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Chapter 16 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

“My dear niece,” and a stout, middle-aged woman, with a red, lively face, threw both her arms around Miss Laura. “How glad I am to see you, and this is the dog. Good Joe, I have a bone waiting for you. Here is Uncle John.”

A tall, good-looking man stepped up and put out a big hand, in which my mistress' little fingers were quite swallowed up. “I am glad to see you, Laura. Well, Joe, how d'ye do, old boy? I've heard about you.”

It made me feel very welcome to have them both notice me, and I was so glad to be out of the train that I frisked for joy around their feet as we went to the wagon. It was a big double one, with an awning over it to shelter it from the sun's rays, and the horses were drawn up in the shade of a spreading tree. They were two powerful black horses, and as they had no blinders on, they could see us coming. Their faces lighted up and they moved their ears and pawed the ground, and whinnied when Mr. Wood went up to them. They tried to rub their heads against him, and I saw plainly that they loved him. “Steady there, Cleve and Pacer,” he said; “now back, back up.”

By this time, Mrs. Wood, Miss Laura and I were in the wagon. Then Mr. Wood jumped in, took up the reins, and off we went. How the two black horses did spin along! I sat on the seat beside Mr. Wood, and sniffed in the delicious air, and the lovely smell of flowers and grass. How glad I was to be in the country! What long races I should have in the green fields. I wished that I had another dog to run with me, and wondered very much whether Mr. Wood kept one. I knew I should soon find out, for whenever Miss Laura went to a place she wanted to know what animals there were about.

We drove a little more than a mile along a country road where there were scattered houses. Miss Laura answered questions about her family, and asked questions about Mr. Harry, who was away at college and hadn't got home. I don't think I have said before that Mr. Harry was Mrs. Wood's son. She was a widow with one son when she married Mr. Wood, so that Mr. Harry, though the Morrises called him cousin, was not really their cousin.

I was very glad to hear them say that he was soon coming home, for I had never forgotten that but for him I should never have known Miss Laura and gotten into my pleasant home.

By-and-by, I heard Miss Laura say: “Uncle John, have you a dog?”

“Yes, Laura,” he said; “I have one to-day, but I sha'n't have one to-morrow.”

“Oh, uncle, what do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, Laura,” he replied, “you know animals are pretty much like people. There are some good ones and some bad ones. Now, this dog is a snarling, cross-grained, cantankerous beast, and when I heard Joe was coming, I said: 'Now we'll have a good dog about the place, and here's an end to the bad one.' So I tied Bruno up, and to-morrow I shall shoot him. Something's got to be done, or he'll be biting some one.”

“Uncle,” said Miss Laura, “people don't always die when they are bitten by dogs, do they?”

“No, certainly not,” replied Mr. Wood. “In my humble opinion there's a great lot of nonsense talked about the poison of a dog's bite and people dying of hydrophobia. Ever since I was born I've had dogs snap at me and stick their teeth in my flesh; and I've never had a symptom of hydrophobia, and never intend to have. I believe half the people that are bitten by dogs frighten themselves into thinking they are fatally poisoned. I was reading the other day about the policemen in a big city in England that have to catch stray dogs, and dogs supposed to be mad, and all kinds of dogs, and they get bitten over and over again, and never think anything about it. But let a lady or a gentleman walking along the street have a dog bite them, and they worry themselves till their blood is in a fever, and they have to hurry across to France to get Pasteur to cure them. They imagine they've got hydrophobia, and they've got it because they imagine it. I believe if I fixed my attention on that right thumb of mine, and thought I had a sore there, and picked at it and worried it, in a short time a sore would come, and I'd be off to the doctor to have it cured. At the same time dogs have no business to bite, and I don't recommend any one to get bitten.”

“But, uncle,” said Miss Laura, “isn't there such a thing as hydrophobia?”

“Oh, yes; I dare say there is. I believe that a careful examination of the records of death reported in Boston from hydrophobia for the space of thirty-two years, shows that two people actually died from it. Dogs are like all other animals. They're liable to sickness, and they've got to be watched. I think my horses would go mad if I starved them, or over-fed them, or over-worked them, or let them stand in laziness, or kept them dirty, or didn't give them water enough. They'd get some disease, anyway. If a person owns an animal, let him take care of it, and it's all right. If it shows signs of sickness, shut it up and watch it. If the sickness is incurable, kill it. Here's a sure way to prevent hydrophobia. Kill off all ownerless and vicious dogs. If you can't do that, have plenty of water where they can get at it. A dog that has all the water he wants, will never go mad. This dog of mine has not one single thing the matter with him but pure ugliness. Yet, if I let him loose, and he ran through the village with his tongue out, I'll warrant you there'd be a cry of 'mad dog!' However, I'm going to kill him. I've no use for a bad dog. Have plenty of animals, I say, and treat them kindly, but if there's a vicious one among them, put it out of the way, for it is a constant danger to man and beast. It's queer how ugly some people are about their dogs. They'll keep them no matter how they worry other people, and even when they're snatching the bread out of their neighbors' mouths. But I say that is not the fault of the four-legged dog. A human dog is the worst of all. There's a band of sheep-killing dogs here in Riverdale, that their owners can't, or won't, keep out of mischief. Meek-looking fellows some of them are. The owners go to bed at night, and the dogs pretend to go, too; but when the house is quiet and the family asleep, off goes Rover or Fido to worry poor, defenseless creatures that can't defend themselves. Their taste for sheep's blood is like the taste for liquor in men, and the dogs will travel as far to get their fun, as the men will travel for theirs. They've got it in them, and you can't get it out.”

“Mr. Windham cured his dog,” said Mrs. Wood.

Mr. Wood burst into a hearty laugh. “So he did, so he did. I must tell Laura about that. Windham is a neighbor of ours, and last summer I kept telling him that his collie was worrying my Shropshires. He wouldn't believe me, but I knew I was right, and one night when Harry was home, he lay in wait for the dog and lassoed him. I tied him up and sent for Windham. You should have seen his face, and the dog's face. He said two words, 'You scoundrel!' and the dog cowered at his feet as if he had been shot. He was a fine dog, but he'd got corrupted by evil companions. Then Windham asked me where my sheep were. I told him in the pasture. He asked me if I still had my old ram Bolton. I said yes, and then he wanted eight or ten feet of rope. I gave it to him, and wondered what on earth he was going to do with it. He tied one end of it to the dog's collar, and holding the other in his hand, set out for the pasture. He asked us to go with him, and when he got there, he told Harry he'd like to see him catch Bolton. There wasn't any need to catch him, he'd come to us like a dog. Harry whistled, and when Bolton came up, Windham fastened the rope's end to his horns, and let him go. The ram was frightened and ran, dragging the dog with him. We let them out of the pasture into an open field, and for a few minutes there was such a racing and chasing over that field as I never saw before. Harry leaned up against the bars and laughed till the tears rolled down his cheeks. Then Bolton got mad, and began to make battle with the dog, pitching into him with his horns. We soon stopped that, for the spirit had all gone out of Dash. Windham unfastened the rope, and told him to get home, and if ever I saw a dog run, that one did. Mrs. Windham set great store by him, and her husband didn't want to kill him. But he said Dash had got to give up his sheep-killing, if he wanted to live. That cured him. He's never worried a sheep from that day to this, and if you offer him a bit of sheep's wool now, he tucks his tail between his legs, and runs for home. Now, I must stop my talk, for we're in sight of the farm. Yonder's our boundary line, and there's the house. You'll see a difference in the trees since you were here before.”

We had come to a turn in the road where the ground sloped gently upward. We turned in at the gate, and drove between rows of trees up to a long, low; red house, with a veranda all round it. There was a wide lawn in front, and away on our right were the farm buildings. They too, were painted red, and there were some trees by them that Mr. Wood called his windbreak, because they kept the snow from drifting in the winter time.

I thought it was a beautiful place. Miss Laura had been here before, but not for some years, so she, too, was looking about quite eagerly.

“Welcome to Dingley Farm, Joe,” said Mrs. Wood, with her jolly laugh, as she watched me jump from the carriage seat to the ground. “Come in, and I'll introduce you to pussy.”

“Aunt Hattie, why is the farm called Dingley Farm?” said Miss Laura, as we went into the house. “It ought to be Wood Farm.”

“Dingley is made out of 'dingle,' Laura. You know that pretty hollow back of the pasture? It is what they call a 'dingle.' So this farm was called Dingle Farm till the people around about got saying 'Dingley' instead. I suppose they found it easier. Why, here is Lolo coming to see Joe.”

Walking along the wide hall that ran through the house was a large tortoise-shell cat. She had a prettily marked face, and she was waving her large tail like a flag, and mewing kindly to greet her mistress. But when she saw me what a face she made. She flew on the hall table, and putting up her back till it almost lifted her feet from the ground, began to spit at me and bristle with rage.

“Poor Lolo,” said Mrs. Wood, going up to her. “Joe is a good dog, and not like Bruno. He won't hurt you.”

I wagged myself about a little, and looked kindly at her, but she did nothing but say bad words to me. It was weeks and weeks before I made friends with that cat. She was a young thing, and had known only one dog, and he was a bad one, so she supposed all dogs were like him.

There was a number of rooms opening off the hall, and one of them was the dining room where they had tea. I lay on a rug outside the door and watched them. There was a small table spread with a white cloth, and it had pretty dishes and glassware on it, and a good many different kinds of things to eat. A little French girl, called Adele, kept coming and going from the kitchen to give them hot cakes, and fried eggs, and hot coffee. As soon as they finished their tea, Mrs. Wood gave me one of the best meals that I ever had in my life.

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