Chapter XVII. A Red Coat
 

When Mun Bun had said that a bear had come up out of the lake, at first Rose felt she was going to be frightened, but when she saw that her littlest brother and sister were also afraid, Rose made up her mind that she must be brave.

She looked at Vi, and Vi was a little frightened, too, but not as much so as Mun Bun and Margy.

"What was it you saw, Mun?" asked Vi, even now not able to stop asking questions. "Where was it?"

"It was a big bear, I guess," answered the little fellow.

"Pooh!" cried Rose, in a voice she tried to make sound brave. "There aren't any bears in these woods. Grandma Bell said so."

"Well, anyhow, it was a--a something!" said Mun Bun. "It came up out of the water and it made a big splash."

"It splashed water on me," said Margy.

"What did you think it was?" asked Vi.

"Maybe--maybe a--a elephant," replied the little girl. "It had a big long tail, anyhow."

"Then it couldn't be a elephant," declared Rose.

"Why not?" Vi wanted to know.

"Because elephants have little, short tails. I saw 'em in the circus."

"But they have something long, don't they?" Vi went on.

"That's their trunk," explained Rose. "But it isn't like the trunk we put our things in. Elephants only put peanuts in their trunks."

"Then what makes 'em so big? Their trunks, I mean," asked Vi.

"I don't know," Rose confessed. "Only I know elephants have little tails."

"This animal had a big tail," declared Mun Bun.

"Maybe it was the elephant's trunk they saw," suggested Vi. "Do you think it was?"

"Elephants don't live in the lake," decided Rose. Then she started down toward the shore where Mun Bun and Margy had been paddling in their bare feet.

In truth, she did not want to go very much. That was why she had done so much talking before she started.

"Where are you goin'?" asked Violet.

"I'm going to see what it is!" declared Rose.

"Oh-o-o-o!" exclaimed Vi. "Maybe it'll bite you. Did it have a mouth, Mun Bun?"

"I didn't see its mouth, but it had a flappy tail."

"I'm going to call mamma!" exclaimed Vi, "Don't you go, Rose!"

But Rose was already halfway to the shore of the lake. In another moment she called out:

"Oh, I see it! I see it!"

"What is it?" asked Mun, made brave by what he saw Rose doing, and he followed her. Vi and Margy trailed after them. "What is it?"

"It's a big rat, that's all, but it isn't the kind of rats we saw the hired man catch in a trap at the barn. It's a nicer rat than that, and it's eating oysters on a rock near the shore."

"Oh, is it really eating oysters?" asked Vi.

"They look like oysters," replied Rose. "Oh, there he goes!" and, as she spoke, the animal, which did look like a rat, plunged into the water and swam away, only the tip of its nose showing.

"Tisn't a bear," said Rose, "and 'tisn't an elephant."

"Then what is it?" asked Vi.

Rose did not know, but when the children went to the house and told Grandma Bell about it, she said:

"Why, that was a big muskrat. They won't hurt you. There are many of them in the lake, and in the winter the men catch them for their skins to make fur-lined coats from. It was only a big muskrat you saw, Mun Bun."

"And was he eating oysters?" asked Vi, who liked to know all about things.

"They were fresh-water clams," said Grandma Bell. "There are many of them in the lake, too. The muskrats bring them up from the bottom in their paws, and take them out on a rock that sticks up from the water. There they eat the clams."

"Well, I'm glad it wasn't a bear I saw," put in Mun Bun.

"So am I," said Mother Bunker with a laugh. "But you needn't be afraid--there are no bears here."

While this had been going on Laddie and Russ, with their father in the boat, had been having a good time. They rowed up the lake, and once or twice Mr. Bunker let the boys take the oars so they might learn how to row.

"If you are going to be around the water," said Mr. Bunker, "you ought to learn how to row a boat as well as how to swim."

"I can swim a little," said Russ.

"Yes, you do very well," returned his father. "And before we go back I must teach Laddie."

"I like to wade in my bare feet," said the smaller boy.

"Well, when you learn to swim you'll like that," replied his father. "But now let's see if we can catch some fish. I told mother I'd try to bring some home, and I guess Muffin is hungry for fish, too. So we'll bait our hooks and see what luck we have."

Mr. Bunker stopped rowing the boat and got his own fishing-rod and line ready. Russ could fix his own, but Laddie needed a little help. Soon the three, sitting in the boat, were waiting for "bites."

All at once there was a little shake and nibble on Laddie's line. He grew excited and was going to pull up, but his father whispered to him:

"Wait just a moment. The fish hasn't taken hold of the hook yet. He is just tasting the bait. If you pull up now you'll scare him away. Wait a little longer."

So Laddie waited, and then, as he felt a sudden tug on his line, he quickly lifted the pole from the water. Up in the air went the dripping line, and on the end of it was a fine fish.

"Laddie has caught the first one," said Mr. Bunker. "Now we'll have to see what we can do, Russ."

"I think I have one now," said Russ in a low voice.

Mr. Bunker looked at his son's pole. The end of it was shaking and bobbing a little, and the line was trembling.

"Yes, you have a bite," said Mr. Bunker. "Pull up, Russ! Pull!"

Russ pulled, as Laddie had done, and he, too, had caught a fine fish.

"Well, well!" exclaimed Mr. Bunker, as he took this second one off the hook. "You boys are beating me all to pieces. I'll have to watch out what I'm doing!"

"Why don't you pull up your line. Daddy, and see what you've got on your hook?" asked Laddie.

"I believe I will," his father answered. "Here we go! Let's see what I have!"

Up came his line, and the pole bent like a bow, because something heavy was on the hook.

"Oh, daddy's got a big one! Daddy's got a terrible one!" cried Laddie.

"It's bigger than both our fishes put together," added Russ.

"I certainly have got something," said Mr. Bunker, as he kept on lifting his pole up. "But it doesn't act like a fish. It doesn't swim around and try to get off."

Something long and black was lifted out of the water. At first the two little boys thought it was a very big fish, but when Mr. Bunker saw it he laughed and cried:

"Well, look at my luck! It's only an old rubber boot!"

And so it was. His hook had caught on a rubber boot at the bottom of the lake and he had pulled that up, thinking it was a fish.

"Never mind, Daddy," said Russ kindly. "You can have half of my fish."

"And half of mine, too," added Laddie.

"Thank you," said their father. "That is very nice of you. But I must try to catch one myself."

And he did, a little later, though it was not as big as the one Russ has caught.

But after that Mr. Bunker caught a very large one, and Russ and Laddie each got one more, so they had enough for a good meal, as well as some to give to Muffin.

Then Daddy Bunker and the boys rowed home, and were told all about the muskrat that Mun Bun had seen come out of the lake to eat the fresh-water clams.

"How would you all like to go after wild strawberries to-day?" asked Grandma Bell of the six little Bunkers one morning, about two days after the fishing trip.

"Oh, we'd just love it!" said Rose.

"Well, get ready then, and we'll go over to the hill across the sheep meadow, and see if we can find any. There used to be many strawberries growing there, and I think we can find some to-day. Come on, children!"

Mrs. Bunker got ready, too, but Daddy Bunker did not go, as he had some letters to write. Margy wore a little red coat her mother had made for her, and she looked very pretty in it.

Down by the brook, and along the shore of the lake they went, until they came to a meadow, around which was a fence.

"What's the fence for?" asked Violet.

"To keep the sheep from getting out," said Grandma Bell. "There are sheep in this meadow belonging to Mr. Hixon, the man who owns the funny parrot."

They climbed in between the rails of the fence and started across the sheep meadow. Grandma Bell and Mother Bunker were talking of the days when the children's mother was a little girl. Russ and Rose were walking along together, and Laddie was trying to think of a riddle. Violet walked with Mun Bun, and, for a moment, no one thought of little Margy in her red coat.

"Are you all right?" asked Mrs. Bunker, turning to look back at the children. And then she saw Margy straggling along at the rear, all by herself. Margy had lagged behind to pick buttercups and daisies.

"Come, Margy! Come on!" cried Mrs. Bunker. "You'll get lost."

"Doesn't she look cute in her red coat?" asked Rose.

And hardly had she said that when there came from a clump of tall weeds near Margy the bleating of a ram, and the animal himself jumped out and started for the little girl, whose red coat made her look like a bright flower in the green meadow.