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CHAPTER XVI


"WHO TOOK THE PIE?"


The shortest way to go to the Trimble farm was to row across the lake in the boat, and then to walk a little distance through the wood. Mr. Brown, with Bunny and Sue, started, with Bunker Blue at the oars, dipping them in the water, pulling hard on them, and lifting them out for another dip.

"Don't row too hard. Bunker," said Mr. Brown. "It is a hot day, and I don't want you to get tired out. Besides, we are in no hurry, so take it easy."

At the last minute. Splash, the dog, had run down the hill to the lake, and climbed into the boat. He did not want to be left behind.

"May we take him, Daddy?" asked Bunny.

"Oh, yes. Let him come along. He's a good dog, and maybe he can help us find Tom."

Splash was a regular water-dog. He could swim across the lake, he could jump in and bring back sticks that Bunny or Sue would toss in, and he liked to be in a boat. Splash knew that dogs, as well as boys and girls, must keep quiet in boats, especially small boats, so they would not tip over. And now Splash perched himself up in the bow, or front part of the boat, and quietly sat there, looking across at the other shore.

Bunny looked down over the side, where he was sitting, and saw some fish swimming about, for the water of the lake was very clear.

"I wish I had brought my fishpole," Bunny said. "I could catch some fish for dinner."

"We've something else to do besides catching fish to-day. Bunny," replied his father. "We've got to find Tom Vine."

"Do you think we'll find him, Daddy?" asked Sue, as she hugged one of her dolls, which she had brought with her.

"Well, maybe so, little girl. I can't think of anything else that would happen to Tom, except that he would be taken by Mr. Trimble. I think we'll find him."

They were half way across the lake when Sue suddenly cried:

"Oh, there she goes! Oh, she's fallen in!"

"What is it?" asked Mr. Brown, turning around quickly, for he was seated with his back toward his little girl.

"It's my doll!" Sue cried. "She jumped right out of my arms, and fell in the lake."

I guess Sue meant that her doll slipped out of her arms, for dolls can't jump—at least not unless they have a spring wound up inside them, like an alarm clock, and Sue's doll wasn't that kind.

"Stop the boat. Bunker! Row back!" cried Mr. Brown. "Sue's doll fell overboard, and we don't want to lose her!"

Bunker stopped rowing, and he was reaching out with an oar to pull in the doll, which was floating like a little boat on top of the water, not far away. But before Bunker could save the doll. Splash, with a loud bark, jumped in and swam out toward the plaything of his little mistress.

Seizing the doll in his mouth, Splash swam back with her to the boat. Bunny stretched out his hand to take the doll, but Splash would not give it up to him. The dog knew that boys don't play with dolls, and that this one belonged to Sue. So Splash swam around to the other side of the boat where Sue was anxiously waiting, and he let her take the doll from his mouth.

"Good dog!" cried Sue, patting him with one hand. Then she began to squeeze the water out of her doll's dress.

"I'm glad I didn't bring my best doll," said Sue. "This is only one of my old ones, and it won't hurt her to get wet. I was going to give her a bath, anyhow, but I didn't mean to leave her clothes on. Anyhow, she'll soon dry, I guess."

Sue put the doll down beside her, on the seat, where the hot sun would dry up the water. Splash put his two paws on the edge of the boat, and Mr. Brown and Bunker Blue helped him in.

"Now you be quiet. Splash!" called Mr. Brown. "Don't go shaking the water off yourself, as you always do when you come in from a swim. For we can't get far enough away from you in the boat, and you'll get us all wet. Don't shake yourself!"

I don't know whether or not Splash understood what Mr. Brown said. At any rate, the dog went back to his place in the bow, and did not shake the water off his dripping fur. Whenever he did that he made a regular shower.

The boat was soon close to the other shore. Bunker Blue rowed up to a little dock, and tied fast. Then Mr. Brown helped out Bunny and Sue. Splash did not need any help. He jumped out himself and ran on ahead, now giving himself a good shake to get rid of the water drops.

A short walk brought the party to Mr. Trimble's farm. The cross farmer was not in the house, but his wife said he was out in the barn, and there Mr. Brown found him.

"Well, what do you want?" asked Mr. Trimble in that cross voice of his. He seemed never to smile.

"I came to see if you have that boy I'm taking care of—Tom Vine," said Mr. Brown. "Did you take him away?"

"No, I did not," said Mr. Trimble, crossly.

"Do you know where he is?"

"No, I don't."

"Have you seen him at all?" asked Bunny's father. "Yesterday he went to the spring for a pail of water, but he did not come back. We are afraid something has happened to him. Then I thought perhaps you might have taken him, though you had no right to."

"Well, I didn't take him, though I had a right to," growled the farmer. "I hired that boy to work for me, and I gave him a suit of clothes, besides feeding him. He didn't stay with me long enough to pay for what I gave him. And if I catch him I'll make him work out what he owes me. But I haven't seen him since he was in your camp. I wish I did have him now. I'd make him step lively, and do some work!"

So Mr. Brown had his trip for nothing. Tom was not at the Trimble farm, that was sure.

"I guess he ran away from you the same as he did from me," said Mr. Trimble as Mr. Brown turned away.

Bunny's father shook his head.

"Tom Vine isn't that kind of boy," he said. "He may have run away from you because you didn't treat him well, but he would not run away from us. He liked it at Camp Rest-a-While."

"That's all you know about boys!" laughed the farmer. "I treated him as well as he needed to be treated. Boys are all lazy. They'd rather play than work. And you'll find out that Tom Vine has run away from you. He didn't want to work."

"He didn't work very hard at our camp," said Mr. Brown. "All he had to do was to wash the dishes and help with little things. He liked it. I'm sure something has happened to him, and I'm sorry, for I intended doing something for him."

'Well, I haven't got him, though I wish I had," grumbled Mr. Trimble. "If I catch him, I'll make him work hard!"

"Then I hope you don't catch him," Mr. Brown said.

He went down to the boat with the children and Bunker Blue, and they were soon back at camp.

"Did you see anything of him?" asked Mrs. Brown, coming down to the edge of the lake, as she saw the boat nearing the shore.

"No," answered Mr. Brown. "Mr. Trimble said he isn't at the farm, and I don't believe he is. You didn't see anything of him while we were gone, did you?"

Mrs. Brown shook her head.

"Uncle Tad has been looking up around the spring again," she said, "but he couldn't find him."

"Oh dear!" sighed Bunny. "Poor Tom is lost!"

"He must have been frightened by something at the spring," said Mr. Brown, "and have run off."

"Well, there's one thing we don't have to worry about," said Mrs. Brown. "There aren't any wild animals in these woods. None of them could get Tom."

She said that so Bunny and Sue would not be thinking about it.

Two days and nights passed, and there was no sign of Tom. One afternoon Mrs. Brown baked some pies in the oven of the oil stove. She was all alone in camp, for Mr. Brown, the children, and Bunker Blue had gone fishing. Uncle Tad had gone for a walk in the woods.

Mrs. Brown put the pies on a table in the cooking-tent to cool, while she went to the spring for a fresh pail of water. When she came back she looked at the pies. Then she rubbed her eyes and counted them.

"Why!" she cried. "One of the pies is gone! I baked four, and there are only three here. Who took the pie?"

She looked under the table, in boxes and on chairs, thinking perhaps a fox or a big muskrat might have come along and tried to drag the pie, tin and all, away. But the pie was not to be found.

"Who could have taken my pie?" asked Mrs. Brown.