Chapter 19 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

A few evenings after we came to Dingley Farm, Mrs. Wood and Miss Laura were sitting out on the veranda, and I was lying at their feet.

“Auntie,” said Miss Laura, “What do those letters mean on that silver pin that you wear with that piece of ribbon?”

“You know what the white ribbon means, don't you?” asked Mrs. Wood.

“Yes; that you are a temperance woman, doesn't it?”

“It does; and the star pin means that I am a member of a Band of Mercy. Do you know what a Band of Mercy is?”

“No,” said Miss Laura.

“How strange! I should think that you would have several in Fairport. A cripple boy, the son of a Boston artist, started this one here. It has done a great deal of good. There is a meeting to-morrow, and I will take you to it if you like.”

It was on Monday that Mrs. Wood had this talk with Miss Laura, and the next afternoon, after all the work was done, they got ready to go to the village.

“May Joe go?” asked Miss Laura.

“Certainly,” said Mrs. Wood; “he is such good dog that he won't be any trouble.”

I was very glad to hear this, and trotted along by them down the lane to the road. The lane was a very cool and pleasant place. There were tall trees growing on each side, and under them, among the grass, pretty wild flowers were peeping out to look at us as we went by.

Mrs. Wood and Miss Laura talked all the way about the Band of Mercy. Miss Laura was much interested, and said that she would like to start one in Fairport.

“It is a very simple thing,” said Mrs. Wood. “All you have to do is to write the pledge at the top of a piece of paper: 'I will try to be kind to all harmless living creatures, and try to protect them from cruel usage,' and get thirty people to sign it. That makes a band.

“I have formed two or three bands by keeping slips of paper ready, and getting people that come to visit me to sign them. I call them 'Corresponding Bands,' for they are too far apart to meet. I send the members 'Band of Mercy' papers, and I get such nice letters from them, telling me of kind things they do for animals.

“A Band of Mercy in a place is a splendid thing. There's the greatest difference in Riverdale since this one was started. A few years ago, when a man beat or raced his horse, and any one interfered, he said: 'This horse is mine; I'll do what I like with him.' Most people thought he was right, but now they're all for the poor horse, and there isn't a man anywhere around who would dare to abuse any animal.

“It's all the children. They're doing a grand work, and I say it's a good thing for them. Since we've studied this subject, it's enough to frighten one to read what is sent us about our American boys and girls. Do you know, Laura, that with all our brag about our schools and colleges, that really are wonderful, we're turning out more criminals than any other civilized country in the world, except Spain and Italy? The cause of it is said to be lack of proper training for the youth of our land. Immigration has something to do with it, too. We're thinking too much about educating the mind, and forgetting about the heart and soul. So I say now, while we've got all our future population in our schools, saints and sinners, good people and bad people, let us try to slip in something between the geography, and history, and grammar that will go a little deeper, and touch them so much, that when they are grown up and go out in the world, they will carry with them lessons of love and good-will to men.

“A little child is such a tender thing. You can bend it anyway you like. Speaking of this heart education of children, as set over against mind education, I see that many school-teachers say that there is nothing better than to give them lessons on kindness to animals. Children who are taught to love and protect dumb creature, will be kind to their fellow-men when they grow up.”

I was very much pleased with this talk between Mrs. Wood and Miss Laura, and kept close to them so that I would not miss a word.

As we went along, houses began to appear here and there, set back from the road among the trees. Soon they got quite close together, and I saw some shops.

This was the village of Riverdale, and nearly all the buildings were along this winding street. The river was away back of the village. We had already driven there several times.

We passed the school on our way. It was a square, white building, standing in the middle of a large yard. Boys and girls, with their arms full of books, were hurrying down the steps and coming into the street. Two quite big boys came behind us, and Mrs. Wood turned around and spoke to them, and asked if they were going to the Band of Mercy.

“Oh, yes, ma'am,” said the younger one “I've got a recitation, don't you remember?”

“Yes, yes; excuse me for forgetting,” said Mrs. Wood, with her jolly laugh. “And here are Dolly, and Jennie, and Martha,” she went on, as some little girls came running out of a house that we were passing.

The little girls joined us and looked so hard at my head and stump of a tail, and my fine collar, that I felt quite shy, and walked with my head against Miss Laura's dress.

She stooped down and patted me, and then I felt as if I didn't care how much they stared. Miss Laura never forgot me. No matter how earnestly she was talking, or playing a game, or doing anything, she always stopped occasionally to give me word or look, to show that she knew I was near.

Mrs. Wood paused in front of a building on the main street. A great many boys and girls were going in, and we went with them. We found ourselves in a large room, with a platform at one end of it. There were some chairs on this platform and a small table.

A boy stood by this table with his hand on a bell. Presently he rang it, and then every one kept still. Mrs. Wood whispered to Miss Laura that this boy was the president of the band, and the young man with the pale face and curly hair who sat in front of him was Mr. Maxwell, the artist's son, who had formed this Band of Mercy.

The lad who presided had a ringing, pleasant voice. He said they would begin their meeting by singing a hymn. There was an organ near the platform and a young girl played on it, while all the other boys and girls stood up, and sang very sweetly and clearly.

After they had sung the hymn, the president asked for the report of their last meeting.

A little girl, blushing and hanging her head, came forward, and read what was written on a paper that she held in her hand.

The president made some remarks after she had finished, and then every one had to vote. It was just like a meeting of grown people, and I was surprised to see how good those children were. They did not frolic nor laugh, but all seemed sober and listened attentively.

After the voting was over, the president called upon John Turner to give a recitation This was the boy whom we saw on the way there. He walked up to the platform, made a bow, and said that he had learned two stories for his recitation, out of the paper, “Dumb Animals.” One story was about a horse, and the other was about a dog, and he thought that they were two of the best animal stories on record. He would tell the horse story first.

“A man in Missouri had to go to Nebraska to see about some land. He went on horseback, on a horse that he had trained himself, and that came at his whistle like a dog. On getting into Nebraska, he came to a place where there were two roads. One went by a river, and the other went over the hill. The man saw that the travel went over the hill, but thought he'd take the river road. He didn't know that there was a quicksand across it, and that people couldn't use it in spring and summer. There used to be a sign board to tell strangers about it, but it had been taken away. The man got off his horse to let him graze, and walked along till he got so far ahead of the horse that he had to sit down and wait for him. Suddenly he found that he was on a quicksand. His feet had sunk in the sand, and he could not get them out. He threw himself down, and whistled for his horse, and shouted for help, but no one came. He could hear some young people singing out on the river, but they could not hear him. The terrible sand drew him in almost to his shoulders, and he thought he was lost. At that moment the horse came running up, and stood by his master. The man was too low down to get hold of the saddle or bridle, so he took hold of the horse's tail, and told him to go. The horse gave an awful pull, and landed his master on safe ground.”

Everybody clapped his hands, and stamped when this story was finished, and called out: “The dog story the dog story!”

The boy bowed and smiled, and began again. “You all know what a 'round-up' of cattle is, so I need not explain. Once a man down south was going to have one, and he and his boys and friends were talking it over. There was an ugly, black steer in the herd, and they were wondering whether their old yellow dog would be able to manage him. The dog's name was Tige, and he lay and listened wisely to their talk. The next day there was a scene of great confusion. The steer raged and tore about, and would allow no one to come within whip touch of him. Tige, who had always been brave, skulked about for a while, and then, as if he had got up a little spirit, he made a run at the steer. The steer sighted him, gave a bellow, and, lowering his horns, ran at him. Tige turned tail, and the young men that owned him were frantic. They'd been praising him, and thought they were going to have it proven false. Their father called out: 'Don't shoot Tige, till you see where he's running to.' The dog ran right to the cattle pen. The steer was so enraged that he never noticed where he was going, and dashed in after him. Tige leaped the wall, and came back to the gate, barking and yelping for the men to come and shut the steer in. They shut the gate and petted Tige, and bought him a collar with a silver plate.”

The boy was loudly cheered, and went to his seat. The president said he would like to have remarks made about these two stories.

Several children put up their hands, and he asked each one to speak in turn. One said that if that man's horse had had a docked tail, his master wouldn't have been able to reach it, and would have perished. Another said that if the man hadn't treated his horse kindly, he never would have come at his whistle, and stood over him to see what he could do to help him. A third child said that the people on the river weren't as quick at hearing the voice of the man in trouble as the horse was.

When this talk was over, the president called for some stories of foreign animals.

Another boy came forward, made his bow, and said, in a short, abrupt voice, “My uncle's name is Henry Worthington. He is an Englishman, and once he was a soldier in India. One day when he was hunting in the Punjab, he saw a mother monkey carrying a little dead baby monkey. Six months after, he was in the same jungle. Saw same monkey still carrying dead baby monkey, all shriveled up. Mother monkey loved her baby monkey, and wouldn't give it up.”

The boy went to his seat, and the president, with a queer look in his face, said, “That's a very good story, Ronald if it is true.”

None of the children laughed, but Mrs. Wood's face got like a red poppy, and Miss Laura bit her lip, and Mr. Maxwell buried his head in his arms, his whole frame shaking.

The boy who told the story looked very angry. He jumped up again. “My uncle's a true man, Phil Dodge, and never told a lie in his life.”

The president remained standing, his face a deep scarlet, and a tall boy at the back of the room got up and said, “Mr. President, what would be impossible in this climate, might be possible in a hot country like India. Doesn't heat sometimes draw up and preserve things?”

The president's face cleared. “Thank you for the suggestion,” he said. “I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings; but you know there is a rule in the band that only true stories are to be told here. We have five more minutes for foreign stories. Has any one else one?”

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