Chapter XXI. Russ Hears News
 

When Daddy Bunker heard about the plan of Russ and Laddie to make a dog-cart, he at first thought the boys could not do it.

"How are you going to harness Zip to the cart?" he asked.

"Oh, we can do it," declared Russ. "We can make a harness out of pieces of rope and some straps in the barn. And we can get a box and put some wheels on it for a cart. It'll be easy."

"But maybe Zip won't let himself be hitched up," said Daddy Bunker. He wanted the boys to have fun while at Grandma Bell's, but he did not want them to go to a lot of work making something, and then be disappointed if it did not work.

"Oh, I guess Zip won't mind being harnessed," said Grandma Bell. "Once we had a man working for us who had a small boy. This boy--his name was Bobbie--made a little cart and used to drive Zip hitched to it, and the dog pulled Bobbie all around very nicely."

"Did he? Hurray! Then he'll pull us!" shouted Laddie.

As soon as Russ and Laddie got back to Grandma Bell's house they began to look for things of which to make the dog-cart and the harness. Two wheels were all they could find, but Daddy Bunker thought they would answer very nicely.

"I'll help you make the harness," said Tom Hardy. "I guess there are enough odd straps around the barn to make a harness for two dogs."

Russ and Laddie were glad to hear Tom say this. They felt that making the harness would be the hardest part of the work. The cart would be easier; at least so they hoped.

From the grocery store, down at the "Four Corners," where Grandma Bell traded, the boys, the next day, got a fine large soap box. It was quite strong, too.

"And it's got to be strong if you boys are going to ride around behind that dog Zip!" said the storekeeper. "He's a goer, Zip is! A goer!"

Tom helped the boys fasten the old baby carriage wheels to the box, and also helped them make a pair of shafts, just like those in between which a horse trots, only, of course, the ones for Zip were smaller. The hired man was as good as his word in the matter of a harness, and soon everything was in readiness for the first ride.

"The only thing I'm afraid of," said Mother Bunker, "is that Zip won't let himself be harnessed. He may not like it."

But the big dog did not seem to mind in the least. He came when Russ called him, and he wagged his tail when the boys showed him the soap-box cart and the harness.

"Now we're going to have some fun when you give us a ride!" said Russ, patting Zip's shaggy head.

"Bow-wow!" barked the dog, as much as to say:

"That's right! We'll have fun!"

Daddy Bunker, as well as his wife and Grandma Bell, came out to see how the first trip would turn out. Tom put the harness on Zip. The dog only sniffed at it and wagged his tail. Perhaps he thought of the time when he had been harnessed this way by Bobbie.

"Oh, it's nice! I like it!" cried Mun Bun, when he saw the home-made dog-cart with the baby carriage wheels. "I want a ride now."

"So do I," added Margy, who never liked to be left, out of anything in which her smaller brother had a share.

"You little folks had better not get in until Russ and Laddie try it," said Mr. Bunker "And they had better keep on the soft grass when they start to drive Zip."

"Why should we stay on the grass?" asked Laddie.

"So if you fall out of the cart you won't get hurt," his father answered with a merry laugh.

"Oh, we won't fall out," declared Russ. "The cart is big enough for two of us."

And the soap box was large enough for Russ, Laddie and one more little Bunker, though two made a more comfortable load than three. Tom had nailed in a board for a seat, and really the dog-cart, though rather roughly made, was very nice.

"Get in now, and let's see how you go," said Daddy Bunker. He was holding Zip by part of the harness that went around the dog's head. To this, which was a sort of muzzle, there were fastened two pieces of real horse reins, and by these Zip's head could be pulled to the left or the right, according to which way the little drivers wanted him to go.

"He guides just like a real horse or a boat," said Laddie. Of course there was no bit in Zip's mouth, as there is in the mouth of a horse, for dogs have to keep their mouth open so much, to cool off when they are hot, that a bit would be in the way.

In the soap box Laddie and Russ took their places. Daddy Bunker handed them the lines and let go of the dog's head.

"Gid-dap!" called Russ.

"Go fast!" ordered Laddie.

"Hold tight and don't get spilled out!" begged Mother Bunker.

"We will!" promised Laddie.

Russ was driving and he didn't feel much like talking just then. He had to give all his attention to Zip.

Away trotted the dog, pulling after him the cart with the two boys in it. Over the grass he went, and when Russ saw that the dog seemed to know just what to do, and didn't show any signs of wanting to turn around and upset the cart, Russ turned his steed toward the path.

"We can go faster here, where it isn't so soft," he said.

And Zip did pull the cart along at good speed. Around and around on the gravel paths he pulled the boys, and he seemed to be having as much fun from it as they were.

"He goes very nicely," said Daddy Bunker, smiling.

"I'd like a ride in the cart myself, if I were small enough," said the children's mother, laughing.

"Yes, Zip is a good dog for the six little Bunkers to play with," observed Grandma Bell. "They'll have a good time with that cart."

"Give us a ride! Give us a ride!" begged Rose.

"Yes, can't you take some of them for a turn now?" asked Mrs. Bunker.

"As soon as Laddie and I go around once more," promised Russ.

Zip didn't seem a bit tired, though he had run fast part of the time. Laddie got out and this made room for Rose and Violet, for Daddy Bunker said Russ had better stay in and do the driving.

"But I'm going to drive after a while? when I learn how," declared Rose, and they said she might.

Zip gave Russ, Rose and Vi as nice a ride as he had given the two boys, and the girls clapped their hands in glee and laughed joyously as they rattled along over the paths.

Then came the turn of Margy and Mun Bun, and they liked it more than any one, I guess, and didn't want to get out of the cart.

"But Zip is tired now," said Mrs. Bunker. "See how fast he is breathing, and how his tongue hangs out of his mouth," for the dog had been pulling the cart for over an hour. "Get out, Mun and Margy, and you may have another ride after Zip rests."

The little children loved the dog, and wanted to be kind to him; so, when their mother told them this, they got out of the cart, and Zip was unharnessed and given some cold water to drink and a nice bone on which to gnaw.

"If he was a horse he could have oats," said Russ. "But I guess he likes a bone better."

"I guess so, too," said Grandma Bell, and she smiled.

With the dog-cart, taking rowing trips on the lake now and then, going fishing, hunting for berries and walking in the woods, the six little Bunkers at Grandma Bell's had a fine time that early summer. There seemed to be something new to do every day, or, if there wasn't, Russ or Laddie made it.

"And I've thought up a new riddle," said the smaller boy one day.

"What's it about?" asked Russ.

"It's about Zip," Laddie replied. "Why is Zip like a little boy when he's tired? I mean when Zip is tired. Why is he like a little boy then?"

"'Cause he wants to sit down and rest," answered Russ.

"Nope; that isn't the answer," said Laddie, shaking his head.

"Why isn't it?"

"'Cause it isn't. I know the answer, and it isn't that. Tom helped me think the riddle up. Maybe it's an old one, but Tom said it was good. Why is Zip, when he's tired, like a little boy?"

Russ thought for a while, and then he said:

"I don't know. I give up. Why is he, Laddie?"

"'Cause his breath comes in short pants. You see when Zip is tired his breath is short--he pants, Tom told me. And a little boy, like you and me, Russ, wears short pants. So that's why Zip is like one."

"Oh, I see!" laughed Russ. "That's pretty good. I know a riddle too, Laddie."

"What is it?"

"This. What makes a miller wear a white hat?"

Laddie thought over this for a moment or two and then said:

"He wears a white hat so the flour dust won't show so plain."

"Nope; that isn't it," Russ declared.

"Is it because nobody would sell him a black hat?" asked Laddie.

"Nope. Shall I tell you the answer?"

"No. Let me guess!" begged the smaller boy.

He gave several other answers, none of which, Russ said, was right, and at last Laddie murmured:

"I give up! Why does a miller wear a white hat?"

"To keep his head warm, same as anybody else!" laughed Russ. "Tom told me that riddle, too," he added.

"Well," said Laddie slowly, as he took off his own hat to run his fingers through his hair, "that isn't as good a riddle as the one about Zip's breath coming in short pants."

"Maybe not. But it's harder to guess," said Russ.

Then the two boys, after waiting for Zip's breath to come out of short pants--that is, waiting for him to get rested--went for a ride in the dog-cart.

As they were going down the road they saw, coming toward them, a man with bright red hair. He was driving a horse and carriage.

"There's Mr. Hurd," said Russ. "He's the one we thought was the tramp lumberman that got daddy's real estate papers."

"I see him," said Laddie. "Look! He's waving to us! Let's go over and see what he wants."

Mr. Hurd was driving down a cross road, and waited for the boys to come up to him.

"Hello, Russ and Laddie!" he called, "I've got some news for you!"

"News?" asked Russ.

"Yes. Do you remember when you took me for the red-haired lumberman that you thought had your father's papers: Remember that?"

"Yes," answered Russ, "I do. But you weren't him. I wish we could find him."

"Maybe you can," said Mr. Hurd, and Russ looked at him in a queer way. What did Mr. Hurd mean?