Beautiful Joe/Chapter 21
R MAXWELL wore a coat with loose pockets, and while she was speaking, he rested on his crutches, and began to slap them with his hands. "No; there's nothing here to-day," he said, "I think I emptied my pockets before I went to the meeting."
Just as he said that there was a loud squeal: "Oh, my guinea pig," he exclaimed, "I forgot him," and he pulled out a little spotted creature a few inches long. "Poor Derry, did I hurt you?" and he soothed it very tenderly.
I stood and looked at Mr. Maxwell, for I had never seen any one like him. He had thick curly hair and a white face, and he looked just like a girl. While I was staring at him, something peeped up out of one of his pockets and ran out its tongue at me so fast that I could scarcely see it, and then drew back again. I was thunderstruck. I had never seen such a creature before. It was long and thin like a boy's cane, and of a bright green color like grass, and it had queer shiny eyes. But its tongue was the strangest part of it. It came and went like lightning. I was uneasy about it and began to bark.
"What's the matter, Joe?" said Mrs. Wood, "the pig won't hurt you."
But it wasn't the pig I was afraid of, and I kept on barking. And all the time that strange live thing kept sticking up its head and putting out its tongue at me, and neither of them noticed it.
"It's getting on toward six," said Mrs. Wood, "we must be going home. Come, Mr. Maxwell."
The young man put the guinea pig in his pocket, picked up his crutches, and we started down the sunny village street. He left his guinea pig at his boarding house as he went by, but he said nothing about the other creature, so I knew he did not know it was there.
I was very much taken with Mr. Maxwell. He seemed so bright and happy, in spite of his lameness, which kept him from running about like other young men. He looked a little older than Miss Laura, and one day, a week or two later, when they were sitting on the veranda, I heard him tell her that he was just nineteen. He told her too that his lameness made him love animals. They never laughed at him, or slighted him, or got impatient, because he could not walk quickly. They were always good to him, and he said he loved all animals while he liked very few people.
On this day, as he was limping along, he said to Mrs. Wood: "I am getting more absent-minded every day. Have you heard of my latest escapade?"
"No," she said.
"I am glad," he replied. "I was afraid that it would be all over the village by this time. I went to church last Sunday with my poor guinea pig in my pocket. He hasn't been well, and I was attending to him before church, and put him in there to get warm, and forgot about him. Unfortunately I was late, and the back seats were all full, so I had to sit farther up than I usually do. During the first hymn I happened to strike Piggy against the side of the seat. Such an ear-splitting squeal as he set up. It sounded as if I was murdering him. The people stared and stared, and I had to leave the church, overwhelmed with confusion."
Mrs. Wood and Miss Laura laughed, and then they got talking about other matters that were not interesting to me, so I did not listen. But I kept close to Miss Laura, for I was afraid that green thing might hurt her. I wondered very much what its name was. I don't think I should have feared it so much if I had known what it was.
There's something the matter with Joe," said Miss Laura, when we got into the lane. "What is it, dear old fellow?" She put down her little hand, and I licked it, and wished so much that I could speak.
Sometimes I wish very much that I had the gift of speech, and then at other times I see how little it would profit me, and how many foolish things I should often say. And I don't believe human beings would love animals as well, if they could speak.
When we reached the house, we got a joyful surprise. There was a trunk standing on the veranda, and as soon as Mrs. Wood saw it, she gave a little shriek: "My dear boy!"
Mr. Harry was there, sure enough, and stepped out through the open door. He took his mother in his arms and kissed her, then he shook hands with Miss Laura and Mr. Maxwell, who seemed to be an old friend of his. They all sat down on the veranda and talked, and I lay at Miss Laura's feet and looked at Mr. Harry. He was such a handsome young man, and had such a noble face. He was older and graver looking than when I saw him last, and he had a light, brown moustache that he did not have when he was in Fairport.
He seemed very fond of his mother and of Miss Laura, and however grave his face might be when he was looking at Mr. Maxwell, it always lighted up when he turned to them. "What dog is that?" he said at last, with a puzzled face, and pointing to me.
"Why, Harry," exclaimed Miss Laura, "don't you know Beautiful Joe, that you rescued from that wretched milkman?"
"Is it possible," he said, "that this well-conditioned creature is the bundle of dirty skin and bones that we nursed in Fairport? Come here, sir. Do you remember me?"
Indeed I did remember him, and I licked his hands and looked up gratefully into his face. "You're almost handsome now," he said, caressing me with a firm, kind hand, "and of a solid build too. You look like a fighter—but I suppose you wouldn't let him fight, even if he wanted to, Laura," and he smiled and glanced at her.
"No," she said, "I don't think I should; but he can fight when the occasion requires it." And she told him about our night with Jenkins.
All the time she was speaking, Mr. Harry held me by the paws, and stroked my body over and over again. When she finished, he put his head down to me, and murmured, "Good dog," and I saw that his eyes were red and shining.
"That's a capital story, we must have it at the Band of Mercy," said Mr. Maxwell. Mrs. Wood had gone to help prepare the tea, so the two young men were alone with Miss Laura. When they had done talking about me, she asked Mr. Harry a number of questions about his college life, and his trip to New York, for he had not been studying all the time that he was away.
"What are you going to do with yourself, Gray, when your college course is ended?" asked Mr. Maxwell.
"I'm going to settle right down here," said Mr. Harry.
"What, be a farmer?" asked his friend.
"Yes, why not?"
"Nothing, only I imagined that you would take a profession."
"The professions are overstocked, and we have not farmers enough for the good of the country. There is nothing like farming, to my mind. In no other employment have you a surer living. I do not like the cities. The heat and dust, and crowds of people, and buildings overtopping one another, and the rush of living, take my breath away. Suppose I did go to a city. I would sell out my share of the farm, and have a few thousand dollars. You know I am not an intellectual giant. I would never distinguish myself in any profession. I would be a poor lawyer or doctor, living in a back street all the days of my life, and never watch a tree or flower grow, Or tend an animal, or have a drive unless I paid for it. No, thank you. I agree with President Eliot, of Harvard. He says, scarcely one person in ten thousand betters himself permanently by leaving his rural home and settling in a city. If one is a millionaire, city life is agreeable enough, for one can always get away from it; but I am beginning to think that it is a dangerous thing, in more ways than one, to be a millionaire. I believe the safety of the country lies in the hands of the farmers; for they are seldom very poor or very rich. We stand between the two dangerous classes—the wealthy and the paupers."
"But most farmers lead such a dog's life," said Mr, Maxwell.
"So they do; farming isn't made one half as attractive as it should be," said Mr. Harry.
Mr. Maxwell smiled. "Attractive farming. Just sketch an outline of that, will you, Gray?"
"In the first place," said Mr. Harry, "I would like to tear out of the heart of the farmer the thing that is as firmly implanted in him as it is in the heart of his city brother—the thing that is doing more to harm our nation than anything else under the sun."
"What is that?" asked Mr. Maxwell, curiously.
"The thirst for gold. The farmer wants to get rich, and he works so hard to do it that he wears himself out soul and body, and the young people around him get so disgusted with that way of getting rich, that they go off to the cities to find out some other way, or at least to enjoy themselves, for I don't think many young people are animated by a desire to heap up money."
Mr. Maxwell looked amused. "There is certainly a great exodus from country places cityward," he said.
"What would be your plan for checking it?"
"I would make the farm so pleasant, that you couldn't hire the boys and girls to leave it. I would have them work, and work hard too, but when their work was over, I would let them have some fun. That is what they go to the city for. They want amusement and society, and to get into some kind of a crowd when their work is done. The young men and young women want to get together, as is only natural. Now that could be done in the country. If farmers would be contented with smaller profits and smaller farms, their houses could be nearer together. Their children would have opportunities of social intercourse, there could be societies and clubs, and that would tend to a distribution of literature. A farmer ought to take five or six papers and two or three magazines. He would find it would pay him in the long run, and there ought to be a law made, compelling him to go to the post office once a day."
Mr. Maxwell burst out laughing. "And another to make him mend his roads as well as mend his ways. I tell you Gray, the bad roads would put an end to all these fine schemes of yours. Imagine farmers calling on each other on a dark evening after a spring freshet. I can see them mired and bogged, and the house a mile ahead of them."
"That is true," said Mr. Harry, "the road question is a serious one. Do you know how father and I settle it?"
"No," said Mr. Maxwell.
"We got so tired of the whole business, and the farmers around here spent so much time in discussing the art of roadmaking, as to whether it should be viewed from the engineering point of view, or the farmers' practical point of view, and whether we would require this number of stump extractors or that number, and how many shovels and crushers and ditchers would be necessary to keep our roads in order, and so on, that we simply withdrew. We keep our own roads in order. Once a year, father gets a gang of men and tackles every section of road that borders upon our land, and our roads are the best around here. I wish the government would take up this matter of making roads and settle it. If we had good, smooth, country roads, such as they have in some parts of Europe, we would be able to travel comfortably over them all through the year, and our draught animals would last longer, for they would not have to expend so much energy in drawing their loads."