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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBunny Brown And His Sister Sue On An Auto Tour - Chapter 16. In The Ditch
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Bunny Brown And His Sister Sue On An Auto Tour - Chapter 16. In The Ditch Post by :YUMGAL01 Category :Long Stories Author :Laura Lee Hope Date :May 2012 Read :2363

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Bunny Brown And His Sister Sue On An Auto Tour - Chapter 16. In The Ditch

CHAPTER XVI. IN THE DITCH

For a few seconds the medicine man looked sharply at Mr. Brown. He did not appear to understand what the children's father had asked. Then, finally, Dr. Perry asked:

"Is it a joke you are making?"

"No, indeed. I'm serious," said Mr. Brown. "We are looking for a lost boy, or rather, a runaway boy, named Fred Ward. The Wards live next door to us, and when we started on this trip, which is not yet finished, the boy's parents said they would be glad if we would try to find him and send him----"

"Tell us, please," broke in Bunny, unable to wait any longer for the question he wanted answered. "Tell us if your banjo player is really colored?"

"Oh yes, he's really _colored all right," said the medicine man, "but not by Mother Nature."

"What's that mean?" asked Sue.

"That means, little girl," said Dr. Perry as he put away the unsold bottles of his medicine, "that my banjo player blackens his face and hands himself, and reddens his lips, to make him look like a negro."

"Can you tell us who he really is?"

"No, I am sorry to say I can not," said Dr. Perry, and he bowed respectfully to Mrs. Brown, who had asked the question. "But I'll let you ask him yourself. He usually goes in back there," and he nodded toward his wagon, "to wash the black off after the show each night. No doubt he is in there now scrubbing himself, for I must say he is a very clean person, is John Lane."

"John Lane! Is that what he calls himself?" asked Mr. Brown.

"He has since he has been with me, which, however, is only the last few days. I called him professor just for fun, as it sounds better with the public. But I'll let you ask him yourself. He must be through washing by now. It may be he is a runaway boy. It wouldn't be the first time I've had 'em join me. Sometimes they get sorry and run back home again, and sometimes they drift away and I don't see 'em again. But we'll soon find out if this is the boy you want."

He opened a door leading off the back platform. It seemed to give admittance to the middle of the medicine van.

"Here you, John! John Lane!" called Dr. Perry. "There are some folks out here who want to see you. They want to see how you look when you have the black off. You ought to be washed now, for it's almost time to go to the hotel for the night. Come on out."

There was no answer to the medicine man's call. He stepped inside the wagon, called again, and then, lighting a lamp, which stood in a bracket, looked around inside the van.

"John seems to have gone," the medicine man said. "I guess he finished washing off the black, and then slipped out the front way to go to the hotel. He did that once before, without waiting for me to count up my money and come along. You see I travel only by day, putting up the horse, that draws my van, at a hotel stable each night.

"Then John, or whomever I have with me to make the music to draw a crowd, and I, go to the hotel to stay all night. In the morning, after breakfast, we start out again. Sometimes, in a big city I stay a week, selling in different places.

"But that boy, whoever he is, has gone. I can see where he's been washing the black off, and, not wanting to wait when he saw I was talking to you folks, I guess he just slipped away. John is a bashful boy."

"Do you know anything about him?" asked Mr. Brown. "Where did he come from, and where is he going? Did he give any account of himself?"

"Not much, except that he came to me the other day just after my violin player left me. I had to have somebody musical to draw the crowd, and he surely can play the banjo.

"So I hired him. He said his name was Lane and that he had to make his own way in the world. Said he wanted to be a player in a theater.

"I told him my place was a sort of open-air theater and ought to suit him," said Dr. Perry with a smile, "and he said he thought he would like it. So I engaged him and he did very well. You are the first persons that have inquired about him."

"We are not sure he _is the runaway Fred we are looking for," said Mr. Brown. "It is hard to tell with all that black he had on. But I should like to meet him."

"Go to the hotel any time between now and morning," suggested the medicine man. "I guess the boy will be glad to talk to you."

"I'll see him in the morning," said Bunny's father. "I'd like to get this boy to go home, if he is really Fred Ward. His mother and father miss him very much."

"I'll do all I can for you," promised the medicine man. "Come to the hotel in the morning and I'll let you talk to him. I won't say anything in the meanwhile, because if he is really Fred, and has run off as you say, he won't want to meet you or go back with you. It's best to take him unawares."

Mr. Brown agreed to this, and then, with his wife and Bunny and Sue, started for the "Ark." On the way they discussed what had happened. They saw the medicine man, as they turned down the curve in the road, driving his horse and van toward the hotel.

"I'm sure it's Fred," said Sue.

"So am I," added Bunny. "Won't it be _great if we find him so soon?"

"It may not be the missing boy," said Mr. Brown. "But we'll know in the morning."

Those in the "Ark" passed a quiet night, though they went to bed later than usual because of the excitement of the evening. Uncle Tad was interested in hearing the news about the blackened-up banjo player who might prove to be Fred Ward.

"And how's Fluffy, our squirrel?" asked Sue.

"Fast asleep, just as Dix and Splash are," answered Uncle Tad.

Bunny and Sue were awake early the next morning, but Daddy Brown was ahead of them, and their mother said he had gone on to the hotel to see about the banjo boy.

"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.

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