“May we go there after we have eaten?” asked Bunny. “We want to see Fred.”
“It might not be he,” said Mrs. Brown. “You had better wait until your father comes back.”
At first Bunny and Sue fretted a bit, but finally they became interested in playing games under the big tree where the “Ark” had rested for the night, and before they knew it their father came back.
“But he hasn’t brought Fred!” cried Bunny.
“Maybe the minstrel boy wasn’t the one after all,” suggested Mrs. Brown.
“Well, I’m inclined to think he was,” said her husband.
“Did you see him?” eagerly asked Bunny.
“No, he had run away. That’s why I think it was Fred.”
Then Mr. Brown explained:
“When I got to the hotel,” he told Bunny, Sue and the others, “I saw Dr. Perry walking around rather nervously. I asked him about the boy, and he said that when he and his medicine van reached the hotel after closing the show last night, he found that his banjo player had packed his valise, taken his banjo, and gone off.”
“Where?” asked Mrs. Brown.
“Nobody knows. He left no word. That’s what makes me think it was Fred. He must have seen us in the crowd. And, as soon as he could wash the black off his face, he hurried to the hotel ahead of Dr. Perry, got his bag and ran away. Very likely he did not want to see us and hear us give him the message from his parents. His heart must still be hard against them. It is too bad, if that was Fred, for I had begun to think I had found him. Still it may have been some other young fellow. Dr. Perry said they often came and went without giving any reasons. But we’ll still be on the lookout for the missing boy.”
Once more the “Ark” started off, and for several days there was just ordinary travel. The children played and had fun, the dogs raced along the road, barking and enjoying themselves, and the weather was fine. Then came another day of hard rain, and the “Ark” was kept under a big oak tree.
The day after the rain, when the wayside brooks were still high, but the roads fairly good, Mr. Brown went on again. They were coming to a small town, and had to cross a ditch over which was a small bridge. Usually there was but little water in the ditch, but now, because of the rain, the banks were full.
“I hope this bridge is strong enough for our car to go over,” said Mr. Brown. Slowly he steered the big machine on it. Hardly had it reached the middle when there was a cracking of wood, and the bridge bent down. The automobile sank with it.
“Oh!” cried Bunny, who sat in the back door. “We’re going into the ditch, Daddy!”
“We’re there now!” said Sue as the “Ark” stopped with a jerk and a bounce.
ON TO PORTLAND
There was no doubt about it, the big automobile was in the ditch. Or rather, the rear wheels, having gone through the small bridge, were now in the water of a little brook. The rains had made the usually dry ditch into a brook that flowed swiftly along.