I HAVE come now to the last chapter of my story. I thought when I began to write, that I would put down the events of each year of my life, but I fear that would make my story too long, and neither Miss Laura nor any boys and girls would care to read it. So I will stop just here, though I would gladly go on, for I have enjoyed so much talking over old times, that I am very sorry to leave off.
Every year that I have been at the Morrises’, something pleasant has happened to me, but I cannot put all these things down, nor can I tell how Miss Laura and the boys grew and changed, year by year, till now they are quite grown up. I will just bring my tale down to the present time, and then I will stop talking, and go lie down in my basket, for I am an old dog now, and get tired very easily.
I was a year old when I went to the Morrises, and I have been with them for twelve years. I am not living in the same house with Mr. and Mrs. Morris now, but I am with my dear Miss Laura, who is Miss Laura no longer, but Mrs. Gray. She married Mr. Harry four years ago, and lives with him and Mr. and Mrs. Wood, on Dingley Farm. Mr. and Mrs. Morris live in a cottage near by. Mr. Morris is not very strong, and can preach no longer. The boys are all scattered. Jack married pretty Miss Bessie Drury, and lives on a large farm near here. Miss Bessie says that she hates to be a farmer’s wife, but she always looks very happy and contented, so I think that she must be mistaken. Carl is a merchant in New York, Ned is a clerk in a bank, and Willie is studying at a place called Harvard. He says that after he finishes his studies, he is going to live with his father and mother.
The Morrises’ old friends often come to see them. Mrs. Drury comes every summer on her way to Newport, and Mr. Montague and Charlie come every other summer. Charlie always brings with him his old dog Brisk, who is getting feeble, like myself. We lie on the veranda in the sunshine, and listen to the Morrises talking about old days, and sometimes it makes us feel quite young again. In addition to Brisk we have a Scotch collie. He is very handsome, and is a constant attendant of Miss Laura’s. We are great friends, he and I, but he can get about much better than I can. One day a friend of Miss Laura’s came with a little boy and girl, and “Collie” sat between the two children, and their father took their picture with a “kodak.” I like him so much that I told him I would get them to put his picture in my book.
When the Morris boys are all here in the summer we have gay times. All through the winter we look forward to their coming, for they make the old farmhouse so lively. Mr. Maxwell never misses a summer in coming to Riverdale. He has such a following of dumb animals now, that he says he can’t move them any farther away from Boston than this, and he doesn’t know what he will do with them, unless he sets up a menagerie. He asked Miss Laura the other day, if she thought that the old Italian would take him into partnership. He did not know what had happened to poor Bellini, so Miss Laura told him.
A few years ago the Italian came to Riverdale, to exhibit his new stock of performing animals. They were almost as good as the old ones, but he had not quite so many as he had before. The Morrises and a great many of their friends went to his performance, and Miss Laura said afterward, that when cunning little Billy came on the stage, and made his bow, and went through his antics of jumping through hoops, and catching balls, that she almost had hysterics. The Italian had made a special pet of him for the Morrises’ sake, and treated him more like a human being than a dog. Billy rather put on airs when he came up to the farm to see us, but he was such a dear, little dog, in spite of being almost spoiled by his master, that Jim and I could not get angry with him. In a few days they went away, and we heard nothing but good news from them, till last winter. Then a letter came to Miss Laura from a nurse in a New York hospital. She said that the Italian was very near his end, and he wanted her to write to Mrs. Gray to tell her that he had sold all his animals but the little dog that she had so kindly given him. He was sending him back to her, and with his latest breath he would pray for heaven’s blessing on the kind lady and her family that had befriended him when he was in trouble.
The next day Billy arrived, a thin, white scarecrow of a dog. He was sick and unhappy, and would eat nothing, and started up at the slightest sound. He was listening for the Italian’s footsteps, but he never came, and one day Mr. Harry looked up from his newspaper and said, “Laura, Bellini is dead.” Miss Laura’s eyes filled with tears, and Billy, who had jumped up when he heard his master’s name, fell back again. He knew what they meant, and from that instant he ceased listening for footsteps, and lay quite still till he died. Miss Laura had him put in a little wooden box, and buried him in a corner of the garden, and when she is working among her flowers, she often speaks regretfully of him, and of poor Dandy, who lies in the garden at Fairport.
Bella, the parrot, lives with Mrs. Morris, and is as smart as ever. I have heard that parrots live to a very great age. Some of them even get to be a hundred years old. If that is the case, Bella will outlive all of us. She notices that I am getting blind and feeble, and when I go down to call on Mrs. Morris, she calls out to me, “Keep a stiff upper lip, Beautiful Joe. Never say die, Beautiful Joe. Keep the game a-going, Beautiful Joe.”
Mrs. Morris says that she doesn’t know where Bella picks up her slang words. I think it is Mr. Ned who teaches her, for when he comes home in the summer he often says, with a sly twinkle in his eye, “Come out into the garden, Bella,” and he lies in a hammock under the trees, and Bella perches on a branch near him, and he talks to her by the hour. Anyway, it is in the autumn after he leaves Riverdale that Bella always shocks Mrs. Morris with her slang talk.
I am glad that I am to end my days in Riverdale. Fairport was a very nice place, but it was not open and free like this farm. I take a walk every morning that the sun shines. I go out among the horses and cows, and stop to watch the hens pecking at their food. This is a happy place, and I hope my dear Miss Laura will live to enjoy it many years after I am gone.
I have very few worries. The pigs bother me a little in the spring, by rooting up the bones that I bury in the fields in the fall, but that is a small matter, and I try not to mind it. I get a great many bones here, and I should be glad if I had some poor, city dogs to help me eat them. I don’t think bones are good for pigs.
Then there is Mr. Harry’s tame squirrel out in one of the barns that teases me considerably. He knows that I can’t chase him, now that my legs are so stiff with rheumatism, and he takes delight in showing me how spry he can be, darting around me and whisking his tail almost in my face, and trying to get me to run after him, so that he can laugh at me. I don’t think that he is a very thoughtful squirrel, but I try not to notice him.
The sailor boy who gave Bella to the Morrises has got to be a large, stout man, and is the first mate of a vessel. He sometimes comes here, and when he does, he always brings the Morrises presents of foreign fruits and curiosities of different kinds.
Malta, the cat, is still living, and is with Mrs. Morris. Davy, the rat, is gone, so is poor old Jim. He went away one day last summer, and no one ever knew what became of him. The Morrises searched everywhere for him, and offered a large reward to anyone who would find him but he never turned up again. I think that he felt he was going to die, and went into some out-of-the-way place. He remembered how badly Miss Laura felt when Dandy died, and he wanted to spare her the greater sorrow of his death. He was always such a thoughtful dog, and so anxious not to give trouble. I am more selfish. I could not go away from Miss Laura even to die. When my last hour comes, I want to see her gentle face bending over me, and then I shall not mind how much I suffer.
She is just as tender-hearted as ever, but she tries not to feel too badly about the sorrow and suffering in the world, because she says that would weaken her, and she wants all her strength to try to put a stop to some of it. She does a great deal of good in Riverdale, and I do not think that there is anyone in all the country around who is as much beloved as she is.
She has never forgotten the resolve that she made some years ago, that she would do all that she could to protect dumb creatures. Mr. Harry and Mr. Maxwell have helped her nobly. Mr. Maxwell’s work is largely done in Boston, and Miss Laura and Mr. Harry have to do the most of theirs by writing, for Riverdale has got to be a model village in respect of the treatment of all kinds of animals. It is a model village not only in that respect, but in others. It has seemed as if all other improvements went hand in hand with the humane treatment of animals. Thoughtfulness toward lower creatures has made the people more and more thoughtful toward themselves, and this little town is getting to have quite a name through the State for its good schools, good society, and good business and religious standing. Many people are moving into it, to educate their children.. The Riverdale people are very particular about what sort of strangers come to live among them.
A man, who came here two years ago and opened a shop, was seen kicking a small kitten out of his house. The next day a committee of Riverdale citizens waited on him, and said they had had a great deal of trouble to root out cruelty from their village, and they didn’t want anyone to come there and introduce it again, and they thought he had better move on to some other place. The man was utterly astonished, and said he’d never heard of such particular people. He had had no thought of being cruel. He didn’t think that the kitten cared; but now when he turned the thing over in his mind, he didn’t suppose cats liked being kicked about any more than he would like it himself, and he would promise to be kind to them in future. He said, too, that if they had no objection, he would just stay on, for if the people there treated dumb animals with such consideration, they would certainly treat human beings better, and he thought it would be a good place to bring up his children in. Of course they let him stay, and he is now a man who is celebrated for his kindness to every living thing; and he never refuses to help Miss Laura when she goes to him for money to carry out any of her humane schemes.
There is one most important saying of Miss Laura’s that comes out of her years of service for dumb animals that I must put in before I close and it is this. She says that cruel and vicious owners of animals should be punished, but to merely thoughtless people, don’t say “Don’t” so much. Don’t go to them and say, “Don’t overfeed your animals, and don’t starve them and don’t overwork them, and don’t beat them,” and so on through the long list of hardships that can be put upon suffering animals, but say simply to them, “Be kind. Make a study of your animals’ wants, and see that they are satisfied. No one can tell you how to treat your animal as well as you should know yourself, for you are with it all the time, and know its disposition, and just how much work it can stand, and how much rest and food it needs, and just how it is different from every other animal. If it is sick or unhappy, you are the one to take care of it; for nearly every animal loves its own master better than a stranger, and will get well quicker under his care.”
Miss Laura says that if men and women are kind in every respect to their dumb servants, they will be astonished to find how much happiness they will bring into their lives, and how faithful and grateful their dumb animals will be to them.
Now, I must really close my story. Good-bye to the boys and girls who may read it; and if it is not wrong for a dog to say it, I should like to add, “God bless you all.” If in my feeble way I have been able to impress you with the fact that dogs and many other animals love their masters and mistresses, and live only to please them, my little story will not be written in vain. My last words are, “Boys and girls, be kind to dumb animals, not only because you will lose nothing by it, but because you ought to; for they were placed on the earth by the same Kind Hand that made all living creatures.”