Authors: Carol Ryrie Brink
VERYBODY LIKES A PET
to care for and love. Of course Nero belonged to the whole family, and there were always young pigs and calves and colts on the farm; but still a personal pet was always welcome in the Woodlawn family.
Caddie had had her old sheep, Nanny; and now she had her very own lamb, which she had christened Bouncer.
Hetty and Minnie had a pet chicken, which drew a little cart for them by means of a string harness. In the fall, when Father had banked the foundation of the house for winter, one of the half-grown chickens had been accidentally banked in under the house. There were so many young chickens about that nobody missed this unfortunate one.
“There’s a chicken cheeping and calling somewhere outside, as if it is in trouble,” Mother had said several days later.
Everybody listened and, sure enough, they heard it. They hunted the place over for several more days with no success. The cheeping and crying always sounded farther away when they went out of doors. It was only in the kitchen that the sound came clear and loud. They searched on the kitchen roof, they tapped the kitchen walls, but it was only when they saw Nero cocking his ears and looking down at
the kitchen floor that it occurred to anyone to remember the space between the floor and the ground.
Hetty was all for having up the kitchen floor at once to rescue the poor fowl, but Tom said, “No, it must have got through that open place in the foundation and been too frightened to come out while Father and Robert were banking the foundation with sod and straw. The thing to do is to pull away the banking from the open place, and someone crawl in there and get the chicken.”
“Well, do as you like,” said Mrs. Conroy, “so long as ye do it outside. But divil a bit will I let ye tear up my fine kitchen floor for the likes of a chicken.”
By the time they had come to the decision to act on Tom’s advice, the cries of the chicken had grown quite faint and faraway.
“Oh, hurry, Tom! Do!” Hetty cried. “The poor thing’s dying of starvation!”
“Oh, dear!” said little Minnie. “The poor, poor thing!”
Tom and Warren and Caddie went out and dug away the banking from the open place in the foundation while Hetty and Minnie stood by and watched. But when the gap in the foundation rocks was laid bare, they all saw that it was a smaller hole than they had remembered. None of the three larger children could possibly have crawled in there; and certainly none of them wanted to, for the hole looked singularly dark and uninviting.
“Let’s try putting some feed here, and calling
But—whether from fright or weakness they could not
tell—the poor lost chicken would not be lured into the open air. Vainly they coaxed and peered into the darkness, but only an occasional weak chirp told them that the chicken was still there. They could see nothing.
“Maybe Hetty could get into the hole,” Caddie suggested, and Hetty tried.
But she stuck fast and had to be pulled out with muddy pantalets and many cries of anguish.
“I wonder about little Minnie,” Tom said doubtfully.
Caddie shook her head, and Hetty cried, “It’s dreadful in there! Minnie would be afraid.”
They all looked at little Minnie and she looked back at them with her round blue eyes, and then suddenly she surprised everyone by saying in her small, shy voice, “I can.”
Little Minnie was a tight fit, but they managed to get her through the hole into the darkness.
“Now don’t you be afraid, Minnie,” Hetty called anxiously. “There’s nothing in there to hurt you, honey. Don’t you be a bit afraid.”
Little Minnie turned around and put her face out of the hole for a moment to console Hetty.
“It’s all right, Hetty,” she said seriously. “Don’t you be afraid either, honey.”
Little Minnie was gone for so long a time that even Tom began to be worried.
“Golly! What would Ma say if we lost her?”
“Well, maybe Katie Conroy would let us take up the kitchen floor for
“Minnie! Are you all right?”
“Yes,” replied little Minnie’s voice from far under the house, and presently, all covered with cobwebs and dirt, she came crawling out with a half-dead chicken in her arms.
That was how Hetty and Minnie got their special pet.
For a long time the chicken took not the slightest interest in life, but squatted dejectedly in the cotton-lined box which the little girls provided for a bed and pecked halfheartedly at their offerings of food and water. When he finally made up his mind that life was worth living after all, the snow had come and nobody had the heart to turn him out into the cold. Tom made him a little pen behind the woodbox; and when he was not in it he was riding around on Hetty’s or Minnie’s shoulder, or pulling their penny dolls in a little cardboard cart which Caddie constructed from a discarded box.
“The girls have got all these pets,” Warren said. “Tom, we’d ought to have something, too.”
“I know,” Tom said. “But what?”
“Tadpoles,” Warren suggested, and added more thoughtfully, “Snakes, maybe.”
But there is a singular lack of warmth and response in the affection of a tadpole or a snake.
In February, when they went through the woods tapping the hard maple trees and hanging their buckets on pegs to catch the maple sap, they often saw the speckled sides or short white tails of the deer vanishing away through the hazel brush.
“A deer, now—” Tom said.
would be a pet if you could get one! Tadpoles and snakes—they wouldn’t be in it!”
Riding around on Minnie’s shoulder
But the boys were still looking for the ideal pet when spring came, and with it the shearing of the sheep.
Caddie’s Bouncer was a year old that spring and had as fine a coat of wool as any animal in Father’s flock, which now numbered nearly seven hundred and fifty sheep. Caddie was looking forward to the money she would get from Bouncer’s wool after the shearing, for, as well as being a delightful pet, Bouncer was also Caddie’s fortune.
Before the shearing started, Father came home with the news that wool was worth sixteen cents more a pound if it was washed before it was sheared.
“We’re going to wash all of our sheep,” Father said.
“Seven hundred and fifty sheep?” cried Mother. “My dear, you must have lost your wits!”
“Not at all,” said Father. “I’ve thought it all out. We’ll build large pens near the sand bar on the river and, as soon as the weather is warm enough, we’ll begin washing the sheep there. We’ll turn them into the clean green pasture to dry before the shearing. I can get a couple of extra men from town to help the hired men and myself, and, of course, the boys can help.”
“And me, Father!” Caddie cried. “Surely you’ll let me do it, too!”
“Well,” said Father, “we’ll see how you do with Bouncer. If you can handle him, I guess that you can handle anything.”
“Of course, I can handle Bouncer!” Caddie cried. “My very own lamb!”
If her words sounded very certain, she may have felt
somewhat less certain within herself. For Bouncer was big and strong this spring and not so easily handled as when he had lain in her arms, a helpless, motherless baby.
The barrel of soft soap, which Mother and Katie Conroy had made from waste fats and wood ashes, was trundled down to the new pens near the sand bar on the first warm day of spring, and the washing of the sheep was begun. For a while Caddie stood and watched Tom and Warren hanging on to a sheep by a strap round its neck while they poured water and a handful of soft soap over its back and worked up a lather. The more difficult part of the proceeding came when they had to entice the creature into the river for a thorough rinse before driving it up again onto the sand bar and along a little runway to the pasture. The men and boys had worn their oldest clothes, and it was not long before they were as wet as the washed sheep.
The sheep were nervous and alarmed by these unusual proceedings. They jumped and plunged and tried to run away in the wrong direction. It did not help matters a bit that someone was hunting on the opposite bank of the river. The occasional sound of a shot in the distance only frightened the timid sheep the more.
“Autumn’s the time for hunting,” Robert Ireton grumbled. “Bedad, this is no time to be out flinging shots about! The lad had better be washing sheep.”
But whoever was at work in the woods opposite seemed to have his own opinion in the matter, for the shooting continued for some time.
Father looked at Caddie as he finished a particularly lively sheep.
“You’d better change your mind, daughter,” Father called. “I’ll wash Bouncer for you myself.”
Caddie only shook her head, and was ready for Bouncer when he came out of the pen. A long time ago she had painted a bright red spot on his forehead, so that nobody should ever mistake him for anyone else’s lamb.
She flung the strap about his neck as she had seen the boys do and, talking softly to him, got him to the edge of the water. But here he gave a sudden leap and change of direction, and it was all she could do to hold him down by flinging herself across his back and sinking frantic fingers into his wool. After a moment he stood still again, and she was able to pour the water over him. Warren helped her with the soap, and as she worked it into his wool she could see how fine and white it was going to be when it was rinsed.
“Sixteen cents more a pound, Bouncer,” Caddie said, “and—my!—won’t you look funny when it’s all cut off? Come on now, baby, into the river with you! You’re going to be a beauty when I’m through with you.”
Bouncer had other ideas about the river. He tried to run in every direction but the right one. Tom and Warren, shouting and waving him back toward the water, drove him even more frantic. In the excitement Caddie lost the strap from his neck, and could keep hold of him only by sinking her fingers deep in his wool. She did not let him get away, but, although the two of them were firmly attached, it became more and more apparent that Bouncer and not Caddie was in control.
Seeing that all other avenues of escape were closed,
Bouncer finally took to the river with Caddie still hanging on for dear life. But he did not come docilely to land, on the sand bar, and into the pen as the other sheep were doing. He suddenly struck out into midstream, swimming strongly, and Caddie—alas!—went with him.
Above the sound of rushing water she heard Father’s voice crying out, “Hold on to him! Hold on to him! I’m coming.”
My goodness! She couldn’t have let go of him now if she had tried. Away they went, headed directly for the opposite bank of the river.
The canoe was drawn up near the sand bar in case of emergency, and in a moment Father and the boys were in it and paddling up into the current as fast as they could after Caddie and Bouncer. But Bouncer reached shore before they did and, when they came up, they saw that Caddie had flung herself on top of her sheep and was desperately preventing him from running off into the woods.
Dripping with water and red in the face from her exertions, she nevertheless shouted triumphantly at Father, “I handled him, Father! I handled him. I guess I can handle anything!”
When Father had secured Bouncer firmly with his own strap, he began to laugh.
“Yes, you handled him,” he said. “But if you don’t get to the house now, and into some dry clothes, I can tell you that your mother will handle
and not too gently either.”
“Oh, Father, Father!” wailed Caddie. “You aren’t going to make me stop washing sheep?”
“Well, child, you come back in half an hour in dry
clothes, and maybe I’ll give you some gentle old ewes to wash,” Father said, still laughing mightily.
He put Caddie into the canoe to paddle, and got in after her with a subdued sheep held firmly in his arms. The boys shoved them off.
“I’ll send Robert back after you in a few minutes, lads,” Father called to them as the canoe took off for the scene of the sheep washing.
“Don’t hurry,” Tom replied. “We’ll go see who was shooting.”
“The shooting’s stopped now, Tom,” said Warren. “1 haven’t heard one for a long time.”
Nevertheless they struck into the woods beyond the river-bank, with their eyes and ears alert for signs of the hunters.
“I think, like Robert,” said Tom, “this is a bad time of year to hunt. It’s the time of year for mothers and young things that didn’t ought to be killed.”
“One of those back-East fellows, maybe,” said Warren, “who don’t know how to carry on with a gun in the West.”
They went on for a short distance in silence until they came to a small mossy opening under the trees. There were Mayflowers and blood root in blossom among the mosses and last year’s leaves; and fronds of fern, like little rearing heads, were beginning to uncurl. In the midst of all this gentleness and beauty lay the carcass of a newly killed deer.
“He’s stripped off the haunches for meat and left the rest of the carcass to waste,” said Tom angrily.
“I guess he took the antlers, too,” said Warren. “I don’t see ’em.”
Tom went around to the animal’s head.
“No,” he said. “It never had any antlers; it’s a doe. Warren, I bet she had a fawn! At this time of year every doe has got a little one. Oh, golly, what a rotten thing to do!”