Chapter XXIII. The Lumberman's Cabin
 

Along the road that led down the hill, and through the woods to Green Pond, went Zip the dog; pulling after him the cart in which Russ and Laddie rode.

"I'm glad we're riding," said Laddie. "It would be awful far to walk to Mr. Barker's place at Green Pond and back again, wouldn't it, Russ?"

"Oh, I don't know," Russ answered slowly, as he guided Zip around a turn in the crooked path. "I could walk it, but your legs aren't as long as mine. I walked two miles once, with daddy."

"What'll we do when we see that red-haired lumberman?" asked the smaller boy.

"We'll ask him for daddy's old coat and the papers."

"But maybe he'll want the old coat," suggested Laddie.

"Oh, well, he can have that," Russ answered. "Daddy gave him that, anyhow. But we can ask him for the papers."

"S'posin' he hasn't got 'em?"

"What makes you s'pose so much?" demanded Russ. "Wait till we get there, and we can tell what to do."

"All right," agreed Laddie. "I can be thinking of a riddle. Maybe I could ask the lumberman a riddle, Russ. Could I?"

"Maybe. But maybe he doesn't like 'em. Some folks don't."

"I could ask him an easy one, about the miller's hat, or about why the tickets don't get mad when the conductor punches 'em."

"No, don't ask him that one," Russ said.

"Why not?"

"'Cause that one about the tickets is too hard--nobody knows the answer. You don't yourself."

"I know I don't, but maybe the lumberman might. Maybe he'd like to answer it. I guess I'll ask him."

"No, don't do it," advised Russ. "He's a poor lumberman, or he wouldn't want an old coat. And if he's poor he wouldn't pay money for tickets, so he wouldn't know why the conductor punched 'em."

Laddie thought about this a while.

"All right," he said, finally, as Zip trotted along down the hill, and came out on a level road that led to Green Pond. "I'll make up a new riddle for the lumberman," he went on. "Or I could ask him about Zip's breath coming in short pants."

"All right, ask him that," agreed Russ. "I hope he gives us the papers."

Mr. Barker's place was on the shores of Green Pond. In fact the man owned the whole pond--or little lake, for that was what it was--and all the woods around it. His house, a very big one, stood in the woods not far from the pond, and all about the house were beautiful grounds, with roads and paths leading through them. And around the house was a high iron fence, with gate-ways here and there.

Russ and Laddie, riding in their soap-box dog-cart, came along the public road. Ahead of them they could see the big iron fence around Mr. Barker's place. They knew it, for they had driven past it the week before with Grandma Bell, when she took the six little Bunkers and Daddy Bunker and Mother Bunker for a picnic ride in the big carriage.

"There's the place," said Laddie, pointing.

"I see it," returned Russ. "Now we'll drive in and find the lumberman and get daddy's papers."

Russ guided Zip up to one of the big iron gates, and as the boys turned into the drive a man came out of a little house near the entrance and held up his hand. It was just as the policeman does in the city street when he wants the automobiles and wagons to stop, so Russ called to Zip:

"Whoa!"

The dog had learned to stop when any one driving him said this, so now he halted and, being tired, he stretched out on the ground. His harness was loose, so he could do this.

"Where are you boys going?" asked the man at the gate.

"We want to find a lumberman," said Russ.

"A lumberman?"

"Yes. One works here and he has daddy's old coat and there are some papers in the pocket that daddy wants," Russ explained. "He's red-haired," he went on. "I mean the lumberman is, not my father."

"Oh," said the man at the gate. "So you're looking for some one. But Mr. Barker lives here and you can't go in, I'm afraid."

"We know Mr. Barker lives here," returned Russ. "We live over at Lake Sagatook--that is, we don't zactly live there, but we're visiting Grandma Bell."

"Oh, are you some of the little children staying at Mrs. Bell's house?" asked the gate-tender. "I heard she had company. I know her well, but I don't often get a chance to see her. So you're her company."

"She's our grandma," explained Russ. "And we are the six little Bunkers--everybody calls us that. 'Course Laddie and I are only two Bunkers--there're four more at home--Rose, Vi, Margy and Mun Bun."

"What's Mun Bun?" asked the gate-man. Nearly every one asked this on hearing the funny name.

"Mun Bun is our littlest brother," explained Russ, who was doing all the talking.

"His right name is Munroe, but we call him Mun Bun for short."

"Well, as long as you don't eat him for short I guess it will be all right," said the gate-man with a laugh.

"Is that a riddle--about eating Mun Bun?" asked Laddie.

"No. That's supposed to be a joke," explained the gate-man. "Your brother's nickname is Bun, you say. Well, a bun is something good to eat, but I hope you don't eat your little brother--joke, you see."

Russ and Laddie laughed. They didn't exactly understand the joke, but they thought the gate-man was jolly and they wanted to be jolly too.

"So you six little Bunkers--at least two of you--came to see Mr. Barker, did you?" asked the man at the entrance.

"No, we didn't zactly come to see him," answered Russ. "We want to see the lumberman that took daddy's ragged coat with the papers in the pocket--only he didn't know they were there and he didn't take the coat. That was given to him."

"You want to see a lumberman?" repeated the guard at the gate, for he was a sort of guard. "But we haven't any lumbermen here."

"He's red-haired," Russ reminded him.

"Oh, I guess I know whom you mean!" said the gate-man. "There is a red-haired man cutting trees over in the woods. Mr. Barker is going to build a new dock for his boats in Green Pond, and there is a red-haired man chopping down trees for the work. He is a lumberman, I s'pose."

"And is he red-haired?" asked Laddie eagerly.

"Yes, his hair is red. I remember now. He came here one day and asked if there was any work on the place. I was going to tell him there wasn't, when one of the gardeners said the foreman was looking for a man to chop trees. So this red-haired man was hired."

"And is he a tramp?" asked Russ.

"Well, he did look sort of like that, ragged and dusty."

"And did he have a ragged coat?" Russ went on.

"I didn't notice particularly," answered the gate-man. "He was pretty much ragged all over, I guess, but I didn't pay much attention to him, as I was busy. But he certainly was red-haired."

"Oh, I do hope he's got daddy's papers!" went on Russ. "Mr. Hurd told us about the lumberman," he went on, "and we came to see him."

"Well, you can do that," said the guard at the gate. "Just follow this road until you come to the lake. This lumberman--I think his name is Mike Gannon--lives by himself in a little cabin near the place where the new dock is to be built. He said he was used to living by himself, so the foreman told him he could camp out there. And there you'll find him, if he isn't chopping down trees in the woods. Just follow this road to the lake. Will your dog pull you there?"

"Oh, yes, Zip is a good puller," said Russ. "He gave us this ride from Lake Sagatook."

"And he ran after a rabbit!" added Laddie. "And he might 'a' got it, only the bunny went down a hole."

"They mostly do that when a dog chases 'em," said the gate-man. "Well, you just follow the road along until you come to the cabin where the red-haired lumberman lives--Mike Gannon is his name--and then you can ask him about the ragged coat and the papers. Stop and tell me about it on your way out."

"We will," promised Russ and Laddie. Then Russ called to Zip:

"Gid-dap!"

Up jumped the dog with a bark, as much as to say "Good-bye!" to the gate-man, and down the gravel drive he trotted with the cart.

"He was a nice man, wasn't he?" observed Laddie.

"Yes, terrible nice," agreed Russ. "I hope we find the red-haired lumberman."

"I forgot to ask him a riddle," went on Laddie. "I mean the man at the gate. But I can ask him one when we go back."

"If we have time," Russ said. "We can't stay too long, or mother and daddy and Grandma Bell will wonder where we are."

"That's so," agreed Laddie. "Well, we'll just find the lumberman and get the papers and take them to daddy."

Only it was not going to be quite as easy as that, the boys were to learn.

Along the pretty drive, under the trees, they went in the dog-cart. Pretty soon they came to a part of the road where the little lake came close to the roadway, and, just beyond, was a log cabin.

"There's where the lumberman lives," said Russ.

"Yes, I guess he does," agreed Laddie.

And just then, all of a sudden, Zip saw a cat out in front of the cabin. With a growl and a bark the dog began to run toward the cat as fast as he could go, pulling the cart after him.

"Whoa! Whoa! Stop!" cried Russ.

"Stop! Stop, Zip!" yelled Laddie. "Stop!"

But the dog did not hear, or would not mind. Straight at the cat he rushed, and pussy, seeing a strange dog coming, and pulling a soap-box cart in which were two boys--pussy, seeing this strange sight--arched her back and made her tail get as big as a big bologna sausage.