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Chapter 17 – Betty’s Bravery

Louisa May AlcottNov 05, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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"Celia, I’ve a notion that we ought to give Ben something. A sort of
peace-offering, you know; for he feels dreadfully hurt about our
suspecting him," said Thorny, at dinner that day.

"I see he does, though he tries to seem as bright and pleasant as ever.
I do not wonder, and I’ve been thinking what I could do to soothe his
feelings. Can you suggest any thing? "

"Cuff-buttons. I saw some jolly ones over at Berryville, oxidized
silver, with dogs’ heads on them, yellow eyes, and all as natural as
could be. Those, now, would just suit him for his go-to-meeting white
shirts, – neat, appropriate, and in memoriam."

Miss Celia could not help laughing, it was such a boyish suggestion; but
she agreed to it, thinking Thorny knew best, and hoping the yellow-eyed
dogs would be as balm to Ben’s wounds.

"Well, dear, you may give those, and Lita shall give the little whip
with a horse’s foot for a handle, if it is not gone. I saw it at the
harness shop in town; and Ben admired it so much that I planned to give
it to him on his birthday."

"That will tickle him immensely; and if you’d just let him put brown
tops to my old boots, and stick a cockade in his hat when he sits up
behind the phaeton, he’d be a happy fellow," laughed Thorny, who had
discovered that one of Ben’s ambitions was to be a tip-top groom."

"No, thank you; those things are out of place in America, and would be
absurd in a small country place like this. His blue suit and straw hat
please me better for a boy; though a nicer little groom, in livery or
out, no one could desire, and you may tell him I said so."

"I will, and he’ll look as proud as punch; for he thinks every word you
say worth a dozen from any one else. But won’t you give him something?
Just some little trifle, to show that we are both eating humble pie,
feeling sorry about the mouse money."

"I shall give him a set of school-books, and try to get him ready to
begin when vacation is over. An education is the best present we can
make him; and I want you to help me fit him to enter as well is he can.
Bab and Betty began, little dears, – lent him their books and taught
all they knew; so Ben got a taste, and, with the right encouragement,
would like to go on, I am sure."

"That’s so like you Celia! Always thinking of the best thing and doing
it handsomely. I’ll help like a house a-fire, if he will let me; but,
all day, he’s been as stiff as a poker, so I don’t believe he forgives
me a bit."

"He will in time, and if you are kind and patient, he will be glad to
have you help him. I shall make it a sort of favor to me on his part, to
let you see to his lessons, now and then. It will be quite true, for I
don’t want you to touch your Latin or algebra till cool weather;
teaching him will be play to you."

Miss Celia’s last words made her brother unbend his brows, for he longed
to get at his books again, and the idea of being tutor to his
"man-servant" did not altogether suit him.

"I’ll tool him along at a great pace, if he will only go. Geography and
arithmetic shall be my share, and you may have the writing and spelling;
it gives me the fidgets to set copies’, and hear children make a mess of
words. Shall I get the books when I buy the other things? Can I go this
afternoon?"

"Yes, here is the list; Bab gave it to me. You can go if you will come
home early and have your tooth filled."

Gloom fell at once upon Thorny’s beaming face, and he gave such a shrill
whistle that his sister jumped in her chair, as she added, persuasively, –

"It won’t hurt a bit, now, and the longer you leave it the worse it will
be. Dr. Mann is ready at any time; and, once over, you will be at peace
for months. Come, my hero, give your orders, and take one of the girls
to support you in the trying hour. Have Bab; she will enjoy it, and
amuse you with her chatter."

"As if I needed girls round for such a trifle as that!" returned Thorny
with a shrug, though he groaned inwardly at the prospect before him, as
most of us do on such occasions. "I wouldn’t take Bab at any price;
she’d only get into some scrape, and upset the whole plan. Betty is the
chicken for me, – a real little lady, and as nice and purry as a
kitten."

"Very well; ask her mother, and take good care of her. Let her tuck her
dolly in, and she will be contented anywhere. There’s a fine air, and
the awning is on the phaeton, so you won’t feel the sun. Start about
three, and drive carefully."

Betty was charmed to go, for Thorny was a sort of prince in her eyes;
and to be invited to such a grand expedition was an overwhelming honor.
Bab was not surprised, for, since Sancho’s loss, she had felt herself in
disgrace, and been unusually meek; Ben let her "severely alone," which
much afflicted her, for he was her great admiration, and had been
pleased to express his approbation of her agility and courage so often,
that she was ready to attempt any fool-hardy feat to recover his regard.
But vainly did she risk her neck jumping off the highest beams in the
barn, trying to keep her balance standing on the donkey’s back, and
leaping the lodge gate at a bound; Ben vouchsafed no reward by a look, a
smile, a word of commendation; and Bab felt that nothing but Sancho’s
return would ever restore the broken friendship.

Into faithful Betty’s bosom did she pour forth her remorseful
lamentations, often bursting out with the passionate exclamation, "If I
could only find Sanch, and give him back to Ben, I wouldn’t care if I
tumbled down and broke all my legs right away!" Such abandonment of woe
made a deep impression on Betty; and she fell into the way of consoling
her sister by cheerful prophecies, and a firm belief that the organ-man
would yet appear with the lost darling.

"I’ve got five cents of my berry money, and I’ll buy you an orange if I
see any," promised Betty stepping to kiss Bab, as the phaeton came to
the door, and Thorny handed in a young lady whose white frock was so
stiff with starch that it crackled like paper.

"Lemons will do if oranges are gone. I like ’em to suck with lots of
sugar," answered Bab, feeling that the sour sadly predominated in her
cup just now.

"Don’t she look sweet, the dear!" murmured Mrs. Moss, proudly surveying
her youngest.

She certainly did, sitting under the fringed canopy with "Belinda," all
in her best, upon her lap, as she turned to smile and nod, with a face
so bright and winsome under the little blue hat, that it was no wonder
mother and sister thought there never was such a perfect child as "our
Betty."

Dr. Mann was busy when they arrived, but would be ready in an hour; so
they did their shopping at once, having made sure of the whip as they
came along. Thorny added some candy to Bab’s lemon, and Belinda had a
cake, which her mamma obligingly ate for her. Betty thought that
Aladdin’s palace could not have been more splendid than the jeweller’s
shop where the canine cuff-buttons were bought; but when they came to
the book-store, she forgot gold, silver, and precious stones, to revel
in picture-books, while Thorny selected Ben’s modest school outfit.
Seeing her delight, and feeling particularly lavish with plenty of money
in his pocket, the young gentleman completed the child’s bliss by
telling her to choose whichever one she liked best out of the pile of
Walter Crane’s toy-books lying in bewildering colors before her.

"This one; Bab always wanted to see the dreadful cupboard, and there’s a
picture of it here," answered Betty, clasping a gorgeous copy of
"Bluebeard" to the little bosom, which still heaved with the rapture of
looking at that delicious mixture of lovely Fatimas in pale azure gowns,
pink Sister Annes on the turret top, crimson tyrants, and yellow
brothers with forests of plumage blowing wildly from their
mushroom-shaped caps.

Very good; there you are, then. Now, come on, for the fun is over and
the grind begins," said Thorny, marching away to his doom, with his
tongue in his tooth, and trepidation in his manly breast.

"Shall I shut my eyes and hold your head?" quavered devoted Betty, as
they went up the stairs so many reluctant feet had mounted before them.

"Nonsense, child, never mind me! You look out of window and amuse
yourself; we shall not be long, I guess;" and in went Thorn silently
hoping that the dentist had been suddenly called away, or some person
with an excruciating toothache would be waiting to take ether, and so
give our young man an excuse for postponing his job.

But no; Dr. Mann was quite at leisure, and, full of smiling interest,
awaited his victim, laying forth his unpleasant little tools with the
exasperating alacrity of his kind. Glad to be released from any share in
the operation, Betty retired to the back window to be as far away as
possible, and for half in hour was so absorbed in her book that poor
Thorny might have groaned dismally without disturbing her.

"Done now, directly, only a trifle of polishing off and a look round,"
said Dr. Mann, at last; and Thorny, with a yawn that nearly rent him
asunder, called out, –

"Thank goodness! Pack up, Bettykin."

"I’m all ready!" and, shutting her book with a start, she slipped down
from the easy chair in a great hurry.

But "looking round" took time; and, before the circuit of Thorny’s mouth
was satisfactorily made, Betty had become absorbed by a more interesting
tale than even the immortal "Bluebeard." A noise of children’s voices in
the narrow alley-way behind the house attracted her attention; the long
window opened directly on the yard, and the gate swung in the wind.
Curious as Fatima, Betty went to look; but all she saw was a group of
excited boys peeping between the bars of another gate further down.

"What’s the matter?" she asked of two small girls, who stood close by
her, longing but not daring to approach the scene of action.

"Boys chasing a great black cat, I believe," answered one child.

"Want to come and see?" added the other, politely extending the
invitation to the stranger.

The thought of a cat in trouble would have nerved Betty to face a dozen
boys; so she followed at once, meeting several lads hurrying away on
some important errand, to judge from their anxious countenances.

"Hold tight, Jimmy, and let ’em peek, if they want to. He can’t hurt
anybody now," said one of the dusty huntsmen, who sat on the wide coping
of the wall, while two others held the gate, as if a cat could only
escape that way.

"You peek first, Susy, and see if it looks nice," said one little girl,
boosting her friend so that she could look through the bars in the upper
part of the gate.

"No; it ‘s only an ugly old dog!" responded Susy, losing all interest at
once, and descending with a bounce.

"He’s mad! and Jud’s gone to get his gun, so we can shoot him!" called
out one mischievous boy, resenting the contempt expressed for their
capture.

"Ain’t, neither!" howled another lad from his perch. "Mad dogs won’t
drink; and this one is lapping out of a tub of water."

"Well, he may be, and we don’t know him, and he hasn’t got any muzzle
on, and the police will kill him if Jud don’t," answered the sanguinary
youth who had first started the chase after the poor animal, which had
come limping into town, so evidently a lost dog that no one felt any
hesitation in stoning him.

"We must go right home; my mother is dreadful ‘fraid of mad dogs, and so
is yours," said Susy; and, having satisfied their curiosity, the young
ladies prudently retired.

But Betty had not had her "peep," and could not resist one look; for she
had heard of these unhappy animals, and thought Bab would like to know
how they looked. So she stood on tip-toe and got a good view of a dusty,
brownish dog, lying on the grass close by, with his tongue hanging out
while he panted, as if exhausted by fatigue and fear, for he still cast
apprehensive glances at the wall which divided him from his tormentors.

His eyes are just like Sanch’s," said Betty to herself, unconscious that
she spoke aloud, till she saw the creature prick up his cars and half
rise, as if he had been called.

"He looks as if he knew me, but it isn’t our Sancho; he was a lovely
dog." Betty said that to the little boy peeping in beside her; but
before he could make any reply, the brown beast stood straight up with
an inquiring bark, while his eyes shone like topaz, and the short tail
wagged excitedly.

"Why, that’s just the way Sanch used to do!" cried Betty, bewildered by
the familiar ways of this unfamiliar-looking dog.

As if the repetition of his name settled his own doubts, he leaped
toward the gate and thrust a pink nose between the bars, with a howl of
recognition as Betty’s face was more clearly seen. The boys tumbled
precipitately from their perches, and the little girl fell back alarmed,
yet could not bear to run away and leave those imploring eyes pleading
to her through the bars so eloquently.

"He acts just like our dog, but I don’t see how it can be him. Sancho,
Sancho, is it really you?" called Betty, at her wits’ end what to do.

"Bow, wow, wow!" answered the well-known bark, and the little tail did
all it could to emphasize the sound, while the eyes were so full of dumb
love and joy, the child could not refuse to believe that this ugly stray
was their own Sancho strangely transformed.

All of a sudden, the thought rushed into her mind, how glad Ben would
be! – and Bab would feel all happy again. "I must carry him home."

Never stopping to think of danger, and forgetting all her doubts, Betty
caught the gate handle out of Jimmy’s grasp, exclaiming eagerly: "He is
our dog! Let me go in; I ain’t afraid."

"Not till Jud comes back; he told us we mustn’t," answered the
astonished Jimmy, thinking the little girl as mad as the dog.

With a confused idea that the unknown Jud had gone for a gun to shoot
Sanch, Betty gave a desperate pull at the latch and ran into the yard,
bent on saving her friend. That it was a friend there could he no
further question; for, though the creature rushed at her as if about to
devour her at a mouthful, it was only to roll ecstatically at her feet,
lick her hands, and gaze into her face, trying to pant out the welcome
which he could not utter. An older and more prudent person would have
waited to make sure before venturing in; but confiding Betty knew little
of the danger which she might have run; her heart spoke more quickly
than her head, and, not stopping to have the truth proved, she took the
brown dog on trust, and found it was indeed dear Sanch.

Sitting on the grass, she hugged him close, careless of tumbled hat,
dusty paws on her clean frock, or a row of strange boys staring from the
wall.

"Darling doggy, where have you been so long?" she cried, the great thing
sprawling across her lap, as if he could not get near enough to his
brave little protector. "Did they make you black and beat you, dear? Oh,
Sanch, where is your tail – your pretty tail?"

A plaintive growl and a pathetic wag was all the answer he could make to
these tender inquiries; for never would the story of his wrongs be
known, and never could the glory of his doggish beauty be restored.
Betty was trying to comfort him with pats and praises, when a new face
appeared at the gate, and Thorny’s authoritative voice called out, –

"Betty Moss, what on earth are you doing in there with that dirty
beast?"

"It’s Sanch, it’s Sanch! Oh, come and see! shrieked Betty, flying up to
lead forth her prize. But the gate was held fast, for some one said the
words, "Mad dog," and Thorny was very naturally alarmed, because he had
already seen one. "Don’t stay there another minute. Get up on that bench
and I’ll pull you over," directed Thorny, mounting the wall to rescue
his charge in hot haste; for the dog did certainly behave queerly,
limping hurriedly to and fro, as if anxious to escape. No wonder, when
Sancho heard a voice he knew, and recognized another face, yet did not
meet as kind a welcome as before.

"No, I’m not coming out till he does. It is Sanch, and I’m going to
take him home to Ben," answered Betty, decidedly, as she wet her
handkerchief in the rain water to bind up the swollen paw that had
travelled many miles to rest in her little hand again.

"You’re crazy, child. That is no more Ben’s dog than I am."

"See if it isn’t!" cried Betty, perfectly unshaken in her faith; and,
recalling the words of command as well as she could, she tried to put
Sancho through his little performance, as the surest proof that she was
right. The poor fellow did his best, weary and foot-sore though he was;
but when it came to taking his tail in his mouth to waltz, he gave it
up, and, dropping down, hid his face in his paws, as he always did when
any of his tricks failed. The act was almost pathetic now, for one of
the paws was bandaged, and his whole attitude expressed the humiliation
of a broken spirit.

That touched Thorny, and, quite convinced both of the dog’s sanity and
identity, he sprung down from the wall with Ben’s own whistle, which
gladdened Sancho’s longing ear as much as the boy’s rough caresses
comforted his homesick heart.

"Now, let’s carry him right home, and surprise Ben. Won’t he be
pleased?" said Betty, so in earnest that she tried to lift the big brute
in spite of his protesting yelps.

"You are a little trump to find him out in spite of all the horrid
things that have been done to him. We must have a rope to lead him, for
he’s got no collar and no muzzle. He has got friends though, and I’d
like to see any one touch him now. Out of the way, there, boy!" Looking
as commanding as a drum-major, Thorny cleared a passage, and with one
arm about his neck, Betty proudly led her treasure magnanimously
ignoring his late foes, and keeping his eye fixed on the faithful friend
whose tender little heart had known him in spite of all disguises.

"I found him, sir," and the lad who had been most eager for the
shooting, stepped forward to claim any reward that might be offered for
the now valuable victim.

"I kept him safe till she came," added the jailer Jimmy, speaking for
himself.

"I said he wasn’t mad", cried a third, feeling that his discrimination
deserved approval.

"Jud ain’t my brother," said the fourth, eager to clear his skirts from
all ofi-ence.

"But all of you chased and stoned him, I suppose? You’d better look out
or you’ll get reported to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals."

With this awful and mysterious threat, Thorny slammed the doctor’s gate
in the faces of the mercenary youths, nipping their hopes in the bud,
and teaching them a good lesson.

After one astonished stare, Lita accepted Sancho without demur, and they
greeted one another cordially, nose to nose, instead of shaking hands.
Then the dog nestled into his old place under the linen duster with a
grunt of intense content, and soon fell fast asleep, quite worn out with
fatigue. No Roman conqueror bearing untold treasures with him, ever
approached the Eternal City feeling richer or prouder than did Miss
Betty as she rolled rapidly toward the little brown house with the
captive won by her own arms. Poor Belinda was forgotten in a corner,
"Bluebeard" was thrust under the cushion, and the lovely lemon was
squeezed before its time by being sat upon; for all the child could
think of was Ben’s delight, Bab’s remorseful burden lifted off, "Ma’s"
surprise, and Miss Celia’s pleasure. She could hardly realize the happy
fact, and kept peeping under the cover to be sure that the dear dingy
bunch at her feet was truly there.

"I’ll tell you how we’ll do it," said Thorny, breaking a long silence as
Betty composed herself with an irrepressible wriggle of delight after
one of these refreshing peeps. "We’ll keep Sanch hidden, and smuggle him
into Ben’s old room at your house. Then I’ll drive on to the barn, and
not say a word, but send Ben to get something out of that room. You just
let him in, to see what he’ll do. I’ll bet you a dollar he won’t know
his own dog."

"I don’t believe I can keep from screaming right out when I see him, but
I’ll try. Oh, won’t it be fun!" – and Betty clapped her hands in joyful
anticipation of that exciting moment.

A nice little plan, but Master Thorny forgot the keen senses of the
amiable animal snoring peacefully among his boots; and, when they
stopped at the Lodge, he had barely time to say in a whisper,

"Ben’s coming; cover Sanch and let me get him in quick!" before the dog
was out of the phaeton like a bombshell, and the approaching boy went
down as if shot, for Sancho gave one leap, and the two rolled over and
over, with a shout and a bark of rapturous recognition.

"Who is hurt?" asked Mrs. Moss, running out with floury hands uplifted
in alarm.

"Is it a bear?" cried Bab, rushing after her, beater in hand, for a
dancing bear was the delight of her heart.

"Sancho’s found! Sancho’s found!" shouted Thorny, throwing up his hat
like a lunatic.

"Found, found, found!" echoed Betty, dancing wildly about as if she too
had lost her little wits.

"Where? how? when? who did it?" asked Mrs. Moss, clapping her dusty
hands delightedly.

"It isn’t; it’s an old dirty brown thing," stammered Bab, as the dog
came uppermost for a minute, and then rooted into Ben’s jacket as if he
smelt a woodchuck, and was bound to have him out directly.

Then Thorny, with many interruptions from Betty, poured forth the
wondrous tale, to which Bab and his mother listened breathlessly, while
the muffins burned as black as a coal, and nobody cared a bit.

"My precious lamb, how did you dare to do such a thing?" exclaimed Mrs.
Moss, hugging the small heroine with mingled admiration and alarm.

"I’d have dared, and slapped those horrid boys, too. I wish I’d gone!"
and Bab felt that she had for ever lost the chance of distinguishing
herself.

"Who cut his tail off?" demanded Ben, in a menacing tone, as he came
uppermost in his turn, dusty, red and breathless, but radiant.

"The wretch who stole him, I suppose; and he deserves to be hung,"
answered Thorny, hotly.

"If ever I catch him, I’ll – I’ll cut his nose off," roared Ben, with
such a vengeful glare that Sanch barked fiercely; and it was well that
the unknown "wretch" was not there, for it would have gone hardly with
him, since even gentle Betty frowned, while Bab brandished the
egg-beater menacingly, and their mother indignantly declared that "it
was too bad!"

Relieved by this general outburst, they composed their outraged
feelings; and while the returned wanderer went from one to another to
receive a tender welcome from each, the story of his recovery was more
calmly told. Ben listened with his eye devouring the injured dog; and
when Thorny paused, he turned to the little heroine, saying solemnly, as
he laid her hand with his own on Sancho’s head,

"Betty Moss, I’ll never forget what you did; from this minute half of
Sanch is your truly own, and if I die you shall have the whole of him,"
and Ben sealed the precious gift with a sounding kiss on either chubby
check.

Betty was so deeply touched by this noble bequest, that the blue eyes
filled and would have overflowed if Sanch had not politely offered his
tongue like a red pocket-handkerchlef, and so made her laugh the drops
away, while Bab set the rest off by saying gloomily, –

"I mean to play with all the mad dogs I can find; then folks will think
I’m smart and give me nice things."

"Poor old Bab, I’ll forgive you now, and lend you my half whenever you
want it," said Ben, feeling at peace now with all mankind, including,
girls who tagged.

"Come and show him to Celia," begged Thorny, eager to fight his battles
over again.

"Better wash him up first; he’s a sight to see, poor thing," suggested
Mrs. Moss, as she ran in, suddenly remembering her muffins.

"It will take a lot of washings to get that brown stuff off. See, his
pretty, pink skin is all stained with it. We’ll bleach him out, and his
curls will grow, and he’ll be as good as ever – all but – "

Ben could not finish, and a general wail went up for the departed tassel
that would never wave proudly in the breeze again.

"I’ll buy him a new one. Now form the procession and let us go in
style," said Thorny, cheerily, as he swung Betty to his shoulder and
marched away whistling "Hail! the conquering hero comes," while Ben and
his Bow-wow followed arm-in-arm, and Bab brought up the rear, banging on
a milk-pan with the egg-beater.

 

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