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Standing in the storm, at the edge of the gypsy camp, Bunny Brown, his father and Bunker Blue looked at the dark man with the gold rings in his ears. This man--a gypsy with white teeth--did not seem to mind the rain, though he had on no yellow coat, "sou'wester," cap or rubber boots. But then, perhaps, he had just come out of the tent.
"Did you come to tell me you would sell me the little trick pony?" he asked again. "If you did I am glad, for I would like to have him. But I am sorry you came in such a storm."
Bunny did not know what answer to make, and so turned to his father. Mr. Brown did not smile as did the gypsy man. Maybe Bunny's father felt a bit angry.
"Is your name Kezar?" asked Mr. Brown of the gypsy man.
"It is, yes, sir, Mr. Brown. My name is Jaki Kezar, and I am the chief of these gypsies. Sometimes they call me the gypsy king, but we have no kings. I am just a leader, that is all."
"You are, then, the man I am looking for," went on Mr. Brown. "We have come all the way through the storm to find my little boy's pony. It's name is Toby and it has been stolen from the stable--it was taken some time in the night, and a dog, named Splash, seems to be gone also. I don't say you, or any of your gypsies, took the dog and pony, but I would like to know if you know anything about them.
"You were once at my house, asking to be allowed to buy the trick pony," went on Bunny's father, "and we have come a long way to ask if you have seen it."
Jaki Kezar seemed quite surprised. He looked first at Mr. Brown and then at Bunny and Bunker.
"Your pony stolen?" he exclaimed.
"He's gone," Bunny answered. "And I guess he was stolen. For he was locked in the barn, but when I went out to look at him, as I always do, he wasn't there."
"That's too bad!" exclaimed the gypsy. "I am sorry. And let me tell you, Mr. Brown," he went on, "that I did not steal Toby, and nobody in my camp did. I know that some gypsies are not honest, and they may take things that do not belong to them. But we do not. Come, you shall look all through our camp and see for yourself that Toby is not here, nor the dog, Splash, either. We do not steal things! Come and look for yourselves. You shall see that Toby is not here!"
"Then where is he?" asked Bunny, whose heart seemed to sink away down in his rubber boots when he heard the gypsy say this.
"I don't know where he is, little man," the gypsy replied. "But he is not here. I wish he was. That is, I wish you had sold him to me, but I would never take your pony from you if you did not want me to have him. Come and see that he is not here."
The gypsy turned to lead the way up along the path toward the wagons and tents, and, as he did so, the barking of dogs was heard.
"Maybe one of them is Splash," said Bunker Blue.
"No," answered the gypsy, "those are all our dogs. There is not a strange one among them. If there was, our dogs would fight him--at least they would until they made friends. No, neither your pony nor dog is here, I'm sorry to say, though I would like to own that pony for myself. But come and see!"
So Bunny, his father and Bunker Blue went up to the gypsy camp. They saw the tents and wagons, in which lived the dark-skinned men, women and children who traveled about from place to place, buying and selling horses, baskets and other things, and telling fortunes; which last, of course, they don't really do, it being only make-believe.
The wagons, gay in the red, golden and yellow paint, seemed bright and fresh in the rain, and the backs of some of them were open, showing little bunks, like those in a boat, where the people slept. Some wagons were like little houses--almost like the ark--only not as large, and in them the gypsies could eat and sleep.
But most of the dark-skinned travelers lived in tents which were put up among the trees, alongside the wagons. Some of the tent flaps were folded back, and in one or two of the white, canvas houses oil stoves were burning, for the day was chilly. There were chairs, tables and beds in the tents, and all seemed clean and neat.
"We keep all our horses at the back of the camp," said Jaki Kezar as he led the way. "You shall see them all, and be sure that your pony is not with them."
As he walked on, followed by Bunny, Mr. Brown and Bunker Blue, gypsy men, women and children came to the entrance of the tents, or to the back doors of the wagons, and looked out. They stared at the visitors, in the shiny, yellow oilskins, but said nothing.
A little way back in the woods were a number of horses tied to the trees. They were under a sort of shed, made by cut, leafy branches of trees put over a frame-work of poles, and this kept off some of the rain. The horses seemed to like the cool and wet, for it kept the flies from biting them.
Eagerly Bunny looked for a sight of Toby, but the pony was not there. Neither was Splash among the dogs, some of which barked at the visitors until Jaki Kezar told them to be quiet. Then the dogs sneaked off into the woods.
Mr. Brown and Bunny looked carefully among the horses, thinking, perhaps, that Toby might be hidden between two of the larger steeds. But the pony was not there.
"I tell you true," said the gypsy man, earnestly, "we have not your pony!"
"But where is he?" asked Bunny, almost ready to cry.
"That I do not know, little man," answered the gypsy. "If I did I would tell you. But he is not here."
And it was evident that he was not. There was no sign of the trick pony at the gypsy camp, and, after looking about a little more, Mr. Brown and Bunny, followed by Bunker Blue, turned away.
"Perhaps there are more gypsies camped around here," said Mr. Brown to Jaki Kezar.
"Perhaps," admitted the man with the gold rings in his ears. "But I do not know of any. If I hear I will tell you. I am sorry about your little boy's pony."
"Yes, he and his Sister Sue feel bad about losing their pet," said Mr. Brown.
Then he and Bunny and Bunker tramped back through the mud and rain to the motor boat. Bunny felt so bad he did not know what to do, but his father said:
"Never mind. If we don't find Toby I'll get you another pony."
"No other would be as nice as Toby," said Bunny, half sobbing.
"Oh, yes, I think we could find one," said his father. "But we will not give up yet. I'll write to the police in several of the towns and villages around us, and ask them if any gypsies are camped near them. If there are we'll go and see if any of them have Toby."
Bunny felt better after hearing this, though he was still sad, and did not talk much on the way home across the bay. The storm was not so bad now, and, as the wind blew toward Bellemere, the Spray went home faster than she had gone away.
"Did you get Toby?" cried Sue, running to the door as she heard the steps of Bunny and her father on the porch, late that afternoon.
Mr. Brown shook his head to say "No."
"He--he wasn't there!" said Bunny, hardly able to keep back his tears. And Sue didn't keep hers back at all. She just let them splash right down on the floor, until her mother had to pick the little girl up in her arms--perhaps to keep her feet from getting wet.
"Never mind, Sue," said Mrs. Brown. "We'll get you another pony."
"I want Toby!" sobbed Sue.
"Maybe we can find him," said Bunny, who felt that he must be brave, when he saw how sorry his little sister felt. "Maybe there are more gypsy camps, and we'll look in some of them; won't we, Daddy?"
"That's what we will, Son! We'll find Toby yet."
It rained during the night, and all that Bunny and Sue could think of, until they fell asleep, was that Toby and Splash might be out in it, cold, wet, and hungry. They even put something in their prayers about wanting to find the lost dog and pony.
The next day, down at his office, Mr. Brown wrote a number of letters to the police in neighboring cities, asking if there were any camps of gypsies in their neighborhood, and, if there were, to let him know.
"Then we'll go there and see if we can find Toby," he said to the children.
Bunny and Sue did not know what to do. There was no school, so they took walks in the woods and fields. Without Splash and Toby they were very lonesome.
Uncle Tad said, one day, that perhaps Mr. Tang, the very cross man to whom Mr. Tallman owed money, might have taken Toby. But when asked about it Mr. Tang said:
"Indeed, I'd like to have that trick pony very much, but I'd never steal him. And, much as I wanted him from Mr. Tallman, I wouldn't take him from Bunny and Sue."
So Toby was not found in Mr. Tang's stable.
It was about three days after the pony had been taken away that, as Bunny and Sue were walking on a hill, about a mile from their house, they saw a boy coming toward them. The boy seemed to know them, but, at first, Bunny and his sister did not know him.
"Hello!" said the boy. "Where's your pony?"
"Pony?" repeated Bunny. "Do you know anything about him?"
"Know anything about him?" asked the boy in turn. "Why, I saw you giving rides with him at the Sunday-school picnic to make Red Cross money. My little brother had a ride. Don't you remember? He was red-headed, and he wanted to hold the lines himself."
"Oh, yes, I 'member him!" said Sue.
"So do I," added Bunny.
"But where's your pony now?" asked the boy. "Why aren't you riding in the cart with your pony to pull you along."
"Because he's been stolen!" exclaimed Bunny Brown.
"What! Your pony stolen?"
"Yep! And our dog Splash, too!" added Sue.
"Whew!" whistled the boy. "How'd it happen?"
Then Bunny and Sue told about what had taken place.
"We went to one gypsy camp looking for Toby," said Bunny, "but he wasn't there. Now daddy is trying to find more gypsy camps."
"Does he know about the one over near Pickerel Pond?" asked the boy, naming a place about three miles from Bellemere.
"Is there a gypsy camp at Pickerel Pond?" Bunny asked.
"Sure there is--a big one, too. Maybe that's where your pony is, Bunny. Why don't you look there?"
"I--I guess I will," declared the little boy. "Come on, Sue. We'll go to Pickerel Pond."
"But we don't know the way," objected Sue.
"I can show you," offered the boy. "I'm going that way myself. Not all the way, but pretty near. I can show you the camp from the top of the hill, and all you'll have to do will be to go down to it and ask if they have your pony."
"Oh, come on, Bunny! Let's go!" cried Sue.
"All right," agreed her brother. "We'll get Toby back, maybe."
"I don't know if he's there," went on the boy, "'cause I didn't see him. But I know there are gypsies there."
Then he started off, leading the way, and Bunny and Sue followed, never, for one instant, thinking they were doing wrong to go off and try to find the lost Toby pony by themselves.
It was rather a long way from the hill near their house to the one from which the boy had said the gypsy camp could be seen, but Bunny and Sue never thought of getting tired. On and on they went and, after a bit, the boy stopped and said:
"This is as far as I'm going. But you can see the gypsy tents and wagons down there in the hollow. You go down and see if Toby is there. I'll stop on my way back and help you drive him home if you find him. I have to go on an errand for my mother, but I'll stop at the camp on my way back. I'm not afraid of the gypsies."
"I'm not, either," said Bunny.
Then, as the boy turned away, Bunny Brown and his Sister Sue, hand in hand, darted down toward this other gypsy camp. And, as they came closer to the tents and wagons, Sue gave a sudden cry.
"Look, Bunny!" she exclaimed. "There's Toby!" and she pointed to a little pony that was eating grass under a clump of trees where some other horses were tied.
Was it their missing pet?
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