Six Little Bunkers at Mammy June's
by Laura Lee Hope
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"Let's see what you have in your pockets, Russ," said Mr. Bunker seriously, yet with twinkling eyes. "I noticed that you feared there was going to be a famine aboard this steamer, and that you believe in preparing for it. Let me see the contents of your pockets."

"Oh, Father!" gasped Russ.

"Aren't afraid, are you, Russ?" asked Daddy Bunker. "If you weren't afraid to take the food you needn't be afraid to show it."

"It—it was all mine," said Russ, stammeringly. "I only took what was passed to me."

"I know it," said Daddy. "That is one reason why I want to know the rights of this mystery. I can't have my son starving himself for the sake of feeding a sea-eagle."

"Oh! It isn't the eagle, Daddy."

"What is it, then?"

"It—it isn't an it at all!" exclaimed Russ Bunker and he was so very much worried that he was almost in tears.

"What do you mean?" asked his father.

"I—I can't tell you," Russ faltered. "It isn't about me at all. It's somebody else, and I oughtn't to tell you, Daddy."



A boy hates to tell on another person if he is the right kind of boy. And Russ was the right kind of boy.

Daddy Bunker knew this; so he did not scold. He just said quietly:

"Very well, my boy. If you are mixed up in something of which you cannot tell your father, but which you are sure is all right, then go ahead. I am always ready to advise and help you, but if you are sure you do not need my advice, go ahead."

He turned quietly away. But these words and his cheerful acceptance of Russ' way of thinking rather startled the boy, used as he was to Daddy Bunker's ways. He called after him:

"Daddy! I don't know whether I am right or wrong. Only—only I know somebody that needs this bread and meat because he is hungry. He's real hungry. Can't I give it to him?"

"I think that hunger should be appeased first. Go ahead," said Mr. Bunker, but still quite seriously. "Then if you feel that you can come and tell me about it, all right."

At that Russ hurried away, much relieved. Rose came into sight and would have run after him, but Daddy Bunker stopped her.

"Don't chase him now. He has something particular to do, Rose."

"I think that's real mean!" exclaimed Rose. "He's hiding something from me!"

"My!" said Daddy, "do you think your brother should tell you everything he knows or does?"

"Why not?" retorted Rose. "I'm sure, Daddy, he is welcome to know everything I know."

"Are you sure? Moreover, perhaps he does not care to know all your secrets," said Mr. Bunker.

"Anyhow, you must learn, Rose, that other people have a right to their own private mysteries; you must not be inquisitive. Russ has got something on his mind, it is true; but without doubt we shall all know what it is by and by."

"Well!" exclaimed Rose, with almost a gasp. She could not quite understand her father's reasoning.

Russ Bunker appeared after a while, looking still very grave indeed for a boy of his age. Daddy kept from saying or doing anything to suggest that he was curious; but Rose found it hard not to tease her brother to explain his taking food from the table and hiding it in his pockets.

"Of course he can't eat it," she whispered to herself. "And he doesn't give it to the eagle. Who ever heard of an eagle eating pound cake with raisins and citron in it? And I saw Russ take a piece of that.

"But he didn't eat much himself. I wonder if he is sick and is hiding it from Mother and Daddy?"

She watched her brother very closely. After a time he seemed more cheerful, and they ran races on the open deck. They knew many of the passengers by this time to speak to. And there were some few other children of about their own ages, too. They talked with these other boys and girls, found out where they lived when they were at home, and learned where they were going to, when they left the Kammerboy at Charleston or Savannah.

Just the same Rose knew that her brother was disturbed in his mind. Daddy Bunker's words to her had been sufficient, and Rose said nothing. But she began to believe that she should sympathize with Russ instead of being vexed with him. He did look so serious when he was not talking.

The evening wore on. The moon rose and silvered the almost pond-like sea through which the Kammerboy steamed. Even the children were impressed by the beauty of the seascape. Far, far away against the rising moon appeared a fairylike ship sailing across its face, each spar and mast pricked out as black as jet.

"Just like those silhouettes Aunt Jo cut out for us," declared Rose. "Did you ever see anything so cute?"

Russ didn't have much to say about it. He was very grave again. Bedtime came, and the brother and sister went below. The little folks, Margy and Mun Bun, were in the first stateroom with Mother. Already the twins were fast asleep in the second stateroom. Rose was going to sleep with Vi in the lower berth and Russ was to crawl in beside Laddie in the upper.

But Russ did not seem in a hurry to undress and go to bed. Mother brushed Rose's hair for her and the girl got ready for bed in the larger stateroom. When she went into the other room there was Russ sitting on the stool with only his jacket off.

"Why, Russ Bunker! aren't you going to bed to-night?" demanded Rose.

"I suppose so," admitted Russ.

"Well, you'd better hurry. I want you to put out the light. How do you suppose we can sleep?"

Russ reached up and snapped out the electric bulb as Rose threw aside her bath-gown and hopped into bed beside her sister.

"You can't see to undress in the dark, Russ," scolded Rose.

Russ did not say a word. He got up and walked into his mother's and father's stateroom, and greatly to his sister's vexation he closed the door between the two rooms.

Daddy Bunker had just come in.

"Why, Russ," said he, "haven't you gone to bed yet?"

"No, sir," said Russ. "And I guess I can't. I've got to talk to you first. I guess I can't go to sleep till I've told you something."

Daddy smiled at Mother Bunker but nodded to Russ.

"All right," he said. "We will go out on deck again and take a turn up and down and you shall tell me all about it."

Mother made no objection, although the hour was getting late, and she smiled, too, when she saw Russ slip into his jacket again and follow his father out of the stateroom. On the deck Russ burst out with:

"I promised I wouldn't tell anybody. But when I gave him his supper I told him I'd just have to tell my father, I was afraid; and he said he didn't have any father and he didn't know whether fathers wouldn't 'snitch,' and I said my father wouldn't."

"I see," said Mr. Bunker gravely. "You recommended me as being a safe person to trust a secret with. I am glad you did so."

"Yes, sir. For you see he's got to be fed until we get to Charleston."

"Do you mind telling me who this new friend of yours is, and where he is, and why he must be fed?"

"He's a sailor boy. He belongs on a destroyer and got left at Boston when his ship started for Charleston two days ago."

"He is in the Navy?" exclaimed Mr. Bunker, in surprise.

"Yes, sir. And he spent all his money and did not know how to get down there where the fleet will be in winter quarters, he says, unless he went secretly on one of these steamers."

"He is stealing his passage, then?" asked Daddy Bunker.

"I suppose he is, Daddy," said Russ, ruefully enough. "He is in a boat, all covered up with canvas. Up there on the deck. I can show you. I found him quite by myself, and I was sorry for him, 'specially when he said he didn't have anything to eat. And he said, would I keep still about it? And at first I said I would."

"I see," said Daddy Bunker, smiling. "Then you thought that you ought not to keep the secret from me?"

"That's it, Daddy."

"Quite right," rejoined Mr. Bunker encouragingly. "It is not good policy to keep secrets from your mother and father. What do you want to do about it now?"

"Why—why, I want you to tell me," confessed Russ. "I got him some food."

"I see you did," returned his father, smiling. "At your own cost, Russ."

"We-ell, yes, I could have eaten more if I hadn't taken what I did for the sailor boy."

"We'll have to see about that——"

"I don't mind—much. I'm not very hungry," said Russ hurriedly. "It wasn't that made me tell you."

"I know it wasn't, Russ," said Daddy Bunker, with a pride that the little boy did not understand, and he dropped an approving hand upon Russ' shoulder. "Now, I will tell you what we will do. This sailor boy shall have his chance to rejoin his ship without getting into any more trouble than is necessary. He is probably very young and foolish."

"He isn't very old, I guess," said Russ. "He has been in the Navy only a little while, and it was his first 'shore leave,' he called it, in Boston. He had some cousins there. They begged him to stay longer than he should have. And so he got left."

"I'll fix it if I can," promised Daddy Bunker. "Of course, the first thing to do is to pay his fare and then he can come out of the lifeboat and have his proper meals. I will see the purser, and the captain if it is necessary, and you go to bed, Russ."

"That will be nice!" cried the boy, greatly relieved. "Of course I ought to have told you right at first. You always do know how to straighten things out, Daddy!"

"That is what fathers and mothers are for," replied Mr. Bunker. "Go down and go to sleep, Son, and I will do my best for this young deserter."

When Mr. Bunker entered the stateroom an hour later Mother Bunker wanted to know all about it, of course. And if Russ had known just what they both said of him he would certainly have been proud.

"He's a manly boy," said Daddy Bunker in conclusion. "I am glad he is our son."

The trouble about it all was, in Rose's opinion, that she never quite understood it. If Russ had done anything to be punished for, he certainly didn't seem to mind the punishment! And Daddy and Mother seemed to have a little secret between them, as well as Russ.

"I don't like secrets," she complained the next day, on thinking it all over.

"Oh, I do!" cried Laddie. "'Specially now that Christmas is coming."

But Rose knew this was not a Christmas secret. She wondered where the nice, pleasant-faced sailor boy came from who seemed to know Russ and Daddy Bunker so well. She had not seen him before. And that was another mystery that nobody seemed willing to explain to her.

They all had so many good times on the Kammerboy, however, that Rose really could not be vexed for long. It proved, as had been announced in Boston, that the ship sailed into summer seas. There was scarcely a cloud in sight for the entire voyage, and certainly the steamship did not roll.

At length, late one afternoon, the children were taken up on the hurricane deck to see the islands of Charleston Harbor ahead. Many warships, and of all sizes, lay in the roadstead, but they did not see much of these vessels save their lights that evening.

The Kammerboy was docked to discharge freight and some of her passengers. Daddy Bunker arranged for the boy lost from the destroyer to be put aboard his ship. Russ hoped that he would not be punished very sorely for being left behind.



The Bunker children watched the lights of the fleet until quite late in the evening and thought the sight very pretty indeed. They would have liked to have gone aboard at least one of the Government vessels preferably, of course, the one to which their sailor friend belonged, but there was no opportunity for such a visit. For early the next morning the Kammerboy steamed out of the harbor of Charleston again on the last lap of her voyage to Savannah.

"You can't do it, Russ—ever!" declared Rose, with confidence.

"Well," said the oldest of the six little Bunkers, puffing very much, "I can try, can't I? I do wish I could cut that pigeon wing just as Sam did it."

They were on the sunshiny deck of the Kammerboy, which was plowing now toward the headlands near Savannah Harbor. But the little folks had been seeing the blue line of the shore ever since leaving Charleston, so they were not much interested in it. As Laddie said, they knew it was there, and that was enough.

"We know the continent of North America didn't get lost while we were out there in the Gulf Stream," said the boy twin, with satisfaction. "So it doesn't matter what part of it we hit—it will be land!"

"If we hit it most any old place," said Vi, "we would be shipwrecked and be castaways like the game we started to play that time and Russ wouldn't let us finish. I wonder why?"

She had ended with a question. But Laddie could not answer it. He was watching Russ trying to do that funny dance.

"Uncle Sam's nephew could do it fine," Laddie said to Russ. "But you don't get the same twist to it."

"Me do it! Me do it!" cried Mun Bun excitedly, and he began to try to dance as Russ had. He looked so cunning jumping about and twisting his chubby little body that they all shouted with laughter. But Mun Bun thought they were admiring his dancing.

"Me did it like Sam," he declared, stopping to rest.

"You do it fine, Mun Bun," Russ said.

It was a fact, however, that none of them could cut that pigeon wing as Sam, the colored boy, had cut it in Aunt Jo's kitchen in Boston.

Now that they were nearing the end of the voyage there were many things besides pigeon wings to interest the little Bunkers. In the first place the big sea-eagle had to be released from the turkey coop. The quartermaster called him Red Eye. And truly his eye was very red and angry all the time. And he clashed his great beak whenever anybody came near him.

"I guess you couldn't tame him in a hundred years," Russ said thoughtfully. "He can't be tamed. That is why we have an eagle for a symbol, I guess. We can't be tamed."

It was decided to let Red Eye out of the cage when the ship entered Savannah Harbor.

"He's come a long way with us. He has come away down here to Georgia," said Rose thoughtfully. "If he lives in Maine, do you s'pose he will ever find his way back?"

"If he doesn't, what matter? It's a fine country," said the quartermaster.

"But he will want to see his relations," said the little girl. "Maybe he's got a wife and children. He will be dreadfully lonesome away down here."

"Maybe you had better take him back with you on the Kammerboy," said Russ thoughtfully, to the quartermaster.

But the officer could not do that. There had been some objection made already to the big sea-eagle caged on deck. Besides, the bird's wing was better, and if he was kept much longer confined, the quartermaster said, he might forget how to fly!

So they all gathered around (but at a good distance from the cage you may be sure), and the eagle was released. He had to be poked out of the cage, for it seemed as though he could scarcely believe that the door was open and he was free.

He stalked out upon the deck, his great claws rattling on the planks. He turned his head from side to side, and then opened his beak and, so Vi said, he hissed at them!

"At any rate," admitted Russ afterward, "he did make a funny noise."

"He was clearing his throat," said Laddie, with scorn of his twin. "How could an eagle hiss? He isn't a goose."

Laddie knew all about geese, for Grandma Bell had geese. But he did not know all about eagles, that was sure! Whether Red Eye hissed, or growled, or whatever he did in his throat, he certainly showed little friendliness. He raised his wings and flapped them "to see if they worked right." Then he uttered a decided croak and jumped a little way off the deck.

Evidently this decided him that he was really free and that his great wings would bear him. He leaped into the air again, spreading his wings, and wheeled to go over the stern of the steamship. The spread of his wings when he flapped them was greater than most of the onlookers had supposed.

"Oh! Oh! Look out, Laddie!" shouted Rose.

Her warning came too late. The end of the great pinion swept Laddie off his feet! He went rolling across the deck, screaming lustily.

"Oh! I'm going overboard! Daddy!" he cried.

But it was Russ who grabbed him and stood him on his feet again.

"You're not going overboard at all," said the older brother. "You couldn't. You'd have to climb over the rail to do it."

"We-ell!" breathed Laddie. "It's a wonder he didn't take me right with him!"

Then he, like everybody else, became interested in the passage of the great bird as it mounted skyward. It went up in a long slant at first, and then began to spiral upward, right toward the sun, and presently was out of sight.

"It can look the sun straight in the face," said Daddy Bunker. "Which is something we cannot do."

"No wonder its eye is red, then," said Rose.

"I guess it's sunburnt," said Margy. "I got sunburnt at Captain Ben's."

That night they docked at Savannah and went to a hotel in two taxicabs, for one would not hold all the Bunkers and their baggage too. The hotel was a nice one, and Rose thought the negro waiters and chambermaids very attentive and very pleasant people.

"They are the smilingest people I ever saw," she confessed to Mother Bunker. "I guess they are thinking of funny things all the time."

"Perhaps," granted her mother. "But they are trained to politeness. And you children must be just as polite."

They all tried to be polite, and Russ grew quite friendly with one of the bellboys who brought them ice water. He asked that boy if he knew how to cut the pigeon wing, and the boy grinned very broadly.

"I sure does!" he declared. "But if the boss heard of me doin' it around dishyer hotel, he'd bounce me."

"Are you made of rubber?" asked Vi, who was standing by.

"What's dat?" he demanded, rolling his eyes. "Is I made of rubber? Course I isn't. I's made of flesh and blood and bones, same as you is, little Miss. Only I isn't w'ite like you is."

"But you said the man would bounce you. Rubber balls bounce," explained Vi.

At that the bellboy went away laughing very heartily, but Vi could not understand why. And, of course, as usual, nobody could explain it to Vi's satisfaction.

"I know a riddle!" cried Laddie, after a moment. "What looks like a boy, but bounces like a rubber ball? Why! A bellboy!"

And he was highly delighted at this and went around telling everybody his new riddle.

In the morning Mr. Frane Armatage appeared at the hotel and was shown up to the Bunker rooms. Mr. Armatage, as the little Bunkers knew, was an old school friend of Daddy Bunker's; but one whom he had not seen for a long time.

"Why," said Mr. Armatage, who was a slender man with graying hair and a darker mustache, "Charley was only a boy when I last saw him." He was a very jovial man, and red-faced. Rose thought him handsome, and told Mother Bunker so. "No, Charley was only a sapling then. And look at him now!"

"And look at the sprouts that have sprung from that sapling," laughed Daddy Bunker, with a sweeping gesture towards the six little Bunkers.

"Was he only as big as I am?" Russ asked.

"Well, no, come to think of it; he was some bigger than you. We were graduating from college when we parted. But it seems a long time ago, doesn't it, Charley?"

Daddy Bunker agreed to that. Then he and Mr. Armatage talked business for a while. The owner of the Meiggs Plantation wished to get more land and hire more hands for the next year, and through Mr. Bunker he expected to obtain capital for this. Aside from business the two old friends desired very much to renew their boyhood acquaintance and have their wives and children become acquainted.

"I've got half as many young ones as you have, Charley," said Mr. Armatage. "You've beat me a hundred per cent. I wonder if we keep on growing if the ratio will remain the same?"

Russ knew what "ratio" meant, and he asked: "How can it keep that way if we grow to be seven little Bunkers? You can't have three and a half little Armatages, you know."

"That's a smart boy!" exclaimed the tall man, smiling. "He can see through a millstone just as quick as any boy I know. We'll hope that there will be no half-portions of Armatages. I want all my children to have the usual number of limbs and body."

"If you have little girls, and one was only half a little girl," said Rose, "she would be worse off than a mermaid, wouldn't she?"

"She certainly would," agreed the planter.

"Why?" demanded Vi, who did not understand.

"Because half of her would be a fish," said Russ, laughing. "And you would have to have all your house under water, Mr. Armatage, or the mermaid could not get up and down stairs."

"I declare, Charley!" exclaimed the visitor, "these young ones of yours are certainly blessed with great imaginations. I don't believe our children ever thought of such things."

The next day the party went out to the Meiggs Plantation. It was a two-hours' ride on a branch railroad and a shorter and swifter ride in an automobile over the "jounciest" road the children had ever ridden on, for part of the way led through a swamp and logs were laid down side by side to keep the road, as Mr. Armatage laughingly said, from sinking quite out of sight.

But the land on which the Armatage home stood was high and dry. It was a beautiful grassy knoll, acres in extent, and shaded by wide-armed trees which had scarcely lost any leaves it seemed to the little Bunkers, though this was winter. On the wide, white-pillared veranda a very handsome lady and two little girls and a little boy stood to receive the party.

The children did not come forward to greet the visitors, or even their father, until the latter spoke to them. Mr. and Mrs. Bunker were quite sure by the actions of Phillis and Alice and Frane, Junior, that they were not granted the freedom of speech and action that their little ones enjoyed. Mother Bunker pitied those children from the start!

But what amazed the six little Bunkers more than anything else was the number of colored children hanging about the veranda to see the newcomers. Rose confided to Russ that she thought there must be a colored school near by and all the children were out for recess.

And there were so many house-servants that smiling black and brown faces appeared everywhere.

"I guess," said Rose to her mother, "that there must be an awful lot of work to do in this big house. It's lots bigger than Aunt Jo's or Grandma Bell's. It's like a castle, and all these servants are like retainers. I read about retainers in a story. Only these retainers aren't dressed in uniforms."



From the very beginning, although they said nothing about it even to each other, the six little Bunkers found the three little Armatages "funny." "Funny" is a word that may mean much or little, and often the very opposite of humorous. In this case the visitors from the North did not understand Phillis and Alice and Frane, Junior. They were not like any boys and girls whom the Bunkers had ever known before.

Phillis was twelve—quite a "grown up young lady" she seemed to consider herself. Yet she broke out now and then in wild, tomboyish activities, racing with Russ and Frane, Junior, climbing fences and trees, and riding horses bareback in the home lot. It seemed as though Phil, as they called her, "held in" just as long as she could, trying to put on the airs of grown-ups, and then just had to break out.

"If you tell mother I did this I'll wish a ha'nt after you!" she would say to her brother, who was the age of Vi and Laddie, and her sister Alice, who was two years younger than herself, but no bigger than Rose. Alice had a very low, sweet, contralto voice, like Mrs. Armatage, and a very demure manner. Rose became friendly with Alice almost at once.

And the way they treated the colored children of their own age and older was just as strange as anything else about the three Armatages. They petted and quarreled with them; they expected all kinds of service from them; and they were on their part, constantly doing things for the children of "the quarters" and giving them presents. Wherever the white children went about the plantation there was sure to be a crowd of colored boys and girls tagging them.

After the first day Mother Bunker was reassured that nothing could happen to her brood, because there were so many of the colored men about the grounds to look after them. As in the house, a black or brown face, broadly a-smile, was likely to appear almost anywhere.

The quarters, as the cabins occupied by the colored people were called, were not far from the house, but not in sight of it. Even the kitchen was in a separate house, back of the big house. After bedtime there was not a servant left in the big house unless somebody was sick.

"Mammy used to live here," Mrs. Armatage explained, in her languid voice, "while the children were small. I couldn't have got along without mammy. She was my mammy too. But she's too old to be of much use now, and Frane has pensioned her. She has her own little house and plot of ground and if her boy—her youngest boy—had stayed with her, mammy would get along all right. She worries about that boy."

The Bunker children did not understand much about this until, on the second day after their arrival, Phillis said:

"I'm going down to see mammy. Want to come?"

"Is—isn't your mammy here at home?" asked Vi. "Dora Blunt calls her mother 'mammy'; but we don't."

"I've got a mother and a mammy too," explained the oldest Armatage girl. "You-all come on and see her. She'll be glad to see you folks from the North. She will ask you if you've seen her Ebenezer, for he went up North. We used to all call him 'Sneezer,' and it made him awfully mad."

"Didn't he have any better name?" asked Russ.

"His full name is Ebenezer Caliper Spotiswood Meiggs. Of course, their name isn't really Meiggs, like the plantation; but the darkies often take the names of the places where they were born. Sneezer was a real nice boy."

"He isn't dead, is he?" asked Russ.

"Reckon not," said Phillis. "But Mammy June is awful' worried about him. She hasn't heard from him now for more than a year. So she doesn't know what to think."

"But she has got other folks, hasn't she?" Rose asked.

"You'd think so! Grandchildren by the score," replied the older Armatage girl, laughing. "Sneezer had lots of older brothers and sisters, and they most all have married and live about here and have big families. The grandchildren are running in and out of mammy's cabin all the time. I have to chase 'em out with a broom sometimes when I go down there. And they eat her pretty near up alive!"

Even the smaller Bunkers knew that this was a figure of speech. The grandchildren did not actually eat Mammy June, although they might clean her cupboard as bare as that of Old Mother Hubbard.

They followed a winding, grass-grown cart path for nearly half a mile before coming to Mammy June's house. The way was sloping to the border of a "branch" or small stream—a very pretty brook indeed that burbled over stones in some places and then had long stretches of quiet pools where Frane, Junior, told Russ and Laddie that there were many fish—"big fellows."

"I'll get a string and a bent pin and fish for them," said Laddie confidently. "I fished that way in the brook at Pineville."

"Huh!" said Frane Armatage, Junior, in scorn. "One of these fish here would swallow your pin and line and haul you in."

"Oh!" gasped Vi, with big eyes. "What for?"

"No, the fish wouldn't!" declared Laddie promptly.

"Yes, it would. And swallow you, too."

"No, the fish wouldn't," repeated Laddie, "for I'd let go just as soon as it began to tug."

"Smartie!" said Phillis to her brother. "You can't fool these Bunker boys. Let Laddie alone."

Of course the troop of white children, walking down the cart path to Mammy June's, was followed by a troop of colored children. The latter sang and romped and chased about the bordering woods like puppies out for a rample. Sometimes they danced.

"Can you cut a pigeon wing?" Russ asked one of the older lads. "I want to learn to do that."

"No, I can't do that. Not good. We've got some dancers over at the quarters that does it right well," was the reply.

"You ought to've seen Sneezer do it!" cried another of the colored children. "Sneezer could do it fine. Couldn't he, Miss Phil?"

"Sneezer was a great dancer," admitted the oldest Armatage girl. "Come on, now, Bunkers, and see Mammy June. Keep away from this cabin," she added to the colored children, "or I'll call a ha'nt out of the swamp to chase you."

"I wonder what those 'ha'nts' are, Russ," whispered Rose to her brother. "Do they have feathers? Or don't they fly? They must run pretty fast, for Phil is always saying she will make one chase folks."

"I asked Daddy. There isn't any such thing. It's like we say 'ghosts.'"

"Oh! At Hallowe'en? When we dress up in sheets and things?"

"Yes. Maybe these colored children believe in ghosts. But of course we don't!"

"No-o," said Rose thoughtfully. "Just the same I wouldn't like to think of ha'nts if I was alone in the woods at night. Would you, Russ?"

Russ dodged that question. He said:

"I don't mean to be alone in the woods around here at night. And neither do you, Rose Bunker."

Of course neither of them had the least idea what was going to happen to them before they started North from the Meiggs Plantation.

Mammy June's cabin was of white-washed logs, with vines climbing about the door that were leafless now but very thrifty looking. There were fig trees that made a background and a windbreak for the little house, and a huge magnolia tree stood not far from the cabin. The front door opened upon a roofed porch, and an old colored woman of ample size, in a starched and flowered gingham dress and with a white turban on her head, was rocking in a big arm chair on this porch when the children appeared.

"Lawsy me!" she exclaimed, smiling broadly to show firm white teeth in spite of her age. "Is this yere a celebration or is it a parade? Miss Philly, you got a smooch on dat waist, and your skirt is hiked up behind. I declar' I believe you've lost a button."

"Why, so I have, Mammy June," answered Phillis. "And more than one. Nobody has time to keep buttons sewed on up at the house, now that you're not there."

"Shiftless, no-count critters, dem gals up dere. Sho, honey! who is all dese lil' white children?"

"Bunkers," explained Frane, Junior.

"What's dem?" asked Mammy June, apparently puzzled. "Is dey to play with, or is dey to eat? Bunkers! Lawsy!"

Rose giggled delightedly.

"They are to play with," laughed Alice suddenly. "That is what they are for, Mammy June."

"You see you play pretty with them, then," said the old woman, shaking her head and speaking admonishingly.

Rose and Russ Bunker at least began to understand that this pleasant old colored woman had had the chief care of the three young Armatages while they were little. Perhaps she had trained them quite as much as their mother and father. And they seemed to love Mammy June accordingly.

That the old woman loved little folks and knew how to make friends with them was soon apparent. She had Mun Bun and Margy both together in her ample lap while Laddie and Vi leaned against her and listened to the tale she was telling the little folks.

Phillis and Alice meanwhile showed Rose the interior of the cabin and all its comforts and wonders. Meanwhile Frane, Junior, took Russ down to the stream with some of the colored children to show him some of the big fish he had threatened Laddie with. Here it was that Russ Bunker engaged in his first adventure at the Meiggs Plantation.



"If Sneezer was here," said Frane, Junior, "he'd show you more fish than I can. Sneezer used to just smell 'em out. But come on. I know where some of the big ones stay."

"I don't want to dive in after them," declared Russ Bunker, laughing. "The way you promised Laddie. And I haven't any hook and line at all."

"We won't go fishing. Not really. Mostly the darkies fish. We don't bother to. They bring us plenty to eat when we want them at the house."

"You—you don't do much of anything, do you?" asked Russ doubtfully. "Not for yourselves, I mean."

"Don't have to," returned Frane, Junior. "The darkies do it all for us. But Phil and Alice and I have to do our own studying."

Russ saw that he was in fun, but he was curious enough to ask the smaller boy:

"Do you and the girls go to school?"

"School comes to us. There is a teacher comes here. Lives at the house. But it's vacation time now till after New Year's. I hope she never comes back!"

"Oh, is she mean to you?"

"Course she is," declared Frane, Junior. "She makes us study. I hate to."

"Well, sometimes I don't like what they make us learn in school," admitted Russ slowly. "But I guess it's good for us."

"How do you know, it is?" demanded the other. "I don't feel any better after I study. I only get the headache."

Russ could not find an immediate answer for this statement. Besides, there was something right in front of him then that aroused his interest. It was a big log spanning the stream, with a shaky railing nailed to it, made of a long pole attached to several uprights.

"That is the funniest bridge I ever saw," he declared. "Will it hold you?"

"Look at that log. It would hold a hundred elephants," declared Frane, Junior, who was inclined to exaggerate a good deal at times.

"Not all at once!" cried Russ.

"Yes, sir. If you could get 'em on it," said Frane. "But I don't s'pose the railing would stand it."

When the boys went out on the bridge and Russ considered the railing he was very sure that this last statement of his little friend was true, whether any others were or not. The railing "wabbled" very much, and Russ refrained from leaning against it.

"Now, you folks keep back!" whispered Frane shrilly to the colored children who had followed them. "I want to show him the big fellow that sleeps down here."

Somewhere he had picked up a piece of bark more than a foot long, which was rolled into a cylinder. He lay down on the log near the middle of the brook and began to look down into the brown and rather cloudy water through this odd spyglass.

"What can you see through that thing?" asked Russ.

"Sh! Wait. Don't let 'em hear you," warned Frane, Junior. Then he added: "Get down here 'side o' me. When I spot him I'll let you squint through this too."

Russ understood now that his companion was trying to see one of the fish that lived in the stream—perhaps the "big fellow" Frane had spoken of. Russ grew quite excited and he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. He knelt down beside Frane, and finally lay right down on his stomach and likewise peered over the side of the log.

The log-bridge had been made quite flat on its upper surface with a broadaxe, and all the bark had long since worn off. It was all of thirty feet long, but it was just as firm as the arch of a stone bridge.

"There!" whispered Frane. "I saw a flicker then. Yep! He's there! Right below the edge of that stone!"

"I don't see anything but water. I can't even see the bottom," observed Russ, in a low voice, too.

"Don't you see him below the stone?"

"I don't even see the stone," complained Russ.

"Hush! He'll hear you. I see his tail wiggle. He's a big cat."

"Now, don't tell me there's a cat in this brook!" said Russ Bunker, shortly. "I know there isn't anything of the kind. Cats hate water."

He had already learned that Frane, Junior, was apt to exaggerate. Russ thought the Armatage boy was letting his fancy run wild at this present moment.

"It is a cat," murmured Frane. "I can see his whiskers moving. Yep, a big fellow! Want to see?" and he took his eye away from the bark cylinder.

"Can you see his teeth and his claws and his fur and his tail?" demanded Russ scornfully, and without offering to take the cylinder. He did not intend to be fooled so easily.

"What are you talking about?" hissed Frane. "And speak quietly. You'll drive him away."

"Cats aren't so easily scared," said Russ. "You have to peg stones at 'em to drive 'em away."

"Huh!" sniffed Frane. "Funny cats up North. I don't believe you have any up there."

"You're right we don't," agreed Russ, and now he laughed again. "Not any cats that swim. Cats hate the water——"

"Aw, shucks! I'm not talking about cats!" exclaimed Frane. "I'm talking about catfish."

"Oh!" ejaculated the Northern boy.

"You know a catfish, don't you? It has feelers that we call whiskers. Awful nice eating, for they only have a backbone."

"Oh!" murmured Russ again. "I guess I didn't understand. Let me see the fish, will you, please?"

"You can look," said Frane passing him the cylinder of bark. "But maybe we have scared him off, talking so much."

The big catfish, however, had not been scared away. After a few moments, and with Frane's aid, Russ Bunker got the wooden spyglass focused on the proper point. He saw the imbedded rock Frane had spoken of. Then he saw the fish basking in the water below the rock's edge.

It was almost two feet long, with a big head and goggle eyes, and the "whiskers" Frane had spoken of wriggled back and forth in the slow current. Russ grew excited.

"Why!" he whispered to Frane, "I could grab it, if I tried. It is just like what we call bullheads up in Pineville. I've caught 'em in our pond. You can hardly get 'em off the hook without getting stung by 'em."

"Catfish don't sting you. But you have to knock 'em in the head when you land them, so as to make 'em behave. I've seen the boys do it."

"I'm going to make a grab for that fellow," declared Russ.

"I reckon you'd miss him. You couldn't hold him, anyway," said Frane doubtfully.

"I could so."

"No, you couldn't. He's too big. They never catch catfish that way."

"I know I never caught a bullhead that way," admitted Russ. "But one never lay so still for me. And right under this log! Here! You take the spyglass."

"You'd better take care," advised the Southern boy.

But Russ felt very daring. It seemed that the fish lay only a few inches under the surface of the brown water. If he could grasp the fish and throw it ashore, how the other children would all shout! Perhaps Russ Bunker wanted to "show off" a little. Anyway, he determined to make the attempt to land the big catfish with his hands.

"You can't do it," warned Frane, Junior, creeping back a way so as to give Russ more room.

"Don't say that till you see," returned the boy from the North. "Now, look! I know just where he lies. Look!"

Russ had rolled his shirtsleeve up to his shoulder. He balanced himself on the log, his head and shoulders overhanging the brown water. Suddenly he made a dive with his right hand. Even his head touched the water, he dipped so deep, and his cap went floating away.

And, wonderful to relate, his hand did seize upon the catfish. Perhaps the fish had been asleep down there by the edge of the imbedded stone. At any rate it was not quick enough to escape Russ Bunker's darting hand.

"I got it!" yelled Russ, in delight.

He tried to seize fast hold upon the body of the catfish, but the fish shot forward with a wriggle that slapped its tail against Russ's hand. Russ plunged forward, trying to hold it.

"I—guess—he's—a—butter—fish!" he gasped. "He's so slippery——"

And then, losing his balance on the log, Russ Bunker fell right into the deep pool with splash enough to frighten all the fishes for yards around!



Of course, Russ Bunker should not have done it. He was always ready to try new things and wasn't much afraid of anything that turned up. But trying to catch a big catfish with his hands was ridiculous.

Perhaps he realized this when he fell off the log into the stream; but it was too late then to know how foolish it was.

The chorus of screams from the children on the bank was the first announcement that Mammy June had of the mischief that was afoot. The colored children shouted and Frane, Junior, ran right off the log and came screaming to the cabin:

"He's gone down! He's gone down!"

"What is the matter with you, Frane?" demanded the old woman, coming heavily down off the porch. "Who's gone down? Wha's he gone down to?"

"Russ has gone down," announced Frane. "He's gone down after the catfish."

"Lawsy me!" exclaimed Mammy June. "Is that li'le boy got into the branch?"

Rose and Vi and Laddie and Margy and Mun Bun, as well as the two Armatage girls, all came running, too. For the first minute none of them understood what had happened to Russ.

But when they reached the bank of the stream they saw something splashing in the middle of the pool under the bridge. They couldn't see Russ, but they knew that something was struggling there.

"Is that a fish?" demanded Laddie. "It must be a whale."

"Oh!" shrieked Rose. "It's Russ! He'll be drowned!"

"Don't let him get wet, Rose," cried Margy. "Mother won't want him to get his clothes wet."

But if there was any part of Russ Bunker that was not wet when he managed to get on his feet and his head and shoulders appeared above the water, Rose couldn't imagine what part it could be. He was just the wettest boy she had ever seen.

Russ had got a footing finally upon the stone beside which the big catfish had lain. The water was too deep all around him for him to wade out. The bottom of the pool was so deep that it was over the boy's head. He had to stand on the rock and gasp for breath for he had swallowed a good deal of water, having gone down with his mouth open.

"What did I tell you?" demanded Frane, Junior, from the bank. "You couldn't catch that cat."

"I know it!" jerked out Russ. "I know it now."

"Lawsy me!" ejaculated Mammy June. "Is that the way you ketches catfish up Norf?"

The other little Bunkers did not understand this. Vi wanted to know at once if Russ had a kitty in the water with him. But nobody paid any attention to her questions.

"Here, you 'Lias and Henery!" commanded Mammy June to two of the older colored boys. "What you standin' there idle for? Go out on that bridge and haul that poor chile ashore. What a state he is in, to be sure!"

It did not take long to help Russ up on to the log again. The water just poured off him; but it was not very cold and his teeth didn't chatter—much. Mammy June showed anxiety, however.

"You come right into de house, honey," she said to Russ. "Now, little Miss," she added to Rose, "yo' mustn't scold him now. Wait till we wring his clothes out and get him dry. Yo' 'Lias, bring some dry bresh and some good sticks. We'll want a hot fire."

Mammy June had no stove in her cabin, but a broad and smoke-blackened open fireplace. There was a small fire in it, over which her teakettle hung. In five minutes the negro boys made a roaring blaze. Then the old woman drove them all out of the cabin save Russ, whom she helped off with his wet clothes, rubbed dry with a big towel, and to whom she gave a shirt and trousers to put on while she wrung out his clothing and hung it all about the fire to dry.

"That shirt and them pants," she said, "b'longs to my Sneezer—my Ebenezer. If he was here this wouldn't have happened to yo', honey. He wouldn't have let no w'ite boy fall into that branch—no, sir. But these no-'count other young ones didn't know 'nough to tell yo' that that ain't the way to catch catfish."

"I found out myself," admitted Russ rather ruefully.

Rose came to the door and begged to know if Russ was all right.

"He's going to be just as soon as I get him made a hot drink," declared Mammy June.

"Has he got all over being drowned?" Margy demanded.

And even Mun Bun was a good deal troubled because Russ had got so wet. "If you had any candy in your pocket, Russ," the little boy said, "it must be all soft now. It won't be good to eat."

"I didn't have any candy, Mun Bun," Russ told him. Russ was feeling a whole lot better now. Mammy June gave him a nice hot, sweet drink. He didn't mind if it was a little "stingy" too.

"Yo' all come in yere—yo' little w'ite folks," said Mammy June, "and we'll make some 'lasses taffy. I got plenty sorgum 'lasses. We can make it w'ile this catfish boy is getting dry."

She continued to call Russ "the catfish boy" and chuckled over his adventure. But she warned him, when his clothing was dry, that he must be more careful when he was playing about the water.

"An' yo' got to tell yo' mudder and daddy about it," she instructed Russ. "Don't never hide nothin' from 'em."

"Oh, we don't!" Rose broke in. "We always tell Mother and Daddy everything."

"That's what I tell my Philly and Ally and Frane, Junior. Always must tell they parents."

"And get scolded for it," said Phillis rather crossly.

"Well, then," said Mammy June cheerfully, "you mustn't do things to get scolded for. So I tell all these grandchildren of mine. Scat, you children!" for she saw several of the smaller colored boys and girls trying to steal in at the cabin door. "Ain't room for you in here noways. Yo' shall have yo' share of the 'lasses candy when it's done."

That "taffy pull" was a famous one. The six little Bunkers thought they had never eaten such nice molasses candy as Mammy June made. Phillis Armatage made believe that she did a lot to help for she buttered the pans. But it was Mammy June who really did it all.

"I think," confessed Rose to Alice, "that it is awfully nice to have both a mammy and a mother, as you girls have. Of course, a mammy can't be just what Mother Bunker is to us; but Mammy June is nice."

"She's lots better to us than our mother, in some ways," said Alice bluntly. "Mother doesn't want us to play noisy in the house. She has headaches and stays on the couch a lot. We have to step soft and can't talk loud. But Mammy June never has the fidgets."

"What's 'fidgets'?" asked Rose, quite shocked by the way Alice spoke of her mother.

"What ladies have," explained Alice. "Don't your mother have 'em?"

"I guess not. I never heard about them," Rose answered. "Then if your mother is sick, I don't suppose she can help it. It is lucky you have got a mammy."

That first afternoon ("evening" all these Southern folks called it) at Mammy June's was a very pleasant experience. Russ did not mind his ducking—much. He only grinned a little when Mammy June called him "the catfish boy."

"Serves me good and right," he confessed to Rose. "I ought not to have gone into that brook without a bathing suit. And, anyway, I guess a boy can't catch fish of any kind with his hands."

Mun Bun and Margy and the smaller colored children managed to spread the molasses taffy over face and hands to a greater or less degree; but they enjoyed the taffy pull as much as the older children did. Finally, after Mammy June had washed his face and hands, Mun Bun climbed up into her comfortable lap and went fast asleep.

The old woman, who loved children so dearly and was so kind to them, looked at one of her older grandsons, Elias, and ordered him to "get de boxwagon to take dis bressed baby home in."

A soapbox on a plank between two pairs of wheels being produced and the box made comfortable with a quilt and a pillow belonging to Mammy June, Mun Bun was laid, still fast asleep, in this vehicle, and Russ started to drag his little brother home.

"Yo' 'Lias!" exclaimed Mammy June, from the doorway of her cabin, "whar's yo' manners? Don't you let that w'ite visitor boy drag that boxwagon. You get busy, 'Lias."

Russ and the other Bunker children were not used to being waited on at every step and turn. But they became better used to it as the time passed. The white folks on the Meiggs Plantation seemed to expect all this aid from the colored folks, and the latter seemed willing and eager to attend.

Russ was not scolded for his involuntary plunge into the branch. In fact his father laughed immensely at the tale. But Mother Bunker had to be assured that the stream was neither deep nor boisterous before she could laugh much.

The children had all had a lovely afternoon at Mammy June's and after that day they found most of their enjoyment in running down to her cabin and playing there. This delight was shared by the Armatages too. And the latter's father and mother seemed perfectly content if the children were in mammy's care.

The days passed all too swiftly. Everybody, darkies and all, were on tiptoe about the coming festival of Christmas and New Year's. The six little Bunkers learned that these holidays were celebrated in different style on this Georgia plantation from what they were in the North.



Mun Bun and Margy were too little always to accompany the older children on their rambles; but the two smallest Bunkers could be trusted to invent plays of their own when they might be left out of the older one's parties. They had long since learned not to feel slighted if Mother Bunker decided that they were to stay near her.

There was sufficient mystery and expectation regarding the coming holiday celebrations at the Meiggs Plantation to excite the little folks in any case. There was to be no Christmas tree such as the Bunkers had had the previous Christmas in the North. Both Mun Bun and Margy could remember that tree very clearly.

But there was quite as much hiding of funny shaped packages until the gift day should arrive, and the house was being decorated, inside and out, for the coming celebration. Mun Bun and Margy watched the servants hanging Christmas greens and mistletoe, although, unlike the older little Bunkers, they could not go into the swamps with the men to gather these greens.

"We just ought to have a Christmas tree of our own," Margy said to Mun Bun. "I know where we can get a tree, and we'll beg some wreaths and trimming from that nice colored man there."

"We can't," said Mun Bun, somewhat despondently. "We isn't got a house to put the tree in. And we had the Christmas tree last time in the house."

"I've found a house," whispered Margy. "But don't you tell anybody."

"Not even tell Muvver?" asked Mun Bun, looking almost scared. Yet the idea of a secret delighted him too.

"Not till we get it all done. Then we will show her how fine it is," said Margy.

"Where is your house?" asked Mun Bun.

"You come along and I'll show you. I found it all by myself."

She led Mun Bun by the hand out behind the big house and toward the quarters. In a sheltered place, behind a hedge, was a little house, sure enough. And it was not so very little after all, for when they went into it they could both stand upright.

"There isn't any window," said Mun Bun. "This isn't a regular house."

"Of course, it's a house," Margy declared. "It's got a doorway, and——"

"It hasn't got any door, just the same," said Mun Bun, who might have liked the house better if he had found it himself.

"We don't need a door. We want it open so the big folks can see our tree when we get it trimmed."

"Where is the tree?" demanded the still doubtful little boy.

"Now, Mun Bun!" exclaimed Margy, "do you want to play at fixing this Christmas tree, or don't you?"

"Oh, yes," said Mun Bun, who did not really want to be left out of any fun, even if he did not think of it first himself. "Show me the tree, Margy."

"Of course I will," said his sister. "You must help me get it and carry it in here."

"Come on," urged the little boy. "Let's."

So then Margy showed him where the tree she had found stood in a green tub outside the door of a small house that was almost all glass. The lower panes of glass in this house were whitewashed, so the children could not see what was in it; but this tree with its thick, glossy leaves seemed to have been left out for anybody to take who wanted it.

They had to tug pretty hard to get the tree out of the tub. As Margy said, they didn't want the tub anyway, for it would take up too much room. And they were not strong enough to move it.

But they got the tree uprooted, and then were able to carry it to the little house that Margy had selected as their own private dwelling for the play celebration.

By dragging the tree inside, roots first, they managed to get it in without breaking off any of the glossy leaves. They stood it upright and made it steady by placing some bricks that they found about the roots. Its top reached the roof of the little house.

They begged some broken wreaths and chains of evergreen and even a spray of mistletoe with berries on it. The workmen were very kind to the smallest Bunkers. Mun Bun grew quite as excited and enthusiastic as Margy. They worked hard to trim that tree.

"But it hasn't any lights," said Mun Bun sadly. "And that other Christmas tree had lights."

You see, he remembered very clearly about that. And when Mun Bun played he always wanted the play to be as real as possible.

"We'll get candles," declared Margy. "I saw candles in the kitchen house where that nice cook lives. Let's go and ask her."

But just as they were going to squeeze out of the low door of the little house they heard a great shouting and calling, and then suddenly the snapping of explosive crackers—fire crackers—began!

"Oh!" gasped Mun Bun. "Who's shootin'?"

"It's firecrackers. You know, we've had 'em before. And they are in a barrel," said Margy breathlessly.

Through the doorway of the little house in which they had set up the "Christmas tree" the two saw their brothers and sisters, the Armatage children, and a lot of the little negroes dancing about a barrel a little way down the hill. Margy was right. Into that barrel somebody had thrown a lighted bunch of firecrackers—about the safest way in which those noisy and delightful "snappers" can be exploded.

And what a noise they made! Mun Bun and Margy almost forgot their own play for the moment as they struggled to see which should first go out of the door of the little house. Getting in each other's way, they were delayed and before they could get out a great dog came bounding toward them.

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" squealed Margy, and shrank back, leaving to Mun Bun the opportunity of getting out if he wanted to.

"I'm not afraid of that dog," said Mun Bun. But, just the same, he did not go out when he might have done so. "He isn't as big as Aunt Jo's Alexis, is he, Margy?"

"But we aren't acquainted with him like we were with Alexis," whispered the little girl.

She knew his name was Bobo. But always before when she had seen him the great hound, with his flappy ears and wide mouth, had been chained.

"Do—do you suppose he'll want to bite us?" quavered Mun Bun, admitting now that he was afraid of the dog. "And what does he want here in our house, Margy?"

Margy suddenly remembered that when she had seen Bobo before he had been chained right at this little house. Maybe it was his house, although it was bigger than any doghouse she had ever seen before.

"We don't want him in here," cried Mun Bun. "There isn't any room for him." Then he cried to the big hound: "Go 'way! You'll spoil our Christmas tree."

The big hound came nearer, but more quietly. His eyes were red, and he sniffed enquiringly at the doorway while the children crowded back against the tree. Perhaps he was the very kindest dog in the world; but to Mun Bun and Margy he appeared to be dreadfully savage!

"Go 'way!" they shouted in chorus. And Mun Bun added again: "We don't want him in here, do we, Margy?"

The dog seemed determined to thrust himself into the house. Perhaps Bobo felt about Mun Bun and Margy as they did about him—that they had no right there, and he wanted them to get out. And when he put his great head and shoulders into the doorway the little Bunkers began to shriek at the top of their voices.

Even the snapping firecrackers could not drown their voices now. Russ and Rose heard the cries coming from the doghouse, and they knew Mun Bun and Margy were in trouble. They saw Bobo, who had been with them to the swamp, seemingly stuck half way in the doorway of his kennel, and Russ cried:

"I guess that's where they are. Hear 'em, Rose? Come on, save Mun Bun and Margy."

"I'm afraid of that hound," replied Rose, but she followed her brother just the same.

Russ shouted to the dog. The hound backed out and looked around at Russ Bunker. But his red eyes did not scare the boy.

"We're coming, Mun Bun!" Russ shouted. "We're coming, Margy!"

The two little ones appeared at the door of the kennel. They were not crying much, but they had tight hold of each other's hands.

"Russ! Rose!" cried Margy. "Take us out."

"What are you doing in that dog's kennel?" demanded Rose.

"Playing Christmas," said Margy, with quivering voice.

"I guess it isn't Christmas," said Mun Bun doubtfully. "I guess it's Fourth of July. Isn't it, Russ? They don't have shooters only on the Fourth of July."

"They do down here," said Russ, reaching the kennel and looking in while Bobo stood by as though he still wondered why Mun Bun and Margy had tried to turn him out of his house.

Just then one of the colored men, who was a gardener, came along and stooped to look into the kennel too.

"For de lan's sake!" he cried, "what you childern doin' in dat dog kennel?"

"We—we were playing Christmas tree," said Margy, grabbing hold of Rose's hand.

"For de lan's sake!" repeated the man, showing the whites of his eyes in a most astonishing way. "What dat in dere?"

"That's our Christmas tree," said Mun Bun, very bravely now.

"For de lan's sake!" ejaculated the man for a third time. "What Mistah Armatage gwine to say now? Dat's his bestest rubber plant what he tol' me to take partic'lar care of. What will you lil' w'ite childern be up to next, I'm a-wondering?"



"Why, Mun Bun!" murmured Russ.

"Why, Margy Bunker!" exclaimed Rose.

Mun Bun was staring with all his eyes (and he had two very bright ones) at the rubber plant. He did not consider the mischief he had done. He was as curious as Vi could possibly have been about an entirely different thing.

"If that's a rubber plant, Russ," he demanded, "where's the rubbers? I don't see any overshoes on it. What part of it is rubber?"

At that the black man threw back his head and laughed loudly. The children all watched his open mouth and rolling eyes and flashing teeth and finally they broke into laughter too. They could not help it.

"But," said Russ, after they had stopped laughing, "I am afraid Mr. Armatage will be angry with us."

"I dunno—I dunno, chile," said the negro, shaking his head. "He sure is partic'lar 'bout dat rubber plant. But mebbe I can repot it and fix it up all right. It's only just been uprooted, and I was gwine to change de dirt in dat tub, anyway."

"Oh! Do you think you can do it and save Mun Bun and Margy from getting a scolding?" Rose cried.

"We'll see, lil' Miss. Shouldn't wonder," and the gardener went to work at once.

Meanwhile Bobo sat on his haunches and mournfully looked at what was going on. His red eyes had a very sad expression and his drooping ears made him look, so Rose said, more mournful still.

"He looks as if he'd just come from a funeral," she said to Russ.

"What's that?" demanded Margy promptly.

But Rose and Russ dodged that question. In fact they did not know how to explain just what a funeral was. But in watching the gardener replace the rubber plant in the green tub, surrounded with fresh earth from the green house, the little ones forgot everything else, even Bobo.

Bobo, just as soon as he could, went into his house and smelled all around and finally lay down, his muzzle sticking out of the door.

"He looks unhappy," Rose said. "I guess he thought he wasn't going to have any home at all when he saw you two in there with the rubber plant."

"It was a good Christmas tree," was Margy's only reply to this.

"But we didn't get the candles to light it up," Mun Bun rejoined, walking away hand in hand with Russ. "So how could it be a Christmas tree if there weren't any candles?"

As Christmas Day grew closer there was less work done and more play engaged in by everybody on the plantation. Christmas Eve there was a beautiful display of fireworks on the front lawn of the big house, and everybody from the quarters came to see it, as well as the white folks. Even Mammy June came up from her cabin by the stream, walking with difficulty, for she was lame, and sat in state on the porch "with de w'ite folks" to see the fireworks.

The old woman had taken a strong liking to the six little Bunkers and she made as much of them as she did of the three little Armatages. But the latter were not jealous at all. Phillis and Alice and Frane, Junior, were likewise delighted with the children from the North.

Christmas Day dawned brilliantly, and although there was what Mr. Armatage called "a tang" in the air it was so warm that it was hard for the Bunker children to realize that this was the day that they expected up North to be "white."

"A 'white Christmas' doesn't mean anything down here in Georgia," said Daddy Bunker. "Though once in a while they have a little snow here. But they never speak of it—not the natives. It is a sort of scandal in the family," and he laughed, looking at Mother Bunker, who understood him if the children did not.

But white or green, that Christmas Day was a delightful one. Even without a gaudily lighted and trimmed tree, the Bunkers were pleased in every way. Their presents were stacked with those belonging to the Armatage children under the chimneypiece in the big front parlor, and Mr. Armatage himself made the presentations.

There were presents from "all over" for the six little Bunkers; for no matter how far they were away from their many relatives and friends, the six were fondly remembered. Even Cowboy Jack sent gifts from Texas!

With the presents from Aunt Jo came a letter particularly addressed to the children. Russ read it aloud to them all. It gave news of William's neuralgia (Vi still insisted on calling it "croup") and about Annie and Parker. Even the Great Dane, Alexis, was mentioned. But the most important thing spoken of in the letter to the children's minds was the fact that Aunt Jo said she meant to keep Sam, the colored boy Mun Bun and Margy had introduced into her Back Bay home, all winter.

"The boy is really a treasure," said Aunt Jo. "He can do something besides dance—although he does plenty of that in the kitchen to the delight of Parker, Annie and William. He has been taught to work, and is really a very good houseboy. And he looks well in his uniform."

"I'd like to see him in a uniform," said Laddie. "Is he a soldier, or a policeman?"

"He's a 'buttons,'" replied Mother Bunker, laughing. "Aunt Jo has always wanted to have a boy in buttons to answer the door and clean the knives."

"I'd rather see him dance again," said Russ, and he slyly tried to cut that pigeon wing once more. But he made a dismal failure of it.

There was dancing in plenty at the negro quarters that Christmas evening. All the white folks went down from the big house to watch the proceedings. And again Mammy June was there.

There had been a great feast for the hands, but although one grinning negro boy confessed to Russ that he was "full o' tuck," he still could dance. This boy was applauded vigorously by his mates, and one of them called out:

"'Lias! show dese w'ite folks how to cut dat pigeon wing. Go on, boy!"

"Lawsy me!" exclaimed Mammy June, "don't none of you know how to do dat like my Sneezer. If he was here he'd show 'em. Just you dance plain, honey. Double shuffle's as much as you can do."

So her grandson, 'Lias, did not try any fancy steps. Privately, however, and much to Rose's amusement, Russ Bunker often tried to copy Sam's pigeon-wing step.

"If we ever go to Aunt Jo's again—and of course we shall—I am going to get Sam to show me how to do it. I'll get it perfect some time," sighed the oldest Bunker boy.

Vi, looking on at one of her brother's attempts, asked:

"Doesn't it hurt the pigeon to cut its wing?"

But that was a silly question, and they all laughed at her. Laddie grew suddenly excited.

"Oh! I know a new riddle!" he cried. "It's a good riddle!"

"What is it?" asked his twin sister.

"It isn't a good riddle just because you made it up, Laddie," said Rose.

"It would be a good one no matter who made it up," answered Laddie decidedly. "You let me tell it. I know it's good."

"What is it, Laddie?" Russ Bunker asked.

"Here is the riddle," said Laddie eagerly. "What sort of wing has no feathers on it? And the answer is, of course, 'A pigeon wing.' There! Isn't that a fine riddle?"

"Pooh!" said Vi. "I don't think so."

"Some pigeons' wings have feathers," said Rose.

"Hoh!" cried Laddie, somewhat disturbed. "That one Russ was trying to make doesn't have any feathers on it."

"That's only one kind, and it isn't really a pigeon's wing, you know."

Laddie stared at his sister, Rose, with much doubt. "You're always disappointing me, Rose," he murmured.

"But Rose is right, Laddie," said Russ. "And there are other wings that have no feathers."

"What wings?" grumbled Laddie.

"I know!" cried Vi suddenly. "Airplane wings! They haven't any feathers."

"But they are no more like real wings," complained Rose, "than Russ's dancing step."

"No," said the oldest Bunker boy. "I mean bat's wings. Don't you remember that bat we caught that time? Its wings didn't have feathers at all. It was covered with fur."

"Oh, well," sighed Laddie. "Then my riddle isn't any good."

"Not much, I am afraid," said Russ kindly but firmly.

However, Laddie and the other little Bunkers did not have many disappointing things happen to them on this lovely Christmas Day. Mr. and Mrs. Armatage tried in every way to make the stay of their guests at the Meiggs Plantation as pleasant as possible.

After the celebration at the quarters the white folks came home, and there at the big house a fine party was soon under way. People had come in their cars from far and near and the house was brilliantly lighted on the first two floors.

The children were allowed to look on at this grown folks' party for a little while, then they had to go to bed. Phillis and Alice and Frane, Junior, seemed to consider it very hard that they were not allowed to stay downstairs; but the little Bunkers were used to having their own good times and did not expect to enter into the amusements of their elders.

"Let's sit on the top step of these stairs," said Phillis to Rose and Alice, "and we can see through the balustrades. There's Mrs. Campron! She's got a lovely dress on, and diamonds."

Rose remained with the two Armatage girls for a little while and Russ saw to it that the little folks went to bed. Then he came out into the hall again to see what the girls were doing. Before he could ask them he chanced to look out of the back window at the end of the long hall.

"Oh!" cried Russ Bunker. "What is that?"

"What's what?" demanded Phillis. "What do you see?"

"Is it a shooting star?" went on Russ. "See that light! I believe it must be a fire."

The girls came running to join him then, more interested in what Russ saw than they were in what was going on at the party below.



From the big house on the Meiggs Plantation, standing on a knoll—which means a small hill,—one could see for a long distance all about, in spite of the shade trees, and especially when looking from the third floor windows. Russ Bunker was looking right out over the quarters where the hands lived, and could see far down the slope of the land and to the forest beyond the cultivated fields.

It was a lovely starlit night, but of course the stars did not reveal everything. The strong red light that sprang up beyond the cabins where the colored people lived, revealed a great deal, however.

"It's a house afire!" declared Phillis Armatage.

"Where can there be a house in that direction?" Rose Bunker asked. "Isn't that fire beyond the cabins, Russ?"

Russ suddenly sprang to action. He wheeled from the window and ran along the hall to the stairway.

"Russ! Russ! Where are you going?" demanded his sister.

"Tell Daddy and Mr. Armatage. I know what house is afire. It's Mammy June's cabin!" shouted Russ.

He had previously located the direction of the old woman's cabin by the stream, and Russ was sure that he was right now. He left the girls screaming after him; he had no time to tell them how he was so sure of his statement.

Down the two flights of stairs he plunged until he landed with a bang on the hall rug at the foot of the lower flight. He almost fell against Mr. Armatage himself when he landed. And Daddy Bunker was not far away.

"Well, well, young man, what's this?" demanded Mr. Armatage, for a moment quite as stern with Russ as he was with his own children.

Daddy, too, looked upon Russ with amazement. "Why, Russ," he said, "what does this mean? What are you doing down here?"

"There's a fire!" gasped out Russ, his breath almost gone. "There's a fire!"

"Upstairs?" demanded Mr. Armatage, whirling toward the stairway.

"Oh, no, sir! No, sir!" cried Russ, stopping him. "It's down the hill. I saw it from the window."

"The quarters?" demanded the planter.

"No, sir. It looks like Mammy June's. It's a great red flame shooting right up about where her cabin is."

"And the old woman has gone home. She's lame. Like enough she won't get out in time—if it is her shack. Come on, boys!" The planter's shout rang through the lower rooms and startled both the guests and the servants. "There's a fire down by the branch. May be a cabin and somebody in it. Come on in your cars and follow me. Get all the buckets you can find."

He dashed out of the house, hatless as he was, shouting to the colored folks who were gathered outside watching the dancing through the long windows. Daddy Bunker followed right behind him. And what do you suppose Russ did? Why, he could have touched Daddy Bunker's coat-tails he kept so close to him! Nobody forbade him, so Russ went too.

Mr. Armatage and Mr. Bunker got into one of the first cars to start, and Russ, with a water pail in each hand, got in too. There was a great noise of shouting and the starting of the motor-cars. Men ran hither and thither, and all the time the light of the fire down by the stream increased.

When they were under way, Mr. Armatage's car leading, they found many of the plantation hands running down the grassy road in advance. The cars passed these men, Mr. Armatage shouting orders as the car flew by. In two minutes they came to the clearing in which Mammy June's cabin stood. One end of the little house was all ablaze.

"The poor soul hasn't got out," cried Mr. Armatage, and with Mr. Bunker he charged for the door, burst it in, and dashed into the smoke which filled the interior.

Russ thought that Daddy Bunker was very brave indeed to do this. It looked to the boy as though both men would be burned by the raging fire. But he was brave himself. He fought back his tears and ran to the stream to fill with water both the pails he carried.

When he came staggering back with the filled pails, the water slopping over his shoes, the first of the hands arrived. One man grabbed Russ's pails and threw the water upon the burning logs. Such a small amount of water only made the flames hiss and the logs steam. But soon other filled pails were brought. More of the cars with guests from the party arrived, and a chain of men to the stream was formed.

Almost at once Mr. Armatage and Daddy Bunker fought their way out of the burning cabin through the smoke, and they bore between them the screaming old woman. Mammy June was badly frightened.

"You're all right now, Mammy," declared Mr. Armatage, when he and Mr. Bunker put her into the tonneau of the car. "Here, boy!" he added to Russ, "you stay with her."

"I got to lose all! I got to lose ma home!" wailed Mammy June. "If my Ebenezer had been yere, dat chimbley wouldn't have cotched fire."

"Can't be helped now," said Daddy Bunker soothingly. "We'll try to save your home, Mammy."

But although their intentions were of the best, this could not be done. The cabin—as dry as a stack of straw—could not be saved. The pails were passed from hand to hand as rapidly as possible, but the fire had gained such headway that it was impossible to quench it until the cabin was in complete ruins.

"You be mighty glad, Mammy June," said Mr. Armatage, finally giving up the unequal battle, "that you are saved yourself. And you wouldn't have been if this little Bunker hadn't seen the fire when he did."

"Bless him!" groaned the old woman, hugging Russ to her side in the car. "If my Ebenezer had been home it wouldn't never have happened, Mistah Armatage."

She harped upon this belief incessantly as they finally drove back to the big house. The fright and exposure quite turned Mammy June's brain for the time. She was somewhat delirious.

"S'pose my Ebenezer come home and find de cabin in ruins. He mebbe will think Mammy June burned up, and go right off again. And he might come any time!"

The old woman talked of this even after they put her to bed and a doctor who chanced to be at Mrs. Armatage's party had attended her. The fire, and her bodily illness, had prostrated the old woman.

The end of that Christmas party was not as pleasant as the beginning. It was long after midnight before even the children were in their beds and composed for sleep. The party broke up at an earlier hour than might have been expected.

Rose slept in the room with Phillis and Alice Armatage. Just as she was dropping to sleep and after her companions were already in dreamland Rose saw the door of the room pushed open. The moon had risen, and Rose recognized Russ's tousled head poked in the open door.

"What do you want?" she demanded in a whisper. "Oh, Russ! there isn't another fire, is there?"

"No! Hush! I just thought of something."

"What is it?" asked Rose in the same low tone that Russ used.

"We can do something for Mammy June."

"We can't cure her rheumatism, Russ," said Rose. "Even the doctor can't do that in a hurry. He said so."

"No. She's worrying about her boy. That boy with the funny name. Sneezer."

"Yes, I know," said Rose.

"She is afraid he will come back and find the cabin burned and go away again without her knowing it," said Russ gravely, tiptoeing to his sister's bedside.

"Yes. Mother says it's real pitiful the way she takes on," sighed the little girl.

"Well, Rose, you and I can help about that," said Russ confidently.

"How can we?" she asked, in surprise.

"We can write a sign and stick it up on a pole down there by the burned cabin. We'll make a sign saying that Mammy June is up here at the big house and for Sneezer to come and see her."

"Oh, goody!" cried Rose, but still under her breath. "That's a fine idea, Russ."

"Don't say anything about it to anybody," warned her brother, eager to make a secret of the plan that had popped into his head. "We'll write that sign early in the morning and go down there and stick it up. Want to?"

"Of course I do," said Rose, with a glad little jump in her bed. "I think you're just the smartest boy, Russ, to think of it. I won't say a word about it, not even to Philly and Alice."

With this plan dancing in her head Rose soon fell asleep while Russ stole back to the room where he slept with the smaller boys. After that the big house on the Meiggs Plantation became quiet for the rest of the long night.



Laddie and Vi Bunker felt as though they had been cheated. They had not been allowed to go to the fire, "when Mammy June's cabin had been burned all up," Vi declared. They had only seen the fire from an upper window of the big Armatage house.

"But it wasn't burned up, Vi," her twin insisted. "It was burned down."

"Russ said it was burned up when he came back from the fire—so now," Violet declared somewhat warmly.

"How can a house burn up? It just fell all to pieces into the cellar."

"There wasn't any cellar to Mammy June's house," Vi observed.

"Well, it fell down; so of course, it burned down."

"The flames went up," repeated Vi, quite as determinedly. "And the wood went with 'em—with the flames and smoke. So the cabin burned up."

What might have been the result of this discussion it would be hard to say had not the twins both felt so keenly their disappointment. Russ had gone to the fire and brought Mammy June out of the cabin and brought her up here to the big house! To tell the truth, Russ was so excited when he got back that in telling of the adventure he gave the younger children to understand that he had done it all himself. Daddy Bunker and Mr. Armatage did not appear much in his story.

"Russ is always doing the big things," sighed Laddie. "It's just like a riddle——"

"What is?" almost snapped Vi, for she was just as disappointed as her twin brother.

"Why, Russ getting the best of everything. Why is it?" muttered Laddie, kicking a pebble before him in the path.

"If that's a riddle, I can't answer it," said Vi.

"It isn't any worse to ask riddles than it is to ask questions—so now."

The twins were not always in accord, of course; but they were seldom so near to a quarrel as upon this morning. Perhaps, for one thing, the day before, they had rather over-done and possibly had over-eaten. They were on the verge of doing something that the Bunker children seldom did—quarreling. Fortunately something suddenly attracted Laddie's attention and he stopped kicking the pebble and pointed down the yard in front of them.

"Oh, Vi! See that cunning thing! What is it?"

Something flashed across a green patch of grass away down by the road. It was red, had small, sharp-pointed ears and nose and a bushy tail. This tail waved quite importantly as the small animal ran.

"Come on!" cried Vi, taking the lead at once. She often did so, for Laddie was slower than she. "Come on! Let's get it, Laddie."

Laddie, nothing loath, ran after his twin sister. They raced down the hill and came to the little gully into which the animal with the bushy tail had disappeared. The end of that gully was the open mouth of a culvert under the road.

"Did he go in there?" Laddie demanded. "Did he go into that hole, Vi?"

"He must have," declared Violet. "It must be his home. It's a burrow."

"But he wasn't a bunny. Bunnies have burrows," objected Laddie.

"I guess other animals can have burrows, too," said his twin. "And he was lots prettier than a rabbit."

"He was that," admitted the excited Laddie. "It wasn't a rabbit, of course. Rabbits aren't red."

"Let's find the other end of the hole," Vi said eagerly. "We'll stop both ends up and then—and then——"

"Well, what then?" her twin demanded.

"Why, we can catch him then," said Vi, rather feebly. "That is, we can if he wants to come out."

"I suppose we can. If he doesn't take too long. Let's," said Laddie, and he ran across the road and looked to see if there was another opening to the culvert.

But as it chanced, this was an old and unused drain, and the farther mouth of it was stopped up. This made the hole a very nice den for the little animal the Bunker twins had seen go into it. But neither Laddie nor Vi had any idea as to what the creature was.

"I'm going to get a stick and poke him out," announced Laddie.

"You can't poke him out when there is no other hole over there," rejoined Vi very sensibly.

"I'll poke him till he comes out then," said Laddie, looking all about but not starting to find a stick.

To tell the truth he was at the end of his resources. He did not know how to get at the little red animal.

"Anyway," he said at last, "maybe he didn't run in here after all."

"He did so, Laddie Bunker!" cried Violet. "I saw him."

This seemed final. Laddie looked all around again, quite puzzled as to what to do next. There was no backing out of a thing when once it was begun—not with Vi Bunker! She always insisted upon going on to the end, no matter what that end might be.

"Well," her twin said at last, "I s'pose I'll have to go in after him."

"How can you?" asked Vi promptly, but excitedly, too.

"I can crawl into that hole——"

"Isn't it too small?"

"Well, I'm not so big," replied Laddie. "I guess I can do it. I'm going to try."

He knelt down before the round mouth of the culvert. It was a piece of drainpipe with a rough rim at the edge of the hole. Laddie poked his head into the hole.

"It's as dark as the inside of your pocket, Vi Bunker," he said, in a muffled voice.

"Shall I run get a candle?" asked his sister.

"No," sighed Laddie; and even his sigh sounded funny from inside the pipe. "If you do they'll want to know what you want it for. And if we are going to catch this—this whatever-it-is, we want to catch it all by ourselves. Wait."

Vi granted that request. She waited, watching Laddie's plump little body wriggling farther and farther into the culvert. His jacket caught several times on the rough rim of the opening. But he persevered.

"Oh!" ejaculated Laddie at last, and his voice seemed a murmur from a great way off.

"I guess you better come back, Laddie," said Vi, getting anxious.

Laddie, if the truth were known, thought so too. For just then he had sighted in the dark two fiery points, like flashing bits of glass or mica. He knew what they were; they were the eyes of the little red animal he had chased into this hole. And Laddie thought that when eyes flashed so brilliantly, their owner must be angry.

"He's going to jump at me!" breathed the little boy to himself.

He began to back out hastily. The bottom of his jacket caught on the rim of the pipe. He was stuck there!

"Pull! Pull me out, Vi Bunker!" he shouted.

But his voice was so muffled that his sister could not understand what he said. It looked as though Laddie was unable to get back the way he had come. And he certainly dared not go on ahead.

For now, to increase his fears, he saw other points of light in the darkness—all in pairs, the eyes of several smaller animals, he was sure! He had self-control enough to count them and found that there were five pairs of eyes altogether.

What should he do about it? Struggle as he might he could not back any farther. And no manner of wriggling was likely to get him out of the hole the way he had come in.



Russ and Rose had both got up very early the day after Christmas, for their minds were filled with the idea of helping Mammy June. The poor old woman's anxiety should be relieved, and the two oldest of the Bunker children were determined that they would relieve it regarding her son, "Sneezer," if that were possible.

So Russ found some cardboard boxes that had held certain of their Christmas presents, and he tore these apart and they wrote carefully a message to the old woman's absent son on both faces of these cards. At least, Russ wrote them, for by now he had learned at school to write a very good hand. Rose was not so sure—especially about her "q's" and capital "S's." Anybody who could read handwriting at all, however, could have read those signs that Russ Bunker wrote.

"It doesn't seem like Christmas time at all," Rose said, as the two ran down the lane right after breakfast toward the branch and the burned cabin. "See the leaves and grass! And there's a flower!"

It was only a weed, but it was a pretty one and Rose gathered it—of course for Mother Bunker. When they came in sight of Mammy June's cabin it was a sad looking place indeed. The little Bunkers had had several nice visits to the old woman's cabin, and they were really very sorry that it had burned down.

The disaster was complete. The log walls were tumbled in heaps and were all charred. The interior of the hut was little but ashes.

"Oh!" cried Rose. "If that Sneezer Meiggs did come home and see all this, he might go away again, just as his mother says. It would be too dreadful, Russ. I am so glad you invented this idea of putting up signs for him."

In fact, Russ was quite proud of his original thought himself. He was naturally of an inventive turn of mind and this was not the first novel thought he had expressed. He and Rose stuck up the cards on poles that they found near by, and they had so many of them that they quite surrounded the ashes of the old hut.

"He can't help seeing them if he comes here," said Rose, as they departed from the spot. "But do you s'pose he'll ever want to come back to the place where everybody called him 'Sneezer'?"

"He ought to want to come back to see Mammy June," declared Russ warmly. "I think she is just fine."

"So do I," admitted Rose reflectively. "But I wouldn't want to be called by such a name as Sneezer."

It was when they got back to the big house and around to its front that the two oldest little Bunkers became aware that something was happening down by the road. They saw Vi hopping up and down in a funny fashion, and she was screaming.

"Now, what do you suppose is the matter with her?" demanded Rose.

"Don't know. But it's something, sure enough!" rejoined Russ, and he started on a run for the spot where Violet was jumping up and down and screaming.

As Russ and Rose started down the hill the three Armatage children came out of the front door of the big house and ran after them, screaming as well. Then appeared a host of small colored folk—Russ and Rose never could imagine where they all came from. They seemed to spring right up out of the ground when anything exciting happened.

All this troop came streaming down the hill, and very quickly Vi found herself surrounded. Russ demanded:

"What's the matter with you? Has something bitten you?"

"They are biting Laddie!" wailed the twin sister.

"How silly!" exclaimed Phillis Armatage. "Laddie isn't here."

"Yes, he is, so now!" cried Vi.

"Oh! Oh!" screamed Alice. "I see his legs!"

At that they all saw his legs—at least, as much of them as were poked out of the mouth of the drainpipe. And they certainly were kicking vigorously. But the children outside made so much noise that the voice of the boy inside the pipe could not be heard.

"Oh! Oh!" declared Vi, jumping up and down again. "It is biting him."

"What is biting him? Mosquitoes?" demanded Russ, as much puzzled as anybody.

"The red thing! With the pointed ears! And a big tail!" cried Vi in gasps.

"What can she mean?" demanded Rose.

But Philly Armatage suspected the reason for Vi's fear at once. She grabbed hold of Laddie's ankles and started to draw him out of the pipe.

"You'd better come out!" she cried. "That old fox will bite your nose off."

"A fox!" cried Russ, in wonder and alarm. "Does a fox live in that hole?"

"And she's got puppies. We saw 'em playing out here one day. Father is only waiting for a chance to smoke 'em out. They are terrible. They eat hens and other poultry."

Russ was vastly interested, as well as troubled by Laddie's fix. For the smaller boy was really wedged by his rolled-up jacket tight into the mouth of the culvert. His muffled cries became more imploring, and the other children really feared that the mother fox, fearing for her young, might have attacked the boy.

"I tell you he must be got out!" shouted Russ.

"How you going to do it?" Philly demanded. Then she called to Laddie: "Push in farther, Laddie! Then maybe you can back out all right."

But Laddie Bunker was so much afraid of the foxes by now (he still saw their luminous eyes before him) that he dared not squirm any deeper into the pipe. What would have happened to him finally—whether or not the old fox might not have attacked him—will never be known, for Russ Bunker took desperate means to release his brother.

Russ ran to a pile of cobblestones beside the road, seized a big one, and staggered back with it in both hands. With the stone he pounded the rim of the pipe so hard that it broke in pieces.

"Ow! Ow!" cried the muffled voice of Laddie Bunker. "You are breaking my legs. Don't pound me so!"

"Wriggle out! Hurry up! What's holding you?" demanded Russ, half angrily because he was so excited.

The smaller boy began to move backward now, the rough rim of the pipe no longer holding his jacket. Slowly he pushed out. When he appeared, his face very red and tear-streaked, Russ and Phillis pulled him to his feet.

"Where's the fox?" demanded Vi, still very much excited.

"Is that a fox?" demanded Laddie, panting.

"Yes," said Phillis Armatage.

"That fox has got five pairs of eyes, then," grumbled Laddie.

"She's got four pups," cried Frane, Junior. "I'm going to run and tell father," and he ran away up the hill.

"Come on!" cried Russ, immediately in action again. "Let's stop up the hole. Then the foxes can't get out until Mr. Armatage comes."

They did that—at least, Russ and Vi and the colored boys did. Rose dusted Laddie off and wiped his face. He soon became more cheerful.

"Well," he said, with a long breath, "they didn't bite me after all; but I thought they would. And their eyes shone dreadfully."

"What made them shine?" demanded Vi, her usual curiosity aroused.

"Because they were mad," said her twin promptly. "That old mother fox didn't want me in there."

The adventure was happily ended; that is, for Laddie and Vi. Not so for the foxes. For Mr. Armatage and the gardener came with shovel and club and they dug down to the foxes' den. But the children had not done their work of closing the entrance well, and just as Mr. Armatage broke through into her den, Mrs. Fox and her puppies scurried out and away into the pine woods. But she had to look for a new home, for her old one was completely broken up.

After this the little Bunkers and the Armatage children trooped up to the house and went to the room where Mammy June had been put to bed. The doctor had already been to see her this morning.

The old colored woman was propped up with pillows and she wore the usual turban on her head. She smiled delightedly when she saw the white children and hailed them as gayly as though she were not in pain.

"Lawsy me, childern!" cried Mammy June. "Has you come to see how I is? I sure has got good friends, I sure has! An' if Ebenezer Caliper Spotiswood Meiggs was back home yere where he b'longs, there wouldn't be a happier ol' woman in all Georgia—no, sir!

"For Mistah Armatage say he's gwine have me another house built before spring. And it'll be a lot mo' fixy than my ol' house—yes, sir! Wait till my Sneezer comes home and sees it—Tut, tut! He ain't mebbe comin' home no mo'!"

"Oh, yes, he will, Mammy June," Philly said comfortingly.

"Don't know. These boys ups and goes away from their mammies and ain't never seen nor heard of again."

"But Sneezer loved you too well to stay away always," Alice Armatage said.

"And when these Bunkers go back North," put in Frane, Junior, "they are going to look for Sneezer everywhere."

"You reckon you'll find him?" asked Mammy June of Rose.

"I hope so," said the oldest Bunker girl.

"Of course we will," agreed Russ stoutly. "And Daddy Bunker will look out for him too. He said so."

According to Russ's mind, that Daddy Bunker had promised to help find the lost boy seemed conclusive that Sneezer must be found. He and Rose began eagerly to tell Mammy June what they had already done to make it positive that Ebenezer Caliper Spotiswood Meiggs would not come back to the burned cabin some day and go away, thinking that his old mother was no longer alive.

"You blessed childern!" exclaimed Mammy June. "And has you fixed it dat way for me? But—but—you says you writ dem letters to Sneezer?"

"Yes," said Rose happily. "Yes, we did, Mammy June. And stuck them up on poles all about the burned house."

"I don't know! I don't know!" sighed the old woman. "I reckon dat won't be much use."

"Why not?" demanded Russ anxiously. "If he comes back he'll see and read 'em."

"No. No, sir! He may see 'em," said Mammy June, shaking her head on the pillow. "But he won't read 'em."

"Why won't he?" Russ demanded in some heat. "I wrote them just as plain as plain!"

"But," said Mammy June, still sadly, "you see, my Sneezer never learnt to read hand-writin'!"



The Bunker children, especially Russ and Rose, felt truly anxious because of Mammy June's unhappiness about her absent son. The boy they all called Sneezer should have been home now when his mother was crippled with rheumatism and had lost her home and all her little possessions.

She worried audibly and continually about Sneezer. Russ and Rose took counsel together more than once. They had hoped that their signs put up at the site of the burned cabin would have satisfied Mammy June that her son would come up to the big house whenever, or if ever, he returned to his old home. Now the Bunker children were not so sure.

When Russ and Rose told Philly Armatage what they had done she said:

"Mebbe he'll think the writing is just to keep ha'nts away. He can't read writing. He always worked in the fields or up here at the house. Those signs aren't any good—just as Mammy June says."

This opinion caused Russ and Rose additional anxiety. They did not know what to do about it. Even the boy's inventive mind was at fault in the emergency.

While the older Bunker brother and sister were troubled in this way and Laddie and Vi were recovering from their adventure with the red fox, Margy and Mun Bun were, as usual, having their own pleasures and difficulties. The littlest Bunker was a born explorer. Daddy Bunker said so. And Margy was quite as active as the little fellow.

Hand in hand they wandered all about the big house and out-of-doors as well. There was always supposed to be somebody to watch them, especially if they went near the barns or paddocks where the horses and mules were. But sometimes the little folks slipped away from even Mother Bunker's observation.

The gardener often talked to the littlest Bunkers, and he saw, too, that they did no more mischief around the greenhouse. When he saw them that afternoon trotting down the hill toward the poultry houses he failed to follow them. He had his work to do, of course, and it did not enter his head that Mun Bun and Margy could get into much trouble with the poultry.

Margy and Mun Bun were delighted with the "chickens" as they called most of the fowl the Armatages kept. But there were many different kinds—not alone of hens and roosters; for there were peafowl, and guineas, and ducks, and turkeys. And in addition there was a flock of gray geese.

"Those are gooseys," Margy announced, pointing through the slats of the low fence which shut in the geese and their strip of the branch, or brook, and the grass plot which the geese had all to themselves.

"Goosey, goosey gander!" chanted Mun Bun, clinging to the top rail of the fence and looking through the slats. "Which is ganders and which is gooseys, Margy?"

As though in answer to his query one of the big birds, with a horny crown on its head, stuck out its neck and ran at the little boy looking through the fence. The bird hissed in a most hateful manner too.

"Oh, look out, Mun Bun!" cried his sister. "I guess that's a gander."

But Mun Bun, with a fence between him and the big bird, was as usual very brave.

"I don't have to look out, Margy Bunker," he declared proudly. "I am already out—so he can't get me. Anyway if he came after us I wouldn't let him bite you."

"I guess he would like to bite us," said the little girl, keeping well away from the fence herself.

"That's 'cause he must be hungry," said Mun Bun with confidence. "You see, he hasn't got anything but grass to eat. I guess they forgot to feed him and it makes him mad."

"That is too bad. He is a real pretty bird," agreed Margy. "Wonder if we could feed him?"

"We can ask that nice cook for bwead," said Mun Bun doubtfully.

"They don't feed gooseys bread, I guess," objected the little girl.

"What do they feed 'em?"

"I guess corn—or oats."

"Let's go and get some," said Mun Bun promptly, and he backed away from the fence, still keeping his gaze fixed on the threatening gander.

They both knew where the feed was kept, for they had watched the colored man feed the stock. So they went across to the stables. And nobody saw them enter the feed room.

As usual it did not trouble Margy and Mun Bun that they had not asked permission to feed the geese. What they had not been literally forbidden to do the little folks considered all right. It was true that they were great ones for exploring and experimenting. That is how they managed to get into so much mischief.

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