Chapter III. Grandma's Letter
 

While the other children, being too young to understand much about Daddy Bunker's worry, ran down to play in the yard, Russ and Rose stayed on the porch with their father and mother. They heard Mrs. Bunker ask:

"What sort of papers were they you lost?

"Well, I don't know that I have exactly lost them," said Mr. Bunker slowly, as though trying to think what really had happened, "I had some real estate papers in my desk at the office. They were about some property I was going to sell for a man, and the papers were valuable. But a little while ago, when I went to look for them, I couldn't find them. It means the loss of considerable money."

"Perhaps they are in your desk here," said Mrs. Bunker, for her husband sometimes did business at his home in the evening, and had a desk in the sitting-room.

"Perhaps they are," said the father of the six little Bunkers. "That is why I came home so early--to look."

He went into the house, followed by his wife and Russ and Rose. Mr. Bunker stepped over to his desk, and began looking through it. He took out quite a bundle of books and papers, but those he wanted did not seem to be there.

"Did you find them?" asked his wife, after a while.

"No," he answered with a shake of his head, "I did not. They aren't here. I'm sorry. I need those papers very much. I may lose a large sum of money if I don't find them. I can't see what could have happened to them. I had them on my desk in the office yesterday, and I was looking at them when Mr. Johnson came along to see about buying some lumber from the pile in the yard next to my office."

"Perhaps Mr. Johnson might know something about the papers," suggested Mrs. Bunker.

Her husband did not answer her for a moment. Then he suddenly clapped his hands together as a new thought came to him, and he said:

"Oh, now I remember! I left those papers in my old coat."

"Your old coat!" repeated Mrs. Bunker with interest.

"Yes. That old ragged one I sometimes wear at the office when I have to get things down from the dusty shelves. I had on that coat when I was holding the papers in my hand, and then Mr. Johnson came along. I wanted to go out in the lumberyard with him, to look at the boards he wanted to buy, so I stuck the papers in the pocket of the old coat."

"Then that's where they must be yet," said Mrs. Bunker. "Where is the coat?"

"Oh, I always keep it hanging up behind the office door. Yes, that's it. I remember now. When Mr. Johnson came in and I went out to look at the lumber with him, I stuck the papers in the inside pocket of the old, ragged coat. And then I forgot all about them until just now, when I had to have them. I'll hurry back to the office and get the papers out of the pocket of the coat."

"May we come with you?" asked Russ.

"Please let us," begged Rose.

Mr. Bunker, who did not seem quite so worried now, looked at his wife.

"Take the children, if you have time," she said. "At least Rose and Russ. The others are playing in the sand," for that's what they were doing. Vi, Laddie, Margy and Mun Bun were digging in a pile of sand at one end of the yard.

"All right, come along, Little Flower, and you, too, Whistler," said Mr. Bunker, giving Russ a pet name he used occasionally.

The two children, delighted to be out after the rain, went down the street with their father, leaving their smaller brothers and sisters playing in the sand. Russ and Rose felt they were too old for this--especially just now.

"Did you hear what happened to us?" asked Russ, as he walked along, holding one of his father's hands, while Rose took the other.

"What happened when?" asked Mr. Bunker.

"When I made a steamboat partly out of a barrel," went on Russ. "It got broken when Laddie was inside it and I was outside. But we didn't any of us get hurt."

"Well, I'm glad of that," said Mr. Bunker with a smile.

"And Laddie made up a funny riddle about the barrel" went on Rose. "Jerry told it to him, though. It's like this--'Why does a barrel eat a roll for breakfast?'"

"Why does a barrel eat a roll for breakfast?" repeated Mr. Bunker. "I didn't know barrels ate rolls. I thought they always took crackers or oatmeal or something like that."

"Oh, she hasn't got it right!" said Russ, with a laugh at his sister. "The riddle is, 'When is a barrel hungry?' and Laddie says Jerry told him it was when the barrel takes a roll before breakfast."

"Oh, I see!" laughed Mr. Bunker. "Well, that's pretty good. Now I have a riddle for you. 'How many lollypops can you buy for two pennies?'" and he stopped in front of a little store with the two children--one on each side of him.

Russ looked at Rose and Rose looked at Russ. Then they smiled and looked at their father.

"I think we can find the answer to that riddle in here," went Mr. Bunker, as he led the way into the candy store, for it was that kind.

And Russ and Rose soon found that they could each get a lollypop for a penny.

"You used to get two for a cent," said Russ. "But I guess, on account of everything being so high, they only give you one."

"Well, one at a time is enough, I should think," said Mr. Bunker, as they went out of the store. "If you had two lollypops I'd be afraid you wouldn't know which one to taste first, and it would take so long to make sure that you might grow old before you found out, and then you wouldn't have any fun eating them."

"Oh, you're such a funny daddy!" laughed Rose.

They walked down Main Street, and soon came to Mr. Bunker's real estate office. He hurried inside, followed by the children.

Mr. Bunker looked behind the door in the little room where he had his desk. The office was made up of three rooms, and in the large, outer one, were several clerks, writing at desks. Some of them knew the two little Bunker children and nodded and smiled at them.

"Where's that old coat of mine I sometimes wear?" asked Mr. Bunker of one of his clerks, when the office door had been opened but no garment was found hanging behind it.

"Do you mean that ragged one?" asked the clerk, whose name, by the way, was Donlin--Mr. Donlin.

"That's the one I mean," said Mr. Bunker. "I stuck some real estate papers in the pocket of that coat yesterday when I went out to the lumber pile with Mr. Johnson, and now I want them. I must have left them in the pocket of the old, ragged coat."

"If you did they're gone, I'm afraid," said Mr. Donlin.

"Gone? You mean those papers are gone?"

"Yes, and the old coat, too. They're both gone. If there were any papers in the pocket of that old coat they're gone, Mr. Bunker."

"But who took them?" asked the real estate man, much worried.

"Why, it must have been that old tramp lumberman," answered the clerk. "Don't you remember?"

"What tramp lumberman?" asked Mr. Bunker.

"It was this way," said Mr. Donlin. "After you went out to the lumber pile with Mr. Johnson--and I saw you had on the old coat--you came back in here and hung it up behind the door."

"And the valuable papers were in the pocket," said Mr. Bunker. "I remember that."

"Well, perhaps they were," admitted the clerk. "Anyhow, you hung the ragged coat behind the door. And just before you went home for the night an old tramp came in. Don't you remember? He was red-haired."

"Yes, I remember that," said the children's father.

"Well, this tramp said he used to be a lumberman, but he got sick and had to go to the hospital, and since coming out he couldn't find any work to do. He said he was in need of a coat, and you called to me to give him your old one, as you were going to get another. Do you remember that?"

"Oh, yes! I certainly do!" cried Mr. Bunker. "I'd forgotten all about the tramp lumberman! And I did tell you to give him my old coat. I forgot all about having left the papers in it. I was so busy talking to Mr. Johnson that I never thought about them. And did the tramp take the coat?"

"He did, Mr. Bunker. And he said to thank you and that he was glad to get it. He went off wearing it."

"And my papers--worth a large sum of money--were in the pocket!" exclaimed Mr. Bunker. "I never thought about them, for I was so busy about selling Mr. Johnson the lumber. It's too bad!"

"I'm sorry," said the clerk. "If I had known the papers were in the old coat I'd have looked through the pockets before I gave it to the tramp."

"Oh, it wasn't your fault," said Mr. Bunker quickly. "It was my own. I should have remembered about the papers being in the coat. But do you know who that tramp was, and where he went?"

"I never saw him before," replied Mr. Donlin, "and I haven't seen him since. Maybe the police could find him."

"That's it! That's what we'll have to do!" cried Mr. Bunker. "I shall have to send the police to find the old lumberman; not that he has done anything wrong, but to get back my papers. He may keep the coat. Very likely he hasn't even found the papers. Yes, I must tell the police!"

But before Mr. Bunker could do this in came the postman with the mail. There were several letters for the real estate dealer, and when he saw one he exclaimed:

"Ah, this is from Grandma Bell! We must see what she has to say!"

Daddy Bunker opened the letter, which was written to him by his wife's mother--the children's grandmother--and when he had read a few lines, he exclaimed:

"Oh, ho! Here is news indeed! Good news!"

"Oh, what is it?" asked Russ. "Did grandma tell you in the letter that the tramp lumberman left your papers at her house?"