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Chapter 20 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

A small girl, with twinkling eyes and a merry face, got up, just behind Miss Laura, and made her way to the front. “My dranfadder says,” she began, in a piping little voice, “dat when he was a little boy his fadder brought him a little monkey from de West Indies. De naughty boys in de village used to tease de little monkey, and he runned up a tree one day. Dey was drowing stones at him, and a man dat was paintin' de house druv 'em away. De monkey runned down de tree, and shook hands wid de man. My dranfadder saw him,” she said, with a shake of her head at the president, as if she was afraid he would doubt her.

There was great laughing and clapping of hands when this little girl took her seat, and she hopped right up again and ran back. “Oh, I fordot,” she went on, in her squeaky, little voice, “dat my dranfadder says dat afterward de monkey upset de painter's can of oil, and rolled in it, and den jumped down in my dranfadder's flour barrel.”

The president looked very much amused, and said, “We have had some good stories about monkeys, now let us have some more about our home animals. Who can tell us another story about a horse?”

Three or four boys jumped up, but the president said they would take one at a time. The first one was this: A Riverdale boy was walking along the bank of a canal in Hoytville. He saw a boy driving two horses, which were towing a canal-boat. The first horse was lazy, and the boy got angry and struck him several times over the head with his whip. The Riverdale boy shouted across to him, begging him not to be so cruel; but the boy paid no attention. Suddenly the horse turned, seized his tormentor by the shoulder, and pushed him into the canal. The water was not deep, and the boy, after floundering about for a few seconds, came out dripping with mud and filth, and sat down on the tow path, and looked at the horse with such a comical expression, that the Riverdale boy had to stuff his handkerchief in his mouth to keep from laughing.

“It is to be hoped that he would learn a lesson,” said the president, “and be kinder to his horse in the future. Now, Bernard Howe, your story.”

The boy was a brother to the little girl who had told the monkey story, and he, too, had evidently been talking to his grandfather. He told two stories, and Miss Laura listened eagerly, for they were about Fairport.

The boy said that when his grandfather was young, he lived in Fairport, Maine. On a certain day he stood in the market square to see their first stage-coach put together. It had come from Boston in pieces, for there was no one in Fairport that could make one. The coach went away up into the country one day, and came back the next. For a long time no one understood driving the horses properly, and they came in day after day with the blood streaming from them. The whiffletree would swing round and hit them, and when their collars were taken off, their necks would be raw and bloody. After a time, the men got to understand how to drive a coach, and the horses did not suffer so much.

The other story was about a team-boat, not a steamboat. More than seventy years ago, they had no steamers running between Fairport and the island opposite where people went for the summer, but they had what they called a team-boat, that is, a boat with machinery to make it go, that could be worked by horses. There were eight horses that went around and around, and made the boat go. One afternoon, two dancing masters, who were wicked fellows, that played the fiddle, and never went to church on Sundays, got on the boat, and sat just where the horses had to pass them as they went around.

Every time the horses went by, they jabbed them with their penknives. The man who was driving the horses at last saw the blood dripping from them, and the dancing masters were found out. Some young men on the boat were so angry that they caught up a rope's end, and gave the dancing masters a lashing, and then threw them into the water and made them swim to the island.

When this boy took a seat, a young girl read some verses that she had clipped from a newspaper:

“Don't kill the toads, the ugly toads,
That hop around your door;
Each meal the little toad doth eat
A hundred bugs or more.

“He sits around with aspect meek,
Until the bug hath neared,
Then shoots he forth his little tongue
Like lightning double-geared.

“And then he soberly doth wink,
And shut his ugly mug,
And patiently doth wait until
There comes another bug.”

Mr. Maxwell told a good dog story after this. He said the president need not have any fears as to its truth, for it had happened in his boarding house in the village, and he had seen it himself. Monday, the day before, being wash-day, his landlady lady had put out a large washing. Among the clothes on the line was a gray flannel shirt belonging to her husband. The young dog belonging to the house had pulled the shirt from the line and torn it to pieces. The woman put it aside and told him master would beat him. When the man came home to his dinner, he showed the dog the pieces of the shirt, and gave him a severe whipping. The dog ran away, visited all the clothes lines in the village, till he found a gray shirt very like his master's. He seized it and ran home, laying it at his master's; feet, joyfully wagging his tail meanwhile.

Mr. Maxwell's story done, a bright-faced boy, called Simon Grey, got up and said, “You all know our old gray horse Ned. Last week father sold him to a man in Hoytville, and I went to the station when he was shipped. He was put in a box car. The doors were left a little open to give him air, and were locked in that way. There was a narrow, sliding door, four feet from the floor of the car, and, in some way or other, old Ned pushed this door open, crawled through it, and tumbled out on the ground. When I was coming from school, I saw him walking along the track. He hadn't hurt himself, except for a few cuts. He was glad to see me, and followed me home. He must have gotten off the train when it was going full speed, for he hadn't been seen at any of the stations, and the trainmen were astonished to find the doors locked and the car empty, when they got to Hoytville. Father got the man who bought him to release him from his bargain, for he says if Ned is so fond of Riverdale, he shall stay here.”

The president asked the boys and girls to give three cheers for old Ned, and then they had some more singing. After all had taken their seats, he said he would like to know what the members had been doing for animals during the past fortnight.

One girl had kept her brother from shooting two owls that came about their barnyard. She told him that the owls would destroy the rats and mice that bothered him in the barn, but if he hunted them, they would go to the woods.

A boy said that he had persuaded some of his friends who were going fishing, to put their bait worms into a dish of boiling water to kill them before they started, and also to promise him that as soon as they took their fish out of the water, they would kill them by a sharp blow on the back of the head. They were all the more ready to do this, when he told them that their fish would taste better when cooked, if they had been killed as soon as they were taken from the water into the air.

A little girl had gotten her mother to say that she would never again put lobsters into cold water and slowly boil them to death. She had also stopped a man in the street who was carrying a pair of fowls with their heads down, and asked him if he would kindly reverse their position. The man told her that the fowls didn't mind, and she pursed up her small mouth and showed the band how she said to him, “I would prefer the opinion of the hens.” Then she said he had laughed at her, and said, “Certainly, little lady,” and had gone off carrying them as she wanted him to. She had also reasoned with different boys outside the village who were throwing stones at birds and frogs, and sticking butterflies, and had invited them to come to the Band of Mercy.

This child seemed to have done more than any one else for dumb animals. She had taken around a petition to the village boys, asking them not to search for birds' eggs, and she had even gone into her father's stable, and asked him to hold her up, so that she could look into the horses' mouths to see if their teeth wanted filing or were decayed. When her father laughed at her, she told him that horses often suffer terrible pain from their teeth, and that sometimes a runaway is caused by a metal bit striking against the exposed nerve in the tooth of a horse that has become almost frantic with pain.

She was a very gentle girl, and I think by the way that she spoke that her father loved her dearly, for she told how much trouble he had taken to make some tiny houses for her that she wanted for the wrens that came about their farm, She told him that those little birds are so good at catching insects that they ought to give all their time to it, and not have any worry about making houses. Her father made their homes very small, so that the English sparrows could not get in and crowd them out.

A boy said that he had gotten a pot of paint, and painted in large letters on the fences around his father's farm: “Spare the toads, don't kill the birds. Every bird killed is a loss to the country.”

“That reminds me,” said the president, “to ask the girls what they have done about the millinery business.”

“I have told my mother,” said a tall, serious faced girl, “that I think it is wrong to wear bird feathers, and she has promised to give up wearing any of them except ostrich plumes.”

Mrs. Wood asked permission to say a few words just here, and the president said: “Certainly, we are always glad to hear from you.”

She went up on the platform, and faced the roomful of children. “Dear boys and girls,” she began, “I have had some papers sent me from Boston, giving some facts about the killing of our birds, and I want to state a few of them to you: You all know that nearly every tree and plant that grows swarms with insect life, and that they couldn't grow if the birds didn't eat the insects that would devour their foliage. All day long, the little beaks of the birds are busy. The dear little rose-breasted gross-beak carefully examines the potato plants, and picks off the beetles, the martins destroy weevil, the quail and grouse family eats the chinchbug, the woodpeckers dig the worms from the trees, and many other birds eat the flies and gnats and mosquitoes that torment us so. No flying or crawling creature escapes their sharp little eyes. A great Frenchman says that if it weren't for the birds human beings would perish from the face of the earth. They are doing all this for us, and how are we rewarding them? All over America they are hunted and killed. Five million birds must be caught every year for American women to wear in their hats and bonnets. Just think of it, girls. Isn't it dreadful? Five million innocent, hard-working, beautiful birds killed, that thoughtless girls and women may ornament themselves with their little dead bodies. One million bobolinks have been killed in one month near Philadelphia. Seventy song-birds were sent from one Long Island village to New York milliners.

“In Florida, cruel men shoot the mother bird on their nests while they are rearing their young, because their plumage is prettiest at that time. The little ones cry pitifully, and starve to death. Every bird of the rarer kinds that is killed, such as humming birds, orioles and kingfishers, means the death of several others that is, the young that starve to death, the wounded that fly away to die, and those whose plumage is so torn that it is not fit to put in a fine lady's bonnet. In some cases where birds have gay wings, and the hunters do not wish the rest of the body, they tear off the wings from the living bird, and throw it away to die.

“I am sorry to tell you such painful things, but I think you ought to know them. You will soon be men and women. Do what you can to stop this horrid trade. Our beautiful birds are being taken from us, and the insect pests are increasing. The State of Massachusetts has lost over one hundred thousand dollars because it did not protect its birds. The gypsy moth stripped the trees near Boston, and the State had to pay out all this money, and even then could not get rid of the moths. The birds could have done it better than the State, but they were all gone. My last words to you are, 'Protect the birds.'” Mrs. Wood went to her seat, and though the boys and girls had listened very attentively, none of them cheered her. Their faces looked sad, and they kept very quiet for a few minutes. I saw one or two little girls wiping their eyes. I think they felt sorry for the birds.

“Has any boy done anything about blinders and check-reins?” asked the president, after a time.

A brown-faced boy stood up. “I had a picnic last Monday,” he said; “father let me cut all the blinders off our head-stalls with my penknife.”

“How did you get him to consent to that?” asked the president.

“I told him,” said the boy, “that I couldn't get to sleep for thinking of him. You know he drives a good deal late at night. I told him that every dark night he came from Sudbury I thought of the deep ditch alongside the road, and wished his horses hadn't blinders on. And every night he comes from the Junction, and has to drive along the river bank where the water has washed away the earth till the wheels of the wagon are within a foot or two of the edge, I wished again that his horses could see each side of them, for I knew they'd have sense enough to keep out of danger if they could see it. Father said that might be very true, and yet his horses had been broken in with blinders, and didn't I think they would be inclined to shy if he took them off; and wouldn't they be frightened to look around and see the wagon wheels so near. I told him that for every accident that happened to a horse without blinders, several happened to a horse with them; and then I gave him Mr. Wood's opinion Mr. Wood out at Dingley Farm. He says that the worst thing against blinders is that a frightened horse never knows when he has passed the thing that scared him. He always thinks it is behind him. The blinders are there and he can't see that he has passed it, and he can't turn his head to have a good look at it. So often he goes tearing madly on; and sometimes lives are lost all on account of a little bit of leather fastened over a beautiful eye that ought to look out full and free at the world. That finished father. He said he'd take off his blinders, and if he had an accident, he'd send the bill for damages to Mr. Wood. But we've had no accident. The horses did act rather queerly at first, and started a little; but they soon got over it, and now they go as steady without blinders as they ever did with them.”

The boy sat down, and the president said: “I think it is time that the whole nation threw off this foolishness of half covering their horses' eyes. Just put your hands up to your eyes, members of the band. Half cover them, and see how shut in you will feel; and how curious you will be to know what is going on beside you. Suppose a girl saw a mouse with her eyes half covered, wouldn't she run?”

Everybody laughed, and the president asked some one to tell him who invented blinders.

“An English nobleman,” shouted a boy, “who had a wall-eyed horse! He wanted to cover up the defect, and I think it is a great shame that all the American horses have to suffer because that English one had an ugly eye.”

“So do I,” said the president. “Three groans for blinders, boys.”

And the children in the room made three dreadful noises away down in their throats. Then they had another good laugh, and the president became sober again. “Seven more minutes,” he said; “this meeting has got to be let out at five sharp.”

A tall girl at the back of the room rose, and said: “My little cousin has two stories that she would like to tell the band.”

“Very well,” said the president; “bring her right along.”

The big girl came forward, leading a tiny child that she placed in front of the boys and girls. The child stared up into her cousin's face, turning and twisting her white pinafore through her fingers. Every time the big girl took her pinafore away from her, she picked it up again. “Begin, Nannie,” said the big girl, kindly.

“Well, Cousin Eleanor,” said the child, “you know Topsy, Graham's pony. Well, Topsy would run away, and a big, big man came out to papa and said he would train Topsy. So he drove her every day, and beat her, and beat her, till he was tired, but still Topsy would run away. Then papa said he would not have the poor pony whipped so much, and he took her out a piece of bread every day, and he petted her and now Topsy is very gentle, and never runs away.”

“Tell about Tiger,” said the girl.

“Well, Cousin Eleanor,” said the child, “you know Tiger, our big dog. He used to be a bad dog, and when Dr. Fairchild drove up to the house he jumped up and bit at him. Dr. Fairchild used to speak kindly to him, and throw out bits of meat, and now when he comes, Tiger follows behind and wags his tail. Now, give me a kiss.”

The girl had to give her a kiss, right up there before every one, and what a stamping the boys made. The larger girl blushed and hurried back to her seat, with the child clinging to her hand.

There was one more story, about a brave Newfoundland dog, that saved eight lives by swimming out to a wrecked sailing vessel, and getting a rope by which the men came ashore, and then a lad got up whom they all greeted with cheers, and cries of, “The Poet! the Poet!” I didn't know what they meant, till Mrs. Wood whispered to Miss Laura that he was a boy who made rhymes, and the children had rather hear him speak than any one else in the room.

He had a snub nose and freckles, and I think he was the plainest boy there, but that didn't matter, if the other children loved him. He sauntered up to the front, with his hands behind his back, and a very grand manner.

“The beautiful poetry recited here to-day,” he drawled, “put some verses in my mind that I never had till I came here to-day.” Every one present cheered wildly, and he began in a sing song voice:

“I am a Band of Mercy boy,
I would not hurt a fly,
I always speak to dogs and cats,
When'er I pass them by.

“I always let the birdies sing,
I never throw a stone,
I always give a hungry dog
A nice, fat, meaty bone.

“I wouldn't drive a bob-tailed horse,
Nor hurry up a cow,

Then he forgot the rest. The boys and girls were so sorry. They called out, “Pig,” “Goat,” “Calf,” “Sheep,” “Hens,” “Ducks,” and all the other animals' names they could think of, but none of them was right, and as the boy had just made up the poetry, no one knew what the next could be. He stood for a long time staring at the ceiling, then he said, “I guess I'll have to give it up.”

The children looked dreadfully disappointed. “Perhaps you will remember it by our next meeting,” said the president, anxiously.

“Possibly,” said the boy, “but probably not. I think it is gone forever.” And he went to his seat.

The next thing was to call for new members. Miss Laura got up and said she would like to join their Band of Mercy. I followed her up to the platform, while they pinned a little badge on her, and every one laughed at me. Then they sang, “God Bless our Native Land,” and the president told us that we might all go home.

It seemed to me a lovely thing for those children to meet together to talk about kindness to animals. They all had bright and good faces, and many of them stopped to pat me as I came out. One little girl gave me a biscuit from her school bag.

Mrs. Wood waited at the door till Mr. Maxwell came limping out on his crutches. She introduced him to Miss Laura, and asked him if he wouldn't go and take tea with them. He said he would be very happy to do so, and then Mrs. Wood laughed; and asked him if he hadn't better empty his pockets first. She didn't want a little toad jumping over her tea table, as one did the last time he was there.

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