Chapter XIV. The Doll's Buttons
 

For a little while Laddie and Russ watched the man in the boat as he rowed slowly toward the sandy point of land in the lake, on which the six little Bunkers were playing. The man's hair was certainly very red. The sun shone on it, and Russ and Laddie could see it quite plainly. And, too, he had on a ragged coat.

Rose and the other children were farther in toward shore, playing away. Laddie and Russ, as the two older boys of the family, thought they ought to do something toward getting back Daddy Bunker's papers.

"He's coming nearer," said Laddie, in a whisper to his brother.

"Yes," agreed Russ. "He'll soon be near enough for us to ask him if he's got 'em."

The red-haired man in the boat rowed nearer and nearer to the sandy point in Lake Sagatook. He did not seem to see the two small boys who were so anxiously waiting for him.

"What's he doing?" asked Laddie, for the man now and then would stop rowing and handle something he had in front of him.

"He's fishing," said Russ. "I can see his pole."

Laddie saw it too, a moment later. The man in the boat was a fisherman.

Pretty soon he was near enough for the boys to call to him.

"Hey!" exclaimed Russ. "Have you got 'em?"

He supposed, of course, that the man would know what he was talking about. And so it might seem, for the man made answer:

"Well, I had 'em but I lost 'em. But I'll get 'em again."

"Oh, daddy will be so glad!" cried Laddie. "Did you lose 'em out of your coat?"

The man looked up quickly.

"Lose 'em out of my coat? Why, no," he said. "I lost 'em off my hook--two of the biggest fish I've caught this day! But I'll get 'em back--or some just like 'em which will be as good. Hello, youngsters," he added with a smile. "Do you live at Mrs. Bell's place?"

"We're just visiting her," explained Russ. "She's our grandma. We're the six little Bunkers."

"Oh, ho!" exclaimed the man with a laugh. "That's so--there are six of you! I can see now," and he looked beyond Russ and Laddie to where Rose, Vi, Margy and Mun Bun were playing on the sandy point and having lots of fun.

"But are you fond of fishing, that you ask if I lost 'em?" the man went on.

"If you please," replied Russ, "we didn't mean to ask about your fish, though we're sorry you lost any. But have you daddy's papers?"

"Daddy's papers? I don't know what you mean," the man said.

"Aren't you a lumberman?" asked Laddie, not liking to use the name "tramp," as the man, though he did have on a ragged coat, did not seem like the lazy wanderers who prowl about the country asking for food but not wanting to work.

"No, I'm not a lumberman," said the man. "What makes you ask that?"

"Well, you look like the lumberman--only he was a tramp--that my father gave a ragged coat to," went on Russ. "And there were real estate papers in the coat, and daddy wants 'em back."

"Ha! Is that so?" asked the man, "Well, I'm sorry but I don't know anything about 'em. I never saw your father that I know of, though I do know Mrs. Bell. I live on the other side of the lake. But I come over here fishing once in a while."

"And haven't you daddy's papers?" asked Laddie.

"No, I'm sorry to say I haven't."

"But you have red hair," went on the little boy.

"Yes, my hair is red all right," laughed the man, as he ran his hand through the fiery curls on his head. "My hair is very red. Sometimes I wish it wasn't so red. But it's of no use to worry about it, I suppose. But what has my red hair to do with your father's papers?"

Then Laddie and Russ, taking turns, told about their father's clerk in the real estate office giving the tramp lumberman the old coat, and how, in one of the pockets, were the valuable papers. The boys told of the search for the tramp, and also of their trip from Pineville to Lake Sagatook.

"And so you haven't yet found the red-haired man with the papers, have you?" asked the fisherman, smiling at the two boys.

"No," said Russ, a bit sadly. "First we thought you might have 'em."

"Do you know any red-haired lumberman--one that's a tramp?" Laddie asked.

"No, I can't say that I do. But tell your father, and also your Grandma Bell, that I'll be on the watch for one. My name is Hurd--Simon Hurd. Your grandma knows me. Tell her I'll be on the watch for a red-haired lumberman. We have all sorts up here in Maine, and some of 'em have red hair, though I don't know that any one will have your father's papers. Ha! There's one I've got, anyhow!" the man suddenly exclaimed.

He dropped the oars, with which he had been slowly rowing the boat, and caught up his pole. Then, as the boys watched, they saw him reel in his line and lift from the water a big fish, which sparkled in the sun as it leaped and twisted, trying to get off the hook.

"Hi, that's a big one!" cried Russ, leaping up and down on the sand, he was so excited.

"Yes, he's as big as one of the two I lost," the man went on.

He landed his prize in the boat, while the boys and, the other little Bunkers crowded to the end of the sandy point to watch what was going on.

"I guess you children brought me good luck," said Mr. Hurd, the red-haired fisherman. "I'm going to row along now, but I'll keep my eyes open for the tramp lumberman that may have your father's papers."

"Thank you," said Russ.

The six little Bunkers watched until the fisherman was out of sight around the next point, and then they started to play again.

"I thought sure he was the one that daddy wanted," said Russ, a little sadly.

"So did I," added Laddie. He, too, was disappointed. "Maybe I could make up a riddle about a red-haired man," he added more cheerfully.

"Maybe you could," agreed Russ.

"I guess I will, too," said Laddie. "I can think of a riddle the next time."

A little later the children heard a voice asking:

"Well, are you having a good time?"

They looked up to see Daddy and Mother Bunker walking toward them through the woods.

"Oh, we're having lots of fun!" said Rose, who had been amusing Vi, Margy and Mun Bun.

"And we almost found your lost papers," added Russ.

"How?" asked Mr. Bunker.

Then the boys told about the red-haired man.

"I'm afraid my papers are gone for ever," said Mr. Bunker with a shake of his head, "I'll have to lose that money. But it might be worse. Don't worry about it any more, children."

But, though the children were too little to worry very, much about their father's trouble, Russ and Laddie could not help thinking about it now and then.

"This is a lovely place for the children to play," said Mother Bunker. "I shall never feel worried about them when they are here. The water is so shallow near the shore."

And so it was. The six little Bunkers--even Mun Bun, the smallest of them all--could wade out quite a distance from shore on the smooth, sandy bottom, and not be in danger.

All that day--except when it was time to go in to eat--the children played on the shore of Lake Sagatook. They saw boats come and go--some with fishermen in them, like Mr. Hurd, and others that carried lumber and other things from shore to shore.

"Can we go out in a boat some day?" asked Russ of his father.

"Yes, some day I'll get a boat and take you all for a row," Mr. Bunker promised.

But there were many other things to do at Grandma Bell's to have fun besides going out on the lake in a boat. There were chickens and cows to look at; there was Zip to play with, and Muffin too; and there were lovely places in the woods where they could take their lunches and have picnics.

"Grandma Bell's is the nicest place in the world!" said Rose.

"That's what!" exclaimed Russ.

And Laddie tried to think up a riddle about why Grandma Bell's house was like fairyland, only he couldn't get just the right sort of answer, he said.

One day Russ, Laddie, and Rose went out to the barn with Tom Hardy to watch him feed the chickens. He gave them grains of yellow corn.

"Where do you get the corn?" asked Laddie.

"Out of the corn crib," answered Tom. "See it over there," and he pointed to a shed, through the slat sides of which could be seen the yellow ears of corn.

"How do you get the little pieces off the cobs?" asked Rose.

"Oh, I shell the corn in a sheller," answered Tom. "Come on, I'll show you," and he took the children to the corn crib where there was a queer machine, turned by a handle on a wheel. In an iron spout Tom dropped big, yellow ears of corn. Then he turned the wheel. There was a grinding noise, and out of one spout ran the yellow kernels of corn in a stream, while from another hole dropped the shelled cob, with nothing left on it.

"That's how I shell the corn cobs for the chickens," said the hired man. "But be careful not to put your hands down the spout where I drop the ears of corn."

"Why not?" asked Rose, who was catching Vi's trick of asking questions.

"Because if you do that it might shuck the fingernails off your hand," answered Tom. "Keep away from the corn-sheller."

It was later that same afternoon when Rose, who had been out to the barn with Russ and Laddie, came running back, tears streaming from her eyes.

"Oh, Mother! Come quick!" she cried, "Come quick!"

"What's the matter?" asked Mrs. Bunker.

"Oh, it's my doll!" answered Rose. "Laddie and Russ are shucking off all her buttons! Come quick!"