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Chapter 28 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

In a few days, thanks to Mr. Harry's constant care, the horse and cow were able to walk. It was a mournful procession that came into the yard at Dingley Farm. The hollow-eyed horse, and lean cow, and funny, little thin pig, staggering along in such a shaky fashion. Their hoofs were diseased, and had partly rotted away, so that they could not walk straight. Though it was only a mile or two from Penhollow to Dingley Farm, they were tired out, and dropped down exhausted on their comfortable beds.

Miss Laura was so delighted to think that they had all lived, that she did not know what to do. Her eyes were bright and shining, and she went from one to another with such a happy face. The queer little pig that Mr. Harry had christened “Daddy Longlegs,” had been washed, and he lay on his heap of straw in the corner of his neat little pen, and surveyed his clean trough and abundance of food with the air of a prince. Why, he would be clean and dry here, and all his life he had been used to dirty, damp Penhollow, with the trees hanging over him, and his little feet in a mass of filth and dead leaves. Happy little pig! His ugly eyes seemed to blink and gleam with gratitude, and he knew Miss Laura and Mr. Harry as well as I did.

His tiny tail was curled so tight that it was almost in a knot. Mr. Wood said that was a sign that he was healthy and happy: and that when poor Daddy was at Penhollow he had noticed that his tail hung as limp and as loose as the tail of a rat. He came and leaned over the pen with Miss Laura, and had a little talk with her about pigs. He said they were by no means the stupid animals that some people considered them. He had had pigs that were as clever as dogs. One little black pig that he had once sold to a man away back in the country had found his way home, through the woods, across the river, up hill and down dale, and he'd been taken to the place with a bag over his head. Mr. Wood said that he kept that pig because he knew so much.

He said the most knowing pigs he ever saw were Canadian pigs. One time he was having a trip on a sailing vessel, and it anchored in a long, narrow harbor in Canada, where the tide came in with a front four or five feet high called the “bore.” There was a village opposite the place where the ship was anchored, and every day at low tide, a number of pigs came down to look for shell-fish. Sometimes they went out for half a mile over the mud flats, but always a few minutes before the tide came rushing in they turned and hurried to the shore. Their instincts warned them that if they stayed any longer they would be drowned.

Mr. Wood had a number of pigs, and after a while Daddy was put in with them, and a fine time he had of it making friends with the other little grunters. They were often let out in the pasture or orchard, and when they were there, I could always single out Daddy from among them, because he was the smartest. Though he had been brought up in such a miserable way, he soon learned to take very good care of himself at Dingley Farm, and it was amusing to see him when a storm was coming on, running about in a state of great excitement carrying little bundles of straw in his mouth to make himself a bed. He was a white pig, and was always kept very clean. Mr. Wood said that it is wrong to keep pigs dirty. They like to be clean as well as other animals, and if they were kept so, human beings would not get so many diseases from eating their flesh.

The cow, poor unhappy creature, never, as long as she lived on Dingley Farm, lost a strange melancholy look from her eyes. I have heard it said that animals forget past unhappiness, and perhaps some of them do. I know that I have never forgotten my one miserable year with Jenkins, and I have been a sober, thoughtful dog in consequence of it, and not playful like some dogs who have never known what it is to be really unhappy.

It always seemed to me that the Englishman's cow was thinking of her poor dead calf, starved to death by her cruel master. She got well herself, and came and went with the other cows, seemingly as happy as they, but often when I watched her standing chewing her cud, and looking away in the distance, I could see a difference between her face and the faces of the cows that had always been happy on Dingley Farm. Even the farm hands called her “Old Melancholy,” and soon she got to be known by that name, or Mel, for short. Until she got well, she was put into the cow stable, where Mr. Wood's cows all stood at night upon raised platforms of earth covered over with straw litter, and she was tied with a Dutch halter, so that she could lie down and go to sleep when she wanted to. When she got well, she was put out to pasture with the other cows.

The horse they named “Scrub,” because he could never be, under any circumstance, anything but a broken-down, plain-looking animal. He was put into the horse stable in a stall next Fleetfoot, and as the partition was low, they could look over at each other. In time, by dint of much doctoring, Scrub's hoofs became clean and sound and he was able to do some work. Miss Laura petted him a great deal. She often took out apples to the stable, and Fleetfoot would throw up his beautiful head and look reproachfully over the partition at her, for she always stayed longer with Scrub than with him, and Scrub always got the larger share of whatever good thing was going.

Poor old Scrub! I think he loved Miss Laura. He was a stupid sort of a horse, and always acted as if he was blind. He would run his nose up and down the front of her dress, nip at the buttons, and be very happy if he could get a bit of her watch-chain between his strong teeth. If he was in the field he never seemed to know her till she was right under his pale-colored eyes. Then he would be delighted to see her. He was not blind, though, for Mr. Wood said he was not. He said he had probably not been an over-bright horse to start with, and had been made more dull by cruel usage.

As for the Englishman, the master of these animals, a very strange thing happened to him. He came to a terrible end, but for a long time no one knew anything about it. Mr. Wood and Mr. Harry were so very angry with him that they said they would leave no stone unturned to have him punished, or at least to have it known what a villain he was. They sent the paper with the crest on it to Boston. Some people there wrote to England, and found out that it was the crest of a noble and highly esteemed family, and some earl was at the head of it. They were all honorable people in this family except one man, a nephew, not a son, of the late earl. He was the black sheep of them all. As a young man, he had led a wild and wicked life, and had ended by forging the name of one of his friends, so that he was obliged to leave England and take refuge in America. By the description of this man, Mr. Wood knew that he must be Mr. Barron, so he wrote to these English people, and told them what a wicked thing their relative had done in leaving his animals to starve. In a short time, he got an answer from them, which was, at the same time, very proud and very touching. It came from Mr. Barron's cousin, and he said quite frankly that he knew his relative was a man of evil habits, but it seemed as if nothing could be done to reform him. His family was accustomed to send a quarterly allowance to him, on condition that he led a quiet life in some retired place, but their last remittance to him was lying unclaimed in Boston, and they thought he must be dead. Could Mr. Wood tell them anything about him?

Mr. Wood looked very thoughtful when he got this letter, then he said, “Harry, how long is it since Barron ran away?”

“About eight weeks,” said Mr. Harry.

“That's strange,” said Mr. Wood. “The money these English people sent him would get to Boston just a few days after he left here. He is not the man to leave it long unclaimed. Something must have happened to him. Where do you suppose he would go from Penhollow?”

“I have no idea, sir,” said Mr. Harry.

“And how would he go?” said Mr. Wood. “He did not leave Riverdale Station, because he would have been spotted by some of his creditors.”

“Perhaps he would cut through the woods to the Junction,” said Mr. Harry.

“Just what he would do,” said Mr. Wood, slapping his knee. “I'll be driving over there to-morrow to see Thompson, and I'll make inquiries.”

Mr. Harry spoke to his father the next night when he came home, and asked him if he had found out anything. “Only this,” said Mr. Wood. “There's no one answering to Barron's description who has left Riverdale Junction within a twelvemonth. He must have struck some other station. We'll let him go. The Lord looks out for fellows like that.”

“We will look out for him if he ever comes back to Riverdale,” said Mr. Harry, quietly. All through the village, and in the country it was known what a dastardly trick the Englishman had played, and he would have been roughly handled if he had dared return.

Months passed away, and nothing was heard of him. Late in the autumn, after Miss Laura and I had gone back to Fairport, Mrs. Wood wrote her about the end of the Englishman. Some Riverdale lads were beating about the woods, looking for lost cattle, and in their wanderings came to an old stone quarry that had been disused for years. On one side there was a smooth wall of rock, many feet deep. On the other the ground and rock were broken away, and it was quite easy to get into it. They found that by some means or other, one of their cows had fallen into this deep pit, over the steep side of the quarry. Of course the poor creature was dead, but the boys, out of curiosity, resolved to go down and look at her. They clambered down, found the cow, and, to their horror and amazement, discovered near-by the skeleton of a man. There was a heavy walking-stick by his side, which they recognized as one that the Englishman had carried.

He was a drinking man, and perhaps he had taken something that he thought would strengthen him for his morning's walk, but which had, on the contrary, bewildered him, and made him lose his way and fall into the quarry. Or he might have started before daybreak, and in the darkness have slipped and fallen down this steep wall of rock. One leg was doubled under him, and if he had not been instantly killed by the fall, he must have been so disabled that he could not move. In that lonely place, he would call for help in vain, so he may have perished by the terrible death of starvation the death he had thought to mete out to his suffering animals.

Mrs. Wood said that there was never a sermon preached in Riverdale that had the effect that the death of this wicked man had, and it reminded her of a verse in the Bible: “He made a pit and he digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made.” Mrs. Wood said that her husband had written about the finding of Mr. Barron's body to his English relatives, and had received a letter from them in which they seemed relieved to hear that he was dead. They thanked Mr. Wood for his plain speaking in telling them of their relative's misdeeds, and said that from all they knew of Mr. Barron's past conduct, his influence would be for evil and not for good, in any place that he choose to live in. They were having their money sent from Boston to Mr. Wood, and they wished him to expend it in the way he thought best fitted to counteract the evil effects of their namesake's doings in Riverdale.

When this money came, it amounted to some hundreds of dollars. Mr. Wood would have nothing to do with it. He handed it over to the Band of Mercy, and they formed what they called the “Barron Fund,” which they drew upon when they wanted money for buying and circulating humane literature. Mrs. Wood said that the fund was being added to, and the children were sending all over the State leaflets and little books which preached the gospel of kindness to God's lower creation. A stranger picking one of them up, and seeing the name of the wicked Englishman printed on the title-page, would think that he was a friend and benefactor to the Riverdale people the very opposite of what he gloried in being.

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