Chapter II. The Lost Ring
 

Aunt Lu laughed when she heard Sue say that. And it was such a nice, kind, jolly laugh that Sue could not help joining in. So she was really laughing and crying at the same time, which is funny, I suppose you think.

"Well, I'm glad you are so happy to see me, dear," said Aunt Lu. "Oh, don't mind about your dress," she went on, as she saw Sue trying to rub away some of the muddy spots with her tiny handkerchief. "Your mother will know you couldn't help it."

"I'll tell her it wasn't Sue's fault," cried Bunny. "The railroad oughtn't to have puddles where people will fall into 'em!"

"That's right," chimed in Bunker Blue. "It ought to be filled up with dirt, and then it wouldn't hold water. You're to ride back with us in the pony cart, Miss Baker."

"Oh, so you drove over for me; did you? That's very nice," said Aunt Lu with a smile. "My! How large Bunny has grown!" she went on, as she bent over and kissed him, having already done that to Sue, when she wiped away the little girl's tears.

"I'll go and get the cart," Bunker said.

"Yes, and I think I'll take Sue inside the station, and see if I can get a towel to clean off the worst of the mud stains," said Miss Baker.

"She can sit away back in the pony cart, and I'll sit in front of her, so nobody will see the dirt on her dress," offered Bunny.

"That's very kind of you," his aunt remarked. "We'll be all right soon. Bunker, will you see after my trunk, please?" she asked as she gave him the brass check. "It can be sent up later," she went on, "as I guess there is hardly room for it in the pony cart."

"No'm, not scarcely," answered Bunker with a smile that showed his big, white teeth. "I'll have the expressman bring it up, or I can come down for it later," and he went away to the baggage room.

The ticket agent in the station gave Aunt Lu a towel, with which she took some of the dirt from Sue's dress. The little girl was smiling now.

"I like you, Aunt Lu," she said. "We're awful glad you came, and you'll play with us; won't you?"

"Oh, yes, of course, dear. Well, what is it, Bunny?" she went on, as she saw the little boy looking closely at her hands. "Do you see something?" Aunt Lu asked.

"It--it's that," and Bunny pointed to the shining ring.

Aunt Lu's eyes sparkled, almost as brightly as the glittering stone in the ring, and her cheeks became red.

"I know what it is--it's a diamond!" exclaimed Sue. "Isn't it, Aunt Lu?"

"Yes, dear."

"Did you find it?" asked Bunny. "Or did you dig it out of a gold mine?"

"Diamonds don't come from gold mines; they make 'em out of glass!" said Sue.

"Yes they do dig 'em; don't they, Aunt Lu?" insisted Bunny.

"Yes, dear, they do dig them."

"Where did you dig it?" Sue wanted to know. Perhaps she hoped she could dig one for herself.

"I did not dig it," their aunt said. "It was given me by a very dear friend. I love it very much," and she held up the diamond ring, so that it sparkled more than ever in the sun.

"Well, Sue," she went on, as she finished scrubbing away at the muddy dress. "I think that is the best I can do. It will need washing to make it clean again. But here comes Bunker with the pony cart, so we will start for your house. Your mother will be wondering what has become of us."

Aunt Lu had been on a visit to the Brown's several times before, and as she sat in the pony cart with the children, with Bunker driving, she bowed to several persons whom she knew and who knew her. There was Mr. Sam Gordon, who kept the grocery, Jacob Reinberg, who sold drygoods and notions, and little Mrs. Redden, who kept a candy and toy store.

"Stop here a minute, Bunker," said Miss Baker, when the pony cart reached the toy store. "I want to get something for Bunny and Sue."

"Candy?" asked Bunny eagerly.

"Yes, just a little," his aunt answered, and soon Bunny and Sue were nibbling the sweets Mrs. Redden brought out to them.

Just as he had said he would do, Bunny sat in front of his sister, so no one would see her soiled dress. But Sue did not much mind about it now. Her mother only said she was sorry, when she heard about the accident, and did not blame her little daughter.

Mrs. Brown and her sister were glad to see one another, and after Aunt Lu had taken off her hat, and was seated In the cool dining room, sipping a cup of tea, Bunny called to her:

"Aunt Lu, won't you come out and play with us?"

"Please do!" begged Sue. "I have a new doll."

"And I have a new top," added Bunny. "It hums and whistles. I'll let you spin it, Aunt Lu."

"Oh, dears, your aunt can't come out now," said Mrs. Brown. "She must rest. Some other time she may. She and I want to sit and talk now. You run off and play by yourselves."

"Don't you want to come down and see the fish boat come in?" went on Bunny, wondering why it was that grown folks would rather sit and talk than play out of doors and have fun.

"Oh, yes, let's take her down to the dock and see the fish boats come in!" exclaimed Sue, for this was one of their delights. Some of the boats were those which the fishermen hired from Mr. Brown, and it was at his dock, where he had an office, that the boats landed, the fish being taken out, put in barrels, with ice, and sent to the city.

"No, Aunt Lu can't go to the dock with you now," Mrs. Brown said. "Some other time, my dears."

"Then may we go?" asked Bunny.

Mrs. Brown hesitated. Then, as she saw Bunker Blue coming in with Aunt Lu's trunk, which he had gone down to get, instead of sending it up by an expressman, the children's mother said:

"Yes, Bunny, you and Sue may go down to the dock with Bunker. But stay with him, and don't fall in; you especially, Sue, as I don't want to put another clean dress on you."

"Oh, I'll be careful, Mother," Sue promised, and away she and her brother hurried, calling to Bunker to wait for them. Bunker was very glad to do this, because he liked to be with Bunny and Sue.

"Have the fish boats come in yet, Bunker?" asked Bunny, as he trudged along, holding one of the red-haired lad's hands, while Sue had the other.

"No, Bunny, they're not in yet, but maybe they will be coming soon after we get to the dock," Bunker answered. And so it happened. Bunny and Sue went into their father's office for a moment, to tell him that Aunt Lu had arrived, and then, with Bunker to look after them, they went out on the end of the dock.

Soon one of the big fish boats came in. It was loaded with several kinds of fish, some big flat ones, white on one side, and black on the other. These were flounders. There were some blue fish, large and small, and some long-legged "fiddler" crabs. But they were not the kind that is good to eat.

"Oh, look at that big lobster!" exclaimed Bunny, pointing to a dark green fellow, with big claws, and a tail curled up underneath.

"Isn't he big!" Sue said. She and her brother often saw many strange fish, but they never failed to be interested in them, and this lobster was a fine one.

"Yes," said a fisherman, "he was in our nets, and we brought him in with us. Your father, the other day, said he'd like to have one, and maybe he will want this."

"I'll go and ask him," said the little chap.

"And maybe Aunt Lu likes lobsters, too," Sue said. Neither she nor Bunny cared for lobster, as they did for other fish. But grown folks are very fond of the big, clawy creatures.

Perhaps some of you children have never seen a lobster. They are a sort of fish, though they have no scales. They live inside a shell that is dark green when the lobster is alive. But when he is cooked it turns a bright red.

Lobsters have two big claws, and a number of little ones, and with these claws they walk around, backward, on the bottom of the ocean or bay, and pick up things to eat. In some inland rivers and streams there are what are called crayfish, or crabs. They are very much like lobsters, only, of course, a lobster is much larger.

Mr. Brown came out of his office when the fish were being unloaded from the boat, into barrels of ice. He saw the big lobster and said he would buy it, to take home to cook for supper.

"We'll have a fine salad from him," said Bunny's father to the fisherman.

The lobster was still alive and the fisherman picked it up just back of the big, pinching claws, so he would not get nipped, and put the lobster in a basket for Mr. Brown to carry. Bunny and Sue leaned over, looking at the green shellfish, when a voice behind them asked:

"What is it?"

The children turned to see George Watson, a boy older than Bunny, who lived near him. George often played little tricks on Bunny and Sue.

"What is it?" he asked again. "A whale?"

"A big lobster," Bunny answered.

"I guess he could almost pinch your nose off in one of his claws," Sue said, not going too close to the basket.

"Pooh! I'm not afraid of him," George declared. "I'll let him pinch this stick," he went on, picking up one, and holding it out toward the lobster, which was slowly waving its "feelers" to and fro, and moving its big eyes, that looked like shoe buttons sticking out from its head.

"Better look out!" was Bunker's warning, seeing what George was doing. "He'll nip you!"

"I'm not afraid!" boasted George. "I can----"

And just then something happened. George got his finger too near the lobster's claw and was at once caught.

"Ouch!" cried George. "Oh dear! He's got me! Make him let go, Bunker! Oh, dear!"

Bunker did not stop to say: "I told you so!" He took out his big knife, and put the blade between the teeth of the lobster's claw, forcing it open so George could pull out his finger. Then, with a howl of pain and fright, the boy ran home. He was not much hurt, as a lobster can not shut his claws very tightly when out of water. Just as does a fish, a lobster soon dies when taken from the ocean.

"What's the matter?" cried Mr. Brown, running up when he heard George's cries. "Are you hurt, Bunny--Sue?"

"No, it was George," Bunker explained. "He thought he could fool the lobster, but the lobster fooled him."

"I guess I'd better take it home and have mother cook it," said the children's father, and home they started, Mr. Brown carrying the big lobster in the basket.

"Oh, what a fine large one!" Aunt Lu cried, when she saw it. "And what a fine salad it will make."

"May I have one of the claws--the big one?" begged Bunny.

"What for?" asked his mother.

"I want to put a string in it and tie it on my face, over my own nose," the little boy explained. "Then I'll look just like Mr. Punch, in Punch and Judy. May I have the claw?"

"I guess so," replied Mrs. Brown.

"And when you clean it out, and put it on your nose, I'll be Mrs. Judy," said Sue. "We'll have fun."

A lobster's claw, I might say, is filled with meat that is very good to eat. When the lobster is boiled and the meat picked out with a fork, the claw is hollow. It is shaped just like the nose of Mr. Punch, with a sort of hook on the end of it, where the claw curves downward. Bunny and Sue often played with empty lobster claws.

The children went out in the yard while Mrs. Brown cooked the lobster. Then, when it was cool, Aunt Lu helped pick out the meat which was to be mixed up into a salad.

"Is my big lobster claw ready now?" asked Bunny, coming up just before the supper bell was to ring.

"Yes, here it is," his aunt told him. "I cleaned it out nicely for you."

Bunny held it over his own nose and went toward the mirror to see how he would look.

"Oh, you're just exactly like Mr. Punch!" Sue cried, clapping her hands.

"Isn't he!" agreed Aunt Lu. And then she gave a sudden cry.

"Oh dear!" she gasped. "Oh dear! It's gone! I've lost it!"

"What?" asked Bunny.

"My ring! My beautiful diamond ring is lost!" And Aunt Lu's cheeks turned pale.