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CHAPTER XXXII.

OUR RETURN HOME.

Beautifuljoeletteri.pngN October, the most beautiful of all the months, we were obliged to go back to Fairport. Miss Laura could not bear to leave the farm, and her face got very sorrowful when any one spoke of her going away. Still, she had gotten well and strong, and was as brown as a berry, and she said that she knew she ought to go home, and get back to her lessons.

Mr. Wood called October the golden month. Everything was quiet and still, and at night and in the mornings the sun had a yellow, misty look. The trees in the orchard were loaded with fruit, and some of the leaves were floating down, making a soft covering on the ground.

In the garden there were a great many flowers in bloom, in flaming red and yellow colors. Miss Laura gathered bunches of them every day to put in the parlor. One day when she was arranging them, she said, regretfully, "They will soon be gone. I wish it could always be summer."

"You would get tired of it," said Mr. Harry, who had come up softly behind her. "There's only one place where we could stand perpetual summer, and that's in heaven."

"Do you suppose that it will always be summer there?" said Miss Laura, turning around, and looking at him.

"I don't know. I imagine it will be, but I don't think anybody knows much about it. We've got to wait."

Miss Laura's eyes fell on me. "Harry," she said, "do you think that dumb animals will go to heaven?"

"I shall have to say again, I don't know," he replied. "Some people hold that they do. In a Michigan paper, the other day, I came across one writer's opinion on the subject. He says that among the best people of all ages have been some who believed in the future life of animals. Homer and the later Greeks, some of the Romans and early Christians held this view—the last believing that God sent angels in the shape of birds to comfort sufferers for the faith. St. Francis called the birds and beasts his brothers. Dr. Johnson believed in a future life for animals, as also did Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, Jeremy Taylor, Agassiz, Lamartine, and many Christian scholars. It seems as if they ought to have some compensation for their terrible sufferings in this world. Then to go to heaven, animals would only have to take up the thread of their lives here. Man is a god to the lower creation. Joe worships you, much as you worship your Maker. Dumb animals live in and for their masters. They hang on our words and looks, and are dependent on us in almost every way. For my own part, and looking at it from an earthly point of view, I wish with all my heart that we may find our dumb friends in paradise."

"And in the Bible," said Miss Laura, "animals are often spoken of. The dove and the raven, the wolf and the lamb, and the leopard, and the cattle that God says are his, and the little sparrow that can't fall to the ground without our Father's knowing it."

"Still, there's nothing definite about their immortality," said Mr. Harry. "However, we've got nothing to do with that. If it's right for them to be in heaven, we'll find them there. All we have to do now is to deal with the present, and the Bible plainly tells us that 'a righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.'"

"I think I would be happier in heaven if dear old Joe were there," said Miss Laura, looking wistfully at me. "He has been such a good dog. Just think how he has loved and protected me. I think I should be lonely without him."

"That reminds me of some poetry, or rather doggerel," said Mr. Harry, "that I cut out of a newspaper for you yesterday," and he drew from his pocket a little slip of paper, and read this:

"Do doggies gang to heaven, Dad?
Will oor auld Donald gang?
For noo to tak' him, faither wi' us,
Wad be maist awfu' wrang."

There was a number of other verses, telling how many kind things old Donald the dog had done for his master's family, and then it closed with these lines:

"Withoot are dogs. Eh, faither, man,
'Twould be an awfu' sin
To leave oor faithfu' doggie there,
He's certain to win in.

"Oor Donald's no like ither dogs,
He'll no be lockit oot,
If Donald's no let into heaven,
I'll no gang there one foot."

"My sentiments exactly," said a merry voice, behind Miss Laura and Mr. Harry, and looking up they saw Mr. Maxwell. He was holding out one hand to them, and in the other kept back a basket of large pears that Mr. Harry promptly took from him, and offered to Miss Laura. "I've been dependent upon animals for the most part of my comfort in this life," said Mr. Maxwell, "and I sha'n't be happy without them in heaven. I don't see how you would get on without Joe, Miss Morris, and I want my birds, and my snake, and my horse—how can I live without them? They're almost all my life here."

"If some animals go to heaven and not others, I think that the dog has the first claim," said Miss Laura. "He's the friend of man—the oldest and best. Have you ever heard the legend about him and Adam?"

"No," said Mr. Maxwell.

"Well, when Adam was turned out of paradise, all the animals shunned him, and he sat bitterly weeping with his head between his hands, when he felt the soft tongue of some creature gently touching him. He took his hands from his face, and there was a dog that had separated himself from all the other animals, and was trying to comfort him. He became the chosen friend and companion of Adam, and afterward of all men."

"There is another legend," said Mr. Harry, "about our Saviour and a dog. Have you ever heard it?"

"We'll tell you that later," said Mr. Maxwell, "when we know what it is."

Mr. Harry showed his white teeth in an amused smile, and began: "Once upon a time our Lord was going through a town with his disciples. A dead dog lay by the wayside, and every one that passed along flung some offensive epithet at him. Eastern dogs are not like our dogs, and seemingly there was nothing good about this loathsome creature, but as our Saviour went by, he said, gently, 'Pearls cannot equal the whiteness of his teeth.'"

"What was the name of that old fellow," said Mr. Maxwell, abruptly, "who had a beautiful swan that came every day for fifteen years, to bury its head in his bosom and feed from his hand, and would go near no other human being?"

"Saint Hugh, of Lincoln. We heard about him at the Band of Mercy the other day," said Miss Laura.

"I should think that he would have wanted to have that swan in heaven with him," said Mr. Maxwell. "What a beautiful creature it must have been. Speaking about animals going to heaven, I dare say some of them would object to going, on account of the company that they would meet there. Think of the dog kicked to death by his master, the horse driven into his grave, the thousands of cattle starved to death on the plains—Will they want to meet their owners in heaven?"

"According to my reckoning, their owners won't be there," said Mr. Harry. "I firmly believe that the Lord will punish every man or woman who ill-treats a dumb creature, just as surely as he will punish those who ill-treat their fellow-creatures. If a man's life has been a long series of cruelty to dumb animals, do you suppose that he would enjoy himself in heaven, which will be full of kindness to every one? Not he, he'd rather be in the other place, and there he'll go, I fully believe."

"When you've quite disposed of all your fellow-creatures and the dumb creation, Harry, perhaps you will condescend to go out in the orchard, and see how your father is getting on with picking the apples," said Mrs. Wood, joining Miss Laura and the two young men, her eyes twinkling and sparkling with amusement.

"The apples will keep, mother," said Mr. Harry, putting his arm around her. "I just came in for a moment to get Laura. Come, Maxwell, we'll all go."

"And not another word about animals," Mrs. Wood called after them. "Laura will go crazy some day, through thinking of their sufferings, if some one doesn't do something to stop her."

Miss Laura turned around suddenly. "Dear Aunt Hattie," she said, "you must not say that. I am a coward, I know, about hearing of animals' pains, but I must get over it. I want to know how they suffer. I ought to know, for when I get to be a woman, I am going to do all I can to help them."

"And I'll join you," said Mr. Maxwell, stretching out his hand to Miss Laura. She did not smile, but looking very earnestly at him, she held it clasped in her own. "You will help me care for them, will you?" she said. "Yes, I promise," he said, gravely. "I'll give myself to the service of dumb animals, if you will."

"And I too," said Mr. Harry, in his deep voice, laying his hand across theirs. Mrs. Wood stood looking at their three fresh, eager, young faces, with tears in her eyes. Just as they all stood silently for an instant, the old village clergyman came into the room from the hall. He must have heard what they said, for before they could move he had laid his hands on their three, brown heads. "Bless you, my children," he said, "God will lift up the light of his countenance upon you, for you have given yourselves to a noble work. In serving dumb creatures, you are ennobling the human race."

Then he sat down in a chair and looked at them. He was a venerable old man, and had long, white hair, and the Woods thought a great deal of him. He had come to get Mrs. Wood to make some nourishing dishes for a sick woman in the village, and while he was talking to her, Miss Laura and the two young men went out of the house. They hurried across the veranda and over the lawn, talking and laughing, and enjoying themselves as only happy young people can, and with not a trace of their seriousness of a few moments before on their faces.

They were going so fast that they ran right into a flock of geese that were coming up the lane. They were driven by a little boy called Tommy, the son of one of Mr. Wood's farm laborers, and they were chattering and gabbling, and seemed very angry. "What's all this about?" said Mr. Harry, stopping and looking at the boy. "What's the matter with your feathered charges, Tommy, my lad?"

"If it's the geese you mean," said the boy, half crying and looking very much put out, "it's all them nasty potatoes. They won't keep away from them."

"So the potatoes chase the geese, do they," said Mr. Maxwell, teasingly.

"No, no," said the child, pettishly, "Mr. Wood he sets me to watch the geese, and they runs in among the buck-wheat and the potatoes, and I tries to drive them out, and they doesn't want to come, and," shamefacedly, "I has to switch their feet, and I hates to do it, 'cause I'm a Band of Mercy boy."

"Tommy, my son," said Mr. Maxwell, solemnly, "You will go right to heaven when you die, and your geese will go with you."

"Hush, hush," said Miss Laura; "don't tease him," and putting her arm on the child's shoulder, she said, "You are a good boy, Tommy, not to want to hurt the geese. Let me see your switch, dear."

He showed her a little stick he had in his hand, and she said, "I don't think you could hurt them much with that, and if they will be naughty and steal the potatoes, you have to drive them out. Take some of my pears and eat them, and you will forget your trouble." The child took the fruit, and Miss Laura and the two young men went on their way, smiling, and looking over their shoulders at Tommy, who stood in the middle of the lane, devouring his pears and keeping one eye on the geese that had gathered a little in front of him, and were gabbling noisily and having a kind of indignation meeting, because they had been driven out of the potato field.

Tommy's father and mother lived in a little house down near the road. Mr. Wood never had his hired men live in his own house. He had two small houses for them to live in, and they were required to keep them as neat as Mr. Wood's own house was kept. He said that he didn't see why he should keep a boarding house, if he was a farmer, nor why his wife should wear herself out waiting on strong, hearty men, that had just as soon take care of themselves. He wished to have his own family about him, and it was better for his men to have some kind of family life for themselves. If one of his men was unmarried, he boarded with the married one, but slept in his own house.

On this October day we found Mr. Wood hard at work under the fruit trees. He had a good many different kind of apples. Enormous red ones, and long, yellow ones that they called pippins, and little brown ones, and smooth-coated sweet ones, and bright red ones, and others, more than I could mention. Miss Laura often pared one and cut off little bits for me, for I always wanted to eat whatever I saw her eating.

Just a few days after this, Miss Laura and I returned to Fairport, and some of Mr. Wood's apples traveled along with us, for he sent a good many to the Boston market. Mr. and Mrs. Wood came to the station to see us off. Mr. Harry could not come, for he had left Riverdale the day before to go back to his college. Mrs. Wood said that she would be very lonely without her two young people, and she kissed Miss Laura over and over again, and made her promise to come back again the next summer.

I was put in a box in the express car, and Mr. Wood told the agent that if he knew what was good for him he would speak to me occasionally, for I was a very knowing dog, and if he didn't treat me well, I'd be apt to write him up in the newspapers. The agent laughed, and quite often on the way to Fairport, he came to my box and spoke kindly to me. So I did not get so lonely and frightened as I did on my way to Riverdale.

How glad the Morrises were to see us coming back. The boys had all gotten home before us, and such a fuss as they did make over their sister. They loved her dearly, and never wanted her to be long away from them. I was rubbed and stroked, and had to run about offering my paw to every one. Jim and little Billy licked my face, and Bella croaked out, "Glad to see you, Joe. Had a good time? How's your health?"

We soon settled down for the winter. Miss Laura began going to school, and came home every day with a pile of books under her arm. The summer in the country had done her so much good that her mother often looked at her fondly, and said the white-faced child she sent away had come home a nut-brown maid.