Beautiful Joe/Chapter 27
HAD not been on the ground more than a few seconds, before I turned my eyes from Miss Laura to the log hut. It was deathly quiet, there was not a sound coming from it, but the air was full of queer smells, and I was so uneasy that I could not lie still. There was something the matter with Fleetfoot too. He was pawing the ground, and whinnying, and looking, not after Mr. Harry, but toward the log building.
"Joe," said Miss Laura, "what is the matter with you and Fleetfoot? Why don't you stand still? Is there any stranger about?" and she peered out of the buggy.
I knew there was something wrong somewhere, but I didn't know what it was; so I stretched myself up on the step of the buggy, and licked her hand, and barking, to ask her to excuse me, I ran off to the other side of the log hut. There was a door there, but it was closed, and propped firmly up by a plank that I could not move, scratch as hard as I liked. I was determined to get in, so I jumped against the door, and tore and bit at the plank, till Miss Laura came to help me.
"You won't find anything but rats in that ramshackle old place, Beautiful Joe," she said, as she pulled the plank away; "and as you don't hurt them, I don't see what you want to get in for. However, you are a sensible dog, and usually have a reason for having your own way, so I am going to let you have it."
The plank fell down as she spoke, and she pulled open the rough door and looked in. There was no window inside, only the light that streamed through the door, so that for an instant she could see nothing. "Is any one here?" she asked, in her clear, sweet voice. There was no answer, except a low moaning sound. "Why, some poor creature is in trouble, Joe," said Miss Laura, cheerfully. "Let us see what it is," and she stepped inside.
I shall never forget seeing my dear Miss Laura going into that wet and filthy log house, holding up her white dress in her hands, her face a picture of pain and horror. There were two rough stalls in it, and in the first one was tied a cow, with a calf lying beside her. I could never have believed, if I had not seen it with my own eyes, that an animal could get so thin as that cow was. Her back-bone rose up high and sharp, her hip bones stuck away out, and all her body seemed shrunken in. There wrere sores on her sides, and the smell from her stall was terrible. Miss Laura gave one cry of pity, then with a very pale face she dropped her dress, and seizing a little pen-knife from her pocket, she hacked at the rope that tied the cow to the manger, and cut it so that the cow could lie down. The first thing the poor cow did was to lick her calf, but it was quite dead. I used to think Jenkins's cows were thin enough, but he never had one that looked like this. Her head was like the head of a skeleton, and her eyes had such a famished look, that I turned away, sick at heart, to think that she had suffered so.
When the cow lay down, the moaning noise stopped, for she had been making it. Miss Laura ran outdoors, snatched a handful of grass and took it in to her. The cow ate it gratefully, but slowly, for her strength seemed all gone.
Miss Laura then went into the other stall to see if there was any creature there. There had been a horse. There was now a lean, gaunt-looking animal lying on the ground, that seemed as if he was dead. There, was a heavy rope knotted round his neck, and fastened to his empty rack. Miss Laura stepped carefully between his feet, cut the rope, and going outside the stall spoke kindly to him. He moved his ears slightly, raised his head, tried to get up, fell back again, tried again, and succeeded in staggering outdoors after Miss Laura, who kept encouraging him, and then he fell down on the grass.
Fleetfoot stared at the miserable-looking creature as if he did not know what it was. The horse had no sores on his body as the cow had, nor was he quite so lean; but he was the weakest, most distressed-looking animal that I ever saw. The flies settled on him, and Miss Laura had to keep driving them away. He was a white horse, with some kind of pale colored eyes, and whenever he turned them on Miss Laura, she would look away. She did not cry, as she often did over sick and suffering animals. This seemed too bad for tears. She just hovered over that poor horse with her face as white as her dress, and an expression of fright in her eyes. Oh, how dirty he was! I would never have imagined that a horse could get in such a condition.
All this had only taken a few minutes, and just after she got the horse out, Mr. Harry appeared. He came out of the house with a slow step, that quickened to a run when he saw Miss Laura. "Laura!" he exclaimed, "what are you doing?" Then he stopped and looked at the the horse, not in amazement, but very sorrowfully. "Barron is gone," he said, and crumpling up a piece of paper, he put it in his pocket. "What is to be done for these animals? There is a cow, isn't there?"
He stepped to the door of the log hut, glanced in, and said, quickly: "Do you feel able to drive home?"
"Yes," said Miss Laura.
"Sure?" and he eyed her anxiously.
"Yes, yes," she returned, "what shall I get?"
"Just tell father that Barron has run away and left a starving pig, cow, and horse. There's not a thing to eat here. He'll know what to do. I'll drive you to the road."
Miss Laura got into the buggy and Mr. Harry jumped in after her. He drove her to the road and put down the bars, then he said: "Go straight on. You'll soon be on the open road, and there's nothing to harm you. Joe will look after you. Meanwhile I'll go back to the house and heat some water."
Miss Laura let Fleetfoot go as fast as he liked on the way home, and it only seemed a few minutes before we drove into the yard. Adèle came out to meet us. "Where's uncle?" asked Miss Laura.
"Gone to de big meadow," said Adèle.
"She had de colds and chills, and entered into de bed to keep warm. She lose herself in sleep now. You not go near her."
"Are there none of the men about?" asked Miss Laura.
"No, mademoiselle. Dey all occupied way off."
"Then you help me, Addle, like a good girl," said Miss Laura, hurrying into the house. "We've found a sick horse and cow. What shall I take them?"
"Nearly all animals like de bran mash," said Adèle.
"Good," cried Miss Laura. "That is the very thing. Put in the things to make it, will you please, and I would like some vegetables for the cow. Carrots, turnips, anything you have, take some of those you have prepared for dinner to-morrow, and please run up to the barn Adèle, and get some hay, and corn, and oats, not much, for we'll be going back again; but hurry, for the poor things are starving, and have you any milk for the pig? Put it in one of those tin kettles with covers."
For a few minutes, Miss Laura and Adèle flew about the kitchen, then we set off again. Miss Laura took me in the buggy, for I was out of breath and wheezing greatly. I had to sit on the seat beside her, for the bottom of the buggy and the back were full of eatables for the poor sick animals. Just as we drove into the road, we met Mr. Wood. "Are you running away with the farm?" he said with a laugh, pointing to the carrot tops that were gayly waving over the dashboard.
Miss Laura said a few words to him, and with a very grave face he got in beside her. In a short time, we were back on the lonely road. Mr. Harry was waiting at the gate for us, and when he saw Miss Laura, he said, "Why did you come back again? You'll be tired out. This isn't a place for a sensitive girl like you."
"I thought I might be of some use," said she, gently.
"So you can," said Mr. Wood. "You go into the house and sit down, and Harry and I will come to you when we want cheering up. What have you been doing, Harry?"
"I've watered them a little, and got a good fire going. I scarcely think the cow will pull through. I think we'll save the horse. I tried to get the cow out-doors, but she can't move."
"Let her alone," said Mr. Wood. "Give her some food and her strength will come to her. What have you got here?" and he began to take the things out of the buggy. "Bless the child, she's thought of everything, even the salt. Bring those things into the house, Harry, and we'll make a bran mash."
For more than an hour they were hissing over the animals. Then they came in and sat down. The inside of the Englishman's house was as untidy as the outside. There was no upstairs to it—only one large room with a dirty curtain stretched across it. On one side was a low bed with a heap of clothes on it, a chair and a washstand. On the other was a stove, a table, a shaky rocking-chair that Miss Laura was sitting in, a few hanging shelves with some dishes and books on them, and two or three small boxes that had evidently been used for seats.
On the walls were tacked some pictures of grand houses and ladies and gentlemen in fine clothes, and Miss Laura said that some of them were noble people. "Well, I'm glad this particular nobleman has left us," said Mr. Wood, seating himself on one of the boxes, "if nobleman he is. I should call him in plain English, a scoundrel. Did Harry show you his note?"
"No, uncle," said Miss Laura.
"Read it aloud," said Mr. Wood. "I'd like to hear it again."
Miss Laura read:
J. Wood, Esq. Dear Sir:—It is a matter of great regret to me that I am suddenly called away from my place at Penhollow, and will, therefore, not be able to do myself the pleasure of calling on you and settling my little account. I sincerely hope that the possession of my live stock, which I make entirely over to you, will more than reimburse you for any trifling expense which you may have incurred on my account. If it is any gratification to you to know that you have rendered a slight assistance to the son of one of England's noblest noble-men, you have it. With expressions of the deepest respect, and hoping that my stock may be in good condition when you take possession,
I am, dear sir, ever devotedly yours,
Howard Algernon Leduc Barron.
Miss Laura dropped the paper. "Uncle, did he leave those animals to starve?"
"Didn't you notice," said Mr. Wood, grimly, "that there wasn't a wisp of hay inside that shanty, and that where the poor beasts were tied up the wood was gnawed and bitten by them in their torture for food. Wouldn't he have sent me that note, instead of leaving it here on the table, if he'd wanted me to know? The note isn't dated, but I judge he's been gone five or six days. He has had a spite against me ever since I lent him that hundred dollars. I don't know why, for I've stood up for him when others would have run him out of the place. He intended me to come here and find every animal lying dead. He even had a rope around the pig's neck. Harry, my boy, let us go and look after them again. I love a dumb brute too well to let it suffer, but in this case I'd give two hundred dollars more if I could make them live and have Barron know it."
They left the room, and Miss Laura sat turning the sheet of paper over and over, with a kind of horror in her face. It was a very dirty piece of paper, but by-and-by she made a discovery. She took it in her hand and went out-doors. I am sure that the poor horse lying on the grass knew her. He lifted his head, and what a different expression he had now that his hunger had been partly satisfied. Miss Laura stroked and patted him, then she called to her cousin, "Harry, will you look at this?"
He took the paper from her, and said: "That is a crest shining through the different strata of dust and grime, probably that of his own family. We'll have it cleaned, and it will enable us to track the villain. You want him punished, don't you?" he said, with a little, sly laugh at Miss Laura.
She made a gesture in the direction of the suffering horse, and said, frankly, "Yes, I do."
"Well, my dear girl," he said, "Father and I are with you. If we can hunt Barron down, we'll do it." Then he muttered to himself as she turned away, "She is a real Puritan, gentle, and sweet, and good, and yet severe. Rewards for the virtuous, punishments for the vicious," and he repeated some poetry:
"She was so charitable and so piteous,
She would weep if that she saw a mouse
Caught in a trap, if it were dead or bled."
Miss Laura saw that Mr. Wood and Mr. Harry were doing all that could be done for the cow and horse, so she wandered down to a hollow at the back of the house, where the Englishman had kept his pig. Just now, he looked more like a greyhound than a pig. His legs were so long, his nose so sharp, and hunger, instead of making him stupid like the horse and cow, had made him more lively. I think he had probably not suffered so much as they had, or perhaps he had had a greater store of fat to nourish him. Mr. Harry said that if he had been a girl, he would have laughed and cried at the same time when he discovered that pig. He must have been asleep or exhausted when we arrived, for there was not a sound out of him, but shortly afterward he had set up a yelling that attracted Mr. Harry's attention, and made him run down to him. Mr. Harry said he was raging around his pen, digging the ground with his snout, falling down and getting up again, and by a miracle, escaping death by choking from the rope that was tied around his neck.
Now that his hunger had been satisfied, he was gazing contentedly at his little trough that was half-full of good, sweet milk. Mr. Harry said that a starving animal, like a starving person, should only be fed a little at a time; but the Englishman's animals had always been fed poorly, and their stomachs had contracted so that they could not eat much at one time.
Miss Laura got a stick and scratched poor piggy's back a little, and then she went back to the house. In a short time we went home with Mr. Wood. Mr. Harry was going to stay all night with the sick animals, and his mother would send him things to make him comfortable. She was better by the time we got home, and was horrified to hear the tale of Mr. Barron's neglect. Later in the evening, she sent one of the men over with a whole box full of things for her darling boy, and a nice, hot tea, done up for him in a covered dish.
When the man came home, he said that Mr. Harry would not sleep in the Englishman's dirty house, but had slung a hammock out under the trees. However, he would not be able to sleep much, for he had his lantern by his side, all ready to jump up and attend to the horse and cow. It was a very lonely place for him out there in the woods, and his mother said that she would be glad when the sick animals could be driven to their own farm.