Chapter V. A Queer Stage Driver




"I reckon I'll have to make another trip to get that old coach down to the shop," growled the stage driver, as he tried to hurry the horses, Kit and Doll, along.

"I hardly think it is worth moving," Mr. Bobbsey said, feeling somewhat indignant that a hackman should impose upon his passengers by risking their lives in such a broken-down wagon.

"Not worth it? Wall! I guess Hank don't go back on the old coach like that. Why, a little grease and a few bolts will put that rig in tip-top order." And he never made the slightest excuse for the troubles he had brought upon the Bobbseys.

"Oh, my!" cried Nan, "my hatbox! Bert you have put your foot right into my best hat!"

"Couldn't help it," answered the brother; "I either had to go through your box or go out of the back of this wagon, when that seat slipped," and he tried to adjust the board that had fallen into the wagon.

"Land sakes alive!" exclaimed Dinah. "Say, you driver man there!" she called in real earnest, "ef you doan go a little carefuler wit dis yere wagon you'll be spilling us all out. I just caught dat cat's box a-sliding, and lan' only knows how dat poor little Downy duck is, way down under dat old board."

"Hold on tight," replied Hank, as if the whole thing were a joke, and his wagon had the privilege of a toboggan slide.

"My!" sighed Mrs. Bobbsey, putting her arms closer about Flossie, "I hope nothing more happens."

"I am sure we are all right now," Mrs. Manily assured her. "The road is broad and smooth here, and it can't be far to the beach."

"Here comes a carriage," said Bert, as two pretty coach lights flashed through the trees.

"Hello there!" called someone from the carriage.

"Uncle William!" Nan almost screamed, and the next minute the carriage drew up alongside the wagon.

"Well, I declare," said Uncle William Minturn, jumping front his seat, and beginning to help the stranded party.

"We are all here," began Mr. Bobbsey, "but it was hard work to keep ourselves together."

"Oh, Uncle William," cried Freddie, "put me in your carriage. This one is breakin' down every minute."

"Come right along, my boy. I'll fix you up first," declared the uncle, giving his little nephew a good hug as he placed him on the comfortable cushions inside the big carriage.

There was not much chance for greetings as everybody was too anxious to get out of the old wagon. So, when all the boxes had been carefully put outside with the driver, and all the passengers had taken their places on the long side seats (it was one of those large side-seated carriages that Uncle William had brought, knowing he would have a big party to carry), then with a sigh of relief Mrs. Bobbsey attempted to tell something of their experiences.

"But how did you know where we were?" Bert asked.

"We had been waiting for you since four o'clock," replied Uncle William. "Then I found out that the train was late, and we waited some more. But when it came to be night and you had not arrived, I set out looking for you. I went to the Junction first, and the agent there told me you had gone in Hank's stage. I happened to be near enough to the livery stable to hear some fellows talking about Hank's breakdown, with a big party aboard. I knew then what had happened, and sent Dorothy home,--she had been out most of the afternoon waiting--got this carryall, and here we are," and Uncle William only had to hint "hurry up" to his horses and away they went.

"Oh, we did have the awfulest time," insisted Freddie.

"I feel as if we hadn't seen a house in a whole year," sighed little Flossie.

"And we only left Meadow Brook this morning," added Nan. "It does seem much longer than a day since we started."

"Well, you will be in Aunt Emily's arms in about two minutes now," declared Uncle William, as through the trees the lights from Ocean Cliff, the Minturn cottage, could now be seen.

"Hello! Hello!" called voices from the veranda.

"Aunt Emily and Dorothy!" exclaimed Bert, and called back to them:

"Here we come! Here we are!" and the wagon turned in to the broad steps at the side of the veranda.

"I've been worried to death," declared Aunt Emily, as she began kissing the girls.

"We have brought company," said Mrs. Bobbsey, introducing Mrs. Manily, "and I don't know what we should have done in all our troubles if she had not been along to cheer us up."

"We are delighted to have you," said Aunt Emily to Mrs. Manily, while they all made their way indoors.

"Oh, Nan!" cried Dorothy, hugging her cousin as tightly as ever she could, "I thought you would never come!"

"We were an awfully long time getting here," Nan answered, returning her cousin's caress, "but we had so many accidents."

"Nothing happened to your appetites, I hope," laughed Uncle William, as the dining-room doors were swung open and a table laden with good things came into sight.

"I think I could eat," said Mrs. Bobbsey, then the mechanical piano player was started, and the party made their way to the dining room.

Uncle William took Mrs. Manily to her place, as she was a stranger; Bert sat between Dorothy and Nan, Mr. Bobbsey looked after Aunt Emily, and Mr. Jack Burnet, a friend of Uncle William, who had been spending the evening at the cottage, escorted Mrs. Bobbsey to her place.

"Come, Flossie, my dear, you see I have gotten a tall chair for you," said Aunt Emily, and Flossie was made comfortable in one of those "between" chairs, higher than the others, and not as high as a baby's.

It was quite a brilliant dinner party, for the Minturns were well-to-do and enjoyed their prosperity as they went along. Mrs. Minturn had been a society belle when she was married. She was now a graceful young hostess, with a handsome husband. She had married earlier than her sister, Mrs. Bobbsey, but kept up her good times in spite of the home cares that followed. During the dinner, Dinah helped the waitress, being perhaps a little jealous that any other maid should look after the wants of Flossie and Freddie.

"Oh, Dinah!" exclaimed Freddie, as she came in with more milk for him, "did you take Snoop out of the box and did you give Downy some water?"

"I suah did, chile," said Dinah, "and you jest ought ter see that Downy duck fly 'round de kitchen. Why, he jest got one of dem fits he had on de train, and we had to shut him in de pantry to get hold ob him."

The waitress, too, told about the flying duck, and everybody enjoyed hearing about the pranks of Freddie's animals.

"We've got a lovely little pond for him, Freddie," said Dorothy. "There is a real little lake out near my donkey barn, and your duck will have a lovely time there."

"But he has to swim in the ocean," insisted Freddie, "'cause we're going to train him to be a circus duck."

"You will have to put him in a bag and tie a rope to him then," Uncle William teased, "because that's the only way a duck can swim in the ocean."

"But you don't know about Downy," argued Freddie. "He's wonderful! He even tried to swim without any water, on the train."

"Through the looking glass!" said Bert, laughing.

"And through the air," added Nan.

"I tell you, Freddie," said Uncle William, quite seriously: "we could get an airship for him maybe; then he could really swim without water."

But Freddie took no notice of the way they tried to make fun of his duck, for he felt Downy was really wonderful, as he said, and would do some wonderful things as soon as it got a chance.

When dinner was over, Dorothy took Nan up to her room. On the dresser, in a cut-glass bowl, were little Nettie Prentice's lilies that Nan had carried all the way from Meadow Brook, and they were freshened up beautifully, thanks to Dorothy's thoughtfulness in giving them a cold spray in the bath tub.

"What a lovely room!" Nan exclaimed, in unconcealed admiration.

"Do you like it?" said Dorothy. "It has a lovely view of the ocean and I chose it for you because I know you like to see pretty sights out of your window. The sun seems to rise just under this window," and she brushed aside the dainty curtains.

The moonlight made a bright path out on the ocean and Nan stood looking out, spellbound.

"I think the ocean is so grand," she said. "It always makes me feel so small and helpless."

"When you are under a big wave," laughed her cousin, who had a way of being jolly. "I felt that way the other day. Just see my arm," and Dorothy pushed up her short sleeve, displaying a black and blue bruise too high up to be seen except in an evening dress or bathing costume.

"How did you do that?" asked Nan, in sympathy.

"Ran into a pier," returned the cousin, with unconcern. "I thought my arm was broken first. But we must go down," said Dorothy, while Nan wanted to see all the things in her pretty room. "We always sit outside before retiring. Mamma says the ocean sings a lullaby that cures all sorts of bad dreams and sleeplessness."

On the veranda Nan and Dorothy joined the others. Freddie was almost asleep in Aunt Emily's arms; Uncle William, Mr. Bobbsey, and Mr. Burnet were talking, with Bert as an interested listener; while Mrs. Manily told Aunt Emily of her mission to the beach. As the children had thought, Aunt Emily readily gave consent to have Nellie, the little cash girl, come to Ocean Cliff, and on the morrow Nan and Dorothy were to write the letter of invitation.



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