SIX LITTLE BUNKERS AT UNCLE FRED'S
LAURA LEE HOPE
Author of "Six Little Bunkers at Cousin Tom's," "Six Little Bunkers at Grandpa Ford's," "The Bobbsey Twins Series," "The Bunny Brown Series," "The Outdoor Girls Series," Etc.
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers Made in the United States of America
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By LAURA LEE HOPE
12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. 50 cents per volume.
THE SIX LITTLE BUNKERS SERIES
SIX LITTLE BUNKERS AT GRANDMA BELL'S SIX LITTLE BUNKERS AT AUNT JO'S SIX LITTLE BUNKERS AT COUSIN TOM'S SIX LITTLE BUNKERS AT GRANDPA FORD'S SIX LITTLE BUNKERS AT UNCLE FRED'S
THE BOBBSEY TWINS SERIES
THE BOBBSEY TWINS THE BOBBSEY TWINS IN THE COUNTRY THE BOBBSEY TWINS AT THE SEASHORE THE BOBBSEY TWINS AT SCHOOL THE BOBBSEY TWINS AT SNOW LODGE THE BOBBSEY TWINS ON A HOUSEBOAT THE BOBBSEY TWINS AT MEADOW BROOK THE BOBBSEY TWINS AT HOME THE BOBBSEY TWINS IN A GREAT CITY THE BOBBSEY TWINS ON BLUEBERRY ISLAND THE BOBBSEY TWINS ON THE DEEP BLUE SEA
THE BUNNY BROWN SERIES
BUNNY BROWN AND HIS SISTER SUE BUNNY BROWN AND HIS SISTER SUE ON GRANDPA'S FARM BUNNY BROWN AND HIS SISTER SUE PLAYING CIRCUS BUNNY BROWN AND HIS SISTER SUE AT AUNT LU'S CITY HOME BUNNY BROWN AND HIS SISTER SUE AT CAMP REST-A-WHILE BUNNY BROWN AND HIS SISTER SUE IN THE BIG WOODS BUNNY BROWN AND HIS SISTER SUE ON AN AUTO TOUR BUNNY BROWN AND HIS SISTER SUE AND THEIR SHETLAND PONY
THE OUTDOOR GIRL SERIES
THE OUTDOOR GIRLS OF DEEPDALE THE OUTDOOR GIRLS AT RAINBOW LAKE THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN A MOTOR CAR THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN A WINTER CAMP THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN FLORIDA THE OUTDOOR GIRLS AT OCEAN VIEW THE OUTDOOR GIRLS ON PINE ISLAND THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN ARMY SERVICE
GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK
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Copyright, 1918, by Grosset & Dunlap
Six Little Bunkers at Uncle Fred's
CHAPTER PAGE I. A STRANGE RESCUE 1 II. UNCLE FRED 14 III. A QUEER STORY 23 IV. UNCLE FRED'S TALE 33 V. PACKING UP 43 VI. OFF FOR THE WEST 53 VII. AT THREE STAR RANCH 61 VIII. RUSS MAKES A LASSO 73 IX. THE QUEER SPRING 84 X. SOME BAD NEWS 94 XI. VIOLET TAKES A WALK 104 XII. LADDIE CATCHES A RIDDLE 113 XIII. ON THE PONIES 125 XIV. MUN BUN'S PIE 133 XV. THE WIND WAGON 144 XVI. "CAPTAIN RUSS" 152 XVII. A CATTLE STAMPEDE 164 XVIII. AN INDIAN 175 XIX. WHAT ROSE FOUND 182 XX. LADDIE IS MISSING 194 XXI. RUSS DIGS A HOLE 203 XXII. AT THE BRIDGE 211 XXIII. THE BOYS' WELL 220 XXIV. MORE CATTLE GONE 229 XXV. THE SECRET OF THE SPRING 238
SIX LITTLE BUNKERS AT UNCLE FRED'S
A STRANGE RESCUE
"Can't I have a ride now, Russ? You said it would be my turn after Mun Bun."
"Yes, but, Margy, I haven't had enough ride yet!" declared Mun Bun.
"But when can I get in and have my ride?"
The three little children, two girls and a boy, stood in front of their older brother, Russ, watching him tying an old roller skate on the end of a board.
"Can't I have any more rides?" asked the smallest boy.
"In a minute, Mun Bun. As soon as I get this skate fastened on," answered Russ. "You rode so hard last time that you busted the scooter, and I've got to fix it. You broke the skate off!"
"I didn't mean to," and Mun Bun, who was called that because no one ever had the time to call him by his whole name, Munroe Ford Bunker—Mun Bun looked sorry for what had happened.
"I know you didn't," answered Russ.
"I didn't break anything, did I, Russ?" asked a little girl, with dark, curling hair and dark eyes, as she leaned over in front of her older brother, the better to see what he was doing. "I rided nice, didn't I, and I didn't break anything?"
"No, Margy, you didn't break anything," answered Russ. "And I'll give you a ride on the scooter pretty soon. Just wait till I get it fixed."
"And I want a ride, too!" exclaimed another girl, with curly hair of light color, and gray eyes that opened very wide. "Don't I get a ride, Russ? And what makes the wheels make such a funny sound when they go 'round? And what makes you call it a scooter? And can you make it go backwards? And——"
"Oh, I can't answer all those questions, Vi!" exclaimed Russ. "You're always asking questions, Daddy says. You wait and I'll give you a ride."
The four Bunker children—there were six of them, and you will meet the other two soon. The four Bunker children were playing up in the attic of their home. The attic was not as large as the attic of Grandpa Ford's house on Great Hedge Estate nor were there so many nice things in it. But still it did very well on a rainy afternoon, and Russ, Margy, Violet and Mun Bun were having a good time on the "scooter" Russ had made.
The way Russ made a "scooter" was this. He found a long board, one that the carpenters had left after they had made a storeroom for Mrs. Bunker in the attic, and to the board he fastened, on each end, part of an old roller skate. This gave the scooter two wheels on either end. The wheels were not very large, nor very wide, and unless you sat right in the middle of the board of the scooter you might get tipped over. This had happened several times, and when Mun Bun was on, having a ride, he not only tipped over, but he ran into a trunk that stood in the attic, and knocked off one of the skates.
"Now I have to tie it on again!" Russ had exclaimed, and this had caused a stop in the fun.
"Can you fix it?" asked Margy, as she watched her brother. She wanted another ride, for the one she had had was a short one. Mun Bun was the youngest of the six little Bunkers, and they generally let him have more turns than any one else.
"Oh, yes, I can fix it," said Russ, who now began to whistle. And when Russ whistled, when he was making anything, you could generally tell that everything was coming out right.
Russ very often made things, but he did not always whistle over them. Often the things he made were such a puzzle that he could not think how to make them come out right and also think of a whistle-tune at the same time. But now he was all right, and so he whistled merrily as he put more string on the roller skate that he was fastening to the board of the scooter.
"Is it almost done?" asked Mun Bun, leaning over eagerly.
"Almost," answered Russ. "I want to look at the back wheels to see if they're all right, and then you can have a ride."
Russ gave the string a last turn, tied several knots in it, and then turned the board around. As he did so Margy uttered a cry.
"Ouch!" she exclaimed.
"What's the matter?" asked Russ.
"You banged me with the scooter," answered the little girl.
"Oh, I didn't mean to," said Russ. "I'm sorry! You can have an extra ride for that." Russ was very kind to his little brothers and sisters.
"It doesn't hurt very much," said Margy, rubbing the elbow that had been hit when Russ swung the board around.
Russ now bent over the other wheels on the end of the scooter. He found them a bit loose, as string will stretch and really isn't very good with which to fasten wheels on. But it was the best Russ could do.
Outside an early spring rain beat against the windows of the attic. It was cold outside, too, for the last winter snow had, only a week before, melted from the ground, which was still frozen in places. But it was nice and warm up in the attic, and there the Bunker children were having a fine time. The attic, as I have said, was not as big as Grandpa Ford's, but the children were having a good time, and even a smaller attic would have answered as well in the rain.
"Now I guess it's all ready for more rides," said Russ, as he put the scooter down on the floor.
"I'm going to get on!" cried Mun Bun.
"Wait until I put it straight," called Russ. "Then you can have a longer ride."
He took the board, with the roller skate wheels on either end, to a far corner of the attic. From there it could be pushed all the way across to the other wall.
Just as Mun Bun was about to take his place, so that Russ could push him across the attic floor, footsteps were heard coming up the stairs that led to the third story of the Bunker house.
Then a boy's voice called:
"What are you doing?"
"Riding on a scooter Russ made," answered Violet. "Oh, it's lots of fun! Come on, Laddie!"
Laddie was Violet's twin brother, and he had the same kind of curly hair and gray eyes as had his sister.
"Did you make that?" asked Laddie of Russ.
"Will it hold me?"
"Sure. It'll hold me. I had a ride on it."
"Say, that's great!" cried Laddie. "We can have lots of fun on that! I'm glad I came up."
"Well, come all the way up, and stand out of the way!" ordered Russ. "The train's going to start. Toot! Toot! All aboard!"
Laddie hurried up the last few steps and took his place in a corner, out of the way of the scooter with Mun Bun on it. A girl with light, fluffy hair, and bright, smiling eyes, followed him. She was a year younger than Russ, who was eight years old.
"Oh, Rose!" cried Violet, as she saw her older sister. "We're having such fun!"
"You can have a ride, too, Rose! Can't she?" asked Mun Bun of Russ. "Go on, push me!"
"Yes, we'll all take turns having rides," said Russ. "If I could find another roller skate I'd make another scooter, and then we could have races."
"If we had two we could make believe they were two trains, and have 'em bump into each other and have collisions and all that!" cried Laddie. "That'll be fun! Come on, let's do it!"
"We'll have to get another board and another skate," said Russ. "We'll look after a while. Now I'm going to give Mun Bun a ride."
He shoved the scooter across the floor of the attic. Mun Bun kept tight hold with his chubby hands of the edges of the board, in the middle of which he sat, between the two pieces of roller skate that made wheels for the scooter.
"Hi! Yi!" yelled Mun Bun. "This is fun!"
"Now it's my turn!" exclaimed Margy. "Get off, Mun Bun."
"I have to have a ride back! I've got to have a ride back!" he cried. "Russ said he'd ride me across the attic and back again! Didn't you, Russ?"
"Yes, that's what I did. Well, here we go back."
He had pushed Mun Bun to the far side of the attic, and was pushing the little fellow back again, when Laddie cried:
"Oh, I know a better way than that."
"For what?" asked Russ.
"For having rides," went on Laddie. "We can make a hill and let the scooter slide downhill. Then you won't have to push anybody."
"How can you make a hill?" asked Russ.
"Out of mother's ironing-board," was the answer. "It's down in the kitchen. I'll get it. Don't you know how we used to put it up on a chair and then slide down on the ironing-board?"
"Oh, I remember!" cried Rose.
"Then we can do that," went on Laddie. "It'll be packs of fun!"
"Well, you get the ironing-board," said Russ.
"I'll help," offered Violet. "I'll help you get the board, Laddie."
"All right, come on," he called, and the two children started down the attic stairs.
While he was waiting for them to come back Russ gave Margy and Rose each a ride on the scooter. It really went very well over the smooth floor of the attic, for the roller-skate wheels turned very easily, even if they did get crooked now and then because the strings with which they were tied on, slipped.
Up the stairs, bumpity bump, came Laddie and Vi with the ironing-board.
"Mother wasn't there, and I didn't see Norah, so I just took the board," said Laddie. "Now we'll put one end on a box and the other end on the floor, and we'll have a hill. Then we can ride the scooter downhill just like we rode our sleds at Grandpa Ford's."
"Yes, I guess we can," said Russ.
There were several boxes in the attic, and some of these were dragged to one end. On them one end of the ironing-board was raised, so that it sloped down like a hill. Of course it was not a very big one, but then the Bunkers were not very large children, nor was the scooter Russ had made very long. By squeezing them on, it would hold two children.
"Who's going down first?" asked Russ, as he and Laddie fixed the ironing-board hill in place, and wheeled the scooter over to it.
"I will!" exclaimed Mun Bun. "I like to ride."
"You'd better let us try first," said Laddie. "It might go so fast it would knock into something."
"I'll go down!" decided Russ. "It's my scooter, because I made it; and so I'll go down first."
"But I made the hill!" objected Laddie. "It's my hill."
"Then why don't both of you go down together?" asked Rose. "If it will hold you two boys it will be all right for us girls. You go three times, then Vi and I will take three turns."
"All right—that's what we will," said Russ. "Come on, Laddie."
Some boxes had been piled back of the one on which the ironing-board rested in a slanting position, and these boxes made a level place on which to get a start. Russ and Laddie lifted the scooter up there, and got up themselves. Then they carefully sat down on the board to which were fastened the roller-skate wheels.
"All ready?" asked Russ, who was in front, holding to a rope, like a sled rope, by which he hoped to guide the scooter. "All ready, Laddie?"
"All ready," was the answer.
"Here we go!" cried Russ.
He gave a little shove with his feet, and down the ironing-board hill ran the scooter, carrying Russ and Laddie with it. The first time it ran beautifully.
"This is great!" cried Laddie.
"Fine!" exclaimed his brother.
And then, all of a sudden, something happened. The scooter ran off the hill sideways, and started over the attic floor toward Rose, Vi, Mun Bun and Margy. They squealed and screamed and tried to get out of the way. But Mun Bun fell down, and Margy fell over him, and Vi fell over Margy, and Rose fell over Violet. So there the four little Bunkers were, all in a heap, and the scooter, with Russ and Laddie on it, running toward the brother and sisters.
"Stop! Stop it!" cried Laddie.
"I can't!" shouted Russ, pulling on the guide rope. But that did no good.
"Oh, we're going to knock into 'em!" yelled Laddie.
And right into the other children ran the scooter. Russ and Laddie were thrown off, and, for a moment, there was a bumping, thumping, yelling, crying and screaming noise.
Mun Bun, trying to roll out of the way, knocked a box down off a trunk, and the box had some croquet balls in it, which rumbled over the attic floor almost like thunder.
In the midst of all this noise and confusion some one came running up the stairs. A man entered the attic, and took one look at the mass of struggling children on the floor.
"My good land!" he cried. "I wonder if I can save any of 'em! Oh, what a mix-up!"
Then the stranger started in to rescue the six little Bunkers, for they were all tangled up.
"Are you hurt? Are any of you hurt? What happened, anyhow? Did part of the house fall on you?"
The man who had run up the attic stairs went on picking up first one and then another of the six little Bunkers. For a time they were so excited over what had happened that they paid no attention to him.
But when the stranger picked Rose up and set her on her feet, the little girl took a good look at him, and, seeing a strange man in the attic, she cried:
"Oh, it's a burglar! It's a burglar! Oh, Mother! Norah! Jerry Simms! It's a burglar!"
"Hush, child! Don't shout like that or you'll have all the neighbors in!" said the man. "Be quiet, and I'll tell you who I am! Don't yell any more!"
Rose stopped yelling, her mouth still wide open, ready for another shout, and looked at the man. He smiled at her and picked up Mun Bun out from under the box from which the croquet balls had fallen.
"Who is you?" asked Mun Bun.
"I'll tell you in just a moment, if you don't make such a racket," said the stranger, smiling kindly.
The six little Bunkers became quiet at once, but before I tell you who the strange man is I want to say just a few words about the children in this story, and relate to you something about the other books in this series.
To begin at the beginning, there were six little Bunkers, as I have told you. There was Russ, aged eight, a great whistler and a boy very fond of making toys, such as scooters and other things.
Next to him was Rose, a year younger.
Then came Violet and Laddie. They both had curly hair and gray eyes, and were six years old each, which makes twelve in all, you see. They were twins, and each one had a funny habit. Vi asked a great many questions, some of which could be answered, some of which could not be answered, and to some of which she didn't wait for an answer.
Laddie was very fond of asking queer little riddles. Some were good, and it took quite a while to think of the answer he wanted. Others didn't seem to have any answer. And some were not really riddles at all. But he had fun asking them.
Next in order was Margy, whose real name was Margaret, just as Laddie's real name was Fillmore Bunker. But he was seldom called that. Margy was aged five. She had dark hair and eyes.
Then there was Mun Bun, or Munroe Ford Bunker, her little brother, who was four years old, and had blue eyes and golden hair.
Now you have met the six little Bunkers. Of course there was Daddy Bunker, whose name was Charles. He was in the real estate business in Pineville, Pennsylvania, and his office was almost a mile from his home, on the main street. Mother Bunker's name was Amy, and before her marriage she had been Miss Amy Bell.
Besides this there were in the Bunker family two others: Norah O'Grady, the cook, and Jerry Simms, an old soldier, who could tell fine stories of the time he was in the army. Now Jerry ran the Bunker automobile, cut the grass, sprinkled the lawn and attended to the furnace in winter.
But the Bunker family had relatives, and it was on visits to some of these that the children had had many adventures. First you may read "Six Little Bunkers at Grandma Bell's." This is the book that begins the series, and tells of the visit the family made at Grandma Bell's at Lake Sagatook in Maine. There they found an old lumberman and he had some papers which Daddy Bunker wanted to get back. And, oh, yes! Grandma Bell was Mrs. Bunker's mother.
After that the children went to visit their father's sister in Boston, and the book which tells all about that, and the strange pocketbook Rose found, is called "Six Little Bunkers at Aunt Jo's."
On leaving Aunt Jo's the family paid a visit to another relative. This was Mr. Thomas Bunker, who was the son of Mr. Ralph Bunker, and Ralph was Daddy Bunker's brother, who had died.
In "Six Little Bunkers at Cousin Tom's" I told you the story of the fun the children had at the seashore, and how a gold locket was lost and strangely found again.
The book just before this one is called "Six Little Bunkers at Grandpa Ford's," and there was quite a mystery about a ghost at Great Hedge Estate, in New York State, where Mr. Ford lived.
Grandpa Ford was Daddy Bunker's step-father, but no real father could have been more kind, nor have loved the six little Bunkers any more than he did. The children spent the winter at Great Hedge Estate, and helped find out what made the queer noises. And if you want to find out I suggest that you read the book.
Christmas and New Year's had been celebrated at Grandpa Ford's, and when winter was about to break up the Bunkers had come back home to Pineville. Daddy Bunker said he needed to look after the spring real estate business, for that was the best time of the year for selling and buying houses and lots, and renting places.
So they said good-bye to Grandpa Ford, and took the train back home. The six little Bunkers had been in their own house about a month now, and they were playing in the attic, as I have told you, with the scooter Russ had made, when the accident happened.
Then, as I have told you, up the attic stairs rushed a strange man, who pulled Mun Bun out of the tangle of arms and legs. And Rose thought the strange man was a burglar.
"But I'm not," he said, smiling at the children. "Don't you know who I am?"
Russ shook his head.
"How did you get in here?" asked Violet. As usual, she was first with a question.
"I just walked in," said the man in answer. "I was coming here anyhow, and when I got here I saw the door wide open, so I just walked in."
"Did you come to sell something?" asked Rose. "'Cause if you did I don't believe my mother wants anything. She's got everything she wants."
"Well, she's got a nice lot of children, anyhow," said the man, smiling on each and ever one of the six little Bunkers in turn. "I'll say that. She has a nice lot of children, and I'm very glad none of you is hurt.
"As I said, I was coming here anyhow, and when I got on the porch and saw the door open, I walked right in. Then I heard a terrible racket up here in the attic, and up I rushed. I thought maybe the house was falling down."
"No," said Russ as he pulled his scooter out from between two trunks, "it was this. We slid down the ironing-board hill, Laddie and I, and it went off crooked—the scooter did."
"And it knocked into us," said Violet. "But if you didn't come to sell anything, what did you come for?"
"Well," said the strange man, and he smiled again, "you might say I came to get you children."
"You—you came to get us?" gasped Rose.
"Yes. I'm going to take you away with me."
"Take—take us away with you!" cried Russ. "We won't go! We want to stay with our daddy and mother."
"I'll take them, too," said the man. "I have room for all you six little Bunkers and more too, out on my ranch. I've come to take you all away with me."
What could it mean? Russ and Rose, the oldest, could not understand it. They looked at the man again. They were sure they had never seen him before.
"Yes," the stranger went on, "I saw the door open, so I walked in. I was glad to get out of the rain. It's a cold storm. I hope summer will soon come. And, as I say, I've come to take you away."
If the man had not smiled so nicely the children might have been frightened. But, as it was, they knew everything would be all right.
"And now, as long as none of you is hurt, I think I'd better go downstairs and tell your mother I have come to take you away," went on the man. "I think I hear her coming up."
And, just then, footsteps were heard on the stairs leading to the attic, and Mrs. Bunker appeared.
"Oh, Mother," gasped out Rose, "there's a man here and he says he's going to take us away and——"
Before she finished Mrs. Bunker had run up to the attic. She looked at the strange man, who smiled at her. Then she hurried over to him and kissed him and said:
"Oh, Fred, I'm glad to see you! I didn't expect you until to-morrow, and I was going to surprise the children with you. Oh, but I'm glad to see you! Children," she said, laughing, "this is my brother, your Uncle Fred."
A QUEER STORY
The six little Bunkers, who had been untangled from the mix-up caused when the scooter ran sideways off the ironing-board hill, stood in a half circle and looked at the strange man. He did not seem quite so strange now, and he certainly smiled in a way the children liked.
"Is he our real uncle?" asked Violet.
"Yes, he is your very own uncle. He is my brother. Frederic is his name—Frederic Bell," went on Mother Bunker. "But you are to call him Uncle Fred."
"Then he isn't a burglar!" stated Rose.
"Of course not!" laughed her mother.
"No, I'm not a burglar," said the visitor, laughing too. "Though I don't blame you for feeling a bit alarmed when I rushed in. I thought some of you might know me, though some of you I've never seen, and Russ and Rose were smaller than they are now the last time I saw them."
"I didn't tell them you were coming," said Mrs. Bunker. "I hardly thought you would get here so soon, and I was planning a surprise, as I say. But we're very glad to see you. How did you get into the house and up here?"
"I walked in. The front door was open and——"
"I left it open to air the house."
"And as soon as I got in I heard a great racket up where I knew the attic must be, so up I rushed. I found the children all in a heap, and I pulled them apart as best I could."
"We were riding on a scooter I made from an older roller skate," explained Russ, "and it went off the ironing-board sideways and it bumped into everybody."
"I should say it did bump!" laughed Uncle Fred.
"But we're not hurt," added Laddie. "We're all right now. Can you answer riddles, Uncle Fred?"
"Well, yes, I think so, if they're not too hard."
"I know lots of riddles," said Laddie. "I have a good one about what goes through——"
"Wait a minute!" cried Vi, elbowing her way to a place in the front ranks of the six little Bunkers. "I want to ask Uncle Fred a question."
"You did ask him one," suggested Rose.
"Well, I want to ask him another," went on Vi. "You said you were going to take us away," she told the visitor. "Are you? And where and when are we all going? And can we have some fun?"
"Oh, hold on! Stop! Whoa! Back up!" exclaimed Uncle Fred. "I thought you said you wanted to ask one question, not half a dozen."
"But you said you were going to take us away. Are you?"
"I am if your mother and father will let me," replied Uncle Fred. "You know I wrote you," he went on to Mother Bunker, "that I'd like to have you all come out to my ranch to stay all summer."
"What's a ranch?" asked Vi.
"I know," interrupted Russ. "It's a place where they have horses and cows and——"
"Indians!" cried Laddie.
"And cowboys!" went on Russ. "That'll be great! We can have a Wild West show!"
"Oh, let's go!" shouted Laddie.
"Children! Children!" murmured Mother Bunker. "Less noise, please! What will Uncle Fred think of you?"
"Oh, I don't mind the noise," replied the Westerner. "I'm used to that. Sometimes, when the cowboys are feeling pretty good, they whoop and yell like Indians."
"Are there any Indians out there?" asked Russ eagerly. "I mean out at your ranch?"
"Yes, a few," answered Uncle Fred.
"And where is your ranch?" Laddie inquired.
All interest in the scooter was lost in Uncle Fred's arrival. And if he planned to take the six little Bunkers somewhere they wanted to hear all about that. So they crowded close around him.
"My ranch," said Uncle Fred, "is out in Montana, near a place called Moon City. The name of my place is Three Star, and——"
"Is there a moon, too?" asked Violet.
"Well, the name of the town, as I said, is Moon City, and I suppose it was named that because the moon looks so beautiful over the mountains. But I am down on the plains, and the reason I call my ranch Three Star is because my cattle are marked with three stars, so I will know them if they should happen to get mixed up with the cattle of another ranch."
"When are we going?" asked Russ. "I have to make a lasso if we go out on a ranch. Maybe I'll lasso an Indian."
"So'll I," put in Laddie. "When can we go, Mother?"
"Oh, not for some little time. Uncle Fred has come to pay us a visit. Haven't you?" she went on to her brother.
"Oh, yes, I'm going to stay East a while," he said. "But I'm desirous of getting back to Three Star," he added. "There's something queer been going on there, and I want to find out what it is. That's one reason I came on East—to try to find out what's wrong at my place. There certainly is something queer there!"
"Is it a ghost?" asked Violet.
"No, hardly a ghost," answered Uncle Fred with a laugh. "What do you know about ghosts, anyhow?"
"There was one at Grandpa Ford's," explained Rose.
"But we found out what it was," added Russ.
"But first it made terribly queer noises," said Laddie.
"Well, the only queer noises out at Three Star Ranch are made by the cowboys, and sometimes by the Indians," said Uncle Fred. "No, this is something different. But it might almost as well be a ghost for all I can find out about it. It certainly is very queer," he went on to his sister. "I have lost a great many cattle lately, and that and something strange about a spring of water on my place, are two of the reasons why I came on here. I want to talk with some men who know about springs and streams of water, and get some books about it so I can solve this puzzle, if it's possible.
"Another reason I came on," he added, "is to take you all back with me to Moon City, and let the children have fun out on my ranch."
"Do you mean to take us all out West?" asked Rose.
"Yes, every one of you six little Bunkers, and your father and mother, too," returned Uncle Fred.
"Can we go, Mother?" begged Russ.
"I'll see about it," was the answer. "But we'd all better go downstairs now. Uncle Fred must be tired from his long trip, and I want to get him a cup of tea. It is raining hard still, so you children can't go out and play."
"We don't want to," said Vi. "We want to see Uncle Fred."
"I like Uncle Fred!" exclaimed Mun Bun, going up to his mother's brother and clasping his hand. "I like him awful much!"
"And I like you, too," replied Uncle Fred, catching the little fellow up in his arms.
"I like him, too!" exclaimed Margy, who was not going to be left out.
"That's the girl! I knew you wouldn't forget me!" and with a laugh Uncle Fred caught her up also, and danced about the attic, with a child in each arm.
"Is it far out to your ranch?" asked Russ.
"Quite a way, little man," answered Uncle Fred. "It will take us about four days to get there, riding steadily on the train. But we won't start right away. I have some business to do here. But when that is over I hope the weather will be better, and then we can start."
"And stay out there all summer?" asked Laddie.
"Yes, and all winter, too, if you like. We'll be glad to have you."
"We seem to do nothing but visit around of late!" exclaimed Mother Bunker. "We have been to Grandma Bell's, to Aunt Jo's, to Cousin Tom's, to Grandpa Ford's and now maybe we're going to Uncle Fred's."
"I think it's nice," remarked Rose.
"So do I!" added Vi. "I love to go visiting!"
"Could I ask you that riddle now?" inquired Laddie, as Uncle Fred started downstairs, carrying Margy and Mun Bun.
"Yes," was the answer of the children's uncle. "Go ahead."
"What is it that goes through——"
"Oh, don't ask him that one about what goes through a door but doesn't come into the room!" exclaimed Russ.
"I wasn't!" asserted Laddie. "That's an old one, and the answer is a keyhole. I was going to ask him a new one."
"Well, go ahead," said Uncle Fred.
"What is it goes through—— No, that isn't it. Let me see. I almost forgot. Oh, I know! What can you drive without a whip or reins? That's it. What can you drive without a whip or reins?"
"Do you mean an ox?" asked Uncle Fred. "I've seen oxen driven, and the man who drove them didn't use reins as they do on horses, though he did have a goad, which is like a whip."
"No, oxen isn't the answer," said Laddie. "Do you give up?"
"Well, I will, just to see what the answer is," replied Uncle Fred.
"What is it you can drive without a whip or reins?" asked Laddie again. "The answer is a nail. You can drive that with a hammer."
"Ha! Ha! That's a pretty good riddle!" laughed Uncle Fred. "I must try that on some of the cowboys when I get back to Three Star Ranch."
"And now don't you children bother Uncle Fred too much while I'm making him a cup of tea," said Mrs. Bunker, as they reached the first floor.
"Oh, they don't bother me," declared Uncle Fred.
"Tell us about the something queer on your ranch," begged Russ, as his uncle sat down, holding Margy and Mun Bun in his lap.
"All right, I will," promised Mr. Bell. "First I'll tell you about the ranch, and then about the queer things that happened. Now Three Star Ranch is——"
Just then the doorbell rang loudly, and Uncle Fred stopped speaking.
"I wonder who it is," said Rose.
UNCLE FRED'S TALE
The ringing of the Bunker doorbell was not unusual. It often rang during the day, but just now, when Uncle Fred was about to tell his story, it rather surprised the children to hear the tinkle.
"I'll go and see who it is," offered Russ. "And please don't tell any of the story until I come back," he begged.
"I won't," promised Uncle Fred.
Russ hurried to the door, and, as he opened it, the other children heard him cry:
"Oh, Daddy! What made you ring?"
"I forgot my key," answered Mr. Bunker. "I couldn't open the door."
"Oh, it's Daddy!" cried Mun Bun and Margy, and, slipping down from Uncle Fred's knee, they raced to the hall to get their usual kisses.
"Guess who's here!" cried Russ, for his father could not see into the room where his wife's brother sat. "Guess!"
"It's Uncle Fred!" cried Rose, hurrying out into the hall. "And he's got a secret out at his ranch like Grandpa Ford had at Great Hedge, and he's going to take us all out there and—and——"
"My! better stop and catch your breath before it runs away from you," laughed Daddy Bunker, as he lifted Rose in his arms and kissed her. "So Uncle Fred is here, is he? He came a little ahead of time."
"And he s'prised us all up in the attic," added Laddie, who had also come into the hall. "Russ and I rode down on the scooter, and we bumped, and had a mix-up, and Uncle Fred came up, and——"
"And we thought he was a burglar!" finished Violet.
"You must have had quite a time," laughed Daddy Bunker. "Well, now, after I get my wet things off, I'll go in and see Uncle Fred and hear all about it," and soon Daddy Bunker and his wife's brother were shaking hands and talking, while the children sat about them, eager and listening.
"We'll have an early supper," said Mother Bunker, when she had given Uncle Fred a cup of tea, "and then we can hear all about Three Star Ranch."
Norah O'Grady soon had a nice supper on the table, and after Rose had helped with it, as she often did, for her mother was teaching her little daughter to be a housekeeper, the children took their places and began to eat. And, at the same time, they listened to the talk that went on among the grown folk. Mother and Father Bunker had many questions to ask Uncle Fred, and he also asked them a great many, for he wanted to know all about Grandma Bell, and Aunt Jo and Grandpa Ford and all the rest of the Bunkers' relatives.
"And now will you tell us about Three Star Ranch?" asked Russ eagerly, as the chairs were pushed back.
"Yes, I will," promised Uncle Fred.
"And don't leave out the Indians," begged Laddie.
"Nor the cowboys," added Russ.
"Can you tell about some ponies?" asked Rose. "I love ponies!"
"Yes, I'll tell about them, too," said her uncle. "And if you come out West with me you shall have some rides on ponies."
"Really, truly?" gasped Rose.
"Oh, won't that be fun!" cried Vi. "What color are ponies? And what makes them be called ponies? I should think they would be called pawnies, 'cause they paw the ground. And how many have you, Uncle Fred?"
"Oh, Vi! Not so many questions, my dear! Please!" exclaimed her mother, laughing. "Uncle Fred won't get a chance to tell any story if you talk so much. You are a regular chatterbox to-night."
"Wait until you get out West. It's so big there you can talk all day and night and bother no one," said Uncle Fred. "But now I'll tell you about my ranch.
"As I mentioned, it is near Moon City, in Montana. That is a good many miles from here, and around my house are big fields, where the cattle roam about and eat the grass.
"A ranch, you must know, little Bunkers, is just a big farm. But instead of raising apples and peaches and pears, hay, grain or chickens on my ranch, I raise cattle. Cows you might call them, though we speak of them as cattle. Some men raise horses on their ranches, but though I have some horses and ponies, I have more cattle than anything else.
"I have to keep a number of men to look after the cattle. These men are called cowboys, and they ride about the ranch on horses, or cow ponies, and see that the cattle are all right, that they get enough to eat and drink, and that no one takes them away."
"What do the Indians do?" asked Russ. "Tell us about them."
"Well, some of the Indians farm," said Uncle Fred. "Some of them make baskets and other things to sell to travelers who come through on the trains, but many of them just live a lazy life. They are on what is called a Reservation—that is land which the government has set aside for them."
"Do Indians come to your ranch?" asked Laddie. "And could I lasso any of 'em with a rope lasso like I saw in some pictures?"
"Well, sometimes Indians do come to Three Star," answered Uncle Fred. "But I don't believe any of them would like to be lassoed."
"What's this I hear about your having trouble?" asked Daddy Bunker.
"Well, yes, I have been having trouble," answered Uncle Fred. "And, as usual, my trouble is like that a lot of ranchers have. Some one has been taking my cattle."
"Didn't you want them to?" asked Russ.
"No, indeed," answered his uncle. "I raise my cattle to sell, so I can make money to pay my cowboys and live on some of it myself. If bad men take my cattle away in the night, as they do, without paying me, I lose money. And that's why I came on East here."
"Surely you didn't come all the way from Moon City to find out who was taking your cattle at Three Star Ranch!" exclaimed Mother Bunker.
"Oh, no. The men who are doing that are right out there. I've left some of my cowboys to attend to them," answered Uncle Fred. "What I came on for, besides getting you to go back with me, is to get some books about springs and streams of water, and also to talk with some engineers about a queer spring on my ranch."
"What sort of queer spring?" asked Daddy Bunker. "I thought all springs were alike."
"Well, I s'pose they are, in that they have water in 'em," said Uncle Fred. "But mine isn't that kind. Sometimes it has water in it, and again it hasn't."
"What do you mean?" asked his sister. "Does the spring go dry? That used to happen to the spring where we lived when we were children. Don't you remember, Fred?"
"Yes, but that spring only went dry when there was no rain—say in a dry, hot summer. The spring on Three Star Ranch goes dry sometimes in the middle of a rainy season."
"What makes it?" asked Daddy Bunker.
"That's what I came on to find out about," replied Uncle Fred. "None of my cowboys can tell what makes it, and the Indians are puzzled, too. It's like one of Laddie's riddles, I guess."
"That's what we thought about the ghost at Great Hedge," said Mrs. Bunker. "But we finally found out what it was, and very simple it was, too. Perhaps this spring of yours will turn out the same way."
"Well, I hope it does," said her brother. "All I know is that sometimes the spring will be full of fine water. We use it for drinking at the ranch house and for watering some of the horses. The cattle drink at a creek that runs through my place. That never goes dry.
"But sometimes there will be hardly a drop of water in the spring, and then there is trouble. Everybody is sorry then, for we have to haul water from the creek in barrels, and it isn't as good to drink as the spring water."
"Is that the only queer thing?" asked Daddy Bunker.
"No. The most remarkable thing about it," went on Uncle Fred, "is that every time the spring goes dry some of my cattle are taken away. I suppose you could call it stolen, though I don't like to think that any of my neighbors would steal. I used to think the cattle wandered away, but since none of them wander back again I feel pretty sure they must be taken on purpose."
"And every time the spring dries up the cattle are taken?" asked Mrs. Bunker, while the six little Bunkers listened eagerly to Uncle Fred's story.
"Almost every time. I don't know what causes it."
"Maybe the cows drink up all the water," said Russ.
"No, cattle don't come near the spring," said Mr. Bell. "They are on the far end of the ranch. It is a puzzle to me; about as much of a puzzle as the ghost must have been at Great Hedge, before you found out about it."
"So you came East to consult some engineers about the spring," remarked Daddy Bunker. "Do you think they can help you?"
"Well, you know there are engineers who make a study of all kinds of water; of springs, lakes, rivers, and so on," explained Uncle Fred. "They are water-engineers just as others are steam or electrical engineers. I thought I'd ask them the reasons for springs going dry. Some of them may know something about the water in Montana, and they can tell me if there are underground rivers or lakes that might do something to my spring.
"Anyhow I had some other business in New York, so while I was attending to that, and coming on here to get you folks, I thought I'd see the engineers."
"And have you seen any yet?" asked his sister.
"Not yet. I'm going to in a day or so. But I stopped at a store and ordered——"
Before Uncle Fred could say what it was he had ordered the doorbell rang again. This time it could not be Daddy Bunker coming in, as he was already at home.
Norah, who went to open the door, could be heard speaking to some one.
"Oh, and it's a message you have for Mr. Bell, is it?" she said. "Well, come in and don't be standin' there in the wet rain."
"A message for me!" exclaimed Uncle Fred. "I hope it isn't any bad news from my ranch—about more cattle being taken."
"Somebody for you, Mr. Bell," announced Norah, as she opened wider the door of the sitting room where the six little Bunkers, Uncle Fred and the others were gathered. "It's a boy, and he has a package."
"Then it can't be a telegram containing bad news," said Uncle Fred. "They don't come in packages, unless there's a lot of 'em, and I hardly would get that many. I'll see what it is."
The boy was not a telegraph messenger after all, but a special delivery lad from the post-office, and the package he had for Uncle Fred was a book.
"Oh, it's a book I sent for to New York," said the ranchman after he had given the boy ten cents, and had opened the package.
"It's a book that tells about springs, and the rocks underneath the earth where the water comes from. I thought I'd read about springs so I'd learn something about the queer one on my ranch," Uncle Fred said to Daddy Bunker. "I heard about this book, sent to New York for it, and asked them to send it to me here by special delivery. Now I can read what I want to know about water."
"Will you read us a story out of the book?" asked Margy. "I like stories."
"I don't believe there are any stories in this book," said Uncle Fred with a laugh.
"Could you tell us one?" asked Mun Bun.
"About cowboys!" exclaimed Russ.
"And Indians!" added Laddie.
"Well, I guess I could think of a story, if I tried real hard," answered Uncle Fred, laughing.
The six little Bunkers gathered about his chair, and, laying aside the book that the special delivery messenger had brought, the ranchman told the children some wonderful stories.
He told them how, once, his cattle all ran away in a mad rush called a "stampede," and how he and his cowboys had to ride after them on ponies, firing their big revolvers, to turn the steers back from a deep gully.
"And did you stop 'em?" asked Russ, his eyes wide open in wonder and excitement.
"Oh, yes. But it was hard work," answered his uncle.
Then Mr. Bell told about a big prairie fire. On the flat, level fields, where he pastured his cattle, grew long grass. When this gets dry it burns very easily, and, once started, it is hard to stop.
"And how did you stop it?" asked Rose, when her uncle had told about the blazing miles of grass.
"We got a lot of men and horses and plows," he answered, "and plowed a wide strip of land in front of the fire. When the flames got to the bare ground there was nothing for them to burn, and the wind was not strong enough to carry them over to where there was more grass. So we saved our ranch houses."
"Do you live in a house on your ranch?" asked Laddie.
"Why, of course we do!" laughed Uncle Fred. "What did you think we lived in?"
"Tents, like the Indians."
"Oh, no, we have houses. But they aren't as nice as yours here in Pineville," said the ranchman. "I have a house to myself where I live with Captain Roy, and there is another house where the cowboys live. Then there is still another house where they eat their meals. This has a lot of big windows in it that can be opened wide on a hot day."
"Who is Captain Roy?" asked Russ. "Is he an old soldier, like Jerry Simms?"
"Yes, Captain Robert Roy used to be in the United States army," answered Uncle Fred. "He is retired now, and he helps me at the ranch. He is a partner of mine, and he looks after things while I am away. You six little Bunkers will like him, for he loves children."
"I wish we could hurry up and get out there!" sighed Russ.
"Well, I think the best place for my little chickens to hurry to is—bed!" laughed Mother Bunker. "Go to bed now, and morning will soon come, so we can talk about going to Uncle Fred's."
The children did not want to go to bed, but they always minded their mother, unless they forgot and did something she had told them not to. But this time there was no chance to forget.
"Good night, Uncle Fred!" they called, one after another, as they trooped upstairs.
Norah went with Mun Bun and Margy to see that they were properly undressed and covered up. Uncle Fred stayed downstairs to talk with Daddy and Mother Bunker.
He was telling them about the strange spring on his ranch, in which the water sometimes ran out in the night, no one knew where, and he was speaking about his cattle having been taken away, when suddenly Laddie called from upstairs:
"Mother, make Russ stop!"
"I'm not doing anything, Mother!" answered the voice of Russ, quickly enough.
"He is so!" went on Laddie. "He's playing he's a cowboy, and he says I've got to be an Indian, and he's going to lasso me with the sheet off the bed."
"Well, I didn't do it—not yet—did I?" asked Russ.
"No, but you're going to!"
"I am not!"
"You are so! You said you were."
"Well, I said I would if you'd let me."
"And I won't let you! I want to go to sleep so morning will come quick, and we can go to Uncle Fred's," went on Laddie. "I can think of some new riddles there."
"Boys! Boys! Be quiet and go to sleep!" called Mr. Bunker.
And, after a little more talk, Laddie and Russ settled down in bed and nothing more was heard of them until morning.
"Is Uncle Fred here?" eagerly asked Rose, when she came downstairs to breakfast.
"Of course he is," answered her mother. "What made you think he wasn't?"
"Oh, I—I dreamed in the night he went back home, and I couldn't see him any more," answered the little girl. "Did he go?"
"Indeed I didn't, Rose!" answered Uncle Fred himself, as he came softly up behind her and caught her up in his arms. "I'm going to stay here until you all get ready to go back to Three Star Ranch with me."
Then the rest of the little Bunkers came down, each one eager to see Uncle Fred and hear more of his wonderful stories of the West. And he was glad to tell them, for he liked the children, and, knowing they had never been out on a ranch, he realized how strange it all was to them.
"If we are really going West," said Mother Bunker to Daddy Bunker, after breakfast, "I must begin to think of packing up again. It seems we do nothing but travel!"
"The children like it," said her husband.
"Yes, and they'll like it out at my place," added Uncle Fred.
"Yes, I suppose so," said Mrs. Bunker. "But now to think of packing. It's such a long journey we can't take much."
"You won't need it," her brother said. "Though we live out West among the Indians and the cowboys, there are some stores there, and you can buy what you can't take with you. Besides, you won't need much for the children. Let them rough it. Put old clothes on them and let them roll around on the grass. That's the best thing in the world for them.
"Well, I'm going now to have a talk with some water engineers about my spring, and attend to some other business. Do you think you can be ready to go back with me in about a week?"
"Oh, never so soon as that!" cried Mrs. Bunker. "I'll need at least two weeks to pack up."
"All right, then we'll call it two weeks. So, two weeks from to-day, at ten o'clock in the morning," said Uncle Fred, "we start for the West."
"Hurray!" cried Russ, who came in just in time to hear what his uncle said.
The next two weeks were busy ones. The six little Bunkers could not do much toward packing, though Rose, who went about the house singing, as she almost always did, helped her mother as much as she could. Russ went about whistling, but he did not help much. Instead he and Laddie made lassos out of clotheslines, and once Mrs. Bunker heard Norah, out in the kitchen, saying:
"Now you mustn't do that, Russ! I told you that you must not!"
"What's he doing, Norah?" asked Mrs. Bunker.
"He's taking forks from the table and tying them on his shoes," answered the cook.
"You mustn't do that, Russ!" exclaimed his mother. "Why are you doing such a thing? Forks on your shoes—the idea!"
"I'm playing they're spurs, Mother, like those the cowboys at Uncle Fred's ranch wear on their boots," said Russ. "Spurs are sharp and so are forks, so I thought if I tied some forks on my shoes I'd have spurs like the cowboys."
His mother laughed, but told him that forks did not look much like spurs and, moreover, that she did not want to have her forks used for that purpose.
So Russ had to take off his fork-spurs, much to his sorrow. But he soon found something else to play with, and went about whistling merrily.
Two days before the two weeks were up Mrs. Bunker said that all the packing was done, and that she was ready to start for the West with the six little Bunkers. Meanwhile Uncle Fred and Daddy Bunker had been kept busy; the ranchman attending to his business matters, and talking with engineers about his mysterious spring, and Mr. Bunker working at his real estate affairs.
"They tell me to take some photographs of the spring and send them to them," said Uncle Fred. "So I'll do that. I've bought a camera, and we'll take pictures for the engineers."
"I can do that for you," remarked Daddy Bunker. "I often take pictures of the houses I buy and sell."
The last valise and trunk had been packed. Once more the Bunker house was closed for a long vacation and the family was on the porch, waiting for the big automobile that was to take them and Uncle Fred to the station.
"Are we all here?" asked Mother Bunker, "counting noses," as she did before the start of every trip. "Oh, where's Margy?" she suddenly cried, as she did not see her little girl. "Margy isn't here! Where can she be?"
For Margy, who had been there a little while before, was missing.
OFF FOR THE WEST
"Come on! Everybody hunt for Margy!" called Mr. Bunker. "She can't be very far away, as I saw her on the porch a little while ago."
"We haven't much time if we are to catch the train," said Mother Bunker. "Oh, dear! I wish she wouldn't run off that way. Did you see her go, Rose?"
"No, Mother, I didn't. But I'll go and look, and——"
"No, you stay here," said Daddy Bunker. "First we know you'll be getting lost, Rose. Uncle Fred and I will look for Margy. The rest of you stay here."
"I know where Margy goed!" suddenly exclaimed Mun Bun.
"Where?" asked Daddy and Mother Bunker and Uncle Fred. "Where did Margy go?"
"She goed to say good-bye to Carlo!"
"What! Carlo, the dog next door?" asked Mother Bunker.
"Yep!" and Mun Bun nodded his head.
"I wonder if she has," murmured Daddy Bunker. "And yet I wouldn't be surprised. The children think as much of Carlo as if he was their own dog," he said to Uncle Fred.
"Well, let's go and look," suggested the ranchman.
Back to the yard next door hurried the two men. In the rear was a nice, cosy dog-house into which Carlo went when it was cold or rainy.
"Look!" cried Uncle Fred, pointing toward the dog kennel. "There she is!"
Something pink and white was fluttering from Carlo's little house, and pink and white was the color of Margy's dress. Mr. Bunker ran down the yard.
"Margy!" he cried, as he took his little girl out from the kennel, where she was snuggled up to Carlo, her head pillowed on his shaggy coat. "Margy! what are you doing?"
"I was saying good-bye to Carlo, Daddy," the little girl answered. "I love him just bushels, and I'm going away from him, so I said good-bye!"
"Well, we might say good-bye to the train if you stayed here much longer," laughed her father, brushing the straw off the little girl's dress.
"Good-bye, Carlo! Good-bye!" called Margy, as her father carried her away.
"Bow-wow!" barked the big dog.
That was his way of saying good-bye, I suppose.
Out of the yard, into which she had gone when no one was watching her, Margy was carried by her father. Then along came the big automobile, and in that the six little Bunkers, with their daddy and mother and their Uncle Fred, rode to the station. Some of their neighbors came out on their steps to wave good-bye to the Bunkers, and Norah and Jerry Simms shook their hands and wished them the best of luck.
"Bring me back an Indian, Russ!" called Jerry.
"I'll lasso one for you," Russ answered.
"And I'll think up a lot of new riddles for you, Norah!" said Laddie.
"Sure, and I'll like that!" exclaimed the cook.
And so the six little Bunkers were off for the West.
It was a long journey from their home in Pennsylvania to Uncle Fred's ranch in Montana. It would take four days and nights of riding in railroad trains, but I am not going to tell you all that happened on the trip.
In fact nothing very much did happen. The children sat in their seats and looked out of the windows. Now and then they walked up and down the car, or asked for drinks of water. They looked at picture books, and played with games that Uncle Fred and Daddy Bunker bought for them from the train boy.
At night they all went to sleep in the car where beds were made out of what were seats in the daytime. It was not the first time the six little Bunkers had traveled in sleeping-cars, so they were not much surprised to see the colored porter make a bed out of a seat.
I will tell you about one funny thing that happened on the trip, and then I'll make the rest of the story about the things that took place on Uncle Fred's ranch, for there the children had many adventures.
"This is our last night of travel," said Mother Bunker to the children one evening, as the berths were being made up.
"Shall we be at Uncle Fred's ranch in the morning?" asked Russ, who, with Laddie, had been counting the hours when they might begin to lasso something.
"No, not exactly in the morning," said Uncle Fred himself. "But when you wake up, to-morrow morning, you can say: 'We'll be there to-night.' For by this time to-morrow night, if all goes well, we'll be at Three Star."
"Then can I see the ponies?" asked Violet.
"Yes, and have a ride on one if you want to," her uncle told her. "There are some very gentle ones that will just do for you children."
"That will be lovely!" exclaimed Rose. "I'll give my doll a ride, too."
"So will I," decided Violet.
They had taken with them their Japanese dolls, that had been found in such a funny way on the beach, as I told you in the book called "Six Little Bunkers at Cousin Tom's."
"The berths are ready, sir," said the colored porter to Daddy Bunker, and soon the children were undressed and put to sleep in the queer beds for the last time on this journey.
The grown folk stayed up a bit later, talking about different things, and the queer spring on Uncle Fred's ranch.
"I hope I can find the men who have been taking my cattle," said the Westerner, as he got ready for his berth, as the beds in the sleeping-car are called.
"We'll help you find the bad chaps," said Daddy Bunker.
"And the children will want to help, too," added Mrs. Bunker. "Especially Russ and Laddie. They think they are getting to be quite big boys now. They may find out what is the matter with your spring, Fred."
"I hope they do, but I don't see how they can," answered the ranchman. "I've tried every way I know, and so have my cowboys. Well, we'll wait until we get out to the ranch, and then see what happens."
Pretty soon every one in the big sleeping-car was in bed. The Bunkers, two by two, were sleeping in the berths. Russ and Laddie were together in one, and Rose and Violet were in another. Mun Bun slept with his father, and Margy with her mother.
On and on rushed the train through the night, carrying the people farther West. The weather was fine now, and spring would soon give place to summer. Uncle Fred had said this was the nicest time of the year out on his ranch.
It must have been about the middle of the night that Mr. Bunker awakened suddenly. Just what caused him to do so he did not know, but he found himself wide awake in a moment. He reached over to see if Mun Bun was all right, and, to his surprise, he could not find his little son.
"That's queer!" exclaimed Mr. Bunker to himself. "Where can Mun Bun be? I wonder if he got up in the night to get himself a drink?"
The little fellow had never done this, but that is not saying he might not try it for the first time.
"Or perhaps he didn't like it in bed with me, and went in with his mother and Margy," thought Mr. Bunker.
Mrs. Bunker's berth was right across the aisle from the one in which Mr. Bunker had been sleeping with Mun Bun, and, putting on a bath robe, Mr. Bunker pushed back the curtains in front of his berth, and opened those of the one where his wife was sleeping.
"Amy! Amy!" he whispered, his lips close to her ear so as not to awaken the other passengers on either side. "Amy! is Mun Bun here with you?"
"What's the matter?" asked Mrs. Bunker, waking up suddenly.
"I woke up just now and I can't find Mun Bun. Is he in here?"
AT THREE STAR RANCH
But as Mr. Bunker parted the curtains over his wife's berth, and looked inside, he saw, by the dim light that streamed in, that Mun Bun was not with her. There was Margy, quietly sleeping with her mother, but no Mun Bun.
"What could have happened to him?" asked Mrs. Bunker, sitting up in bed. She looked at her husband. "Where is Mun Bun?" she asked.
"I don't know," he answered. "He was sleeping with me, but, all of a sudden, I woke up and Mun Bun was not with me."
"He must have awakened and got up to get a drink, or something," said Mrs. Bunker. "Then when he went to go back again, he couldn't find the place where you were, and he's either crawled in with Russ and Laddie, or with Rose and Violet. We must look for him."
"I'll look," said Mr. Bunker. "You stay with Margy. If she wakes up and finds you gone, she'll cry and disturb the whole car. You stay here, and I'll go and look in the two other berths."
Going along the aisle of the car, which was swaying to and fro from the speed of the train, Mr. Bunker softly opened the curtains of the berth next to that in which his wife and Margy were. In this second compartment were Violet and Rose.
It needed only a glance to show that Mun Bun was not with his sisters, though often, at home, when he had been disturbed in the night, he had been found in their bed.
"Well, I'll try where Laddie and Russ are sleeping," said Mr. Bunker. "He surely will be there."
But Mun Bun was not in the berth with Russ and Laddie.
Rather puzzled, and not knowing exactly what to do next, Mr. Bunker went back to his wife's berth. She was sitting up waiting for him, and Margy was still asleep.
"Did you find him?" whispered Mrs. Bunker.
"No, he wasn't with Russ or Rose. What shall I do?"
Just then the colored porter came along. He had seen Mr. Bunker roving around the car, and wanted to know if there was any trouble. The porter was supposed to stay awake all night, but he often went to sleep, though he did not undress.
"Is there anything the matter, sir?" he asked Mr. Bunker.
"Well, it's a queer thing, but my little boy, who was sleeping with me, is missing," said Mr. Bunker. "I woke up to find him gone."
"Is he in the berths where any of the rest of your family are sleeping?" asked the porter, for, having traveled with the Bunkers for some time, he knew them all, at least by sight.
"No, he isn't in with his sisters or brothers," answered Mr. Bunker.
"Oh, you didn't look in Fred's berth!" exclaimed Mrs. Bunker. "That's where he is, Charles. I'm sure."
"Very likely," said Mr. Bunker, a sound of relief in his voice. "I didn't think of looking there!"
It was only a few steps to the berth where Uncle Fred was sleeping by himself, and when Daddy Bunker pulled open the curtains there, he at once awakened his wife's brother.
"What is it? What's the matter? Has there been an accident—a smash-up?" asked the Westerner quickly.
"No, nothing has happened except that Mun Bun is lost and we can't find him," answered Mr. Bunker in a low voice, so as not to disturb the other passengers. "I thought maybe he had crawled in with you, as he isn't with Amy, nor with Russ nor Rose."
"He isn't here," said Uncle Fred. "I'd have felt him if he had come into my berth. I'll get up and help you look."
Uncle Fred quickly slipped on a bath robe and stepped out into the aisle of the car. Then he and Daddy Bunker and the porter stood there in the dim light.
"Did you find him, Charles?" asked Mrs. Bunker in a low voice from her berth.
"No, he wasn't with Fred."
"Oh, dear! What shall we do? You must find him!" she exclaimed, as she poked her head out between the curtains.
"Well, ma'am, he couldn't fall off the train," said the porter, "'cause we hasn't stopped for a long while, and the doors are tight closed at each end of the car. He's here somewhere."
"He's in some other berth," put in Uncle Fred. "He must have walked in his sleep, or something like that, and he's in with some one else he has mistaken for his father or his mother, or one of his sisters or brothers. We'll find him."
"But we can't wake up everybody in the car, to ask them if Mun Bun is sleeping with them," said Mr. Bunker.
"We've just got to!" exclaimed his wife. "We must find Mun Bun!"
The porter looked disturbed. He did not very much like to awaken all the sleeping passengers in the train, for some of them were sure to be cross. They might blame him for their loss of sleep, and then he would not get the usual tips of quarters or half dollars or dollars at the end of the ride.
"I'll tell you what we can do," said Uncle Fred.
"What?" asked Daddy Bunker.
"Since we know Mun Bun is safe in this car, as the porter says he couldn't get off, we can wait until morning. He surely is in some berth, and is, very likely, sleeping soundly. Why not let him alone until morning?" answered Uncle Fred.
"Oh, no! Never!" cried Mrs. Bunker. "I must have him found, even if we have to wake up everybody in the train. I must find Mun Bun!"
Once more the porter hesitated.
"Well, if it has to be done, it has to be," he said. "I'll start at one end, an' you two gen'mens can start at the other end of the car, and maybe we won't have to wake up quite everybody."
Just as they were going to start to make this search a voice from behind the colored porter called.
"Are you looking for a lost boy?" inquired a man who wore an old-fashioned night-cap on his head, which he stuck out from between the green curtains of his berth.
"Yes!" eagerly exclaimed Mr. Bunker.
"Have you one there?" asked Uncle Fred, turning to look at the man.
"Well, I have some sort of a youngster in my berth with me," was the low, laughing answer. "I had a dream that my pet dog had climbed in bed with me, as he sometimes does when I'm at home. In my sleep I put out my hand and I felt some soft, curly head. Then I happened to think, in my dream, that my dog is an Airedale, and they don't exactly have soft, silky hair.
"Then I woke up, reached under my pillow for my flash-light, and pressed the switch. There I saw a small boy asleep with me. Maybe he's the one you want."
"Oh, it must be Mun Bun!" exclaimed Mrs. Bunker. "Look quick, Charles!"
Mr. Bunker went down to the berth whence the man with the night-cap had spoken. There, surely enough, peacefully sleeping in the strange bed, was Mun Bun.
"Yes, that's my boy," said Daddy Bunker. "Sorry he bothered you."
"Shucks, he didn't bother me a mite!" said the good-natured man. "I used to have a little tot like him myself, but he's grown up now, and gone to war. I'm old and bald-headed—that's why I wear this night-cap, on account of my bald head," he went on. "But I'm not too old to like children. You can let him stay here until morning if you wish. He won't bother me."
"No, thank you," said Mr. Bunker. "He might wake up and be frightened if he found himself in a strange bed. I'll carry him back with me. Thank you just the same."
Daddy Bunker picked up Mun Bun, still sleeping, and the little fellow never awakened. His father took him back to his own berth. Uncle Fred got into his and Mrs. Bunker went back to sleep beside Margy.
Mun Bun never awakened as his father carried him back, but slept on. Only he murmured something in his dreams about "pony rides."
"You shall have some when you get to Uncle Fred's ranch," whispered Daddy Bunker, as he softly kissed the little sleeping fellow. And Mun Bun was once more tucked in the bed where he belonged.
In the morning the other little Bunkers were told of the funny thing that had happened to Mun Bun in the night. The little fellow himself knew nothing about it.
"He must have walked in his sleep," said his mother, "though I never knew him to do that before."
And that is probably what happened.
Mun Bun, not used to sleeping in moving trains, had probably twisted and turned in the night, and, being restless, he had gotten out of the bed where he was with his father. If he was awake he did not remember it. He must have toddled down the aisle of the car, all by himself, and then have crawled into the berth with the strange man. The latter was not awakened until he had his queer dream about his pet dog, and then he found Mun Bun.
"And just in time, too," said Uncle Fred, as they were all laughing about it at breakfast the next morning. "I wouldn't have liked to get all the passengers awake to find a lost boy. After this, Mun Bun, we'll have to put a hobble on you."
"What's a hobble?" asked Russ.
"Is it an Indian?" Violet wanted to know. She was not going to let Russ get ahead of her with questions.
"No, a hobble is something we put on horses to keep them from straying away," said the ranchman. "It's a rope with which we tie them."
"Do horses walk in their sleep?" Violet, in wonder, asked.
"I don't believe so," answered Uncle Fred. "I never saw any, and we have a lot out at Three Star."
"Why don't they?" asked Violet, after a pause.
"Why don't they what?" her uncle queried, for he had turned aside and was talking to Daddy Bunker.
"Why don't horses walk in their sleep?" asked Violet. "Mun Bun walked in his sleep, so why don't horses?"
"Oh, I guess they do enough walking and running in the day time," said Mrs. Bunker. "They're glad enough to rest at night."
"I guess I'll make up a riddle about Mun Bun walking in his sleep, if I can think of a good answer," announced Laddie.
"Do!" exclaimed Uncle Fred. "And save it for the cowboys out at my ranch. They like riddles."
"Do they?" cried Laddie. "Then I'll ask them that one about what do the tickets do when the conductor punches them. Nobody can tell me an answer to that."
"Yes, that would be a good one for the cowboys," laughed Uncle Fred. "Well, it won't be very long before we'll be there now."
The train sped on, and late that afternoon Moon City was reached. It was a small town, but it had the name of being a city. The children did not have much time to look about, as Uncle Fred was anxious to get them out to the ranch.
So, with bags and trunks, the Bunkers were piled into a big four-seated wagon, or buckboard, and the horses started off. Through the town they went, and then out on the broad plains. In the distance were great mountains and forests.
It was a drive of about ten miles to Three Star Ranch, and it was just getting dusk when the place was reached.
"Welcome home, six little Bunkers!" cried Uncle Fred, as he jumped from the wagon and began helping down his sister and the children. "Here we are, at my ranch at last."
"Where are the Indians?" asked Russ eagerly.
And just then came wild yells and whoops, and the air resounded with the firing of what the children thought must be giant fire-crackers, bigger than any they had ever heard.
"Whoop-ee! Whoop! Bang! Bang!" sounded on all sides.
RUSS MAKES A LASSO
There was so much noise that, at first, no one could make his or her voice heard. Then, as the sound of the shooting died away a little, and the whoops and shouts were not so loud, Laddie cried:
"Is that the Indians, Uncle Fred? Are they trying to get us?"
"Where's my lasso?" demanded Russ. "I had one on the train! Where is it, Mother? I want to lasso an Indian for Jerry Simms."
"Can't the cowboys help fight the Indians?" demanded Laddie, capering about in his excitement.
"Oh, look!" suddenly exclaimed Rose, and she pointed to a lot of men on horses coming around the corner of the big ranch house.
And as the children looked, these men again fired their big revolvers in the air, making such a racket that Mother Bunker covered her ears with her hands.
"Oh, here come the cowboys!" yelled Russ. "Now the Indians will run!"
"Let me see the cowboys! Let me see the cowboys!" cried Mun Bun. "Has they got any cows?"
Right up to where the six little Bunkers stood rode the cowboys on their horses, or "ponies," as they are more often called. Then the men suddenly pulled back on the reins, and up in the air on their hind legs stood the horses, the men clinging to their backs, swinging their big hats and yelling as loudly as they could.
"Oh, it's just like a circus!" cried Rose.
"Indeed it is," said her father. "More like a Wild West circus, I suppose."
"Did you get this show up for us, Fred?" asked Mother Bunker, when the cowboys had quieted down, and had ridden off to the corral, or place where they kept their horses.
"No, I didn't know anything about it," answered Uncle Fred. "But the cowboys often ride wild like that when they come in from their work and find visitors. They shoot off their revolvers, 'guns,' as they call them, and make as much noise as they can."
"What for?" asked Violet.
"Oh, just because they feel good, and they want to make everybody else feel good, too, I suppose."
"Will the Indians come?" asked Laddie hopefully.
"No, there aren't any Indians," his uncle told him. "At least not any around here now. Sometimes a few come from the reservation, but there's none here now."
The six little Bunkers watched the cowboys ride away to put their horses out to grass and wash themselves for supper, or "grub," or "chuck," or "chow," as they called it, giving the meals different names used according to the place where they had worked before.
"I'm glad they weren't Indians," said Laddie to Russ, as they went in the ranch house where Uncle Fred lived.
"Pooh! I wasn't afraid!" said Russ.
"No, I wasn't either," went on Laddie. "But I don't like Indians to come at you the first thing. I was glad they were cowboys."
"If they'd've been Indians I'd've lassoed 'em!" declared Russ.
"How could you, when you didn't have a lasso?"
"I'm going to make one," declared Russ.
"I'll help you lasso," offered Laddie.
"Pooh! you don't know how," said Russ. "But I'll teach you," he added.
"Come in and wash yourselves for supper," called Mother Bunker to the two boys, who had stayed out on the porch to see if the cowboys would again ride their horses around so wildly and shoot off the guns which made so much noise. "You must be hungry, Russ and Laddie."
"I am," Laddie admitted.
"So'm I," agreed Russ.
Into Uncle Fred's ranch house went all six little Bunkers. They liked the place from the very first. It was different from their house at home.
The room they went into first extended the width of the house. It was "big enough for the whole Bunker family and part of another one to sit in, and not rock on one anothers' toes," Mother Bunker said. Back of this big apartment, called the living-room, was the dining-room. Then came the kitchen, and, off in another part of the house, were the sleeping-rooms. The ranch house was only one story high, and it was, in fact, a sort of bungalow. It was very nice.
Even though it was away out on the plains Uncle Fred's house had some of the same things in it that the Bunkers had at home. There was running water, and a bathroom, and a sink in the kitchen.
"The water comes from the mysterious spring I told you about," said Uncle Fred when Mrs. Bunker asked him about it. "We pump it up into a tank with a gasolene engine pump, and then it runs into the bathroom or wherever else we want it. Oh, we'll treat you all right out here, you'll see!"
"I'm sure you will," said Mother Bunker.
The children were washed and combed after their long journey, and then Uncle Fred led them out to the dining-room.
"Who does your cooking?" asked Mrs. Bunker.
"Bill Johnson," was the answer. "He's a fine cook, too."
"Is he a man?" asked Rose, in some surprise.
"When you see him you'll say so!" exclaimed her uncle. "Bill is about six feet tall, and as thin as a rail. But he certainly can cook."
"I didn't think a man could cook," went on Rose.
"Of course they can!" laughed her father. "You ought to see me cook when I go camping and fishing. And the cook we had in the train coming here was a man."
"Was he?" asked Rose. "How funny!"
"Here he comes now," said Uncle Fred, as a tall, thin man, wearing a white apron and a cap came into the room with a big tray balanced on his hands. "Bill, this little girl thinks you can't cook because you're a man!"
"Oh, I only said—I only said——" and Rose blushed and hung her head.
"That's all right!" laughed Bill Johnson. "If she doesn't like my cooking I'll have her come out and show me how to make a pie or a cake!" and he laughed at Rose.
But the six little Bunkers all agreed that they never had a better meal than that first one at Uncle Fred's, even if it was cooked by a man who used to be a cowboy, as he told them later.
"It was as good as Grandma Bell's," said Russ.
"And as good as Aunt Jo's," added Rose.
"I'm glad we came!" declared Laddie, as he pulled a cookie out of his pocket. He had taken it away with him from the table.
After supper the children and grown folk walked around the ranch near the house. They saw where the cowboys slept in the "bunk house," and looked in the corral where the ponies were kept when they were not being ridden.
"Where are the little ponies we are to ride?" asked Rose of her uncle.
"I'll show them to you to-morrow," he promised. "It's too far to go over to their corral to-night."
"Will the cowboys shoot any more?" Laddie wanted to know.
"No, not to-night," said his father. "I guess they want a rest as much as you children do."
Indeed the six little Bunkers were very willing to go to bed that night. They were tired with their long journey, and sleeping in a regular bed was different from curling up in a berth made from seats in a car. Even Mun Bun slept soundly, and did not walk in his sleep and get in bed with any one else.
Early in the morning the children were down to breakfast. They found that Bill Johnson could get that sort of meal just as well as he could cook a supper, and after taking plenty of milk and oatmeal, with some bread and jam, the six little Bunkers were ready to have some fun.
They had on their play clothes, for the trunks and valises had been unpacked, and as the weather was mild, though it was not quite summer yet, they could play out of doors as much as they liked.
"I'm going to look at the cowboys," announced Russ, as he got up from the table. "I want to see how they lasso."
"So do I," said Laddie.
"Then you'll have to wait a bit, boys," Uncle Fred told them. "The cowboys have ridden over to the far end of the ranch to see about some cattle. They won't be back until evening."
"Could we walk over and see 'em?" asked Russ. "I want to see how they lasso."
"Well, it's several miles to where they have gone," said Uncle Fred. "I'm afraid you couldn't walk it. But you can go almost anywhere else you like, as there's no danger around here."
"Are there any wild bulls or steers or cows that might chase them?" asked Mother Bunker.
"No," answered her brother. "There are a few little calves in a pen out near the barn, but that's all. The cattle and horses are far away."
"Let's go out and see this mysterious spring of yours," said Daddy Bunker. "I'm eager to have a look at it. I'll take the camera along and get some pictures. Come, children!"
Rose and Violet, with Margy and Mun Bun, followed their father and mother and Uncle Fred. Laddie and Russ lagged behind.
"Aren't you coming?" asked their mother.
"I'm going to make a lasso," said Russ.
"So'm I," added Laddie.
"Oh, let them play by themselves," said Uncle Fred. "They can't do any damage nor come to any harm. They can see the spring later."
So Russ and Laddie went off by themselves to make a lasso. Russ found a piece of clothesline, which Bill Johnson, the cook, said he might take, and soon Russ and his brother were tying knots and loops in the strong cord.
If you don't know what a lasso or lariat is I'll tell you. It is just a long rope with what is known as a slip-knot in one end. That end is thrown over a horse, a cow, or anything else you want to catch. The loop, or noose, slips along the long part of the string, and is pulled tight. Then the horse or cow can be held and kept from getting away.
Mother and Daddy Bunker, with the four little Bunkers and Uncle Fred, were looking at the queer spring, which I'll tell you about a little later, when Laddie came running up to them.
"What's the matter?" asked Uncle Fred, seeing that the small boy seemed excited.
"Russ made—made a lasso," panted Laddie, for he had been running, and was out of breath.
"Yes, I know he said he was going to," said Uncle Fred. "That's all right. Have a good time with it."
"Russ made—made a lasso, and he—he lassoed one of the little cows with it!" went on Laddie.
"Oh, did he!" exclaimed Mr. Bell with a laugh. "Well, I guess what little lassoing Russ can do won't hurt the calf. They are all pretty well grown."
"But Russ can't—can't get loose!" went on Laddie. "He's yelling like anything and he says I'd better come and tell you! He lassoed the calf but he can't get loose—I mean Russ can't get loose!"
"Oh, my goodness!" exclaimed Mrs. Bunker. "I might have known something would happen!"
THE QUEER SPRING
"What's all this? What's the matter?" asked Daddy Bunker, who had been looking at the mysterious spring and had not heard all the talk that went on. "What happened?"
"Russ made a lasso," stated Laddie, while Mrs. Bunker and Uncle Fred started for the corral where the little calves were kept until they were strong enough to run with the other cattle.
"Oh, Russ made a lasso, did he?" asked his father. "Well, that boy is always making something. He'll be an inventor yet, I'm sure."
"Russ lassoed a calf," explained Mrs. Bunker, for Mr. Bunker had caught up Laddie, and they had now overtaken the others, who had started on ahead.
"Well, he had to lasso something," said Mr. Bunker with a laugh. "Any boy wants to lasso something when he makes a lariat. I did when I was a boy. I lassoed our old rooster."
"But the trouble seems to be," said Uncle Fred, "that Russ lassoed a calf, and now the calf is running away with Russ."
"Oh, that's different!" said Mr. Bunker. "We'll have to see about this!"
Then he hurried along with his wife and Uncle Fred toward the calf corral. The five little Bunkers stayed behind at the spring for Mrs. Bunker called back to them to do this, sending Laddie back, too.
"We don't want any of them to get into trouble," she said to her brother.
"Yes, I think, too, that one at a time is enough," replied Mr. Bell.
Even before they reached the corral they heard the voice of Russ yelling. They heard him calling:
"Whoa now! Stop! Stop, bossy cow! Let me get up! Stop!"
"Maybe the calf will hook him!" cried Mrs. Bunker.
"Oh, no!" answered Uncle Fred. "The calves don't have horns. Russ will be all right, though he may be mussed up a bit."
"It will teach him not to lasso calves after this," said Mr. Bunker.
"I'm not so sure of that," murmured Mrs. Bunker. "It is more apt to make the others want to try the same thing."
A moment later they turned around the corner of one of the ranch buildings and came in sight of the corral. In one end they could see some frightened calves standing huddled together. In the middle of the corral was a cloud of dust.
"That must be Russ and the calf," said Uncle Fred.
He and Daddy Bunker ran faster toward the fence, within which the calves were kept, but, before they could reach it, they saw a man run out from one of the buildings, jump over the fence without touching it and land inside the corral. Then he disappeared in the cloud of dust.
A moment later he came out, carrying Russ in his arms, and from the little boy's leg there dangled a piece of clothesline. Then, also out of the dust cloud, came a very much frightened spotted calf, and around its neck was another piece of line.
"Oh, is he—is he hurt?" gasped Mrs. Bunker, for Russ was limp.
"Not a bit, I'm glad to say!" answered the man who had Russ in his arms. "He's pretty dusty, and scratched up a bit, and his clothes are mussed, and he's frightened, but he's not hurt; are you?" and he laughed as he set Russ down on his own feet.
"I—I guess I'm all right," Russ answered, a bit slowly. "I—I had a dandy time!"
"Well, I should say you did!" exclaimed his father. "What did you do?"
"Well, I was playing I was a cowboy in the Wild West and I lassoed a buffalo. I made believe the calf was a buffalo."
"And then I guess the calf made believe you were a football, by the way it pulled you about the corral," said the man who had rescued Russ.
"Yes, sir, I guess so," answered Russ.
"I'm glad you rescued him," said Mrs. Bunker to the stranger. "I can't thank you enough."
"Oh, I didn't do anything," was the answer. "I heard the little fellow yelling shortly after I had seen him in the corral with the piece of clothesline. I guessed what had happened, and I jumped in. I found the calf pulling him around, for the lasso the little boy made had gotten tangled around his legs. The other end was on the calf.
"So I just cut the rope and picked up the youngster. Here he is, not much worse for wear. But you won't do it again, will you?"
"No—no—I don't guess I will," answered Russ.
"Captain Roy, this is my sister, Mrs. Bunker, and this is Mr. Bunker," said Uncle Fred, introducing them. "This is Captain Robert Roy, my ranch partner about whom I spoke to you," he went on to Mr. and Mrs. Bunker. "He has been away, or you would have met him last night."
"I'm glad you are here to-day, to get my boy out of the trouble he got himself into," said Mr. Bunker, as he shook hands with the former soldier.
"I am glad, too!" exclaimed the captain. "I like children, and I don't want to see them hurt. But, as it happened, Russ wasn't."
"He might have been, only for you," said Mrs. Bunker. "We can't thank you enough. Russ, don't lasso anything more."
"Can't I lasso a fence post, Mother?" Russ asked.
"Well, maybe that, or something that isn't alive. But no more calves."
"All right," said Russ.
His clothes were brushed off, Captain Roy talked a little while with Mr. and Mrs. Bunker, and then went back to his work, and Uncle Fred remarked:
"Well, now the excitement is over, we can go back to the spring. I presume the other children will be wondering what has happened."
So back they went to where Laddie, Rose and the others were waiting.
"Did you get him?" asked Laddie eagerly, when he saw Russ.
"No, he got me," was the answer. "I guess we won't play Wild West any more. We'll be Indians and not cowboys. Indians don't have to lasso buffaloes, do they, Uncle Fred."
"No, Indians have it sort of easy out here on their reservation," said Mr. Bell with a laugh. "I guess it will be safer for you boys to be Indians."
"That'll be fun too," agreed Russ.
"But we must have some feathers for our heads," said Laddie.
"We can get them in the chicken yard," returned Russ.
"Did the calf bite you?" asked Violet, and she looked at Russ as if to make sure he was all there.
"No, he didn't bite, but he almost stepped on me. You ought to have seen me flying around the field on the end of the rope. I couldn't get it loose," and Russ explained how it had happened.
However he was well out of it, and promised never again to try such a trick.
"I could make a riddle up about it, but I'm not going to," said Laddie. "Anyhow it's hard to guess the answer, so I'll think up one that's easier."
"Now this," said Uncle Fred, as they stood about the big spring, "is what I was telling you about. You all see what a nice lot of water there is here. Sometimes it overflows, there's so much. Then, within a few hours, it will go dry."
"And where does the water go?" asked Daddy Bunker.
"That's what none of us has been able to find out. The water just seems to sink down into the ground, as if the bottom had dropped out and let it all through. Then again, in a day or so, the water comes back again."
"It is queer," said Mrs. Bunker.
"And the worst of it is," said Uncle Fred, "that I may lose most of what I put into this ranch on account of this spring."
"How?" asked Daddy Bunker.
"Well, I bought this ranch partly because it had such a fine spring of water on it. There is none better for miles around. But if I wanted to sell the ranch again, and people heard that the spring went dry every now and then, they wouldn't pay me as much as I paid. So I would lose. That's one reason why I'm so anxious to get to the bottom of the puzzle. As I said, it's like one of Laddie's riddles—I don't know the answer."
"It looks like a regular spring," said Mother Bunker.
"And yet it isn't," went on Uncle Fred. "It's all right now, but an hour later we may find the water sinking away."
"I'll take some pictures," said Daddy Bunker, who had a camera with him, "and then maybe we can dig up the ground and find hidden pipes, or something like that."
"We'll do the digging to-morrow," said Uncle Fred. "Now I want to show you about the ranch."
So he led them about, showing the six little Bunkers and their father and mother the different buildings, telling them how he raised his cattle and sent them to market, and how he sent out his cowboys to hunt for lost calves.
"There's always something to do on a ranch like this," said Uncle Fred. "You can keep busy all the while. If one thing doesn't happen another will. What with the mysterious spring, the bad men taking my cattle now and then, the Indians running off the reservation and making trouble—well, you can keep busy."
"Could we see the little ponies?" asked Rose. "I'd like to have a ride on one."
"So would I!" exclaimed Russ. "I'd like a pony better than a calf."
"The ponies are over this way. I'll show them to you," said Uncle Fred. "We'll go back by way of the spring. I have some Shetland ponies," he went on to Daddy Bunker. "I raised a few and may raise more. The larger children can ride on them while they're at the ranch."
"That will be fine!" exclaimed Mrs. Bunker. "Oh, I'm sure the children will love it here."
They turned back toward the spring to go to the pony corral.
"I'm thirsty!" exclaimed Russ, as they reached the water hole. "I'm going to run on ahead and get a drink."
On he ran, and the others saw him stop suddenly when he reached the spring. Then Russ shouted:
"Oh, come here! Come here quick! Look! Hurry!"
SOME BAD NEWS
"I wonder what the matter is," said Mrs. Bunker, when she heard Russ shout.
She did not have to wonder long. As the others drew nearer, Russ shouted again, and this time he said:
"The water's all running out of the spring! It's going dry, just like Uncle Fred said it would!"
"More mystery!" exclaimed the ranchman as he hurried on.
The five little Bunkers and the grown folk reached the edge of the big spring where Russ stood. He was looking down into the clear water, and the others did the same.
"Surely enough, it is getting lower!" exclaimed Mother Bunker.
"There isn't half as much in as there was at first," added her husband. "Is this the way it always does, Fred?"
"I never saw it run out before," answered the owner of Three Star Ranch. "Every time before, it has happened in the night when no one was near it. We'd visit the spring in the evening, and it would be all right. In the morning it would be nearly dry, and it might stay that way a day or two before the water came back into it. Very queer, I call it."
"So do I!" exclaimed Daddy Bunker. "I'll take another picture of it now. Maybe that will help us solve the mystery."
While he was getting the camera ready Mrs. Bunker said:
"The water is going out fast. You'd better get a drink now, Russ dear, if you want it, for there may not be any more for a long time."
"I will!" exclaimed Russ.
Uncle Fred kept half a cocoanut shell tied by a string near the spring to use as a cup. This Russ dipped in the fast lowering water, and got a drink for the other little Bunkers and for himself, as they all seemed to be thirsty at once.
"What will you do for water when the spring runs dry?" asked Mrs. Bunker of her brother.
"We'll have to draw some from the creek, but I have a lot of this water stored in the tank. I always keep that full lately, since I can't tell when my spring is going dry."
They stood and watched the water going out of the spring. It was just like it is when you pull the stopper out of the bathtub. The water gets lower and lower, running down the pipe. Only, of course, there was no pipe in the spring—that is, as far as Uncle Fred knew.
"The water seems just to stop running in," said Daddy Bunker, as he knelt down and looked more closely at the little hill of rocks back of the water hole. It was from cracks in these rocks that the water bubbled out and filled a hollow, rock basin before flowing on. Now less and less was coming and, of course, as the spring water always kept running away, or it would have overflowed, the basin was slowly but surely getting dry.
"I think what is happening," said Daddy Bunker, "is that, somewhere back in the mountains or hills, where the stream comes from that feeds this spring, the water is being shut off, just as we shut off the water at the kitchen sink faucet. Where does the water come from, Fred?"
"I don't know," was the answer. "It must come from some place underground, as we've never been able to find it on top. Well, we won't go thirsty, for there is plenty of water in the tank. But I hope the spring soon fills up again."
Even as they watched the water got lower and lower, until there was hardly a pailful left in the rock basin. No more clear, sparkling water bubbled up out of the cracks in the rocks. The strange thing that Uncle Fred had told about was happening at the spring.
"Is the cows drinking up all the water?" asked Mun Bun, as he looked into the now almost emptied basin.
"No, I don't believe they are," answered his uncle.
"Maybe the Indians took it to wash in," said Margy. "The Indians wash, doesn't they, Uncle Fred?"
"Well, maybe some of 'em do, but not very often," was the answer. "They're not very fond of water, I'm sorry to say. But there! we won't worry about this any more. You six little Bunkers came here to have fun, and not bother about my spring. Daddy and I will try to find out why the water runs away, and stop the leak. Did you all get drinks? If you did we'll go back to the house. It must be almost dinner time."
They all had had enough to drink for the time being, and, leaving the spring, which was now only a damp hole in the ground, the party went back to the ranch house. Captain Roy met them.
"Spring's gone dry again," said Uncle Fred.
"Again! That's too bad! I was hoping we'd seen the last of that. Well, now, we may expect some more bad news."
"What kind?" asked Mrs. Bunker.
"Oh, the captain means about losing more cattle," answered Uncle Fred. "Almost always, when the spring goes dry, it isn't long before some of the cowboys come in to tell about our cattle being taken away. But maybe that won't happen this time."
After dinner the six little Bunkers started to have some fun. Mun Bun and Margy went to have their afternoon naps, but Rose and Violet took their Japanese dolls, which had been unpacked, and found a shady place on the porch where they could play.