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Chapter 13 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

The first winter I was at the Morrises', I had an adventure. It was a week before Christmas, and we were having cold, frosty weather. Not much snow had fallen, but there was plenty of skating, and the boys were off every day with their skates on a little lake near Fairport.

Jim and I often went with them, and we had great fun scampering over the ice after them, and slipping at every step.

On this Saturday night we had just gotten home. It was quite dark outside, and there was a cold wind blowing, so when we came in the front door, and saw the red light from the big hall stove and the blazing fire in the parlor they looked very cheerful.

I was quite sorry for Jim that he had to go out to his kennel. However, he said he didn't mind. The boys got a plate of nice, warm meat for him and a bowl of milk, and carried them out, and afterward he went to sleep. Jim's kennel was a very snug one. Being a spaniel, he was not a very large dog, but his kennel was as roomy as if he was a great Dane. He told me that Mr. Morris and the boys made it, and he liked it very much, because it was large enough for him to get up in the night and stretch himself, when he got tired of lying in one position.

It was raised a little from the ground, and it had a thick layer of straw over the floor. Above was a broad shelf, wide enough for him to lie on, and covered with an old catskin sleigh robe. Jim always slept here in cold weather, because it was farther away from the ground.

To return to this December evening. I can remember yet how hungry I was. I could scarcely lie still till Miss Laura finished her tea. Mrs. Morris, knowing that her boys would be very hungry, had Mary broil some beefsteak and roast some potatoes for them; and didn't they smell good!

They ate all the steak and potatoes. It didn't matter to me, for I wouldn't have gotten any if they had been left. Mrs. Morris could not afford to give to the dogs good meat that she had gotten for her children, so she used to get the butcher to send her liver, and bones, and tough meat, and Mary cooked them, and made soup and broth, and mixed porridge with them for us.

We never got meat three times a day. Miss Laura said it was all very well to feed hunting dogs on meat, but dogs that are kept about a house get ill if they are fed too well. So we had meat only once a day, and bread and milk, porridge, or dog biscuits, for our other meals.

I made a dreadful noise when I was eating. Ever since Jenkins cut my ears off, I had had trouble in breathing. The flaps had kept the wind and dust from the inside of my ears. Now that they were gone my head was stuffed up all the time. The cold weather made me worse, and sometimes I had such trouble to get my breath that it seemed as if I would choke. If I had opened my mouth, and breathed through it, as I have seen some people doing, I would have been more comfortable, but dogs always like to breathe through their noses.

“You have taken more cold,” said Miss Laura, this night, as she put my plate of food on the floor for me. “Finish your meat, and then come and sit by the fire with me. What! do you want more?”

I gave a little bark, so she filled my plate for the second time. Miss Laura never allowed any one to meddle with us when we were eating. One day she found Willie teasing me by snatching at a bone that I was gnawing. “Willie,” she said, “what would you do if you were just sitting down to the table feeling very hungry, and just as you began to eat your meat and potatoes, I would come along and snatch the plate from you?”

“I don't know what I'd do,” he said, laughingly; “but I'd want to wallop you.”

“Well,” she said, “I'm afraid that Joe will 'wallop' you some day if you worry him about his food, for even a gentle dog will sometimes snap at any one who disturbs him at his meals; so you had better not try his patience too far.”

Willie never teased me after that, and I was very glad, for two or three times I had been tempted to snarl at him.

After I finished my tea, I followed Miss Laura upstairs. She took up a book and sat down in a low chair, and I lay down on the hearth rug beside her.

“Do you know, Joe,” she said with a smile, “why you scratch with your paws when you lie down, as if to make yourself a hollow bed, and turn around a great many times before you lie down?”

Of course I did not know, so I only stared at her. “Years and years ago,” she went on, gazing down at me, “there weren't any dogs living in people's houses, as you are, Joe. They were all wild creatures running about the woods. They always scratched among the leaves to make a comfortable bed for themselves, and the habit has come down to you, Joe, for you are descended from them.”

This sounded very interesting, and I think she was going to tell me some more about my wild forefathers, but just then the rest of the family came in.

I always thought that this was the snuggest time of the day when the family all sat around the fire Mrs. Morris sewing, the boys reading or studying, and Mr. Morris with his head buried in a newspaper, and Billy and I on the floor at their feet.

This evening I was feeling very drowsy, and had almost dropped asleep, when Ned gave me a push with his foot. He was a great tease, and he delighted in getting me to make a simpleton of myself. I tried to keep my eyes on the fire, but I could not, and just had to turn and look at him.

He was holding his book up between himself and his mother, and was opening his mouth as wide as he could and throwing back his head, pretending to howl.

For the life of me I could not help giving a loud howl. Mrs. Morris looked up and said, “Bad Joe, keep still.”

The boys were all laughing behind their books, for they knew what Ned was doing. Presently he started off again, and I was just beginning another howl that might have made Mrs. Morris send me out of the room, when the door opened, and a young girl called Bessie Drury came in.

She had a cap on and a shawl thrown over her shoulders, and she had just run across the street from her father's house. “Oh, Mrs. Morris,” she said, “will you let Laura come over and stay with me to-night? Mamma has just gotten a telegram from Bangor, saying that her aunt, Mrs. Cole, is very ill, and she wants to see her, and papa is going to take her there by tonight's train, and she is afraid I will be lonely if I don't have Laura.”

“Can you not come and spend the night here?” said Mrs. Morris.

“No, thank you; I think mamma would rather have me stay in our house.”

“Very well,” said Mrs. Morris, “I think Laura would like to go.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Miss Laura, smiling at her friend. “I will come over in half an hour.”

“Thank you, so much,” said Miss Bessie. And she hurried away.

After she left, Mr. Morris looked up from his paper. “There will be some one in the house besides those two girls?”

“Oh, yes,” said Mrs. Morris; “Mrs. Drury has her old nurse, who has been with her for twenty years, and there are two maids besides, and Donald, the coachman, who sleeps over the stable. So they are well protected.”

“Very good,” said Mr. Morris. And he went back to his paper.

Of course dumb animals do not understand all that they hear spoken of; but I think human beings would be astonished if they knew how much we can gather from their looks and voices. I knew that Mr. Morris did not quite like the idea of having his daughter go to the Drury's when the master and mistress of the house were away, so I made up my mind that I would go with her.

When she came down stairs with her little satchel on her arm, I got up and stood beside her. “Dear, old Joe,” she said, “you must not come.”

I pushed myself out the door beside her after she had kissed her mother and father and the boys. “Go back, Joe,” she said, firmly.

I had to step back then, but I cried and whined, and she looked at me in astonishment. “I will be back in the morning, Joe,” she said, gently; “don't squeal in that way.” Then she shut the door and went out.

I felt dreadfully. I walked up and down the floor and ran to the window, and howled without having to look at Ned. Mrs. Morris peered over her glasses at me in utter surprise. “Boys,” she said, “did you ever see Joe act in that way before?”

“No, mother,” they all said.

Mr. Morris was looking at me very intently. He had always taken more notice of me than any other creature about the house, and I was very fond of him. Now I ran up and put my paws on his knees.

“Mother,” he said, turning to his wife, “let the dog go.”

“Very well,” she said, in a puzzled way. “Jack, just run over with him, and tell Mrs. Drury how he is acting, and that I will be very much obliged if she will let him stay all night with Laura.”

Jack sprang up, seized his cap, and raced down the front steps, across the street, through the gate, and up the gravelled walk, where the little stones were all hard and fast in the frost.

The Drurys lived in a large, white house, with trees all around it, and a garden at the back. They were rich people and had a great deal of company. Through the summer I had often seen carriages at the door, and ladies and gentlemen in light clothes walking over the lawn, and sometimes I smelled nice things they were having to eat. They did not keep any dogs, nor pets of any kind so Jim and I never had an excuse to call there.

Jack and I were soon at the front door, and he rang the bell and gave me in charge of the maid who opened it. The girl listened to his message for Mrs. Drury, then she walked upstairs, smiling and looking at me over her shoulder.

There was a trunk in the upper hall, and an elderly woman was putting things in it. A lady stood watching her, and when she saw me, she gave a little scream, “Oh, nurse! look at that horrid dog! Where did he come from? Put him out, Susan.”

I stood quite still, and the girl who had brought me upstairs, gave her Jack's message.

“Certainly, certainly,” said the lady, when the maid finished speaking. “If he is one of the Morris dogs, he is sure to be a well-behaved one. Tell the little boy to thank his mamma for letting Laura come over, and say that we will keep the dog with pleasure. Now, nurse, we must hurry: the cab will be here in five minutes.”

I walked softly into a front room, and there I found my dear Miss Laura. Miss Bessie was with her, and they were cramming things into a portmanteau. They both ran out to find out how I came there, and just then a gentleman came hurriedly upstairs, and said the cab had come.

There was a scene of great confusion and hurry but in a few minutes it was all over. The cab had rolled away, and the house was quiet.

“Nurse, you must be tired, you had better go to bed,” said Miss Bessie, turning to the elderly woman, as we all stood in the hall. “Susan, will you bring some supper to the dining-room, for Miss Morris and me? What will you have, Laura?”

“What are you going to have?” asked Miss Laura, with a smile.

“Hot chocolate and tea biscuits.”

“Then I will have the same.”

“Bring some cake too, Susan,” said Miss Bessie, “and something for the dog. I dare say he would like some of that turkey that was left from dinner.”

If I had had any ears I would have pricked them up at this, for I was very fond of fowl, and I never got any at the Morrises', unless it might be a stray bone or two.

What fun we had over our supper! The two girls sat at the big dining table, and sipped their chocolate, and laughed and talked, and I had the skeleton of a whole turkey on a newspaper that Susan spread on the carpet. I was very careful not to drag it about, and Miss Bessie laughed at me till the tears came in her eyes. “That dog is a gentleman,” she said; “see how he holds bones on the paper with his paws, and strips the meat off with his teeth. Oh, Joe, Joe, you are a funny dog! And you are having a funny supper. I have heard of quail on toast, but I never heard of turkey on newspaper.”

“Hadn't we better go to bed?” said Miss Laura, when the hall clock struck eleven.

“Yes, I suppose we had,” said Miss Bessie.

“Where is this animal to sleep?”

“I don't know,” said Miss Laura; “he sleeps in the stable at home, or in the kennel with Jim.”

“Suppose Susan makes him a nice bed by the kitchen stove?” said Miss Bessie.

Susan made the bed, but I was not willing to sleep in it. I barked so loudly when they shut me up alone, that they had to let me go upstairs with them.

Miss Laura was almost angry with me, but I could not help it. I had come over there to protect her, and I wasn't going to leave her, if I could help it.

Miss Bessie had a handsomely furnished room with a soft carpet on the floor, and pretty curtains at the windows. There were two single beds in it, and the two girls dragged them close together so that they could talk after they got in bed.

Before Miss Bessie put out the light, she told Miss Laura not to be alarmed if she heard any one walking about in the night, for the nurse was sleeping across the hall from them, and she would probably come in once or twice to see if they were sleeping comfortably.

The two girls talked for a long time, and then they fell asleep. Just before Miss Laura dropped off, she forgave me, and put down her hand for me to lick as I lay on a fur rug close by her bed.

I was very tired, and I had a very soft and pleasant bed, so I soon fell into a heavy sleep. But I waked up at the slightest noise. Once Miss Laura turned in bed, and another time Miss Bessie laughed in her sleep, and again, there were queer crackling noises in the frosty limbs of the trees outside, that made me start up quickly out of my sleep.

There was a big clock in the hall, and every time it struck I waked up. Once, just after it had struck some hour, I jumped up out of a sound nap. I had been dreaming about my early home. Jenkins was after me with a whip, and my limbs were quivering and trembling as if I had been trying to get away from him.

I sprang up and shook myself. Then I took a turn around the room. The two girls were breathing gently; I could scarcely hear them. I walked to the door and looked out into the hall. There was a dim light burning there. The door of the nurse's room stood open. I went quietly to it and looked in. She was breathing heavily and muttering in her sleep.

I went back to my rug and tried to go to sleep, but I could not. Such an uneasy feeling was upon me that I had to keep walking about. I went out into the hall again and stood at the head of the staircase. I thought I would take a walk through the lower hall, and then go to bed again.

The Drurys' carpets were all like velvet, and my paws did not make a rattling on them as they did on the oil cloth at the Morrises'. I crept down the stairs like a cat, and walked along the lower hall, smelling under all the doors, listening as I went. There was no night light burning down here, and it was quite dark, but if there had been any strange person about I would have smelled him.

I was surprised when I got near the farther end of the hall, to see a tiny gleam of light shine for an instant from under the dining-room door. Then it went away again. The dining-room was the place to eat. Surely none of the people in the house would be there after the supper we had.

I went and sniffed under the door. There was a smell there; a strong smell like beggars and poor people. It smelled like Jenkins. It was.

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