Up the stairs of the hotel, two steps at a time, ran a boy with a big, black dog at his heels. “Come on, Prince; soft, now,” as they neared a door at the end of the corridors
It opened into a corner room overlooking “the Park,” as the small open space in front of the hotel was called. Within the room there was sunshine and comfort, it being the most luxurious one in the house, which the proprietor bad placed at the disposal of this most exacting guest. He didn’t look very happy, however–the gentleman who sat in an easy chair by the window; a large, handsome old gentleman, whose whole bearing showed plainly that personal comfort had always been his, and was, therefore, neither a matter of surprise nor thankfulness.
“Where have you been?” he asked, turning around to greet the boy who came in, followed by Prince.
“Oh, such a long story, father!” he cried, flushed; his eyes sparkling as he flung back the dark hair from his forehead. “You can’t even guess!”
“Never mind now,” said the old gentleman, testily; “your stories are always long; the paper hasn’t come–strange, indeed, that one must needs be so annoyed! do ring that bell again.”
So the bell was pulled; and a porter popped in his head.
“What is it, sir?”
“The paper,” said the old gentleman, irritably; “hasn’t it come yet?”
“No, sir,” said the man; and then he repeated, “taint in yet, please, sir.”
“Very well–you said so once; that’s all,” waving his hand; then as the door closed, he said to his son, “That pays one for coming to such an out-of-the-way country place as this, away from papers–I never will do it again.”
As the old gentleman, against the advice of many friends who knew his dependence on externals, had determined to come to this very place, the boy was not much startled at the decisive words. He stood very quietly, however, until his father finished. Then he said:
“It’s too bad, father! supposing I tell you my story? Perhaps you’ll enjoy hearing it while you wait–it’s really quite newspaperish.”
“Well, you might as well tell it now, I suppose,” said the old gentleman; “but it is a great shame about that paper! to advertise that morning papers are to be obtained–it’s a swindle, Jasper! a complete swindle!” and the old gentleman looked so very irate that the boy exerted himself to soothe him.
“I know,” he said; “but they can’t help the trains being late.”
“They shouldn’t have the trains late,” said his father, unreasonably. “There’s no necessity for all this prating about ‘trains late.’ I’m convinced it’s because they forgot to send down for the papers till they were all sold.”
“I don’t believe that’s it, father,” said the boy, trying to change the subject; “but you don’t know how splendid Prince has been, nor”– “And then such a breakfast!” continued the old gentleman.
“My liver certainly will be in a dreadful state if these things continue!” And he got up, and going to the corner of the room, opened his medicine chest, and taking a box of pills, he swallowed two, which done, he came back with a somewhat easier expression to his favorite chair.
“He was just splendid, father,” began the boy; “he went for him, I tell you!”
“I hope, Jasper, your dog has not been doing anything violent,” said the old gentleman. “I must caution you; he’ll get you into trouble some day; and then there’ll be a heavy bill to pay; he grows more irritable every day.”
“Irritable!” cried the boy, flinging his arms around the dog’s neck, who was looking up at the old gentleman in high disdain. “He’s done the most splendid thing you ever saw! Why, he saved a little girl, father, from a cross old organ-man, and he drove that man–oh! you ought to have seen him run!”
And now that it was over, Jasper put back his head and laughed long and loud as he remembered the rapid transit of the musical pair.
“Well, how do you know she wasn’t the man’s daughter?” asked his father, determined to find fault someway. “You haven’t any business to go around the country setting your dog on people. I shall have an awful bill to pay some day, Jasper–an awful bill!” he continued, getting up and commencing to pace up and down the floor in extreme irritation.
“Father,” cried the boy, half laughing, half vexed, springing to his side, and keeping step with him, “we found her brother; he came along when we were by the side of the road. We couldn’t go any further, for the poor little thing was all tired out. And don’t you think they live over in Badgertown, and”– “Well,” said the old gentleman, pausing in his walk, and taking out his watch to wonder if that paper would ever come, “she had probably followed the organ-man; so it served her right after all.”
“Well, but father,” and the boy’s dark eyes glowed, “she was such a cunning little thing! she wasn’t more than four years old; and she had such a pretty little yellow head; and she said so funny–‘I want Polly.”
“Did she?” said the old gentleman, getting interested in spite of himself; “what then?”
“Why, then, sir,” said Jasper, delighted at his success in diverting his thoughts, “Prince and I waited–and waited; and I was just going to bring her here to ask you what we should do, when”– “Dear me!” said the old gentleman, instinctively starting back as if he actually saw the forlorn little damsel, “you needn’t ever bring such people here, Jasper! I don’t know what to do with them, I’m sure!”
“Well,” said the boy, laughing, “we didn’t have to, did we, Prince?” stroking the big head of the dog who was slowly following the two as they paced up and down, but keeping carefully on the side of his master; “for just as we really didn’t know what to do, don’t you think there was a big wagon came along, drawn by the ricketiest old horse, and a boy in the wagon looking both sides of the road, and into every bush, just as wild as he could be, and before I could think, hardly, he spied us, and if he didn’t jump! I thought he’d broken his leg”–
“And I suppose he just abused you for what you had done,” observed the old gentleman, petulantly; “that’s about all the gratitude there is in this world.”
“He didn’t seem to see me at all,” said the boy. “I thought he’d eat the little girl up.”
“Ought to have looked out for her better then,” grumbled the old gentleman, determined to find fault with somebody.
“And he’s a splendid fellow, I just know,” cried Jasper, waxing enthusiastic; “and his name is Pepper.”
“Pepper!” repeated his father; “no nice family ever had the name of Pepper!”
“Well, I don’t care,” and Jasper’s laugh was loud and merry; “he’s nice anyway,–I know; and the little thing’s nice; and I’m going to see them–can’t I, father?”
“Dear me!” said his father; “how can you, Jasper? You do have the strangest tastes I ever saw!”
“It’s dreadful dull here,” pleaded the boy, touching the right string; “you know that yourself, father, and I don’t know any boys around here; and Prince and I are so lonely on our walks–do permit me, father!”
The old gentleman, who really cared very little about it, turned away, muttering, “Well, I’m sure I don’t care; go where you like,” when a knock was heard at the door, and the paper was handed in, which broke up the conversation, and restored good humor.
The next day but one, Ben was out by the wood-pile, trying to break up some kindlings for Polly who was washing up the dishes, and otherwise preparing for the delights of baking day.
“Hullo!” said a voice he thought he knew.
He turned around to see the merry-faced boy, and the big, black dog who immediately began to wag his tail as if willing to recognize him.
“You see I thought you’d never look round,” said the boy with a laugh. “How’s the little girl?”
“Oh! you have come, really,” cried Ben, springing over the wood-pile with a beaming face. “Polly!”
But Polly was already by the door, with dish-cloth in hand.