Chapter VI. Mun Bun's Balloon
 

Six little Bunkers looked at the ragged man coming up the walk toward the porch. He was a tramp--of that even Mun Bun, the smallest of the six, was sure.

"Have you got anything for a hungry man?" asked the ragged chap, taking off his ragged hat. "I'm a poor man, and I haven't any work and I'm hungry."

"Did you bring back my daddy's papers?" asked Russ.

"What papers?" asked the tramp, and he seemed very much surprised. "I'm not the paper man," he went on. "I saw a boy coming up the street a while ago with a bundle of papers under his arm. I guess maybe he's your paper boy. I'm a hungry man----"

"I don't mean the newspaper," went on Russ, for the other little Bunkers were leaving the talking to him. "But did you bring back the real estate papers?"

"The real estate papers?" murmured the tramp, looking around.

"'Tisn't any riddle," added Laddie. "Is it, Russ?"

"No, it isn't a riddle," went on the older boy. "But did you bring back daddy's papers that he gave you?"

"He didn't give me any papers!" exclaimed the tramp.

"They were in a ragged coat," added Rose. "In the pocket."

The tramp looked at his own coat.

"This is ragged enough," he said, "but it hasn't any papers in it that I know of. I guess they'd fall out of the pockets if there was any," he added. "This coat is nothing but holes. I guess you don't know who I am. I'm a hungry man and----"

"Aren't you a lumberman, and didn't my father give you an old coat the other day?" asked Russ.

The tramp shook his head.

"I don't know anything about lumber," he said. "I can't work at much, and I'm hungry. I'm too sick to work very hard. All I want is something to eat. And I haven't any papers that belong to your father. Is he at home--or your mother?"

"I'll call them," said Rose, for she knew that was the right thing to do when tramps came to the house.

But there was no need to go in after Mr. and Mrs. Bunker. They had heard the children talking out on the side porch, and a strange man's voice was also noticed, so they went out to see what it was.

"Oh, Daddy!" cried Russ. "Here's the tramp lumberman you gave the old coat to, but he says he hasn't any papers!"

"Excuse me!" exclaimed the tramp, "but I don't know what the little boy is talking of. I just stopped in to ask for a bite to eat, and he and the other children started talking about a lumberman and some papers in a ragged coat. Land knows my coat is ragged enough, but I haven't anything belonging to you."

Mr. Bunker looked sharply at the ragged man, and then said:

"No, you aren't the one. A tramp lumberman did call at my real estate office the other day, and I told one of my clerks to give him an old coat. In the pocket were some valuable papers. But you aren't the man."

"I know it, sir!" answered the tramp. "This is the first time I've been here. I'm hungry and----"

"I'll tell Norah to get him something to eat," said Mrs. Bunker, who was kind to every one.

And while she was gone, and while the six little Bunkers looked at the ragged man, the children's father talked to him.

"I'd like to find that tramp lumberman," said Mr. Bunker. "I gave him the coat because he needed it more than I did, but I didn't know I had left the papers in the pocket. You're not the man, though. I didn't have a very good look at him, but he had a lot of red hair on his head: I saw that much."

"My hair's black--what there is of it," said the ragged man. "But I don't know anything about your papers. But if I see a red-haired lumberman in my travels around the country, I'll tell him to send you back the papers."

"That will be very kind of you," said Mr. Bunker, "as I need them very much. Do you think you might meet this red-haired lumberman tramp, who has my old coat?"

"Well, I might. You never can tell. I travel about a good bit, and I meet lots of fellers like myself, though I don't know as I ever saw a lumberman."

"This man wasn't a regular tramp," said Mr. Bunker. "He was only tramping around looking for work, and he happened to stop at my place."

"That's like me," said the black-haired tramp. "I'm looking for work, too. Got any wood that needs cutting?"

"Not now," said Mr. Bunker with a smile. "Jerry Simms cuts all my wood. But I'll give you some money, and maybe that will help you along, and the cook will fix you something to eat."

"That's very kind of you," said the tramp. "And if ever I see the man with your papers I'll tell him to send 'em back." "Please do" begged Mr. Bunker.

By this time Norah had wrapped the tramp up a big paper bag full of bread and meat, with a piece of pie. Tucking this under his arm, he shuffled off to go to some quiet place to eat.

Soon it was time to go to the square in the middle of the city, where the fireworks were to be shown. The six little Bunkers, talking over the fun they had had that day, and thinking of the good times they were to have at Grandma Bell's, walked along with their father and mother. Behind them came Norah and Jerry Simms.

"Maybe the tramp will come to see the fireworks," said Rose, who was walking beside Russ.

"You mean the red-headed one that has daddy's papers?"

"No, I mean the one that came begging at our house to-night."

"Well, maybe he will," admitted Russ. "If I was a tramp I'd walk all around and go to every place that I was sure they were going to have fireworks."

"So would I," said Rose. "I love fireworks."

"But you couldn't be a tramp," declared her brother.

"Why not?" Rose wanted to know.

"'Cause you're a girl, and only men and boys are tramps. I could be a tramp, but you couldn't."

And then the fireworks began, and the six little Bunkers thought no more about tramps, missing papers, or even about the visit to Grandma Bell's for a time, as they watched the red, green and blue fire, and saw the sky-rockets, balloons and other pretty things floating in the air.

If the red-haired tramp, or the one for whom Norah had put up the lunch that evening, came to the fireworks, the six little Bunkers did not see the ragged men.

They stayed until the last pinwheel had whizzed itself out in streams and stars of colored fire, until the last sky-rocket had gone hissing upward toward the clouds, and until the last glow of red fire had died away in the sky.

"Now we'll go home!" said Mother Bunker. "You tots must be tired. You've had a full day, for you were up early."

"But we've had lots of fun," said Russ, "piles of it."

"And now we'll get ready to go to Grandma Bell's, won't we?" asked Rose.

"Yes. To-morrow and for the next few days we'll be busy getting ready to go to Maine," said Mrs. Bunker.

"I want a balloon!" suddenly said Mun Bun. He had not done much talking that evening. Probably it was because he was too excited watching the fireworks. It was the first time he had been taken to the evening celebration.

"Do you mean you want to go to Grandma Bell's in a balloon?" asked his father. "Maybe you mean you're so tired you can't walk any more, and you want a balloon to ride in. Well, Mun Bun, we can't get a balloon now, but I can carry you, and that will be pretty nearly the same, won't it?"

"I want a balloon," said the little boy again, "but I want you to carry me, too. Can't I have a balloon, Daddy?" and he nestled his tired head down on his father's shoulder. Norah was carrying Margy, but the other little Bunkers could walk.

"A balloon, is it?" said Mun's father. "Do you mean a fire-balloon?"

"No, they burn up," said Mun Bun, in rather sleepy tones. And, in truth, several of the paper balloons sent up that evening had caught fire. "I want a big balloon I can ride in," he said, "like Jerry told about. I want to go up in a balloon!"

"Well, maybe you'll dream about one," said Mother Bunker with a laugh. "And that will be better than a real one, because if you fall out of a dream balloon you land in bed. But if you fall out of a real balloon you may land in the river."

Mun Bun did not answer. He was asleep on his father's shoulder.

The next day, between times of walking around the yard looking for fire-crackers that, possibly, hadn't exploded the day before, and finding stray torpedoes, the six little Bunkers talked of the fun they had had. They went into the house, now and then, to see how Mother Bunker and Norah were coming on with the packing. For a start had been made in getting ready to go to Grandma Bell's, now that the Fourth of July was passed.

Mrs. Bunker was so busy that she did not keep as close watch over the children as usual, and it was nearly time for lunch before she thought of them.

"Norah, see if they're all in the yard, please," she said. "And count them, to be sure all six are there. Then we'll get them something to eat, and do some more packing this afternoon."

Norah looked out in the yard.

"I see only five of 'em, ma'am," she reported.

"Which one is gone?" asked Mrs. Bunker quickly.

"I don't see Mun Bun," said the cook.

Just then Rose came running into the house.

"Oh, Mother!" she cried. "Guess where Mun Bun is!"

"I haven't time to guess!" said Mrs. Bunker. "Tell me quickly, Rose! Has anything happened to him?"

"I--I guess he's all right," answered Rose, who was out of breath from running. "But he's standing under a tree up the street, and he won't come home."

"He won't come home?" repeated Mrs. Bunker. "Why won't he come home, Rose?"

"'Cause his balloon is caught. He's got hold of the string and his balloon is up in the tree and he won't come home. He says he's going to take a ride up to the sky!"

"Oh, goodness me! what has happened now?" exclaimed Mrs. Bunker. "Norah!" she called. "Come! Something is the matter with a balloon and Mun Bun! We must go see what it is!"

One or the other of the six little Bunkers was always, so it seemed to their mother, in trouble of some sort, and she or Norah or Jerry Simms or their father had to drop anything they might be doing to rush to the help of the child who had gotten itself into something or some place it should not have got into.