Chapter XXII. Off on a Trip
 

"Are you sure this tramp lumberman who took the old coat with your father's papers in it, had red hair?" asked Mr. Hurd as Zip came to a stop near the carriage, and lay down in the shade, for, not being a big horse, the dog could do almost as he pleased when harnessed up.

"Yes, he had red hair," said Russ. "But he really didn't mean to take the papers. I heard my father say. It was just a mistake."

"Yes, I guess that was it," agreed Mr. Hurd. "Well, your father would like to get those papers back, wouldn't he?"

"Indeed he would!" exclaimed Russ. "He and mother were talking about 'em only last night. Daddy would like to get 'em very much."

"Well," went on Mr. Hurd. "I'll tell you the news I spoke about. Do you know where Mr. Barker's place is?"

"Yes," answered Russ. Laddie let his brother do most of the talking this time. "It's over on the road to Green Pond, isn't it?" and Russ, sitting in the dog-cart beside Laddie, pointed in the direction of the place he spoke of. It was about three miles from where Grandma Bell lived. Russ had heard his father, mother and grandmother speak of Mr. Barker's place. He was a man who owned many fields and woodlands.

"That's right, Russ," said Mr. Hurd. "Mr. Barker's place is over by Green Pond. I see you know it all right. Well, now I heard yesterday that there is a red-haired lumberman working for Mr. Barker, cutting down trees for him, and getting ready to build an ice-house on the shore of Green Pond."

"Is he a tramp lumberman?" asked Russ.

"As to that I don't know," answered Mr. Hurd. "That's what your father will have to find out for himself. But he can easily do that. All he'll have to do will be to go over to Mr. Barker's place--it isn't far--and ask for the red-haired lumberman. Mr. Barker has a big place, and hires a good many men, but almost anybody would know a red-haired lumber-jack. There aren't so many of 'em in these parts."

"And if he's the tramp that got daddy's old coat then he must have the papers," said Russ.

"Well, yes, I suppose so. Unless he's lost 'em or sold 'em," went on Mr. Hurd. "Your father said those real estate papers were worth money, so maybe the tramp that found them in the pocket of the old coat sold them."

Russ and Laddie looked sad on hearing this. Suppose, after all, Daddy Bunker should not get his papers back? That would be too bad!

"As I say," went on Mr. Hurd, "I know only what some one told me. It was another man who works for Mr. Barker. He said a red-haired lumberman came one day last week, and Mr. Barker hired him. I wouldn't be surprised if he was a tramp, for regular lumbermen wouldn't be down here this time of year. They'd be up in the woods. But, boys, you tell your father to go have a look at this red-haired man over at Mr. Barker's place."

"We'll tell him," said Russ. "And thank you."

"Gid-dap!" called Mr. Hurd to his horse, and down the road it went, the carriage soon being out of sight. Zip, the dog harnessed to the cart which Russ and Laddie had helped make, still lay in the shade. He was taking a good rest.

"Oh, wouldn't it be fine if this is the lumberman daddy wants, and he could get back his papers?" said Laddie.

"Very fine," agreed Russ. "We'd better go back and tell him right away. Maybe he'll take us to Mr. Barker's place with him!"

"Oh, maybe!" cried Laddie. "Let's hurry home."

But you can not always tell what is going to happen in this world. If, just then, a white rabbit had not scooted out of the bushes and run through the woods right in front of Zip, perhaps this part of the story would never have been written. It is certain that if there had been no rabbit to chase, Zip wouldn't have run as fast as he did. For he ran very fast.

And, just as I told you, it was because the white rabbit popped out of the bushes right in front of the dog.

"Bow-wow!" barked Zip, as he saw the bunny. "Bow-wow!" and that meant: "I guess I'd better chase you!"

And that's what Zip did. Up he sprang from the grass, and after the white rabbit he ran. The dog started off so quickly that Russ and Laddie were almost thrown out of the cart. If they had not held to the sides of the box very hard they would have fallen out. As it was they were jerked and tossed about as Zip ran after the rabbit.

"Oh, what's the matter?" asked Laddie, who had not seen the bunny. "Did a bee sting Zip?" This had happened once, and the dog had run around yelping and barking, no one knowing what was the matter with him for a while.

"No, I don't believe it was a bee," answered Russ. "It was a rabbit. Whoa, Zip! Whoa!" called the little boy, pulling on the leather lines.

But Zip did not stop. Very few dogs would, when once they had started to run after a rabbit.

"Bow-wow! Bow-wow!" barked Zip, and on he ran, faster and faster. He seemed to enjoy it very much.

It was a good thing the woods were not of the roughest kind just at this place, for otherwise the dog-cart would have been smashed to pieces. As it was it bumped and swayed from side to side, and Laddie and Russ had all they could do to keep from bouncing out.

"Whoa! Whoa!" called Russ, but Zip paid no attention. Nor did he care how much the little boy driver pulled on the lines. As Zip had no bit in his mouth to hurt him when it was pulled on hard, he was not going to stop. The leather muzzle around his nose did not hurt him as a bit would have done.

I don't know just how far Zip would have run after the white rabbit, if something had not happened to put an end to the chase. The rabbit, probably getting tired of being run after, suddenly darted down inside a hole. This was his burrow, or underground house, and once down in that, the rabbit knew no dog could get him.

So into his hole, as if he were going down cellar, went the bunny. And Zip, with a howl of disappointment, saw the rabbit disappear. The dog stopped at the outside edge of the hole, and barked as loudly as he could. Perhaps he thought he was giving the bunny an invitation to come up.

But the bunny never answered. They don't bark, but they can make a funny little squeaking sound at times. This one didn't do even that.

"He's gone, Zip! You can't get him," said Russ.

"Bow-wow," answered the dog, almost as if he understood what Russ said, and as though he answered:

"Yes, he's gone, but I'll get him the next time."

"He gave us a good ride, anyhow, didn't he, Russ?" asked Laddie. "I guess he rode us 'most a mile."

"Half a mile, anyhow," answered Russ. "And oh, look, Laddie! We can see Green Pond!"

They were up on top of a hill, and, looking through the trees, they could see, sparkling in the sun, the waters of Green Pond, about two miles away.

"That's where Mr. Barker lives," said Laddie.

"And maybe the red-haired lumberman is there with daddy's papers," said Russ. "Oh, Laddie! I know what let's do!"

"What?"

"Let's go down to Mr. Barker's place and ask the lumberman if he's a tramp, and if he is the one that took the old coat. Let's do that!"

"All right," agreed Laddie. "It isn't far and Zip will ride us there and home again, so we won't get tired. If we get the papers won't daddy be glad?"

"Terrible glad! Come on, we'll go!"

And, calling to Zip to come away from the rabbit hole, Russ and Laddie in their dog-cart started on a trip which was to have a strange ending.