“You needn’t waste any more time talkin’ about it, Benjamin; you can jest take that puppy-dog and carry him off. I don’t care what you do with him; you can carry him back where you got him, or give him away, or swap him off; but jest as sure as you leave him here half an hour longer, I’ll call Jimmy up from the hay-field and have him shoot him. I won’t have a dog round the place, nohow. Couldn’t keep Seventoes a minute; he’s dreadful scart of dogs.”
“Take that puppy-dog and go along, I tell ye. I won’t have any more talk about it.”
Benjamin Wellman, small and slight, sandy-haired and blue-eyed, stood before his grandfather, who sat in his big arm-chair in the east door. Benjamin held in his right hand an old rope, which was attached to a leather strap around a puppy’s neck. The puppy pulled at the rope, keeping it taut all the time. He also yelped shrilly. He did not like to be tied. The puppy was not a pretty one, being yellow and very clumsy; but Benjamin thought him a beauty. He had urged to his grandfather that there would not be a dog to equal him in the neighborhood when he was grown up, but the old man had not been moved.
There were tears in Benjamin’s pretty blue eyes, but his square chin looked squarer. He tried to speak again. “Grandsir—” he began.
“Not another word,” said his grandfather.
Benjamin looked past his grandfather into the kitchen. His mother sat in there stemming currants. He went around to the other door and entered, dragging the puppy after him.
“Mother,” he said, in a low voice, “can’t I keep him?”
His grandfather in the east door looked around suspiciously, but he could hear nothing; he was somewhat deaf.
“No; not if your grandfather don’t want you to,” said his mother; “you know I can’t let you, Benjamin.”
The puppy was whining piteously, and Benjamin seemed to echo it when he spoke. “I don’t see why he don’t want me to. It ain’t as if Cæsar was a common puppy. You ask him, mother.”
“No,” returned his mother; “it won’t do any good. You know how much he thinks of Seventoes, and the dog might kill him when he was grown.”
“Wouldn’t care if he did,” muttered Benjamin; “nothing but a cross old stealing cat; don’t begin to be worth what this puppy is.”
“Now, Benjamin, you mustn’t talk any more about it,” said his mother, severely. “Grandsir does too much for you and me for you to make any fuss about a thing like this. Take that puppy and run right along with it, as he tells you to.”
Grandsir’s suspicions suddenly took shape then. “Benjamin, you run right along,” he called out; “don’t stand there teasing your mother about it.”
So Benjamin gathered the puppy up into his arms with a jerk—it was impossible to lead him any distance—and plunged out of the house. He gave two or three little choking sobs as he hurried along. It was a hot day, and he was tired and disappointed and discouraged. He had walked three miles over to the village and back to get that puppy, and now he had to walk a mile more to give it away. He had no doubt whatever as to the disposal of it; he knew Sammy Tucker would give it a hearty welcome, for there was an understanding to that effect. Benjamin had been a little doubtful as to the reception the puppy might have from his grandfather; but when Mr. Dyer, who kept the village grocery store, had offered it to him three weeks before, he had not had the courage to refuse. Sammy Tucker, too, had been in the store, buying three bars of soap for his mother, and he had looked on admiringly and enviously. When Benjamin had mentioned hesitatingly his doubts about his grandfather, Sammy had pricked up his ears.
“Say, Ben, you give him to me if your grandfather won’t let you keep him,” he had whispered, with a nudge. “Father said I might have a dog soon as there was a good chance, and Mr. Dyer won’t want it back. He’s giv away all but this, and he wants to get rid of ’em. They’re common kind of dogs, anyhow. I heard him say so.”
Benjamin had looked at him stiffly. “Oh, I guess grandsir’ll let me keep this puppy, he’s such a smart one,” he had answered, with dignity.
“Well, you ask him, and if he won’t, I’ll take him,” said Sammy.
But Benjamin had not asked his grandfather. He had not had courage to run the risk. He had waited the three weeks which the store-keeper had said must elapse before the little dog could leave its mother, and then had gone over to the village and brought it home, without a word to any one, trusting to the puppy’s own attractions to plead for it. It had seemed to Benjamin that nobody could resist that puppy. But Grandfather Wellman had all his life preferred cats to dogs, and now he was childishly fond of Seventoes. Benjamin’s mother often said that she didn’t know what grandsir would do if anything happened to Seventoes.
Benjamin, going out of the yard with the puppy under his arm, could see Seventoes sitting on the shed roof. That and the ledge of the old well behind the barn were his favorite perches. Grandfather Wellman thought he chose them because he was so afraid of dogs. Benjamin looked at him, and wished Cæsar was big enough to shake him. He had named the puppy Cæsar on his way home from the village. There was a great mastiff over there by the same name. Benjamin had always admired this big Cæsar, and now thought he would name his dog after him. It was the same principle reduced on which Benjamin himself had been named after Benjamin Franklin.
Benjamin trudged down the road, kicking up the dust with his toes. That was something he had been told not to do, so now in this state of mind he liked to do it. The sun beat down fiercely upon his small red cropped head in the burned straw-hat, and his slender shoulders in the calico blouse. The puppy was large and fat for his age, and made his arms ache. The stone-walls on both sides of the road were hidden with wild-rose and meadowsweet bushes; the fields were dotted with hay-makers; now and then a loaded hay-cart loomed up in the road. Many boys no older than Benjamin had to work hard in the hay-fields, but Grandfather Wellman was too careful of him; he would not let him work much in vacation; he had never been considered very strong. But Benjamin did not think of that. One grievance will outweigh a hundred benefits. He hugged the struggling puppy tight in his arms and trudged on painfully, brooding over his wrongs.
He muttered to himself as he went, “Wanted a dog ever since I was born. All the other boys have got ’em. ‘Ain’t never had nothing but an old cat. Sha’n’t never have a chance to get such a dog as this again. Wish something would happen to that old cat; shouldn’t care a mite.” He stubbed more fiercely into the dust, and it flew higher; a squirrel ran across the road, and he looked at it with an indifferent scowl.
When he reached Sammy Tucker’s house he saw Sammy out in the great north yard raking hay with his father. Sammy looked up and saw Benjamin coming.
“Holloa!” he sang out, eagerly. Then he dropped his rake and raced into the road. His black eyes winked fast with excitement. “Say, won’t he let you keep him, Ben?” he cried.
“No; he won’t let me keep nothing.”
“Going to let me have him, then?”
Sammy reached forth his eager hands, and took the kicking puppy from Benjamin’s reluctant arms. “Nice fellar—nice little fellar,” said he, tenderly.
“I’ve named him Cæsar,” said Benjamin.
“That’s a good name,” assented Sammy. “Hi, Cæsar! Hi, sir!”
Sammy’s father came smilingly forward to the fence; he was fond of dogs. He also took the puppy, and talked to it. Benjamin thought to himself that he wished his grandfather was more like Sammy’s father. He looked on gloomily.
“Hate to give it up, don’t you, Ben?” said Mr. Tucker, kindly.
“Sha’n’t never have such a chance again.”
“Oh yes, you will; your grandfather’ll let you have a dog some time.”
“No; he won’t never let me have nothing.”
“Oh, don’t you give up yet, Ben.”
Benjamin shook his head like a discouraged old man, and turned to go home.
“Sammy’ll feed him, and take real good care of him, and you can come over here and see him,” Mr. Tucker called after him, as he went down the road.
Benjamin thought to himself that he should not want to, as he marched wearily homeward. His arms were lightened of the puppy, but his heart seemed heavy within him. Two boys whom he knew sang out to him from a load of hay, but he gave only a grim nod in response. “They’ve got a dog,” he muttered; and indeed the pretty shepherd dog was following after the load.
Benjamin, when he came in sight of home, thought he would take a short-cut through the orchard. He meditated stealing up the back stairs to his chamber, staying up there, and saying that he did not want any supper; he was not hungry. They had not cut the grass in the orchard, and he plunged through clover, feathery grass, and daisies to his waist. He felt pleased to think how he was making a furrow through his grandfather’s hay. He emerged from the orchard, and went on towards the barn; directly back of it was the old well. When he reached that he stopped short. There was Seventoes—beautiful great yellow cat—stretched in the sun, all his wonderful seven-toed paws spread out. The ledge of the old well was a strange place for a cat, but Seventoes was fond of it, and stayed there much of the time when he was not on the shed roof.
Benjamin walked close to the well and looked at Seventoes. His small face was burning red with the heat; his blue eyes gleamed angrily. “You lazy old cat,” said he. He stood a second longer; then he thrust out his right hand and gave Seventoes a push. There was a piteous yawl and a great clawing, and Seventoes was out of sight. Benjamin ran. He gasped; a white streak was settling around his mouth. He was well versed in Bible stories, and he thought of Cain. What had he done? What would happen to him? Could he ever get away from his guilt, run fast as he would? Benjamin ran as he had never run before, his heart pounding, although he did not know clearly what he was running for. He tore around the barn, through the pasture bars, towards the house. When he came in sight of the shed a great qualm of guilt and remorse forced him to glance up at the place where poor Seventoes had so loved to sit, and where he would sit no more. Benjamin glanced, then he stood stock-still, fairly aghast with awe and terror—there sat Seventoes!
All the red faded out of Benjamin’s cheeks. He had never been encouraged in superstitious beliefs, but he was an imaginative child, and just now bewildered and unstrung. He stared at the shed roof. Yes! he saw Seventoes there, and Seventoes was at the bottom of the old well. Had he not seen him fall, clawing, down?
Benjamin rushed staggering into the kitchen. “Oh, grandsir! oh, mother!” he wailed—”oh, I’ve pushed Seventoes into the old well and drowned him, and his ghost’s sitting on the shed roof! Oh, mother!”
Grandfather Wellman was confined to his chair with rheumatism, but he arose. “Pushed Seventoes into the well,” he repeated, while Benjamin’s mother turned as pale as her son.
“I have—I have,” sobbed Benjamin. “I didn’t know I was going to, but I have. And he’s in the well, and he’s sitting on the shed roof too. Oh!”
“What do you mean?” his mother gasped. “Stop acting so, and tell me what you’ve done.”
“I pushed Seventoes into the old well. I didn’t know I was going to, but I did; and he’s dead in there, and he’s on the shed roof. Oh, mother!”
“You ‘ain’t pushed that cat into the well?” groaned Grandfather Wellman. “If you have—” He was trying to limp across the kitchen with his cane. He, too, was pale, and trembling from head to foot. “Hannah,” he said to Benjamin’s mother, “you come right along quick, and see if we can’t get him out. I wouldn’t take a hundred dollars for that cat.”
Benjamin’s mother started. Benjamin, sobbing and trembling, was clinging to her. Just then Seventoes walked in through the east door, his splendid ringed tail waving a little uneasily, but not a hair of him was hurt. A frightened cat can run faster than a guilty little boy, and Seventoes had found his unusual number of claws of good service in climbing a well and retarding his progress towards the bottom.
They all looked.
“Is it—Seventoes?” gasped Benjamin, with wild eyes.
“Of course it’s Seventoes,” growled his grandfather. “I’d like to know what you’ve been cutting up so for. Pussy, pussy, pussy.”
Benjamin’s mother took him over to the sink, and put some water on his head, and made him drink some. “There’s no such thing as a ghost, and you’re acting very silly,” said she; “but I don’t wonder you are scared, when you’ve done such a dreadful thing. It scares me to think of it. It was ‘most as bad as killing somebody. I never thought a boy of mine would do such a thing. Grandsir good as he is to you, too.”
“I—won’t ever do so—again,” sobbed Benjamin, all trembling. “I’m sorry; I am sorry.”
Benjamin was not whipped, the scourging of his own conscience had been severe enough, but he sat pale and sober in the kitchen, while grandsir, with Seventoes on his knees, and his mother talked to him.
“If you ever do anything like this again, Benjamin,” said his grandfather, “I shall be ha’sh with you, ha’sher than I’ve ever been, and you must remember it.”
“I guess he must,” said his mother. “It was a dreadful wicked thing, and he should be punished now if I didn’t think he’d suffered enough from his own guilty conscience for this time, and would never as long as he lived do such a terrible thing again.”
“I won’t—I—won’t!” choked Benjamin.
At supper-time, when the new milk was brought in from the barn, Benjamin filled a saucer with it and carried it to the door for Seventoes. He filled it so full that he spilled it all the way over the clean kitchen floor, but his mother said nothing. Seventoes lapped his milk happily; Benjamin, with his little contrite, tear-stained face, stood watching him, and grandsir sat in his arm-chair. Over in the fields the hay-makers were pitching the last loads into the carts; the east sky was red with the reflected color of the west. Everything was sweet and cool and peaceful, and the sun was not going down on Benjamin’s childish wrath. His grandfather put out his hand and patted his little red cropped head, “You’re always going to be a good boy after this, ain’t you, sonny?”
“Yes, sir,” said Benjamin, and he got down on his knees and hugged Seventoes.