Chapter XV. Laddie's Queer Ride
 

When Rose, with tears streaming from her eyes, came running to her mother, Mrs. Bunker felt sorry for her little girl; but she was just a little puzzled to understand what was wrong. "Shucking off all her buttons" certainly sounded queer.

"What is it, Rose?" she asked. "What are Russ and Laddie doing?"

"They're shucking all the buttons off my doll."

"Shucking the buttons off your doll?"

"Yes. In the corn shucker, where Tom shucks the ears of corn for the chickens."

Mrs. Bunker didn't yet quite know what Rose meant, for the mother of the six little children had not been out to the corn crib, and did not know what was there.

"It's my middle-sized doll," explained Rose. "Please come and take her away from Russ and Laddie 'fore they shuck off all her buttons. Don't you know--she's got yellow shoe buttons on her dress--rows of 'em down the front and in the back. It's my messenger girl doll."

Mrs. Bunker followed Rose out to the corn crib. She began to understand what had happened. Among the many dolls Rose had was one she called her "messenger girl" doll It was about a foot tall, and the doll wore a blue dress, in color something like the suits worn by the telegraph messenger boys in the cities. To make the doll's dress more like a uniform, Rose had sewed on the back and front several rows of yellow shoe buttons, which she had cut from old tan shoes at home. The doll really had on her dress more buttons than she needed, but as some messenger and elevator boys in hotels and apartment houses have the same, I suppose Rose had a right to decorate her doll that way if she liked.

"How did it happen?" asked Mrs. Bunker, as she followed her little girl out to the corn crib.

"It was after we saw Tom shuck some corn to feed the chickens--he showed us how he did it," Rose answered.

"But what did Russ and Laddie do?"

"Oh, they went in and looked at the corn shucker. But they didn't put their hands in and turn the wheel, 'cause Tom said if they did that their fingernails would come off."

"Mercy me! I shouldn't want that to happen," said Mrs. Bunker with a laugh. "But go on, Rose, tell me what they did do?" she went on, for she saw that Rose felt very sad.

"Well, they wanted to shuck some corn," went on the little girl, "but they didn't durst do it. Then Russ saw me have my messenger girl doll, with the yellow shoe buttons down her back and front, and he said she looked just like an ear of corn."

"That wasn't very nice of him," put in Mrs. Bunker.

"Oh, well, I didn't mind," said Rose. "The yellow shoe buttons are like the grains of corn the chickens eat. One button did come off and a rooster picked it up and swallowed it." Rose was no longer crying.

"Poor rooster! I hope it won't hurt him," laughed Mrs. Bunker.

"I don't guess it will," said Rose, "'cause he crowed awful loud right after it. He must have liked it. But, anyhow, Russ said my doll looked like an ear of corn, so he asked me to let him take her to shuck off her buttons."

"And did you?" asked Mrs. Bunker.

"Yes'm, I did, Mother. He and Laddie put my doll in the corn shucker and they started to turn the wheel. Then I thought maybe my doll would be hurt, and I wanted her back again. But they wouldn't give her to me, so I came to tell you!" And once more the tears came into the little girl's eyes.

"Well, I'll fix it all right," said Mrs. Bunker. "Don't cry, Rose. Even if her buttons are all shucked off we can sew more on. Don't cry!"

So Rose dried her tears and hurried on after her mother out to Grandma Bell's corncrib.

As they came near it they could hear a grinding noise, and then the voice of Laddie called:

"Oh, Russ! here come some of the buttons."

"Yes! A lot of 'em!" Russ added. "Oh, she's shucking fine, Laddie--just like an ear of corn!"

"Dandy!" exclaimed Laddie. "It's too bad Rose didn't wait to see what we were doing. This is fun!"

"I'm here now! And you just give me my doll!" cried Rose. "I told mamma on you, that's what I did!"

The grinding noise kept up for a moment or two longer, and the laughter of the two little boys could be heard. Then Mrs. Bunker, followed by Rose, went into the corncrib. Mrs. Bunker saw a curious sight.

Standing at one side of the corn-shelling machine was Russ, turning the big wheel, which went round quite easily. On the other side was Laddie, and in his hat he was catching a little stream of yellow shoe buttons that came down through the spout.

"Boys! Boys! What are you doing?" cried Mrs. Bunker.

"Hello, Mother!" cried Russ. "She shucks dandy. All the buttons are coming off, just the way Tom made the kernels of corn come off the cobs for the chickens! Look!" and he pointed to the buttons dropping from the tin spout into Laddie's hat.

"Oh, my doll! My nice doll!" cried Rose. "She'll be spoiled now. She won't have any buttons left! Oh, I--I'm mad at you!" and she cried again and stamped first one foot and then the other at Laddie and Russ.

"Oh, you mustn't do that," said Mrs. Bunker gently.

"I don't care!" pouted Rose, half tearfully. "They ought not to shuck all the buttons off my doll!"

"Are you doing that, Russ?" asked his mother.

"Yes'm. But Rose said we could, and then, after she let us take her doll, she wanted it back, and we can't get her out till she goes through the shucker and all her buttons come off. Then she'll pop out the other spout like an ear of corn."

"Here she comes!" shouted Laddie. "All the buttons are off now! But, gee! you can sew more on, Rose. And here's your doll!"

As he spoke the doll dropped from a tin spout on the other side of the machine, at the place where the shelled cobs dropped out. And there wasn't a single yellow shoe button left on the doll.

"Oh--oh, dear!" sobbed Rose. "She's all spoiled!"

"Never mind," said Mrs. Bunker. "We can sew the buttons on again. But you boys shouldn't have done it," she told Russ and Laddie. "What made you?"

"Well, we wanted to shuck something," said Russ, who was beginning to feel a little sorry for what he had done, "Tom told us not to shuck any kernels off the corn, 'cause he'd fed the chickens enough. And he said we mustn't put our hands or any sticks in the machine. But we wanted to shuck something."

"And the yellow shoe buttons on Rose's doll looked just like corn," added Laddie.

Mrs. Bunker wanted to laugh, but she did not even smile. Rose felt too bad.

"There's a wheel inside this machine, Tom told us," said Russ, "and it's got a lot of sharp points on it. And when it goes around and the ears of corn get down inside, the points on the wheel knock and pull all the kernels off.

"We didn't durst take any ears of corn, so we took Rose's doll and we put her through the sheller. Rose said we might. And all her buttons came off just like kernels."

"So I see," said Mrs. Bunker. "Well, don't do it again."

"We won't," promised Laddie. "Here's your doll, Rose," he added, as he picked it up off the floor. Every button had been pulled off in the machine.

"Oh, dear!" sighed his sister. "She's spoiled!"

"Oh, no. I'll help you make her look like a messenger again, Rose," said her mother "But you boys had better keep away from the corn-shelling machine. You might be hurt."

Russ and Laddie promised. They had not really meant to annoy Rose, but they had just not stopped to think. They did so want to see the yellow shoe buttons pulled off their sister's doll. And that's just what happened. The doll was shaped something like an ear of corn, and the yellow buttons stuck out like kernels. And so the doll was "shucked."

After a while Rose got over feeling bad, and the next day all the yellow buttons were sewed back on the doll. And Tom kept the corncrib locked, so Laddie and Russ could not get into it again.

"But it was lots of fun seeing the yellow buttons drop out the spout," said Russ.

"And I could almost make up a riddle about it," added Laddie.

"I don't want any riddles about my doll," objected Rose. "She's too nice. I'm going to sew some yellow buttons on now, and black ones too, 'cause you lost some of the yellow ones."

"Well, we won't shuck her any more," promised Russ.

These were happy days at Grandma Bell's. Something new could be played by the children all the while. They loved it in the woods, and on the shores of beautiful Lake Sagatook.

"When are you going to get the boat, Daddy, and take us out?" asked Russ one afternoon, when they had seen the red-haired fishermen once more. He came close to the sandy point, and talked to the six little Bunkers, but he said he had not yet found the lumberman who had been given the ragged coat with Mr. Bunker's papers in the pocket.

"I'll get a boat next week," promised Mr. Bunker. "Then we can all go for a row."

"And fish, too?" asked Russ.

"Yes, we'll fish also," said his father.

But, as it happened, Laddie got tired waiting for the boat, and made one himself. At least he made a sort of raft.

He nailed some boards and pieces of wood together, and when he pushed the raft into the shallow water, near the shore of Sandy Point, as the children called their play-spot, Laddie found that he could stand up on his raft and push himself along. The raft floated with him on it, as though it were a boat. Of course the water came up over the top, but as Laddie went barefooted this did not matter.

One day he went down to the lake with a piece of clothesline. On the way he whistled to Zip, the playful dog.

"What are you going to do with him?" asked Russ.

"I'm going to see if he'll give me a ride," answered Laddie.

"A ride? How? There isn't any express wagon here."

"I don't need an express wagon," said Laddie. "I'm going to make Zip be a whale, or maybe a shark, and pull me on my raft-boat."

"How can you?" asked Russ.

"I'll show you," Laddie answered.

He tied one end of the piece of clothesline to his raft, and on the other end of the line he made fast a round stick.

"Here, Zip! Zip!" cried Laddie, "Go after the stick!"

He threw the stick, still tied to the rope, into the water of the lake, as far as he could from shore.

"You run down the shore a little farther and whistle to Zip," said Laddie to Russ. "You can whistle better than I can. When Zip swims to you with the stick in his mouth he'll pull me on the raft."

"Oh, I wonder if he will!" exclaimed Russ.

Zip, the big dog, was already swimming out to get the floating stick, and Laddie took his place on the raft, which he had pushed out from shore.

"I'll have a fine ride!" said the little boy.