Chapter XXIV. The Old Coat
 

"Bang!"

That was the soap-box cart hitting against a tree.

"Tunk! Tunk!"

Those were the soft sounds Russ and Laddie made as they were spilled out on the grass near the lumberman's cabin.

"Bow-wow!"

That was Zip barking at the cat.

"Hiss-siss!"

That was the cat making queer noises at Zip.

"Wow-ow-ow-Yelp!"

That was Zip howling because the cat scratched his nose.

For that's just what the cat did. Zip rushed at her so fast that he banged the cart against a tree, and turned it over on its side, spilling out Russ and Laddie. And Zip, not seeming to care what happened to his little masters, kept on after the cat.

But pussy was brave, and she didn't run and climb a tree, as most cats did when Zip chased them. She just stood, arching her back, making her tail big, and sissing queer sounds until the dog came near enough, when she darted out a paw, and the sharp claws scratched Zip on the nose. Then Zip howled and sat down to look at the cat. And the cat stayed right there looking at Zip.

For a moment or two Russ and Laddie didn't know just what had happened. But they scrambled to their feet. Then they saw Zip and the overturned cart and the cat, and they understood.

"He chased a cat," said Laddie.

"Zip, you're a bad dog!" cried Russ, and he shook his finger at the pet. "Didn't Grandma Bell tell you not to chase cats?"

This was true. Grandma Bell had told Zip that, but, like boys and girls, he sometimes forgot. Zip wasn't a bad dog, and he never bit cats. He just liked to chase them once in a while.

"Are you hurt, Laddie?" asked Russ.

"No. Are you?"

"Nope. Say! but didn't Zip run fast, though?"

"Terrible fast. Faster than when he chased the rabbit."

There were a few red spots on Zip's nose where the cat had scratched him. The dog licked them away with his tongue, and looked rather silly. It wasn't very often a cat stayed to fight him.

Russ and Laddie started for the overturned cart, to set it up on the wheels again, when the door of the log cabin opened and out came a red-haired man, whose clothes were quite old and ragged. He wore a pair of boots, into the tops of which his trousers were tucked, but he had on no coat. Russ and Laddie looked particularly to see if he had a coat, but he had none.

"Hello! What's going on here?" asked the man.

"If you please, our dog chased your cat," said Russ, "but he didn't hurt him--I mean our dog didn't hurt your cat."

"I'm glad of that," said the man with a smile. "That's a good cat of mine. I haven't had her very long, but I wouldn't want a dog to hurt her. But your dog seems to be scratched," went on the man, as he looked carefully and saw some more red spots of blood on Zip's nose.

"Yes, your cat scratched him," returned Russ. "I guess Zip won't chase her any more."

"I guess not," the red-haired man agreed. "So you had an upset, did you?" he went on as he noticed the overturned cart. "Did either of you get hurt?"

"No, thank you," answered Russ. "We fell on the soft grass."

"That's good," returned the man. "I suppose you belong up in the big house, though I haven't seen you before, and I didn't know there were any children up there."

"No, we don't live in the big house," said Russ, for the man had pointed toward the residence of Mr. Barker. "We live over at Lake Sagatook--I mean we're visiting Grandma Bell--and we came to see you. We're two of the six little Bunkers."

"Oh, you're two of the six little Bunkers, are you?" asked the man. "Well, if the other four are as nice as you I'd like to see them. You say you came to see me?"

"Yes, sir," answered Russ. "You're the lumberman, aren't you?"

"Well, yes, I used to be a lumberman when I could get work at it," answered the man standing in the cabin door. "I know how to cut down trees and all that sort of thing."

"And you have red hair," added Russ.

"Yes, you're right, I have got red hair," and the lumberman ran his fingers through it as though to pull out some and make sure it had not changed color.

"Is your name Mike Gannon?" asked Russ.

"That's my name, little Bunker--I don't know your first name."

"It's Russ, and his is Laddie," and Russ pointed to his brother.

By this time the cat, seeing that Zip was not going to chase her any more, had taken the arch out of her back and her tail looked like a small frankfurter sausage, and not like a big bologna one.

"Well, Russ and Laddie Bunker, I'm glad to see you," said Mr. Gannon. "And so you live over at Lake Sagatook, and not here at Green Pond. Why did you come so far?"

"To see you," answered Russ.

"To see me!" exclaimed the red-haired lumberman in surprise. "Well, I'm no great sight to look at, that's sure. But still I'm glad to see you. Are you sure you wanted me?"

"You're red-haired," said Russ slowly, as though going over certain points.

"That's right," said the lumberman.

"And you cut down trees," went on Russ.

"Correct."

"And were you ever a tramp?" Russ asked.

"Well, yes, you could call me that," admitted the red-haired man, speaking slowly. "I'm a sort of tramp lumberman. I never like to stay long in one place, and so I'm roving all over. You could call me a tramp."

"That's good," said Russ.

"Well, sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't," said Mr. Gannon. "It isn't so bad tramping in the summer, but in the winter it isn't so nice. You get cold and hungry."

"I meant it's good 'cause you're the very one we want to see," went on Russ, who felt quite big and grown-up, now that he and Laddie had come this far alone. "Now where is the ragged coat?"

"The ragged coat?" questioned Mr. Gannon. He did not seem to know what Laddie meant.

"Didn't you get a ragged cent from my daddy's real estate office about a month ago?" went on Russ in surprise. "It was in Pineville, where we live when we aren't visiting Grandma Bell. Did you get a ragged coat there?"

"Pineville--Pineville?" murmured the red-haired lumberman to himself, as if trying to remember. "Yes, I did tramp through there and--Hold on!" he cried. "I remember now! I did ask at an office if they had an old coat they could give me. I hadn't one worth wearing. I did get an old coat, and, as you say, it was ragged."

"Our father gave you that," went on Laddie. "Or he told one of his real estate men to do it."

"Yes, that's right--I remember now. I did beg a coat from a real estate office," said Mr. Gannon. "And that was your father's place, was it? Well, I'm glad to meet you boys. Your father was kind to me. But Pineville is a long way from here. It took me almost a month to walk it, stopping to work now and then."

"We came in the train," said Laddie, "and I know a riddle about the conductor punching the tickets, but I don't know----"

Russ didn't want his brother to get to talking about riddles at a time like this. So he interrupted with:

"And have you got that ragged coat now, Mr. Tramp--I mean Mr. Gannon? Have you got that coat now?"

"Have I got that ragged coat, you mean?" asked the man.

"Yes. Our daddy wants it back!"

Mr. Gannon looked a bit surprised.

"Not to wear," explained Russ quickly. "He doesn't want it to wear. You can keep it, I guess. But when he told the clerk in his office to give the coat to you there were some papers in one of the pockets and----"

"Real estate papers," broke in Laddie, remembering this part.

"Yes, real estate papers," said Russ. "They were in the pocket of the old, ragged coat, and my daddy would like awful much to get 'em back. Have you got the coat?"

Mr. Gannon did not speak for a moment or two. He seemed to be trying to think of something. Then, as Russ and Laddie looked at him, and as Zip sat looking at the cat, the red-haired tramp lumberman said:

"Well, now, it's a funny thing, but I have got that old coat yet. It's too ragged for me to wear--it got a lot more ragged after your father gave it to me--but I sort of took a liking to it, and I kept it. I've got it yet."

"Where is it?" asked Russ eagerly.

"Right here in my cabin. Mr. Barker lets me stay here while I'm cutting down trees to build his dock. I like to be by myself. I've got the coat here. I'll get it."

He went inside and came out a moment later with a ragged coat in his hand. It was tattered and torn.

"This is the coat your father gave me," said the lumberman, "but I'm sorry to say there are no papers in the pockets. You can look yourself if you like. There isn't a paper at all!"

As Russ watched, the red-haired man thrust his hands first into one pocket and then into the others. But no papers came out. Russ looked sad and disappointed. So did Laddie.

"This is the coat all right that I got at a real estate office in Pineville," said Mr. Gannon. "But every pocket was empty when I got it. I remember feeling in them. There were no papers at all. If there were ever any in the pockets they must have dropped out before I got the coat. The pockets are full of holes, anyhow. I'm sorry!"

So were Laddie and Russ. They watched while Mr. Gannon went through each pocket of the ragged coat once more. But it was of no use. No papers were to be found.

"Come on, Laddie," said Russ in a low voice to his brother. "We'd better go back home. Good-bye!" he called over his shoulder to the red-haired lumberman.

"Good-bye," answered Mr. Gannon. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I haven't your daddy's papers."