AT CRYSTAL LAKE
Uncle Toby was much surprised at what Ted called to his attention. Turning around, as he was going toward the well, Uncle Toby looked to where the Curlytop boy pointed. He saw the form of a man vanishing from sight over the top of a little hill just behind the lonely cabin.
"Hello there!" cried Uncle Toby, in such loud tones that Skyrocket began to bark fiercely. "Hello there! Who are you? What are you doing?"
The man did not stop, turn around, nor answer. Instead he ran into a little clump of trees and was soon lost to sight. With another loud bark Skyrocket took after him.
"Oh, don't let our dog go!" cried Jan. "Make him come back, Uncle Toby. That man might hurt him."
"Good idea," said Uncle Toby. "Here, Sky!" he called, for sometimes the Curlytops' dog was given that short name. "Here, Sky! Come back. Come back!"
Skyrocket didn't want to. He dearly loved a chase, and this man seemed willing to run. That the man was out of sight made no difference to the dog. Skyrocket loved a game of hide and go seek, and perhaps he thought that was what the stranger was playing.
"Come back here, Sky!" called Uncle Toby.
"Here, Skyrocket! Here!" shouted Ted.
Janet added her voice to that of her brother and Trouble chimed in. Perhaps all these had an effect on the dog, for after a few more barks and some growls, looking meanwhile toward the clump of trees into which the man had disappeared, the dog came back, wagging his tail and seeming a bit disappointed.
"Who was that man, Uncle Toby?" asked Janet.
"I don't know," was the answer. "No one has lived in that cabin for years. I guess he is some tramp who didn't have any other place to stay."
"He didn't look like a tramp," observed Tom.
"No, his clothes weren't ragged," added Ted.
"That's so," agreed Uncle Toby. "From the little look I had of him he wasn't very ragged. But then maybe he hasn't been a tramp very long, and it takes quite a while to make one's clothes ragged."
"It doesn't take Trouble long!" laughed Jan. "He can go out with a good new suit on and come back in half an hour with it all full of cuts and holes."
"Oh, well, Trouble is different," said Uncle Toby, with a chuckle.
Uncle Toby stood for a few moments looking toward the woods into which the strange man had run, and then, going to the well, filled the pail with water and put some in the radiator of the automobile. After that Uncle Toby went around to the back of the old cabin.
"Are you going to see if anybody else is there?" asked Jan, while Lola and Mary waited with curiosity for an answer.
"Let me come and help look!" cried Ted.
"So will I!" added Tom.
"If you fellows are going I might as well go, too," said Harry.
"No, you children stay where you are," called Uncle Toby. "I'm just going to take a look around, and then we'll go on to Crystal Lake. Stay where you are!"
Ted, Janet, and the others remained in the automobile, waiting for Uncle Toby to come back. Aunt Sallie was almost ready to doze off in a little sleep when Mr. Bardeen was seen coming around the corner of the cabin. No one was with him, and there was no further sight of the man.
"Was anybody else in there?" asked Ted.
"No one," replied Uncle Toby. "The cabin was empty as far as I could see. I guess the man just stopped in there for shelter, and when he saw us he thought we owned the place and ran out."
"Who does own it?" asked Tom.
"It belongs to a lumberman named Newt Baker," answered Uncle Toby. "He used to stay here in the summer, and sometimes part of the winter. But he went away and since then no one has lived here—except that tramp," he added with a laugh. "Poor man," he went on, "I hope he finds some place to stay this winter. It looks as if it might be a hard one from the early snow we had."
Once more they started off; and a little later, nothing more having happened, they arrived safely at Crystal Lake.
"Oh, what a fine place!" cried Tom Taylor, as he saw the big body of water, on the shore of which was perched Uncle Toby's cottage. The lake was not frozen, except with a "skim" of ice here and there in little coves.
"It would be lovely in summer for picnics," said Lola. Neither she nor her brother had been to Crystal Lake before, but the Curlytops had visited it once or twice with Uncle Toby, though they had almost forgotten.
"Well, here we are, children!" called Uncle Toby, as he stopped the automobile near his "shack" as he often called it. "Now if you'll see that they get safely inside, Aunt Sallie, I'll soon be with you and we'll look after supper and get the beds ready."
"I not goin' to bed now!" cried Trouble. "I not goin' to bed now! I goin' to stay up an' see—an' see—Santa C'aus!" he burst out, after a moment of thought.
"Oh, you little tyke!" laughed Lola, catching him up in her arms. "Santa Claus won't be here for over a month."
"And you don't have to go to bed right away," added Janet.
Out of the auto piled the boys and girls, Skyrocket scrambling ahead of them to smell around and find out what sort of place this was that he had been brought to.
As Aunt Sallie, the Curlytops and their playmates went toward the front door of the cabin, the door was opened and a smiling man looked out.
"Hello, folks!" he called. "I've got it good and warm for you." He was the man Uncle Toby had engaged to start the fires and to have everything in readiness for the coming of the Curlytops.
"Well, we're glad to get here, Jim Nelson," said Aunt Sallie, for she knew the man.
Uncle Toby put the car in the barn and came in with some of the boxes and bundles that had been piled in the automobile—bundles of clothes and things for the children.
"Well, you got here all right, I see," remarked Jim Nelson. "Have any trouble on the way?"
"Not to amount to anything," answered Uncle Toby. "Funny thing, though, down at Newt Baker's cabin. I stopped there to get some water from his deep well. And as I got near the cabin a man ran out and down the hill."
"A man!" exclaimed Mr. Nelson, while the children listened to the talk. "I didn't know anybody was living there."
"There isn't—that is, not living there regularly," said Uncle Toby. "But a man ran out. I took him for a tramp at first, only he wasn't ragged. But after he ran away I went and looked in."
"What did you see?" asked Mr. Nelson, and this the Curlytops and others wished to hear about.
"Well, it looked as if he'd been living there and doing his cooking for some time," went on Uncle Toby. "There were a lot of tin cans and odds and ends of loaves of bread, cracker crumbs, and the like on the table in the kitchen. Looked to me as if this man had been camping out in Newt Baker's shack."
"Very likely," said Mr. Nelson. "We'll have to keep watch for him. If there are tramps around they may take things. As a matter of fact, food and little comforts of small value have been taken from some of the cottages and camps. Fred Tuller's son Tom wrote to the Pocono paper and made a whale of a story out of it. But from what you say the matter may be of more importance than we thought. At any rate, we'd better look into it."
"We'll keep a lookout, then," said Uncle Toby. "And I'll take another run down to the cabin someday, after I get the Curlytops settled here having fun."
Mr. Nelson left a little after this, promising to come over the next day to see how they were.
Then came busy times in Uncle Toby's cabin at Crystal Lake. Aunt Sallie and the three girls got ready the supper, while the boys opened boxes and bundles. Skyrocket ran about here and there, poking his nose into everything, and Trouble was almost as bad, for he, too, wanted to see everything that was going on.
At last, however, things began to get "straightened out," as the Curlytops' mother would have said, and they sat down to a fine supper. Everyone had a good appetite, even Skyrocket, who had gnawed clean the bone Uncle Toby got him at the butcher shop.
"Let's play hide and go seek before we go to bed," proposed Jan, as they sat about the open fireplace in the big living room after supper.
"Will it be all right?" asked Mary.
"Will what be all right?" Jan wanted to know.
"I mean won't your uncle be mad if we play in his house?" went on Mary.
"Oh, dear no!" laughed Jan. "That's what he brought us up here for; didn't you, Uncle Toby?"
"Didn't I what, Jan?" he asked, for he had been talking to Aunt Sallie about the beds.
"Didn't you bring us up here so we could have a good time?"
"Of course I did!" exclaimed Mr. Bardeen. "What do you want to do now?"
"Play hide and go seek. May we?"
"Yes, go ahead. Run about as much as you please, but don't get hurt. There isn't any fancy furniture here to break."
This was true, for everything in the cabin at Crystal Lake was heavy and strongly made to stand rough handling. So the children could do no harm racing about the cabin.
Soon a merry game was in progress, even Trouble taking part, though he could hardly be said to play it right. His idea was to hide and keep on yelling for someone to come and find him, his voice easily telling where he was. The only thing to be done in his case was to pretend not to know where he was, even if one saw him. This always made Trouble scream with delight, and he would say, over and over again:
"You couldn't find me, could you?"
And of course they always said they couldn't, though they could if they had wished.
So the game went on, Trouble taking his part in it. Finally came the turn of Mary to "blind," and as she covered her face and began to count slowly, the others tiptoed into the different rooms to hide. The cabin was built on the bungalow style, with a number of rooms on the first floor, and there were many fine hiding places.
And, thus the evening ended with much laughter and happiness, until the children were all too tired to continue and off they went to bed.
"Tomorrow is another day," said Uncle Toby.