Chapter VII. Laddie's New Riddle
 

Norah O'Grady, the cheerful cook for the six little Bunkers, saw their mother hurrying out of the house with Rose.

"What's the matter, Mrs. Bunker?" asked Norah. "Is there a fire, and are ye goin' for a policeman?"

Firemen and policemen, aside from Jerry Simms, were Norah's two chief heroes.

"No, there isn't a fire, Norah" answered Mrs. Bunker. "But Rose just told me that Mun Bun is caught up in a tree with a balloon, and I've got to go and get him down. Maybe you'd better come, too."

"Better come! I should say I had!" cried Norah, quickly taking off her apron. "The poor little lad caught up in a balloon! The saints preserve us! 'Tis probably one of them circus balloons, or maybe a German airship came along and caught him up! The poor darlin'!"

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Rose, as she trotted along with her mother and Norah, "Mun isn't in a balloon. His balloon is caught in a big tree and the little darlin' won't come away and----"

"It couldn't be much worse!" gasped Norah. "We'll have to get a fireman with a long ladder, 'tis probable, to get him down."

"I don't see how it could have happened," said Mrs. Bunker. "He was in the yard playing, a little while ago. The next time I looked he was gone. Where did the balloon come from, Rose?"

"Mun Bun bought the balloon!" said the little girl.

"He bought it?" cried Norah and Mrs. Bunker.

"Yes, it's a five-cent one. He had five cents that Jerry Simms gave him, Mun had, and he bought the balloon, and it had a long string to it, and it got caught up in a tree--the balloon did--and Mun Bun's got hold of the string and he won't come away, 'cause if he does he'll maybe break the string and the balloon and----"

Rose had to stop, she was so out of breath, but she had told all there was need to tell.

Mrs. Bunker and Norah, who had reached the street and could look down and see Mun Bun standing under a tree not far away, came to a sudden stop.

"And then the little darlin' isn't caught up by a German airship?" asked the cook.

"No. It's just a balloon he bought with the five cents Jerry gave him," explained Rose, "and it's caught in a tree, and----"

"I see how it is," said Mrs. Bunker, and she laughed. "Mun Bun doesn't want to come away without his toy balloon. We must get it for him, Norah!"

"Sure, that we will! The saints be praised he isn't flyin' above the clouds this blessed minute!" and with Norah, now laughing also, the three of them went to where Mun stood under the tree. Caught on one of the branches overhead was a big red balloon. It was fast to a string, and the little boy held the other end of the cord.

"I can't get it down!" he exclaimed.

"Well, it's a good thing you didn't climb up after it," said his mother. "We'll get it down for you, Mun."

She took hold of the string, and Norah, finding a long stick, carefully poked it up among the tree branches until she had loosed the toy balloon. Then it floated free, and Mun Bun could walk along with it floating on the end of the string above his head.

"It's a awful nice balloon," he said. "If it was bigger I could have a ride in it like Jerry did in the one when he was in the army."

"Well, I'm glad it isn't any bigger," said Mrs. Bunker. "Small as it is, you gave us enough trouble with it, Mun."

"But Mun Bun's all right! Norah was scared about him," said the girl, hugging the little boy close to her as they all walked back toward the house.

"Where did you get the balloon?" asked Mrs. Bunker.

"Down at Mrs. Kane's store," answered Mun, mentioning a little toy and candy shop on the block on which the six little Bunkers lived. They spent all their spare pennies there.

And it was in bringing his toy balloon home, on the end of a long string, letting it float in the air over his head that Mun Bun had had the accident at the tree when the blown-up rubber bag got caught in the branch. He wouldn't leave it, of course, and Rose ran to tell her mother. That's how it all happened.

"Well, come in to lunch now!" called Mrs. Bunker to the other children, who were, playing in the yard. "And don't go away from the house this afternoon. It's quite warm, and I don't want any of you to go off in the blazing sun. If you do we can't go to Grandma Bell's."

This was enough to make them all promise they would spend the afternoon in the shade near the house, while Mrs. Bunker and Norah went on with the packing of the trunks. A great many things must be taken along on the visit to Maine, when so many children have to be looked after. They used up much clothing.

"How long're we going to stay at Grandma Bell's?" asked Russ, as he left the dining-room after lunch.

"Oh, perhaps a month," his mother answered. "She told us to come and stay as long as we liked, but I hardly think we shall be there all summer."

"Shall we come back home?" asked Rose.

"I hardly know," said Mrs. Bunker. "We may go to visit some of your cousins or aunts--land knows you have enough!"

"Oh, wouldn't it be fun if we could go out West to Uncle Fred's ranch?" cried Russ.

"I'd like to go see Cousin Tom at the seashore," put in Rose. "I love the seashore."

"I like cowboys and Indians!" exclaimed Russ.

"Could we go see Aunt Jo, in Boston?" asked Laddie. "I'd like to go to a big city like Boston."

"Maybe we could go there, some day," said Mrs. Bunker. "But why would you like to go there, Laddie?"

"'Cause then maybe I could hear some new riddles. I didn't think up a new one--not in two whole days!"

"My! That's too bad!" said Mr. Bunker, who had come home to lunch, and who had heard all about Mun's balloon. "I'll give you a riddle, Laddie. Why does our horse eat oats?"

"Wait a minute! Don't tell me!" cried the little boy. "Let me guess!"

He thought hard for a few seconds, and then gave as his answer:

"Because he can't get hay."

"No, that isn't it," said Mr. Bunker. And when Laddie had made some other guesses, and when Russ, Rose and the remaining little Bunkers had tried to give a reason, Daddy Bunker said:

"Our horse eats oats because he is hungry, the same as any other horse! You mustn't always try to guess the hardest answers to riddles, Laddie. Try the easy ones first!"

And then, amid laughter, Mr. Bunker started back to the office.

"Have you found that red-haired tramp yet, Daddy?" asked Russ. "And did you get back your papers?"

"No, Russ, not yet. And I don't believe I ever shall."

"Maybe I could find him if you'd let me come down to your office," went on the little boy.

"Well, thank you, but I don't believe you could," said Mr. Bunker. "You'd better stay here and help your mother pack, ready to go to Grandma Bell's."

Out in the shady side yard some of the little Bunkers were playing different games. Mun and Margy were making sand pies, turning them out of clam shells on to a shingle, and letting them dry in the sun. Mun's red balloon floated in the air over the heads of the children, the string tied fast to a peg Russ had driven into the ground.

Russ, after having done this kindness for his little brother, began to whistle a merry tune and at the same time started to nail together a box in which he said he was going to take some of his toys to Grandma Bell's. Rose had taken her doll and was sitting under a tree, making a new dress for her toy, and Laddie and Vi had gone down to the little brook which bubbled along at the bottom of the green meadow, which was not far from the house. This brook was not very deep or wide. It flowed into Rainbow River, and was a safe place for the children to play.

Laddie and Vi had taken off their shoes and stockings before going down to paddle in the water, and after a while Russ, stopping in his work of hammering the box to look for more nails, heard Laddie calling out in a loud voice:

"Oh, Vi! what made the boat sink? What made the boat sink?"

At the same time Vi gave a loud shriek.

Russ dropped his hammer and started to run toward the brook.

"What's the matter?" called his mother, who saw him running.

"I don't just know," answered Russ, over his shoulder, "but I guess Laddie has a new riddle. He's hollering about why does a boat sink. But Vi's crying, I think."

"Oh, my!" exclaimed Mrs. Bunker, again stopping in her work of packing a trunk. "I hope those children haven't fallen into the brook!"