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"THERE'S A SNAKE!"
With the first cries of alarm, Bert Bobbsey had jumped to his feet, one arm had gone out toward his sister Nan, and the other toward Flossie and Freddie. But no boy has arms long enough to reach for three relatives at once, especially when two of them, as Flossie and Freddie happened to be, were some distance away.
Bert did, however, manage to put one arm around Nan, and he pulled her toward him, though just why he hardly knew. As he did so there was a frightened movement on the part of all the other children aboard the truck, for they seemed to be sliding down toward the front of it.
"Oh, Bert! what has happened?" cried Nan. "Get hold of Flossie and Freddie, can't you?"
"I'm trying to," he answered.
"What's the matter?" Flossie called to Nan and Bert. "We're all slipping down!"
And this was just what was happening. The bridge over the stream seemed to have broken in the middle, just as the heavy truck got to that spot, and the auto's front wheels being lower than the rear ones, had slid the load of picnic merrymakers into a heap.
"Oh! Oh!" screamed Grace Lavine. "What is going to happen?"
"You'll be all right if you just keep quiet!" called the driver of the auto in a loud voice. "The bridge has only sagged a little! It isn't going to fall!"
This was good news provided it was true.
"All of you get off, and do it quietly," advised the driver. "You'll be all right."
"Are you sure?" asked Mrs. Simpson, one of the ladies in charge of the children.
"Oh, yes, ma'am. There's no danger," declared the man. He had jumped from his seat and was looking at the floor of the bridge under the front wheels of the truck.
"Keep quiet, every one!" ordered Mr. Blake, one of the gentlemen who had agreed to help the ladies look after the children. "Don't scream or cry, and move as quietly as you can. The easier you move the less danger there will be. The bridge hasn't quite broken in two yet."
But it was in grave danger of doing that, as Mr. Blake saw, and he was fearful that a bad accident would soon happen.
However, the thing to do now was to get all the children off the truck, over the bridge, and safe on solid ground. After that it might be possible to get the truck over and keep on to the picnic.
One by one the children, including the Bobbsey twins, started to get off the truck. They moved as carefully as they could, for they felt that they were like skaters on thin ice. The least quick movement might break something.
The truck that had gotten safely over the bridge had come to a stop, and children and grown folks were piling off it to see what they could do to save those in danger on the broken bridge.
And while the work of rescue is going on I will take a moment or two to tell my new readers something about the Bobbsey twins. Those of you who have read the other books in this series do not need to be introduced to Bert, Nan, Flossie and Freddie.
Those were the names of the four children. Bert and Nan were the older twins, and Flossie and Freddie the younger. You are first told about them in the book called "The Bobbsey Twins," and in that you learn that the Bobbsey family, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Bobbsey and their four children, lived in Lakeport, an eastern city on the shore of Lake Metoka, where Mr. Bobbsey had a lumber business.
In the family, though not exactly members of it, were Dinah, the jolly, fat, colored cook, and Sam Johnson, her husband. Then we must not forget Snap, the dog, and Snoop, the big cat.
Following the first book are a number of volumes telling of the adventures of the Bobbsey twins. They went to the country to visit Uncle Daniel, and at the seashore they had fun at the home of Uncle William. After that the Bobbseys enjoyed a trip in a houseboat, they journeyed to a great city, camped on Blueberry Island, saw the sights of Washington and even sailed to sea.
As if this was not enough Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey took their children on a western trip among the cowboys, and just before the present story opens Bert and Nan, with Flossie and Freddie, had come back from Cedar Camp, where they had had some exciting adventures.
Now it was summer again, and one of the first delights of that season was the Sunday school picnic which had started off so well but which seemed likely now to end in an accident.
It was too bad that one truck should have gotten safely over the bridge, and that the other had to break through. The second truck was heavier than the first. The first may have cracked the bridge beams and the second one broken them.
"Careful now, children, careful!" warned Mr. Blake. "Don't jump down! Come to the end of the truck and I'll lift you down!"
"And as soon as you are down walk to the other side of the bridge; don't run--walk!" ordered the driver.
Bert remembered that it said this on the programs of the moving picture theaters, and he decided it was good advice.
One by one the children made their way up the sloping floor of the truck to the tailboard, and there Mr. Blake, Mrs. Simpson, and other men and women helped the little ones down.
"Oh, I feel like fainting!" sighed Grace.
"Don't be silly!" exclaimed Nan. "Nothing is going to happen!"
It was a good thing Nan felt this way, though, as a matter of fact, something dreadful might happen at any moment. If the cracked beams of the bridge should break all the way through, the auto would slide down into the water. And, though the creek was not very deep, still many would be hurt in the crash.
The Bobbsey twins, being nearest the rear of the auto, were among the first off. They did what the driver told them--walked quietly off the bridge.
At the farther end they joined the picnic party that had gotten off the first truck. And there, almost breathless, they watched the work of rescue going on.
One by one little boys and girls were lifted down off the truck, and then, when the last had reached safely the far shore, Mr. Blake, Mrs. Simpson, and the other men and women made their way carefully to land.
"Aren't you coming?" asked Mr. Blake of the truck driver, for the man was still close to his big car, looking at it and the sagging floor of the bridge.
"I want to see if I can get this truck off," he answered. "The machine isn't damaged any--it's only the bridge. I guess the load was too heavy for it."
"I heard it cracking as I went over," called the driver of the first truck. "I shouted a warning to you, but it was too late."
"Yes, it was too late to save the bridge, but maybe I can get my truck off," the other driver went on. "Anyhow, none of the children is hurt."
And this was so--something for which the Sunday school officers were very glad, indeed.
"If we had some pieces of wood to put under the bridge, to brace it up, maybe you could get the truck over," said the driver of the big auto that was safe on the far shore.
"Why don't you take fence rails?" asked Bert, who felt better, now that his sisters and brother were all right.
"Yes, we could do that," agreed the driver of the second auto. "Come on--give me a hand!" he called to his companion.
The two men worked away for a time, and braced up the bridge so that the auto could be driven carefully over it, though it was not easy to get it up the hill made when the bridge had sunk into the shape of the letter V.
But finally the empty second truck was safe on the other side of the stream, near the first one, and rails were put across the road to warn other vehicles not to try to cross the bridge. It was safe enough for a person to walk across, but it would not hold up an auto or a horse and wagon.
"We may as well go on to the picnic grounds," said Mr. Blake, when the smaller, frightened children had gotten over their crying.
"How we going to get home again if we can't cross the bridge?" asked Flossie, looking at the sagging structure.
"Oh, there's another bridge over the creek, about two miles down," the driver of the second truck said. "That will be all right."
Soon the children and grown folks were on the autos again, and moving toward the picnic grounds. This time there was not so much merry laughter and singing, for all felt that there had been a narrow escape from a terrible accident.
But gloom does not long remain with a party of jolly boys and girls, and by the time they alighted at Pine Grove each one was in high spirits again.
There were plenty of amusements at the picnic grounds. Little rustic pavilions here and there formed places where one could sit in the shade and eat lunch. There were swings for those who liked them, and boats for the older ones.
A green meadow, not far away, made a fine baseball field, and Bert, Charlie, and Dannie, with some of the older boys, at once made a rush for the field to start a baseball game.
"You take care of the lunch, Nan," Bert begged his older sister. "I'll come back when it's time to eat."
"Oh, I know that all right!" laughed Nan.
"Can't I play ball?" Freddie called, starting to follow Bert.
"You stay and sail your boat," Bert advised. "I made it for you to sail on the lake."
"That means I'll have to stay and watch him so he doesn't fall in," sighed Nan. "Well, you can't sail it all day, Freddie. I want to have some fun, too."
"You can sail it when I get tired," Freddie offered.
"I want to go in a big boat--a rowboat!" declared Flossie.
"I'll take you all for a row after the ball game," Bert promised, and Nan held this pleasure out to them to get them to do what she wanted.
The fun was now in full sway at the picnic grounds. Over in the meadow the boys were playing ball and shouting, and out on the little lake were many rowboats containing jolly parties. Some of the picnic folks had already started to eat their lunches.
"I'm hungry!" declared Freddie, seeing some children with sandwiches.
"So'm I!" added Flossie.
"Well, we can eat a little," decided Nan. She opened one of the smaller boxes, and took out a few sandwiches. "Let's go over under that tree and eat," she suggested, and soon they were sitting beneath a big pine tree, where the ground was covered with the smooth, brown needles.
Flossie had taken only a few bites of her sandwich when she suddenly jumped up and ran to Nan.
"Oh!" cried the little girl. "There's a snake! A snake!"
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