« PoprzedniaDalej »
L YDIA'S home was with her grandmother in the country, for her mother
L was dead, and her father, who was a sea-captain, and seldom at home, did not keep house after the death of the little girl's mother, but sent her to live with his mother; and there he used to come and visit her on his return from his voyages. It was a large, old-fashioned house where Mrs. Knowlton lived ; but she did not occupy it all, for one of her sons, who was married, lived at the homestead and carried on the farm ; and his children, Lydia's cousins, were her playmates and schoolmates.
Her Uncle John kept a flock of sheep, beside the other animals that are usually kept upon a farm, and Lydia was very anxious to have a lamb for her own to make a pet of, — one that would know her as its mistress and love her and follow her about. There were no young lambs at the farm when * Lydia went there to live ; but her Uncle John said that, when there were any, she should have one for her own.
In the spring, very early, there came on a terrible snow-storm. It snowed for two days and two nights, and everything was buried under the drifts. Uncle John's sheep had been turned out to browse among the shrubbery in the pastures and among the woods, and the great storm overtook them there, and they did not come home. The storm was so severe that the men could not find the sheep, and feared they would all perish of cold and hunger. It was several days before the snow settled enough to permit a search for them ; and when at last the men did go out, it was with great snow-shoes, to prevent them from sinking too deep in the immense drifts. After a long and fruitless search for the missing flock, as they were returning home, they came to a place where there was a little valley or hollow between the partly wooded hillocks, and one of them noticed that it was filled almost to a level with snow; but all over the surface there were little boles not larger than a pipe-stem, through which a steam was rising.
“ Look here, Mr. Knowlton,” said one of the men. “What do you make of this ?”
“Ah, my sheep are under there,” said Mr. Knowlton. “Bring on the snow-shovels, boys, and we 'll dig 'em out."
And, true enough, there were the sheep, all huddled together in this little hollow, whither they had resorted to escape the fury of the storm, and in which the snow had buried them; but their warm breaths had kept open the little breathing-holes, and they gnawed the bark and twigs off the shrubs and trees as high as they could reach.
As soon as the opening was made, the poor creatures rushed out; but the piercing March wind was so much colder than their snow-covered retreat, that they shivered with cold, and many of them stiffened and died. Among these was a mother-sheep that left a poor little bleating lamb, bewildered and chilled. Uncle John wrapped the little creature up in the great cape of his overcoat, and carried it home and gave it to Lydia. All the children gathered round to see the poor little thing, but no one thought it would live. The sheep were driven into the barn, but many of them died of the sudden chill they had taken while so exhausted for want of food and fresh air.
Lydia devoted herself to her little lamb, and fed and tended it with the kindest care, and it soon began to grow and thrive. It would follow its young mistress all about the house, its little feet going tap, tap, tap, on the floor, and it was full of fun and frolic; all the children loved Kate, — for that was the name which Lydia gave her lamb,—and Kate would run after them as they scampered down the long orchard-slope to the spring, and hop up, almost like a kitten, if they turned suddenly and clapped their hands to her. Kate was always on the clean, soft grass as the spring and summer came on; and her wool was white as snow. She never went away to the pastures and woods with the old sheep in the flock, for she was such a little pet that she could not be happy except when near her kind little playmates, the children ; and they were so afraid that any harm might come to their darling Kate, that they kept her always in the orchard, which was close behind the house. The back door opened right out upon the grass, and there were three or four large old oaks close to the house. Sometimes in the summer evenings the teatable was carried out and spread under the interlacing boughs, greatly to the delight of all the children ; and there they romped and frolicked with Kate till bed-time, after the table was removed, - and sometimes Uncle John would take off his coat and have a merry game with them.
One summer morning, very early, Lydia was up, and with her little pan of milk went out to give Kate her breakfast. Kate was usually at the door by the time the first member of the family was stirring; but now she was not al her accustomed place, and though Lydia called her loud and long, she did not come. Lydia hastened to the barn, but she was not there, nor in the shed, nor garden. The man milking in the farm-yard had not seen her ; but to Lydia's anxious inquiries, he only said that he noticed “a strange yaller dog round here at the dawn o' day; like enough he'd been a-worryin' on her.”
Lydia rushed through the house, out at the orchard door, and into the high, wet grass ; it was trampled, and the dew brushed off, as though something had been chased through it ; and at last, under the old sweet apple-tree, she found her pet, cold and stiff, with a few bright drops of blood just under her snow-white neck.
Down upon the wet grass dropped Lydia, and, laying her face upon the soft wool, she cried as if her heart would break. “O my poor, poor Kate!” she sobbed. “ To think you should come to this ! All those hundreds of common sheep alive and well in the pastures, and you, my poor little lamb, killed, murdered! It's too cruel !”
The horn was sounded for breakfast, but Lydia did not heed it ; she was too choked with grief to eat; and when her cousin Hannah came out to find her, she met her hugging her dead pet in her arms and bringing it to the house. Then there was a fresh outburst of grief, and Uncle John and all the family came out to look at poor Kate and sympathize with Lydia.
"It was that 'ere yaller dog that done it," said the man Reuben. “I knew he wa' n't round here for nothing.”
“ Let's kill him, if we ever can find him,” whispered Hannah. “So we will,” said Lydia.
After breakfast, Uncle John brought a box, and poor Kate was laid in it, and covered with sweet-brier roses and buttercups, and a little grave was dug under one of the old oaks, and there the pet was buried. A large slate, without a frame, was set up endwise in the ground, after Lydia's cousin Jane had scratched deeply upon it, with the point of an awl, these words :
“To the Memory of our Darling Kate.
And she can hear no sound.” All the children thought it was very solemn; and so it was to them, whatever the grown people thought of it.
That night, after the children went to bed, they lay awake a long time, talking over the fate of poor Kate, and devising means for being revenged upon the dog in case he should have the audacity to come there again in search of more prey. Nothing was too bad to be done to him; they would shoot him, - only they had no gun, and if they had, they did not know how to use it; they would scald him, — only that might put him in misery without killing him, and he must be killed to rid the world of such a monster of cruelty ; they would poison him, but they had n't any poison and did n't know where to get any; they would drown him, but if he was large and strong, he might n't be easy to manage ; they would beat him, but he would n't stand still to let them do that. They nearly despaired of being revenged upon him, till sud
denly a bright thought struck Lydia : they would hang him, so they would ; they could do that easily enough, --- anybody could hang a dog; and besides, he deserved hanging, for he had committed a murder, and murderers are hanged for their crimes; - and so the yellow dog was sentenced to be hung.
The children did not disclose their plans, for somehow they had misgivings that they had not the victim yet in their hands, and might have some trouble in catching him ; and if they should fail in their designs, they did not want to be laughed at. They were careful, however, to get a very minute description of the culprit from Reuben, who was the only person who had seen him, and they were then sure they should recognize him at sight.
"That evening, after tea, when Lydia had been out to feed the chickens and shut them up for the night, what should she see but the very dog prowling about the sweet apple-tree in the orchard where the dead lamb had lain ! Quick as a flash, she darted into the house, seized a piece of raw meat unobserved, and, beckoning to her two cousins, who were looking out of the window, started for the orchard at a flying pace, and the two cousins after her.
Calling to the dog in her kindest tones, she approached him, and he came toward them, wagging his tail. He smelt the meat, but she would not give him any there, and they ran on, out of the orchard, across the road, into a field leading down to a bushy, swampy meadow, where an old apple-tree grew out of the hillside, in such a way that one of its branches nearly touched the ground, the dog still following them; and here they gave him the meat, which he swallowed at a mouthful.
“ The wretch! It's the last supper he 'll eat !” said Lydia. “Hold him tight by the collar, girls! But oh! we have n't brought any rope ! O, is n't it too bad ? You hold him while I run home for a rope!”
“O, it 's too far! He 'll pull away from us,” said Jane, “before you can get back, and he might bite us too !”
“Let's take our garters !” said Hannah.
No sooner said than done. The six stout, home-knit garters came off in a twinkling, and were tied together, while the yellow dog stood wagging his tail and wondering if a second piece of meat were coming. A slip-noose was placed over his head, the end thrown across the low limb of the apple-tree, and the united strength of the three girls pulled him slowly up till he dangled in the air, just above the ground. They made the string fast to the limb, though the poor creature struggled terribly, and then started for home as fast as they could run. The feeling of exultation over the common enemy was short-lived, however, and Lydia's heart misgave her before she fairly reached the house. She went in ; but she did not like to meet her grandmother lest she should ask her where she had been. So she stole up to her room ; but she could not read or sew or knit, or amuse herself in any way.
“He's only a dog,” she said to herself, “ an old ugly tiger of a dog, to kill my poor Kate ; his name ought to be Tiger, anyhow. But then I suppose he did n't know any better than to kill Kate ; dogs naturally worry sheep, as they do cats. Perhaps he was n't so much to blame after all! And then what if he is somebody's pet? Perhaps somebody thinks as much of him
as I did of my Katie," and Lydia's heart grew very soft. “If I was n't afraid, I'd go and cut him down ; but he might bite me. But then perhaps he is dead by this time," — and the tears came into her eyes.
Just then Hannah opened the door softly. “Lydia,” said she in a whisper, “ do you suppose that poor dog is dead yet ?”
“I don't know; if I thought he was n't, I believe I'd go and cut him down.”
“So would I,” said Hannah. “Perhaps he was n't the dog that killed poor Kate after all ! ”
“Yes, he was, I almost know; but I don't suppose he knew any better.”
“ No, he did n't,” said Hannah ; "and how he trusted us, and wagged his tail when we fed him, and never tried to get away from us, nor bite us !”
“Let's go," said Lydia.
Down the back stairs they glided, noiselessly, and then on a swift run they started for the old apple-tree. The way seemed to lengthen before them.
“ If he 's dead,” said Hannah, “ let 's bring him home and bury him beside poor Kate.”
“Yes, so we will !” said Lydia. “But what will Uncle John say ? O dear! I hope he is n't dead !”
Just then they came in sight of the apple-tree. The dog was gone ! Breathless the girls ran on. There hung a part of the rope of garters, broken short off just above the animal's head. He had carried off the noose around his neck. The girls gave a sigh of relief, and looked at each other. “Where do you suppose he went to ?” said each, at the same instant.
“ Look there!” said Hannah. “What's that ? ” and she walked toward the swamp. “There he is now," she exclaimed, pointing to a knoll of grass, some yards before them; and sure enough, there lay the poor animal moaning piteously.
“ He's choked with that string,” said Lydia. “How I wish I could get it off!”
But there was water all over the surface of the meadow between them and the dry hillock on which the dog was lying ; it was getting nearly dusk, and with reluctant feet and heavy hearts they turned homeward.
“ Let's get Reuben to go and get him," said Hannah, "and cut off the string!”
“0, he would plague us so," said Lydia, “we should never hear the last of it! Besides, you know he always goes to bed as soon as he milks."
That night Lydia's grandmother was not very well, and wanted Lydia to sleep with her; and she went to bed, but not to sleep. Hannah, too, tossed restlessly about, and whenever she closed her eyes she seemed to see the poor dog lying on the grassy hillock, moaning in pain, and with his head all swollen. The night – one of the shortest of the year — seemed endless to her, and as soon as the yellow light of the summer sun came creeping up the eastern sky, she was up and dressed, and, before any one in the house was stirring, started for the meadows. She did not forget her scissors, a small tin pan, and a piece of meat. Through the high, wet grass she ran, regardless of dress or stockings, and when at last she reached the edge of