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Chapter 10 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

When Billy was five months old, he had his first walk in the street. Miss Laura knew that he had been well trained, so she did not hesitate to take him into the town. She was not the kind of a young lady to go into the street with a dog that would not behave himself, and she was never willing to attract attention to herself by calling out orders to any of her pets.

As soon as we got down the front steps, she said, quietly to Billy, “To heel.” It was very hard for little, playful Billy to keep close to her when he saw so many new and wonderful things about him. He had gotten acquainted with everything in the house and garden, but this outside world was full of things he wanted to look at and smell of, and he was fairly crazy to play with some of the pretty dogs he saw running about. But he did just as he was told.

Soon we came to a shop, and Miss Laura went in to buy some ribbons. She said to me, “Stay out,” but Billy she took in with her. I watched them through the glass door, and saw her go to a counter and sit down. Billy stood behind her till she said, “Lie down.” Then he curled himself at her feet.

He lay quietly, even when she left him and went to another counter. But he eyed her very anxiously till she came back and said, “Up,” to him. Then he sprang up and followed her out to the street.

She stood in the shop door, and looked lovingly down on us as we fawned on her. “Good dogs,” she said, softly; “you shall have a present.” We went behind her again, and she took us to a shop where we both lay beside the counter. When we heard her ask the clerk for solid rubber balls, we could scarcely keep still. We both knew what “ball” meant.

Taking the parcel in her hand, she came out into the street. She did not do any more shopping, but turned her face toward the sea. She was going to give us a nice walk along the beach, although it was a dark, disagreeable, cloudy day when most young ladies would have stayed in the house. The Morris children never minded the weather. Even in the pouring rain, the boys would put on rubber boots and coats and go out to play. Miss Laura walked along, the high wind blowing her cloak and dress about, and when we got past the houses, she had a little run with us.

We jumped, and frisked, and barked, till we were tired; and then we walked quietly along.

A little distance ahead of us were some boys throwing sticks in the water for two Newfoundland dogs. Suddenly a quarrel sprang up between the dogs. They were both powerful creatures, and fairly matched as regarded size. It was terrible to hear their fierce growling, and to see the way in which they tore at each other's throats. I looked at Miss Laura. If she had said a word, I would have run in and helped the dog that was getting the worst of it. But she told me to keep back, and ran on herself.

The boys were throwing water on the dogs and pulling their tails, and hurling stones at them, but they could not separate them. Their heads seemed locked together, and they went back and forth over the stones, the boys crowding around them, shouting, and beating, and kicking at them.

“Stand back, boys,” said Miss Laura, “I'll stop them.” She pulled a little parcel from her purse, bent over the dogs, scattered a powder on their noses, and the next instant the dogs were yards apart, nearly sneezing their heads off.

“I say, Missis, what did you do? What's that stuff? Whew, it's pepper!” the boys exclaimed.

Miss Laura sat down on a flat rock, and looked at them with a very pale face. “Oh, boys,” she said, “why did you make those dogs fight? It is so cruel. They were playing happily till you set them on each other. Just see how they have torn their handsome coats, and how the blood is dripping from them.”

“'Taint my fault,” said one of the lads, sullenly. “Jim Jones there said his dog could lick my dog, and I said he couldn't and he couldn't, nuther.”

“Yes, he could,” cried the other boy, “and if you say he couldn't, I'll smash your head.”

The two boys began sidling up to each other with clenched fists, and a third boy, who had a mischievous face, seized the paper that had had the pepper in it, and running up to them shook it in their faces.

There was enough left to put all thoughts of fighting out of their heads. They began to cough, and choke, and splutter, and finally found themselves beside the dogs, where the four of them had a lively time.

The other boys yelled with delight, and pointed their fingers at them. “A sneezing concert. Thank you, gentlemen. Angcore, angcore!”

Miss Laura laughed too, she could not help it, and even Billy and I curled up our lips. After a while they sobered down, and then finding that the boys hadn't a handkerchief between them, Miss Laura took her own soft one, and dipping it in a spring of fresh water near by, wiped the red eyes of the sneezers.

Their ill humor had gone, and when she turned to leave them, and said, coaxingly, “You won't make those dogs fight any more, will you?” they said, “No, sirree, Bob.”

Miss Laura went slowly home, and ever afterward when she met any of those boys, they called her “Miss Pepper.”

When we got home we found Willie curled up by the window in the hall, reading a book. He was too fond of reading, and his mother often told him to put away his book and run about with the other boys. This afternoon Miss Laura laid her hand on his shoulder and said, “I was going to give the dogs a little game of ball, but I'm rather tired.”

“Gammon and spinach,” he replied, shaking off her hand, “you're always tired.”

She sat down in a hall chair and looked at him. Then she began to tell him about the dog fight. He was much interested, and the book slipped to the floor. When she finished he said, “You're a daisy every day. Go now and rest yourself.” Then snatching the balls from her, he called us and ran down to the basement. But he was not quick enough though to escape her arm. She caught him to her and kissed him repeatedly. He was the baby and pet of the family, and he loved her dearly, though he spoke impatiently to her oftener than either of the other boys.

We had a grand game with Willie. Miss Laura had trained us to do all kinds of things with balls jumping for them, playing hide-and-seek, and catching them.

Billy could do more things than I could. One thing he did which I thought was very clever. He played ball by himself. He was so crazy about ball play that he could never get enough of it. Miss Laura played all she could with him, but she had to help her mother with the sewing and the housework, and do lessons with her father, for she was only seventeen years old, and had not left off studying. So Billy would take his ball and go off by himself. Sometimes he rolled it over the floor, and sometimes he threw it in the air and pushed it through the staircase railings to the hall below. He always listened till he heard it drop, then he ran down and brought it back and pushed it through again. He did this till he was tired, and then he brought the ball and laid it at Miss Laura's feet.

We both had been taught a number of tricks. We could sneeze and cough, and be dead dogs, and say our prayers, and stand on our heads, and mount a ladder and say the alphabet, this was the hardest of all, and it took Miss Laura a long time to teach us. We never began till a book was laid before us. Then we stared at it, and Miss Laura said, “Begin, Joe and Billy say A.”

For A, we gave a little squeal. B was louder C was louder still. We barked for some letters, and growled for others. We always turned a summersault for S. When we got to Z, we gave the book a push and had a frolic around the room.

When any one came in, and Miss Laura had us show off any of our tricks, the remark always was, “What clever dogs. They are not like other dogs.”

That was a mistake. Billy and I were not any brighter than many a miserable cur that skulked about the streets of Fairport. It was kindness and patience that did it all. When I was with Jenkins he thought I was a very stupid dog. He would have laughed at the idea of any one teaching me anything. But I was only sullen and obstinate, because I was kicked about so much. If he had been kind to me, I would have done anything for him.

I loved to wait on Miss Laura and Mrs. Morris and they taught both Billy and me to make ourselves useful about the house. Mrs. Morris didn't like going up and down the three long staircases, and sometimes we just raced up and down, waiting on her.

How often I have heard her go into the hall and say, “Please send me down a clean duster, Laura. Joe, you get it.” I would run gayly up the steps, and then would come Billy's turn. “Billy, I have forgotten my keys. Go get them.”

After a time we began to know the names of different articles, and where they were kept, and could get them ourselves. On sweeping days we worked very hard, and enjoyed the fun. If Mrs. Morris was too far away to call to Mary for what she wanted, she wrote the name on a piece of paper, and told us to take it to her.

Billy always took the letters from the postman, and carried the morning paper up to Mr. Morris's study, and I always put away the clean clothes. After they were mended, Mrs. Morris folded each article and gave it to me, mentioning the name of the owner, so that I could lay it on his bed, There was no need for her to tell me the names. I knew by the smell. All human beings have a strong smell to a dog, even though they mayn't notice it themselves. Mrs. Morris never knew how she bothered me by giving away Miss Laura's clothes to poor people. Once, I followed her track all through the town, and at last found it was only a pair of her boots on a ragged child in the gutter.

I must say a word about Billy's tail before I close this chapter. It is the custom to cut the ends of fox terrier's tails, but leave their ears untouched. Billy came to Miss Laura so young that his tail had not been cut off, and she would not have it done.

One day Mr. Robinson came in to see him and he said, “You have made a fine-looking dog of him, but his appearance is ruined by the length of his tail.”

“Mr. Robinson,” said Mrs. Morris, patting little Billy, who lay on her lap, “don't you think that this little dog has a beautifully proportioned body?”

“Yes, I do,” said the gentleman. “His points are all correct, save that one.”

“But,” she said, “if our Creator made that beautiful little body, don't you think he is wise enough to know what length of tail would be in proportion to it?”

Mr. Robinson would not answer her. He only laughed and said that he thought she and Miss Laura were both “cranks.”

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