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   Chapter 4 UNCLE FRED'S TALE

Six Little Bunkers at Uncle Fred's By Laura Lee Hope Characters: 9636

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The ringing of the Bunker doorbell was not unusual. It often rang during the day, but just now, when Uncle Fred was about to tell his story, it rather surprised the children to hear the tinkle.

"I'll go and see who it is," offered Russ. "And please don't tell any of the story until I come back," he begged.

"I won't," promised Uncle Fred.

Russ hurried to the door, and, as he opened it, the other children heard him cry:

"Oh, Daddy! What made you ring?"

"I forgot my key," answered Mr. Bunker. "I couldn't open the door."

"Oh, it's Daddy!" cried Mun Bun and Margy, and, slipping down from Uncle Fred's knee, they raced to the hall to get their usual kisses.

"Guess who's here!" cried Russ, for his father could not see into the room where his wife's brother sat. "Guess!"

"Grandma Bell?"

"Nope!"

"Aunt Jo?"

"Nope!"

"It's Uncle Fred!" cried Rose, hurrying out into the hall. "And he's got a secret out at his ranch like Grandpa Ford had at Great Hedge, and he's going to take us all out there and-and--"

"My! better stop and catch your breath before it runs away from you," laughed Daddy Bunker, as he lifted Rose in his arms and kissed her. "So Uncle Fred is here, is he? He came a little ahead of time."

"And he s'prised us all up in the attic," added Laddie, who had also come into the hall. "Russ and I rode down on the scooter, and we bumped, and had a mix-up, and Uncle Fred came up, and--"

"And we thought he was a burglar!" finished Violet.

"You must have had quite a time," laughed Daddy Bunker. "Well, now, after I get my wet things off, I'll go in and see Uncle Fred and hear all about it," and soon Daddy Bunker and his wife's brother were shaking hands and talking, while the children sat about them, eager and listening.

"We'll have an early supper," said Mother Bunker, when she had given Uncle Fred a cup of tea, "and then we can hear all about Three Star Ranch."

Norah O'Grady soon had a nice supper on the table, and after Rose had helped with it, as she often did, for her mother was teaching her little daughter to be a housekeeper, the children took their places and began to eat. And, at the same time, they listened to the talk that went on among the grown folk. Mother and Father Bunker had many questions to ask Uncle Fred, and he also asked them a great many, for he wanted to know all about Grandma Bell, and Aunt Jo and Grandpa Ford and all the rest of the Bunkers' relatives.

"And now will you tell us about Three Star Ranch?" asked Russ eagerly, as the chairs were pushed back.

"Yes, I will," promised Uncle Fred.

"And don't leave out the Indians," begged Laddie.

"Nor the cowboys," added Russ.

"Can you tell about some ponies?" asked Rose. "I love ponies!"

"Yes, I'll tell about them, too," said her uncle. "And if you come out West with me you shall have some rides on ponies."

"Really, truly?" gasped Rose.

"Oh, won't that be fun!" cried Vi. "What color are ponies? And what makes them be called ponies? I should think they would be called pawnies, 'cause they paw the ground. And how many have you, Uncle Fred?"

"Oh, Vi! Not so many questions, my dear! Please!" exclaimed her mother, laughing. "Uncle Fred won't get a chance to tell any story if you talk so much. You are a regular chatterbox to-night."

"Wait until you get out West. It's so big there you can talk all day and night and bother no one," said Uncle Fred. "But now I'll tell you about my ranch.

"As I mentioned, it is near Moon City, in Montana. That is a good many miles from here, and around my house are big fields, where the cattle roam about and eat the grass.

"A ranch, you must know, little Bunkers, is just a big farm. But instead of raising apples and peaches and pears, hay, grain or chickens on my ranch, I raise cattle. Cows you might call them, though we speak of them as cattle. Some men raise horses on their ranches, but though I have some horses and ponies, I have more cattle than anything else.

"I have to keep a number of men to look after the cattle. These men are called cowboys, and they ride about the ranch on horses, or cow ponies, and see that the cattle are all right, that they get enough to eat and drink, and that no one takes them away."

"What do the Indians do?" asked Russ. "Tell us about them."

"Well, some of the Indians farm," said Uncle Fred. "Some of them make baskets and other things to sell to travelers who come through on the trains, but many of them just live a lazy life. They are on what is called a Reservation-that is land which the government has set aside for them."

"Do Indians come to your ranch?" asked Laddie. "And could I lasso any of 'em with a rope lasso like I saw in some pictures?"

"Well, sometimes Indians do come to Three Star," answered Uncle Fred. "B

ut I don't believe any of them would like to be lassoed."

"What's this I hear about your having trouble?" asked Daddy Bunker.

"Well, yes, I have been having trouble," answered Uncle Fred. "And, as usual, my trouble is like that a lot of ranchers have. Some one has been taking my cattle."

"Didn't you want them to?" asked Russ.

"No, indeed," answered his uncle. "I raise my cattle to sell, so I can make money to pay my cowboys and live on some of it myself. If bad men take my cattle away in the night, as they do, without paying me, I lose money. And that's why I came on East here."

"Surely you didn't come all the way from Moon City to find out who was taking your cattle at Three Star Ranch!" exclaimed Mother Bunker.

"Oh, no. The men who are doing that are right out there. I've left some of my cowboys to attend to them," answered Uncle Fred. "What I came on for, besides getting you to go back with me, is to get some books about springs and streams of water, and also to talk with some engineers about a queer spring on my ranch."

"What sort of queer spring?" asked Daddy Bunker. "I thought all springs were alike."

"Well, I s'pose they are, in that they have water in 'em," said Uncle Fred. "But mine isn't that kind. Sometimes it has water in it, and again it hasn't."

"What do you mean?" asked his sister. "Does the spring go dry? That used to happen to the spring where we lived when we were children. Don't you remember, Fred?"

"Yes, but that spring only went dry when there was no rain-say in a dry, hot summer. The spring on Three Star Ranch goes dry sometimes in the middle of a rainy season."

"What makes it?" asked Daddy Bunker.

"That's what I came on to find out about," replied Uncle Fred. "None of my cowboys can tell what makes it, and the Indians are puzzled, too. It's like one of Laddie's riddles, I guess."

"That's what we thought about the ghost at Great Hedge," said Mrs. Bunker. "But we finally found out what it was, and very simple it was, too. Perhaps this spring of yours will turn out the same way."

"Well, I hope it does," said her brother. "All I know is that sometimes the spring will be full of fine water. We use it for drinking at the ranch house and for watering some of the horses. The cattle drink at a creek that runs through my place. That never goes dry.

"But sometimes there will be hardly a drop of water in the spring, and then there is trouble. Everybody is sorry then, for we have to haul water from the creek in barrels, and it isn't as good to drink as the spring water."

"Is that the only queer thing?" asked Daddy Bunker.

"No. The most remarkable thing about it," went on Uncle Fred, "is that every time the spring goes dry some of my cattle are taken away. I suppose you could call it stolen, though I don't like to think that any of my neighbors would steal. I used to think the cattle wandered away, but since none of them wander back again I feel pretty sure they must be taken on purpose."

"And every time the spring dries up the cattle are taken?" asked Mrs. Bunker, while the six little Bunkers listened eagerly to Uncle Fred's story.

"Almost every time. I don't know what causes it."

"Maybe the cows drink up all the water," said Russ.

"No, cattle don't come near the spring," said Mr. Bell. "They are on the far end of the ranch. It is a puzzle to me; about as much of a puzzle as the ghost must have been at Great Hedge, before you found out about it."

"So you came East to consult some engineers about the spring," remarked Daddy Bunker. "Do you think they can help you?"

"Well, you know there are engineers who make a study of all kinds of water; of springs, lakes, rivers, and so on," explained Uncle Fred. "They are water-engineers just as others are steam or electrical engineers. I thought I'd ask them the reasons for springs going dry. Some of them may know something about the water in Montana, and they can tell me if there are underground rivers or lakes that might do something to my spring.

"Anyhow I had some other business in New York, so while I was attending to that, and coming on here to get you folks, I thought I'd see the engineers."

"And have you seen any yet?" asked his sister.

"Not yet. I'm going to in a day or so. But I stopped at a store and ordered--"

Before Uncle Fred could say what it was he had ordered the doorbell rang again. This time it could not be Daddy Bunker coming in, as he was already at home.

Norah, who went to open the door, could be heard speaking to some one.

"Oh, and it's a message you have for Mr. Bell, is it?" she said. "Well, come in and don't be standin' there in the wet rain."

"A message for me!" exclaimed Uncle Fred. "I hope it isn't any bad news from my ranch-about more cattle being taken."

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