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CHAPTER XIX


IN THE SMOKE-HOUSE


"What makes Splash act so queer?" asked Bunny again.

"I'm sure I don't know," said his father. "I guess we'll have to go back and get him."

Certainly Splash did not seem to want to keep on to the village with Mr. Brown and the children. The dog was running around and around the small house, barking loudly. Mr. Trimble seemed not to hear the dog's barks, but kept right on hoeing potatoes.

"We'll go back and get Splash!" decided Mr. Brown.

He and the children walked slowly back. Splash kept on barking.

"You seem to have something in that little house which excites our dog," said Mr. Brown.

"It doesn't take much to get some dogs excited," answered the farmer. He did not seem to care much about it, one way or the other.

"What sort of house is that?" asked Mr. Brown. He looked at it closely. The little house had no windows, and only one door. And there was a queer smell about it, as though it had once been on fire.

"That's a smoke-house," said Mr. Trimble. "It's where I smoke my hams and bacon. I hang them up in there, build a fire of corncobs and hickory wood chips, and make a thick smoke. The smoke dries the ham and bacon so it will keep all winter."

"What a funny house!" said Sue.

"It hasn't any windows," observed Bunny.

"We have to have smoke-houses tight and without windows," explained Mr. Trimble, "so the smoke won't all get out."

"Are there any hams or bacon in there now?" asked Mr. Brown.

"No, we don't do any smoking until fall, when we kill the pigs."

"Well, there's something in there that bothers our dog," went on the children's father. For, all this while, Splash was running around the smoke-house, barking more loudly than before.

Just then Bunny Brown thought of something. He pulled at his father's coat and whispered to him:

"Oh, Daddy! Maybe Tom Vine is shut up in there—shut up in the smoke-house!"

Mr. Brown looked first at Bunny and then at the strange little house which had no windows. The door of it was tightly shut.

"That's so, Bunny," said Mr. Brown. "Perhaps Tom is in there. That would make Splash bark, for he knows where Tom is." Mr. Brown thought as Bunny did, that Mr. Trimble might have caught Tom, and locked him up in the dark smoke-house.

"Oh, Daddy! Do you s'pose Tom's in there?" asked Sue in a whisper, for she had heard what Bunny had whispered.

Daddy Brown nodded his head. He walked up to Mr. Trimble and said:

"Now look here! There's something in that smoke-house, and I want to see what it is. Our dog knows there's something there, and I'm pretty sure of it myself."

"Well, what do you think it is?" asked Mr. Trimble. "If there's anyone in there I don't know it. But I'll open the door, and let you see. Your dog certainly is making a lot of noise."

"Have you got that poor boy, Tom Vine, locked up in there?" asked Mr. Brown.

The farmer laughed.

"Tom Vine locked up in there? Certainly not!" he cried. "I wish I did have. I'd like to punish him for running away from me. But I haven't seem him since he was at your camp. No, sir! He isn't in my smokehouse. I don't believe anything, or anybody, is in there. But I'll open the door and let you look inside. Why, the door isn't locked," the farmer went on, "and I guess I couldn't keep a boy like Tom Vine in a smoke-house without locking the door on him."

Mr. Brown did not know what to think now. As for Bunny and Sue they thought surely their new friend, Tom, was locked in the queer little house.

"Oh, now we'll see him!" cried Sue, and she felt very glad.

Mr. Trimble dropped his hoe across a row of potatoes, and walked to where Splash was still barking away in front of the smoke-house.

"Will your dog bite?" asked the farmer.

"No, he is very gentle," answered Mr. Brown. "But I'll call him away while you open the door."

"I'll hold him," said Bunny. "I'll hold him by his collar."

By this time Splash seemed to have barked enough, for he grew quiet. Perhaps he knew the door was going to be opened. He came away when Bunny called him, and the little boy held tightly to the dog's collar.

"I'll help you hold him," cried Sue, and she, too, took hold.

"I'm sorry to disappoint you," said Mr. Trimble, with a sour sort of laugh, "but you won't see any boy, or anything else, as far as I know, in this smoke-house. I did pile in some bean poles last fall, and I guess they're there yet, but that's all. Now watch close."

He put his shoulder against the door, and pushed. As it swung open, an animal, something like a little red dog, with a sharp, pointed nose and a big, bushy tail, sprang out and ran down the little hill, on which the smoke-house stood.

"Why—why!" cried Mr. Trimble. "There was an animal in there after all! I didn't know it."

"A fox! It's a fox!" cried Bunny Brown. He had once seen in a book a picture of a fox, and this animal looked just like the picture.

"Yes, that's a fox sure enough, and I guess it's the one that's been taking my chickens!" cried Mr. Trimble. "I wish I had my gun! I'd shoot the critter!"

He picked up a stone, and threw it at the fox, but did not hit the running animal. Then something queer happened.

Splash, who was being held by Bunny and Sue, gave a sudden bark. Then he gave a sudden jump. He went so quickly that he pulled Bunny and Sue after him, and they both fell down in the dirt. But it was soft, so they were not hurt.

They had to let go of Splash's collar, though, and the dog now began to run after the fox, barking again and again.

"Splash! Splash!" cried Bunny. "Come back. The fox will bite you!"

"Don't worry," said Daddy Brown. "Splash can never catch that fox. The fox can run too fast, and he has a good head-start. Splash will soon get tired of running, and come back."

"The idea! The idea," exclaimed Mr. Trimble, "of a fox being in my smoke-house! That's what made your dog all excited."

"Yes, that was it," said Daddy Brown. "But I thought you might have Tom Vine shut up in there. I'm sorry I made the mistake."

"Oh, well, that's all right," said Mr. Trimble. He did not seem so cross now. He even smiled at Bunny and Sue.

"Maybe I was too quick with that boy," he said. "But I'm a hard working man, and them as works for me has to work hard, same as I do. But maybe I was too hard on Tom. I certainly was mad when he ran away and left me, and I made up my mind I'd punish him, if I could get him back. But I haven't seen him since he was at your camp. And you thought he was in the smoke-house?" he asked.

"Yes, I really did," replied Mr. Brown. "But I guess you didn't know a fox was in there; did you?"

"No, I didn't," answered the farmer. "He must have gone in during the night, when the door was open. The place sort of smells of meat, you know. Then the door blew shut, and the fox couldn't get out.

"And Splash smelled him!" cried Bunny, who had gotten up and was brushing the dust off. Sue was doing the same thing.

"Yes, your dog smelled the fox," said Mr. Trimble. "That was what made him bark and get all excited."

"I'm going to catch a fox in my trap," said Bunny. "I've got a trap set over by our spring. Maybe this is the fox I'm going to catch," he went on.

"I'm afraid not," said Mr. Brown. "This fox is so scared that he'll run for miles. He'll never come back this way again. Well, we haven't found Tom Vine yet; have we?" and he looked at Bunny and Sue.

"No, and you never will find him," said Mr. Trimble. "Boys are no good. Tom ran away from you same as he did from me. But maybe I was a little too harsh with him. I wouldn't lock him up in a dark smoke-house, though. That's no place for a boy."

Bunny and Sue were glad to hear the farmer say that.

"Well, we'd better be getting on to the village," said Mr. Brown. "Come along, children."

"Oh, let's wait for Splash to come back," said Bunny. "I don't want him to be lost."