THE MISSING PUDDING
Uncle Toby first looked around the table at the double row of faces of the children. All showed as much surprise as had Aunt Sallie when she had come in with the news about the pudding being gone. At first Uncle Toby had an idea that one of the boys had taken the dessert for a joke, hiding it away in some nook. But one look at the faces of Tom, Ted, and Harry showed Uncle Toby that this had not happened.
"Where did you put the pudding, Aunt Sallie?" Uncle Toby wanted to know.
"Right inside the kitchen pantry, on the back shelf near the window."
"Was the window open, Aunt Sallie?"
"Just a little crack, yes, Uncle Toby. I opened it when I set the pudding near it so it would cool a little before the children ate it."
"That accounts for it then!" exclaimed Mr. Bardeen. "Skyrocket reached in through the open window and took the pudding!"
There was a gasp of surprise from the children at this, and Ted exclaimed:
"Oh, it couldn't have been our dog, Uncle Toby! He's been right here in the room all the while."
"Yes, that's so," added Aunt Sallie. "And, anyhow, the window wasn't open wide enough for Skyrocket to get his head in. He couldn't take the pudding out in his paw as your monkey could do."
"Maybe not," agreed Uncle Toby. "Anyhow, I'm glad to know it wasn't Skyrocket. But someone must have taken the pudding, Aunt Sallie. Unless it slipped out of the window itself, and went off on the toboggan!"
The children laughed at this idea, but Aunt Sallie took it seriously, for she said:
"Oh, it couldn't do that, Uncle Toby. I mean it couldn't slip out of the window," she added, as the Curlytops laughed again. "I had it covered with a tin pan, and that's on the shelf, but the pudding is gone from under it."
"This is getting mysterious," said Uncle Toby. "We must take a look and see about it."
"I'm so sorry, for I wanted the children to have some of my plum pudding," went on Aunt Sallie.
"Oh, don't worry about it," said Lola. "We had plenty to eat."
"Too much, I'm afraid," chuckled Uncle Toby. "Maybe it's just as well the pudding is missing. The children will sleep better without it, Aunt Sallie."
"Oh, 'tisn't so much the pudding that I am worried about," went on the kindly housekeeper, in a whisper. "It is that someone may be sneaking around here taking things."
"Do you think that happened?" asked Uncle Toby. The children had run into the kitchen to look at the window through which the pudding had so mysteriously disappeared, and Uncle Toby and Aunt Sallie could speak freely.
"Yes, Uncle Toby, I think that is what happened," said the old lady. "Someone must have looked in the window, saw my pudding, and took it while we were all in the dining room. 'Tisn't so much that I mind the pudding; that is, if it was taken by some one really hungry. For this is Thanksgiving, and I wouldn't want anyone to go hungry. But if they had knocked at the door and asked for something to eat I'd have given it to them, and then the pudding would be safe. What are we going to do?"
"I don't know," answered Uncle Toby, as he and Aunt Sallie followed the children. "Maybe it's that man we saw over in Newt Baker's old shack. He may be hungry."
"Well, something ought to be done about it," declared Aunt Sallie.
"Maybe when I look in the snow under the window I'll see the paw marks of a bear," suggested Uncle Toby.
"What would that mean?" asked Aunt Sallie, rather startled.
"It would mean that a bear came up, put his paws in through the window, knocked the pan cover off and took the pudding," was the answer.
But it was not. In the light covering of newly fallen snow under the pantry window, through which the pudding had been taken, were the marks of a man's feet. Big feet they were, with heavy shoes, for the prints of the hob nails could be seen in the snow.
Uncle Toby looked at the marks for several minutes. He and Aunt Sallie and the children could see where the man, whoever he was, had come out of the woods, walked up to the open window, and, after standing about and tramping to and fro, had marched back to the woods again.
"It looks as if he came here, looked in, saw the pudding, and started away without taking it," said Uncle Toby, as he looked closely at the big footprints in the snow. "Then he turned back, because he was so hungry he just couldn't leave that pudding there in plain sight, I suppose. He took it and went back to the woods with it to eat it."
"Who was he?" asked Tom.
"That I don't know," Uncle Toby replied. "He must be a stranger around here, for anybody else would ask for something to eat if he were hungry. And most of the folks around here would gladly share with someone who is that hungry."
"That's so," said Aunt Sallie. "I wish it hadn't happened, even though I don't mind a poor hungry man having my nice pudding."
"Is your dog a bloodhound?" asked Harry of Ted, as the boys remained looking at the footprints in the snow, after the girls had gone back into the house with Aunt Sallie.
"Oh, no, Skyrocket isn't a bloodhound," answered Ted. "Why?"
"Well, I thought maybe if he was he could smell at these marks in the snow and then track the man to where he was and we could get back the pudding," Harry went on.
"Guess there wouldn't be much of the pudding left," said Tom, with a laugh.
"No," agreed Ted. "Anyhow, Skyrocket isn't a bloodhound, and I don't believe he'd know how to track a man down."
And evidently Skyrocket didn't take much interest in the strange footprints in the snow, for, after sniffing them once or twice, he raced away to chase a snowbird which flew down to get the crumbs Aunt Sallie scattered from the dinner table. Of course Skyrocket couldn't catch or harm the snowbird, and he knew it, but he loved to race about and bark.
"No use trying to get him to follow a trail," said Tom. "He's too crazy! A good dog, but too crazy!"
"That's right!" assented Ted.
Uncle Toby, having listened to the talk of the boys, went back into the cabin, and soon came out with his heavy overcoat and cap on.
"Where are you going?" asked Ted.
"Oh, just down to the village. You boys stay here and look after things until I get back," was the answer.
The boys watched Uncle Toby strike into the path and then Tom exclaimed:
"I know where he's going!"
"Where?" asked Ted.
"He's either going to trail that man by his footprints—the man who took the pudding," declared Tom, "or else he's going to get a constable, or somebody like a policeman."
"Maybe he's gone to get a bloodhound if your dog isn't any good for smelling out people," suggested Harry. All the boys were gleefully excited over what might happen.
"I wish he'd let us go with him," sighed Ted. But he did not think it wise to ask, and Uncle Toby went off by himself.
The remainder of Thanksgiving was passed by the Curlytops and their playmates having holiday fun. They played out in the snow, spent some time in the snow house, and coasted on the toboggan.
Uncle Toby came back before dusk, but where he had been and what he had done or found out, he did not disclose to Aunt Sallie or the children.
"Will you lock up well tonight, Uncle Toby?" asked Aunt Sallie, when the bedtime hour approached. She asked this out of the hearing of the children.
"Of course I'll lock up well. I do every night," Uncle Toby replied, with a laugh. "Are you afraid that bear who took the pudding will try to get in?"
"Maybe," answered Aunt Sallie. "Anyhow, please lock all the doors and windows."
"I will," said Uncle Toby. "But I guess Skyrocket will be a good watchdog during the night. We don't need to worry."
The children did not worry, at all. They did not seem to miss the plum pudding, and after a light supper, on account of the heavy dinner they had eaten, and having played some games in the cabin, they went to sleep.
Uncle Toby locked up well, and left Skyrocket in the kitchen for the night.
"If any bears come in or any tramps try to take any more of Aunt Sallie's good things, you grab 'em and hold 'em, Sky!" commanded Uncle Toby.
The dog barked once, as if to say he would.