Chapter XI. The Funny Voice
 

The man whose hand Laddie had taken hold of in the crowd, thinking it was his father's, looked down at the little fellow and smiled. And when Laddie saw the smile he felt better.

"What was it you were asking me, little boy?" the man kindly inquired.

"I was--I was asking you a riddle," said Laddie.

"What about?" the man wanted to know.

"It was about a conductor punching tickets on the train," said Laddie. "But I don't know the answer."

"First, what is the question?" the man inquired, still smiling.

"It's why don't the tickets get mad when the conductor punches 'em?" Laddie repeated.

"Hum," mused the man. "I don't believe that I know the answer to that riddle. Did you think I did?"

"Well, I--I didn't know," said Laddie slowly. "Nobody seems to know the answer to that riddle. But, you see, I thought you were my father when I took hold of your hand."

"Oh, you did!" and the man laughed and gave Laddie's hand a gentle squeeze. "Well, I thought you were my little boy, for a moment. But then I happened to think that he is away down in New York City, so, you see, it couldn't be my little boy. But are you lost?"

"Oh, no," answered Laddie. "That is, I'm not very much lost. You see, we're going to my Grandma Bell's, and we changed cars here."

"How many of you are going to Grandma Bell's?" asked the man as he stopped in the crowed and began looking around.

"My father and my mother and six of us little Bunkers," answered Laddie.

"Six little Bunkers!" repeated the man. "Is that another riddle?"

"Oh, no. But you see there are six of us. There's Russ and Rose, and Vi and Margy, and then there's me--I'm Laddie--and Mun Bun."

"Mun Bun!" cried the jolly man. "Is that some pet?"

"No, he's my little brother," explained Laddie. "His real name is Munroe Bunker, but we call him Mun Bun for fun."

"Oh, I see," and the man laughed again. "Six little Bunkers, on a train arrive, one gets lost and then there are five," he chanted.

"Oh, that's like ten little Injuns!" laughed Laddie, and though he had picked the wrong daddy out of the crowd of railroad passengers, he didn't feel at all lost now.

"Yes, it is a little like 'ten little Injuns, standing in a line, one fell out and then there were nine,'" the man went on. "But are you sure you are not lost?"

"Oh, no. Only a little," answered Laddie. "My real daddy must be around here somewhere."

"With the rest of the little Bunkers?" asked the man.

"Yes, I--I guess so," said Laddie, looking around for his father and mother, as well as brothers and sisters. "We came on the train from Pineville," he went on, "and we're going to Grandma Bell's. I stopped to look at some pictures by the news stand and then I----"

"And then you picked me out of the crowd for your daddy," finished the man, as Laddie stopped, not knowing what else to say. "Well, there is no harm done. And, unless I'm much mistaken, here comes your daddy now, looking for you."

"Oh, yes! That is my daddy!" cried Laddie, as he saw his father pushing his way through the crowd, looking on all sides, as if hunting for something--or for somebody. Why, to be sure, for Laddie himself!

"Better call to him," suggested the man. "I don't believe he sees you."

"Here I am, Daddy!" shouted Laddie, and, letting go of the man's hand, he ran straight into Mr. Bunker's arms.

"Why, Laddie! where have you been?" asked his father. "Your mother thought maybe you might have been left on the express train, but I was sure I saw you get off."

"I did," Laddie said. "I walked along but I picked out the wrong daddy."

"The wrong daddy?" asked Mr. Bunker, not knowing just what to think. "Is this another riddle, Laddie?"

"He means me," the man said, coming up just then. "I believe I got off the same train you did. Anyhow this little boy came along behind me in the crowd and began asking something about a conductor and punching tickets."

"That is a riddle, but the other wasn't," Laddie explained. "Only I don't know the answer."

"Well, never mind. You must hurry with me," said his father, "We missed you, and I had to come back to hunt you up. The other train is almost ready to start.

"Thank you for taking care of the boy," went on Laddie's father to the man. "If you have ever traveled with children you know what a task it is to watch out for them."

"Oh, indeed I know. I have four of my own," said the man. Then he waved his hand to Laddie, saying: "Good-bye, Little Bunker."

"Good-bye!" Laddie called to the man whose hand he had taken in mistake, then he hurried off with his father to where Mrs. Bunker and the others were waiting.

"Laddie! where were you?" asked his mother.

"He had the wrong daddy," explained Mr. Bunker.

"And he told me something like a riddle, only it wasn't," went on the little boy. "It was like the Injuns verse. 'Six little Bunkers in a bee hive, one got lost and then there were five.'"

"But we weren't in a bee hive!" cried out Russ.

"I know. The man didn't say bee hive, either," Laddie admitted. "But I don't know what it was. Anyhow he was a nice man and it was a funny little verse."

A little later the family got aboard another train, and started off on a short ride that would bring them to Sagatook, whence they could drive to the lake where Grandma Bell lived.

This part of the railroad journey was not very long, and they rode in an ordinary day coach, and not in a heavy sleeping car with big seats.

Now and then the train passed through places where there were big trees growing.

"Are they the woods?" asked Russ with much interest.

"Yes," his father told him. "Maine has in it many woods, and there are big forests around Lake Sagatook where Grandma Bell lives. You must be careful not to get lost in them."

"I'll be careful," promised Russ.

A little later the train puffed in at a small station and there the Bunkers got out. They saw, waiting, a big automobile, though it was not as nice as the one they had at home.

"Are you the Bunkers?" asked a man standing near the automobile.

"Yes," answered Mr. Bunker. "Were you waiting for us?"

"I was. Mrs. Bell hired me to come over and get you. You see I'm about the only one that's got an auto in these parts, and as it's quite a drive through the woods for a team, Mrs. Bell thought maybe I'd better come in my machine."

"I'm glad you did," said Mr. Bunker. "There will be room for all of us in it."

"Yes, and the baggage too," said the man, who said he was Mr. Jim Mead. "When I get an auto I want one big enough for the whole family. Pile in now, children, and make yourselves at home."

"Do you know our Grandma Bell?" asked Russ of Mr. Mead.

"I should say I did!" he answered. "She and I are neighbors and good friends. Pile in and I'll soon have you out at the lake."

"Is it a nice lake?" asked Vi.

"It is indeed, little pussy," answered Mr. Mead, playfully pinching her chubby cheek. "It's the finest lake in the world. And it's as blue as his eyes," and he pointed to Mun Bun, who was kicking the big auto tires with the toes of his shoes to see how hard they were.

"I guess we'll like it there," said Rose, as she smoothed out her doll's dress.

"I'm going to swim!" declared Russ.

"Well, pile in, and I'll soon have you at Grandma Bell's," said Mr. Mead, and very quickly the automobile was chugging along a woodland road, under tall, green trees.

"There's the house," said Mr. Mead, in about half an hour, as he pointed through the trees. The children had a glimpse of a big white house near the shore of a blue lake amid the trees, and a little later they were getting out of the machine on the drive, while a dear old lady, with pretty white hair, was kissing Mother Bunker.

"Oh, I'm glad to see you! Glad to see you--every one!" cried Grandma Bell. "I'm very glad you came. Let me see if you're all here. Daddy, mother, and six little Bunkers, that's right. Now come right in and get something to eat! I'm so glad to see you!"

And as the six little Bunkers started to go into the house, suddenly a strange voice that seemed to come from the woods cried:

"Let me out! Let me out! Take me! Don't leave me behind!"

Every one looked at every one else. Were any of the little Bunkers missing?