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Chapter 33 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

A week or two after we got home, I heard the Morris boys talking about an Italian who was coming to Fairport with a troupe of trained animals, and I could see for myself whenever I went to town, great flaming pictures on the fences, of monkeys sitting at tables, dogs and ponies, and goats climbing ladders, and rolling balls, and doing various tricks. I wondered very much whether they would be able to do all those extraordinary things, but it turned out that they did.

The Italian's name was Bellini, and one afternoon the whole Morris family went to see him and his animals, and when they came home, I heard them talking about it. “I wish you could have been there, Joe,” said Jack, pulling up my paws to rest on his knees. “Now listen, old fellow and I'll tell you all about it. First of all, there was a perfect jam in the town hall. I sat up in front, with a lot of fellows, and had a splendid view. The old Italian came out dressed in his best suit of clothes black broadcloth, flower in his buttonhole, and so on. He made a fine bow, and he said he was 'pleased too see ze fine audience, and he was going to show zem ze fine animals, ze finest animals in ze world.' Then he shook a little whip that he carried in his hand, and he said 'zat zat whip didn't mean zat he was cruel. He cracked it to show his animals when to begin, end, or change their tricks.' Some boy yelled, 'Rats! you do whip them sometimes,' and the old man made another bow, and said, 'Sairteenly, he whipped zem just as ze mammas whip ze naughty boys, to make zem keep still when zey was noisy or stubborn.'

“Then everybody laughed at the boy, and the Italian said the performance would begin by a grand procession of all the animals, if some lady would kindly step up to the piano and play a march. Nina Smith you know Nina, Joe, the girl that has black eyes and wears blue ribbons, and lives around the corner stepped up to the piano, and banged out a fine loud march. The doors at the side of the platform opened, and out came the animals, two by two, just like Noah's ark. There was a pony with a monkey walking beside it and holding on to its mane, another monkey on a pony's back, two monkeys hand in hand, a dog with a parrot on his back, a goat harnessed to a little carriage, another goat carrying a birdcage in its mouth with two canaries inside, different kinds of cats, some doves and pigeons, half a dozen white rats with red harness, and dragging a little chariot with a monkey in it, and a common white gander that came in last of all, and did nothing but follow one of the ponies about.

“The Italian spoke of the gander, and said it was a stupid creature, and could learn no tricks and he only kept it on account of its affection for the pony. He had got them both on a Vermont farm, when he was looking for show animals. The pony's master had made a pet of him, and had taught him to come whenever he whistled for him. Though the pony was only a scrub of a creature, he had a gentle disposition, and every other animal on the farm liked him. A gander, in particular, had such an admiration for him that he followed him wherever he went, and if he lost him for an instant, he would mount one of the knolls on the farm and stretch out his neck looking for him. When he caught sight of him, he gabbled with delight, and running to him, waddled up and down beside him. Every little while the pony put his nose down, and seemed to be having a conversation with the goose. If the farmer whistled the pony and he started to run to him, the gander, knowing he could not keep up, would seize the pony's tail in his beak, and flapping his wings, would get along as fast as the pony did. And the pony never kicked him. The Italian saw that this pony would be a good one to train for the stage, so he offered the farmer a large price for him, and took him away.

“Oh, Joe, I forgot to say, that by this time all the animals had been sent off the stage except the pony and the gander, and they stood looking at the Italian while he talked. I never saw anything as human in dumb animals as that pony's face. He looked as if he understood every word that his master was saying. After this story was over, the Italian made another bow, and then told the pony to bow. He nodded his head at the people, and they all laughed. Then the Italian asked him to favor us with a waltz, and the pony got up on his hind legs and danced. You should have seen that gander skirmishing around, so as to be near the pony and yet keep out of the way of his heels. We fellows just roared, and we would have kept him dancing all the afternoon if the Italian hadn't begged 'ze young gentlemen not to make ze noise, but let ze pony do ze rest of his tricks.' Pony number two came on the stage, and it was too queer for anything to see the things the two of them did. They helped the Italian on with his coat, they pulled off his rubbers, they took his coat away and brought him a chair, and dragged a table up to it. They brought him letters and papers, and rang bells, and rolled barrels, and swung the Italian in a big swing, and jumped a rope, and walked up and down steps they just went around that stage as handy with their teeth as two boys would be with their hands, and they seemed to understand every word their master said to them.

“The best trick of all was telling the time and doing questions in arithmetic. The Italian pulled his watch out of his pocket and showed it to the first pony, whose name was Diamond, and said, 'What time is it?' The pony looked at it, then scratched four times with his forefoot on the platform. The Italian said, 'Zat's good four o'clock. But it's a few minutes after four how many?' The pony scratched again five times. The Italian showed his watch to the audience, and said that it was just five minutes past four. Then he asked the pony how old he was. He scratched four times. That meant four years. He asked him how many days in a week there were, how many months in a year; and he gave him some questions in addition and subtraction, and the pony answered them all correctly. Of course, the Italian was giving him some sign; but, though we watched him closely, we couldn't make out what it was. At last, he told the pony that he had been very good, and had done his lessons well; if it would rest him, he might be naughty a little while. All of a sudden a wicked look came into the creature's eyes. He turned around, and kicked up his heels at his master, he pushed over the table and chairs, and knocked down a blackboard where he had been rubbing out figures with a sponge held in his mouth. The Italian pretended to be cross, and said, 'Come, come; this won't do,' and he called the other pony to him, and told him to take that troublesome fellow off the stage. The second one nosed Diamond, and pushed him about, finally bit him by the ear, and led him squealing off the stage. The gander followed, gabbling as fast as he could, and there was a regular roar of applause.

“After that, there were ladders brought in, Joe, and dogs came on; not thoroughbreds, but curs something like you. The Italian says he can't teach tricks to pedigree animals as well as to scrubs. Those dogs jumped the ladders, and climbed them, and went through them, and did all kinds of things. The man cracked his whip once, and they began; twice, and they did backward what they had done forward; three times, and they stopped, and every animal, dogs, goats, ponies, and monkeys, after they had finished their tricks, ran up to their master, and he gave them a lump of sugar. They seemed fond of him, and often when they weren't performing went up to him, and licked his hands or his sleeve. There was one boss dog, Joe, with a head like yours. Bob, they called him, and he did all his tricks alone. The Italian went off the stage, and the dog came on and made his bow, and climbed his ladders, and jumped his hurdles, and went off again. The audience howled for an encore, and didn't he come out alone, make another bow, and retire. I saw old Judge Brown wiping the tears from his eyes, he'd laughed so much. One of the last tricks was with a goat, and the Italian said it was the best of all, because the goat is such a hard animal to teach. He had a big ball, and the goat got on it and rolled it across the stage without getting off. He looked as nervous as a cat, shaking his old beard, and trying to keep his four hoofs close enough together to keep him on the ball.

“We had a funny little play at the end of the performance. A monkey dressed as a lady in a white satin suit and a bonnet with a white veil, came on the stage. She was Miss Green and the dog Bob was going to elope with her. He was all rigged out as Mr. Smith, and had on a light suit of clothes, and a tall hat on the side of his head, high collar, long cuffs, and he carried a cane. He was a regular dude. He stepped up to Miss Green on his hind legs, and helped her on to a pony's back. The pony galloped off the stage; then a crowd of monkeys, chattering and wringing their hands, came on. Mr. Smith had run away with their child. They were all dressed up, too. There were the father and mother, with gray wigs and black clothes, and the young Greens in bibs and tuckers. They were a queer-looking crowd. While they were going on in this way, the pony trotted back on the stage; and they all flew at him and pulled off their daughter from his back, and laughed and chattered, and boxed her ears, and took off her white veil and her satin dress, and put on an old brown thing, and some of them seized the dog, and kicked his hat, and broke his cane, and stripped his clothes off, and threw them in a corner, and bound his legs with cords. A goat came on, harnessed to a little cart and they threw the dog in it, and wheeled him around the stage a few times. Then they took him out and tied him to a hook in the wall, and the goat ran off the stage, and the monkeys ran to one side, and one of them pulled out a little revolver, pointed it at the dog, fired, and he dropped down as if he was dead.

“The monkeys stood looking at him, and then there was the most awful hullabaloo you ever beard. Such a barking and yelping, and half a dozen dogs rushed on the stage, and didn't they trundle those monkeys about. They nosed them, and pushed them, and shook them, till they all ran away, all but Miss Green, who sat shivering in a corner. After a while, she crept up to the dead dog, pawed him a little, and didn't he jump up as much alive as any of them? Everybody in the room clapped and shouted, and then the curtain dropped, and the thing was over. I wish he'd give another performance. Early in the morning he has to go to Boston.”

Jack pushed my paws from his knees and went outdoors, and I began to think that I would very much like to see those performing animals. It was not yet tea time, and I would have plenty of time to take a run down to the hotel where they were staying, so I set out. It was a lovely autumn evening. The sun was going down in a haze, and it was quite warm. Earlier in the day I had heard Mr. Morris say that this was our Indian summer, and that we should soon have cold weather.

Fairport was a pretty little town, and from the principal street one could look out upon the blue water of the bay and see the island opposite, which was quite deserted now, for all the summer visitors had gone home, and the Island House was shut up.

I was running down one of the steep side streets that led to the water when I met a heavily-laden cart coming up. It must have been coming from one of the vessels, for it was full of strange-looking boxes and packages. A fine-looking nervous horse was drawing it, and he was straining every nerve to get it up the steep hill. His driver was a burly, hard-faced man, and instead of letting his horse stop a minute to rest he kept urging him forward. The poor horse kept looking at his master, his eyes almost starting from his head in terror. He knew that the whip was about to descend on his quivering body. And so it did, and there was no one by to interfere. No one but a woman in a ragged shawl who would have no influence with the driver. There was a very good humane society in Fairport, and none of the teamsters dared ill-use their horses if any of the members were near. This was a quiet out-of-the-way street, with only poor houses on it, and the man probably knew that none of the members of the society would be likely to be living in them. He whipped his horse, and whipped him, till every lash made my heart ache, and if I had dared I would have bitten him severely. Suddenly, there was a dull thud in the street. The horse had fallen down. The driver ran to his head, but he was quite dead. “Thank God!” said the poorly-dressed woman, bitterly; “one more out of this world of misery.” Then she turned and went down the street. I was glad for the horse. He would never be frightened or miserable again, and I went slowly on, thinking that death is the best thing that can happen to tortured animals.

The Fairport hotel was built right in the centre of the town, and the shops and houses crowded quite close about it. It was a high, brick building, and it was called the Fairport House. As I was running along the sidewalk, I heard some one speak to me, and looking up I saw Charlie Montague. I had heard the Morrises say that his parents were staying at the hotel for a few weeks, while their house was being repaired. He had his Irish setter, Brisk, with him, and a handsome dog he was, as he stood waving his silky tail in the sunlight. Charlie patted me, and then he and his dog went into the hotel. I turned into the stable yard. It was a small, choked-up place, and as I picked my way under the cabs and wagons standing in the yard, I wondered why the hotel people didn't buy some of the old houses near by, and tear them down, and make a stable yard worthy of such a nice hotel. The hotel horses were just getting rubbed down after their day's work, and others were coming in. The men were talking and laughing, and there was no sign of strange animals, so I went around to the back of the yard. Here they were, in an empty cow stable, under a hay loft. There were two little ponies tied up in a stall, two goats beyond them, and dogs and monkeys in strong traveling cages. I stood in the doorway and stared at them. I was sorry for the dogs to be shut up on such a lovely evening, but I suppose their master was afraid of their getting lost, or being stolen, if he let them loose.

They all seemed very friendly. The ponies turned around and looked at me with their gentle eyes, and then went on munching their hay. I wondered very much where the gander was, and went a little farther into the stable. Something white raised itself up out of the brownest pony's crib, and there was the gander close up beside the open mouth of his friend. The monkeys make a jabbering noise, and held on to the bars of their cage with their little black hands, while they looked out at me. The dogs sniffed the air, and wagged their tails, and tried to put their muzzles through the bars of their cage. I liked the dogs best, and I wanted to see the one they called Bob, so I went up quite close to them. There were two little white dogs, something like Billy, two mongrel spaniels, an Irish terrier, and a brown dog asleep in the corner, that I knew must be Bob. He did look a little like me, but he was not quite so ugly for he had his ears and his tail.

While I was peering through the bars at him, a man came in the stable. He noticed me the first thing, but instead of driving me out, he spoke kindly to me, in a language that I did not understand. So I knew that he was the Italian. How glad the animals were to see him! The gander fluttered out of his nest, the ponies pulled at their halters, the dogs whined and tried to reach his hands to lick them, and the monkeys chattered with delight. He laughed and talked back to them in queer, soft-sounding words. Then he took out of a bag on his arm, bones for the dogs, nuts and cakes for the monkeys, nice, juicy carrots for the ponies, some green stuff for the goats, and corn for the gander.

It was a pretty sight to see the old man feeding his pets, and it made me feel quite hungry, so I trotted home. I had a run down town again that evening with Mr. Morris, who went to get something from a shop for his wife. He never let his boys go to town after tea, so if there were errands to be done, he or Mrs. Morris went. The town was bright and lively that evening, and a great many people were walking about and looking into the shop windows.

When we came home, I went into the kennel with Jim, and there I slept till the middle of the night. Then I started up and ran outside. There was a distant bell ringing, which we often heard in Fairport, and which always meant fire.

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