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Six Little Bunkers at Cowboy Jack's By Laura Lee Hope Characters: 7490

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03

Russ began to whistle a tune, as he often did when he was puzzled. It was not that he was puzzled about the thing he saw-and which Rose had seen first-but at once Russ felt that he must discover a way to get the blatting object out of the mud.

"What do you know about that!" cried Tad Munson. "That's John Winsome's red calf. See! He's sunk clear to his backbone in the mud."

"Oh, dear me!" cried Rose. "The poor thing!"

She had said that twice before, but everybody was so excited that none of them noticed that Rose was repeating herself. In fact, both Vi and Margy said the very same thing, and in chorus:

"Oh, the poor thing!"

"Is that a red calf, Tad Munson?" asked Laddie. "For if it is, it's a riddle. Its head and its neck and its tail are all splattered with mud."

"It was a red calf when it went into the swamp, all right," said Tad with confidence. "I know that calf, all right. And John Winsome told me only this morning that he had lost it."

"Who put it in that horrid swamp?" Vi demanded.

"I guess it just wandered in," said Tad.

"And it is sinking down right now," Russ tried. "See it?"

Indeed the poor calf-a well grown animal-was in a very serious plight. It was eight or ten feet from the edge of the road where the logs were. And the calf had evidently struggled a good deal and was now quite exhausted. It turned its head to look at the children and blatted again.

"Oh, dear!" said Margy, almost in tears, "it is asking us to help it just as plain as it can."

"I'm going to run and tell John Winsome-right now I am!" shouted Tad, and he turned around and ran back along the road they had come just as fast as he could run.

But Russ stayed where he was. His lips were still puckered in a whistle and he was thinking hard.

"What can we do for the poor calf, Russ?" asked Rose.

She seemed to think that her brother would think up some way of helping the mired creature. No knowing how long Tad would be in finding the owner, and it looked as though the calf was sinking all the time.

Russ Bunker had quite an inventive mind. The other children were helpless in this emergency, but he began to see how he could help the calf stuck in the muddy swamp. He ran to the roadside fence, which was a good deal broken down just at the edge of the open swamp lands. The fence rails were so old and dry that Russ could pull them, one at a time, away from the posts. He dragged the first one to the spot where the calf was blatting so pitifully. Although these cedar rails had been split out of logs many years before, they were still very strong.

"Come on, Rose! You can help drag these rails too," cried Russ, quite excited by the thought that he might be able to save the calf before Tad Munson brought help.

"Oh! what are you going to do? Are you going to burn that poor calf like the Indians used to burn folks?" asked Vi, who remembered something she had heard at Uncle Fred's ranch. "You going to burn the calf at the stake?"

This was a horrifying thought, but even Laddie, who was very tender-hearted, was too much excited to think of this. He said to his twin sister:

"How silly, Vi! You couldn't burn those old rails on that wet place. The fire would go right out."

"Russ won't burn it, or let it drown either," Margy said, with much confidence in their older brother.

Meanwhile Russ and Rose were pulling off fence-rails and dragging them to the edge of the swamp. Then, while Rose brought more, Russ began to lay the rails on the quivering mire, side by side but about a foot apart, the ends of the first row of rails being only a few inches from the side of the calf.

Having made a foundation of four rails upon the soft muck, Russ began to lay the next tier

across them, thus building a platform. It was a shaky platform, but he crept out upon it slowly and carefully and the lower rails did not sink much.

"Won't you sink down in the mud, too, if you do that, Russ?" asked Vi curiously. "Won't those old rails get splinters in your hands?"

"Oh!" cried Laddie, jumping up and down in his excitement, "then you'll be the riddle, Russ. 'I went out to the woodpile and got it'-you know."

"Maybe it's a riddle-what I'm going to do for the poor calf when I can reach him," their brother said. "I know I can get to him; but how can I pull him up out of the mud?"

This was a harder question to answer than one of Vi's. The rails did not sink much under Russ's weight, and he believed he could get within reach of the calf. But, having reached the animal, what could the boy do?

"Bla-a-at!" bawled the calf, his smutched head lifted out of the mire.

"Oh, dear! The poor bossy!" gasped Rose, staggering along with another rail. "How you going to help him, Russ?"

"Give me that rail," commanded her brother, standing up gingerly upon the crisscrossed rails. "I bet I can keep him from sinking any farther, anyway. And maybe Tad will find his owner before long."

Russ had just thought of something to do. He balanced himself carefully and took the last rail from Rose.

"Oh, Russ!" cried Vi, "your shoes are getting all muddy."

"Well, I can clean them, can't I?" panted the boy.

"How can you when you haven't any blacking and brush here?" asked Vi.

Russ paid her and her question no attention. He had too much to think of just then. He pointed the rail he held downward and pushed it into the mire just beyond the far end of the platform he had built. The calf bawled again, and struggled some more; but Russ knew he was not hurting the creature, although he could feel the end of the rail scraping down along the calf's side.

He pushed down with all his might until at least half the length of the rail was out of sight. It was poked down right behind the calf's forelegs. Russ thought that if he could pry up the fore-end of the calf, the animal could not drown in the mud.

This is what he tried to do, anyway. And although the calf began to struggle again, being evidently very much frightened, Russ was able to force the end of the rail up, and lifted the calf's head and shoulders.

"Oh, Russ, you're doing it!" cried Rose.

The other children jumped up and down in their delight, and praised him too. All but Mun Bun. He didn't say anything, for the very good reason that he was no longer there to say it!

Nobody had noticed the little boy for the last few minutes. Mun Bun always liked to help, and he had first followed Rose to try to pull a rail off the fence. This was too heavy for Mun Bun, so he had wandered along the road to find a rail or a stick or something that he could drag back to help make Russ Bunker's platform.

None of the others had noticed his absence, and Mun Bun was out of sight when Russ, with the help of Rose, bore down on the end of the fence rail far enough to hoist the calf half way out of the mire.

"Where's Mun Bun?" demanded Rose, looking around.

"Can you save the calf, Russ?" asked Vi.

Russ, however, like Rose, was instantly alarmed by the absence of Mun Bun. A dozen things might happen to the littlest Bunker here in the swamp.

"Where is he?" rejoined Russ. He jumped up and the rail began to tip again, dousing the poor calf into the mire.

"Don't, Russ!" screamed Rose. "He's going down again!"

Russ sat down on the fence rail, and the calf came up, bawling pitifully. It was a very serious problem to decide. If they ran to find Mun Bun, the calf would be lost. What could Russ Bunker do?

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