The Bobbsey Twins at School/Chapter 20
The chief handed Mr. Bobbsey the half-emptied cigarette box. Mr. Bobbsey turned it over and over in his hand, as though trying to learn to whom it belonged.
"They are something I never use," he said. "I don't suppose we could tell, from this, who had it?"
"No," and the chief shook his head. "It's a common kind, and a good many of the stores sell 'em. A good many of the boys smoke 'em, too—that's the worst of it," and he looked at Bert a bit sharply.
"Oh, you needn't be afraid for my boy!" exclaimed Mr. Bobbsey hastily. "I have Bert's promise that he won't smoke until he's a man, and perhaps he won't want to then."
"Good!" exclaimed the chief heartily. "That's what I like to hear. But it's as certain as guns is, and nothing more certain than them, that some one was smoking in your boathouse, and set fire to it. And I wish we could find out who it was."
"So do I!" exclaimed Mr. Bobbsey. "If only to teach them a lesson on how dangerous it is to be careless. Well, I suppose we can't do anything more," and he sighed, for half the beautiful boathouse was in ruins.
Mr. Bobbsey and Bert were soon at home, telling the news to the folks. Freddie's eyes opened wide in surprise as he listened to the account of how the firemen had put out the fire.
"Oh, I wish I could have been there!" he cried. "I could have helped."
"What caused the fire?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey of her husband, when the children had gone to bed again.
"Some boys—or some one else smoking cigarettes, the chief thinks. We found a half-emptied box."
In her room Nan heard the word "cigarettes" and she wondered if her brother could be at fault, for she remembered he had told her how once some boys had asked him to go off in secret and smoke.
Mr. Bobbsey was up early, for he wanted to see by daylight what damage the fire had done, and he also wanted to see the insurance company about the loss. The beautiful boathouse looked worse in the daylight than it had at night, and the neat living room, where some of the Bobbseys had spent many happy hours, while others of them were out in the boats, was in ruins.
The fire chief came down while Mr. Bobbsey was there, and they talked matters over. The chief said he would send one of his men around to the different stores that sold cigarettes, to try and learn if boys had purchased any that afternoon, for it was against the law to sell cigarettes to anyone under sixteen years of age.
One afternoon Danny's father, Mr. Rugg, came home unexpectedly, and, wanting something that was out in his barn went to get it. As he entered the place he heard a scramble of feet, some excited whispers, and then silence. He was sure that some one was in the place and had run to hide.
"Who's there?" called Mr. Rugg sharply. There was no answer, but he listened and was sure he heard some one in the little room where the harness was kept.
He walked over to the door, and tried to open it. Some one on the inside was holding it, but Mr. Rugg gave a strong pull, and the door flew open. To the surprise of Mr. Rugg he saw his son Danny, and a number of boys, hiding there, and the smell of cigarette smoke was very strong.
"Danny!" exclaimed his father sternly, "what does this mean?"
"We—were—playing!" stammered Danny. "Playing hide and seek."
"And to play that is it necessary to smoke?" Mr. Rugg asked sharply.
"We—we aren't smoking," answered Danny.
"Not now, but you have been. I can smell it plainly. Go into the house, Danny, and these other boys must go home. If find them smoking in my barn again I shall punish them. You might have set it on fire."
Danny had nothing to say, indeed, there was little he could say. He had been caught in the act.
The other boys slunk off, and Danny went into the house, his father following.
"Danny, I am very sorry to learn this," said Mr. Rugg. "I did not know that you smoked—a boy of your age!"
"Well, I never smoked much. Lots of the fellows smoke more than I do."
"That is no excuse. It is a bad habit for a boy. You may go to your room. I will consider your case later."
From then on Mr. Rugg did some hard thinking. He began "putting two and two together" as the old saying has it. He remembered the Bobbsey boathouse fire. On that occasion Danny had come in late, and there had been the smell of smoke on his clothes.
Mr. Rugg went to his son's room. A search showed a number of empty cigarette boxes, and cigarette pictures, and the boxes were all of the same kind—the kind that had been found in the half-burned boathouse.
Danny was accused by his father of having been smoking in the boathouse just before the fire, and Danny was so miserable, and so surprised at being caught in the barn, that he made a full confession. Tearfully he told the story, how he and some other boys, finding the boathouse unlocked, for some unknown reason, had gone in, and smoked to their heart's content.
They did not mean to cause the fire, and had no idea that they were to blame. One of the boys was made ill by too much smoking, and they all hurried away.
But they must have left a smouldering stump of cigarette in some corner, or a carelessly-thrown match, that started the blaze. Then, when the fire bells sounded, and they learned what had happened, Danny and all the boys promised each other that they would keep the secret.
"Well, Danny, I can't tell you how sorry I am," said Mr. Rugg, when the confession was over. "Sorry not only that Mr. Bobbsey's boathouse was burned, but because you have deceived me, and your good mother, and smoked in secret. I feel very badly about it."
Danny did, too, for though he was not a very good boy, his heart was in the right place, and with a little more care he might have been a different character. There was, however, hope for him.
"You must be punished for this," went on Mr. Rugg, "and this punishment will be that you are not to have the motor boat I promised you for next Summer. Perhaps it will be a lesson to you.
Danny wept bitterly, for he had counted very much on having this boat. But it was a good lesson to him. Mr. Rugg also told the fathers of the other boys whom he caught with his son, and these boys were punished in different ways.
Mr. Rugg also informed Mr. Bobbsey how the boathouse had been set afire, and expressed his sorrow. And so the mystery was cleared up.