from under the fat cook, and she sat down on the floor with a force that jarred the whole house, just missing sitting on Snap.
"Fo' de lub ob goodness what am de mattah?" cried Dinah. "Am it an earfquake Mrs. Bobbsey?"
"I don't know, Dinah!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey, wanting to laugh, and yet not wishing to hurt Dinah's feelings. "The children said it was a circus, I believe. Here, Snap!" she called, as the dog rushed on after Snoop.
Just then Downy, the duck, sailed back across the room, and lighted squarely on Dinah's black and kinky head, where the fowl perched "honking" loudly,
"Good land ob massy!" murmured Dinah over and over again. "Mo' trouble!"
Flossie and Freddie were so surprised at the sudden ending of their circus that they did not know what to do. Then they both raced to capture the duck.
"One of the dining-room windows is open!" called Freddie. "If Downy flies out he'll freeze. Grab him, Dinah!"
"Chile!" cried the colored cook slowly, "I ain't got bref enough lef to ketch eben a mosquito. But yo'-all don't need to worry none about dish yeah duck gittin loose. His feet am all tangled up in mah wool, an' I guess you'l hab t' help git 'em loose, chilluns!"
It was indeed so. Downy's webbed feet were fast in Dinah's kinky hair, and it took some time to disentangle them. Then the cook could get up, which she did with many a sigh and groan.
"Are you hurt, Dinah?" asked Flossie. "If are you can come to our circus for nothing; can't she, Freddie?"
"Yes," he answered, "only we haven't got a circus now. It's all gone except Downy."
"Well, I think you have played enough circus for today," said Mrs. Bobbsey "Straighten up the room now, and have some other kind of fun."
The dog and cat, satisfied to get out of their cages, had gone to the kitchen, where they could generally find something good to eat. Then Flossie and Freddie were kept busy putting back the chairs, and setting the room in order.
It was a day or so after the return of Mr. Bobbsey from his business trip, and though Bert had asked his father about Mr. Carford, the lumber dealer had not yet had time to give any explanation.
"It is quite a little story," he said. "I'll tell you about it some time, Bert. But now I have a lot of back work to catch up with, on account of being away so long, and I'll have to go to the office early, and I'll be late getting home."
So the little incident had not yet been explained. The Christmas holidays were drawing nearer, and there were busy times in the Bobbsey household. Flossie and Freddie were expecting a visit from Santa Claus, and they wrote many letters to the dear old saint, telling what they wished to receive.
"But have you thought of what you are going to give?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey one day, a short time before Christmas. "It is more fun to give things than it is to get them, you know."
"Is it?" asked Flossie, who had never heard of it in that way before.
"Indeed it is," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "You just try it. If you have any toys you don't care for any more, or even some that you do, and wish to give away, or books or other playthings, and if you will gather them up, I'll see that they are given to some poor children who may not have a very good Christmas."
The smaller twins thought this would be very nice, and they were soon busy over their possessions. Bert and Nan heard what was going on, and they insisted on giving their share also, so that quite a box full of really good toys were collected.
A day or so later, when the weather had cleared, Bert came in from coasting, and said,
"Mother, couldn't Nan and I take a ride over to Mr. Carford's house? He is out in front in his sled, and he says he'll bring us back before dark. May we go?"
"Why, I guess so," said Mrs. Bobbsey, slowly. "I don't believe your father would object. But wrap up well, for it is chilly."
"And can't we go, too?" begged Flossie
"Yes, we want to," added Freddie. "Please, Mamma!"
"Well, I guess so," agreed Mrs. Bobbsey, "Will you look after them, Bert and Nan?"
"Oh, yes," promised the two older twins, while Bert explained that he had met Mr. Carford, who was on his way home from the store, and had been given a ride. The invitation had followed.
"I'll take good care of them, Mrs. Bobbsey," said the elderly gentleman, as Mrs. Bobbsey went out to tuck in Flossie and Freddie "I've got to run into Newton and back again this afternoon, so I thought they'd like the ride."
"Indeed it is very kind of you," said the children's mother. "I hope they will be no trouble."
"Of course they won't. Remember me to Mr. Bobbsey when he comes home. Ask him to come and see me when he has time. I want to talk to him about a certain matter."
"All right," said Mrs. Bobbsey, and Bert wondered if it had to do with the secret.
The drive out to Newton, which was a few miles from Lakeport, was much enjoyed by the Bobbsey twins. The speedy horses pulled the sled over the white snow, the jingle of the strings of bells around them mingling with other musical chimes on sleds that they met, or passed.
They saw Danny Rugg out driving with his mother in a stylish cutter, and Danny rather "turned up his nose" at the old bob sled in which the Bobbseys were riding. But Bert and his sisters and brother did not mind that. They were having a good time.
"Here we are!" called Mr. Carford after a fine ride. "Come in and get warm. I guess my sister has a few cookies left," for a maiden sister kept house for the old gentleman.
Into the big old-fashioned farmhouse the children tramped, to be met by a motherly-looking woman, who helped them brush the snow from their feet. Then she bustled about, and brought in a big pitcher of milk, a plateful of molasses cookies, and some glasses. The children's eyes sparkled at the sight of this fine lunch.
"There you are!" cried Mr. Carford heartily, as he passed around the good things. "Eat as much as is good for you. I've got to go out to the barn for a while. Emma," he asked his sister, "have you got any more packages made up?"
"James Carford, are you going to give away more stuff?" demanded his sister. "Why, you'll be in the poorhouse first thing you know."
"Oh, I guess not," he said with a laugh, "We can afford it, and there's many who can't. It's going to be a hard winter on the poor. Put up a few more packages, and I'll tie up some bags of potatoes!"
"I never saw such a man--never in all my born days!" exclaimed Miss Carford, shaking her head. "He'd give away the roof over us if I didn't watch him."
"What is he doing?" asked Bert.
"Oh, the same as he does every Christmas," said the sister- housekeeper. "He makes up packages, bundles, baskets and bags of things to eat, and gives them to all the poor families he can hear of. He was poor once himself, you know, and he never can forget it."
"He is very kind," said Nan, in a low voice.
"Yes, he is that," agreed Miss Carford, "and I suppose I oughtn't to find fault. But he does give away an awful lot."
She went out to look after matters in the kitchen, leaving the children to eat their lunch of milk and cookies alone for a few minutes. Presently Mr. Carford came back, stamping the snow from his boots.
"Ha!" he cried, as he went close to the stove to warm his hands. "This reminds me of the winters I used to spend at Snow Lodge on Lake Metoka. Were you ever up there?" and he looked at Bert.
"Ha! I thought not. It's a fine place. But I don't go there any more-- never any more," and he shook his head sadly.
"Did it burn down?" asked Freddie, who was always interested in fires and firemen. "Couldn't they put it out?"
"No, Freddie, it didn't burn down," said Mr. Carford. "Sometimes I almost wish it had--before my trouble happened," he added slowly. "Yes, I almost wish it had. But Snow Lodge still stands, though I haven't been near it for some years. I couldn't go. No, I couldn't go," and he shook his head sadly. "I just couldn't go."
The Bobbsey children did not know what to think. Mr. Carford seemed very sad. Suddenly he turned away from the fire that blazed on the hearth, and asked:
"Did I ever tell you about Snow Lodge?"
"No," said Bert, softly.
"Then I will," went on the aged man. "I don't tell many, but I will you. And maybe you could make some use of the place now that the holidays are here. I used to spend all my Christmas holidays there, but I don't any more. Never any more. But I'll tell you about it," and he settled himself more comfortably in the big chair.
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