“Oh, papa! The beautiful, the beautiful!"
Little Elsa Doane buried her glowing face deep in the soft, silky fur of magnificent collie dog. The automobile in which she and her father sat had just stopped in front of a modest little cottage. Mr. Doane wished to locate a carpenter who had done some work for him. He had hailed a man in the back yard of the place, chopping wood.
This was John Graham, out of work and almost out of a home. There was not much wood for him to chop, any more than there was much to eat in the house. He dropped the ax wearily. He uttered a deep sigh as he glanced up at the kitchen window where his wife was peeling potatoes only three of them. Then he started for the road.
Prime pet of the household, loyal, grand looking and gentle as a lamb, Laddie, his dog, had preceded him. Little Elsa had called him. Light as squirrel, daintily, lovingly, Laddie had leaped upon the running board of the machine to have the golden-haired little beauty go into ecstasies over him.
"Will you please tell me where a Mr. Evans lives?" inquired Mr. Doane, rich and influential, of John Graham, poor and friendless.
The latter answered politely. The chauffeur was ready to start up when Elsa set up a great outcry.
"Oh, papa, dear, I want to stay here and play with this beautiful dog!"
"We must be on our way, pet," reminded her father.
Well-trained, well-behaved Laddie caressed the little one with his paw and sprang free of the machine, following his master back into the yard. Elsa burst into a torrent or unrestrained weeping.
"Please, oh, please, papa, buy me that beautiful dog!" she pleaded, and took on so that Mr. Doane looked undecided and irresolute: Then, her tears coming faster, he alighted and joined Mr. Graham in the back yard.
"My friend," he said, "that is a fine animal of yours."
"Laddie - oh, yes, sir, a family pet. My wife and little daughter and he are wonderful friends."
"Would you think of selling him? Would you look at $50 for him.”
Mr. Graham shook his head sadly. Fifty dollars! Food, shelter, a respite from endless care, anxiety and even destitution for his wife! But he caught his breath short and quick.
"Don't tempt me," he said. "No."
Mr. Doane bowed in disappointment and started back for the automobile. At that moment John Graham glanced" up at the kitchen window again. He saw the white, sad face of his wife, bedewed with tears. He thought of the shabby, thin dress of their only child, Rose. He recalled that the morrow was the limit of a five days' notice from the landlord to vacate the premises for nonpayment of rent.
"One moment, sir," he called out after his visitor. "I've changed my mind."
He had picked up a strap as he proceeded to the front of the yard. He whistled to Laddie. The animal came forward, tail drooping, eyes seeming to betoken an intelligent idea of what was going on. Mr. Graham attached the hooked end of the strap to Laddie's collar. He handed the other end to the chauffeur. Downcast, slinking, trembling, the poor animal got into the machine. With tears in his eyes, his back turned, Mr. Graham accepted the money counted out to him.
A cry of rare childish delight came from Elsa's lips, a low howl of despair unutterable from the throat of Laddie as the auto sped forward.
"I can't take it, John, I couldn't use it. It's 'like blood money!" gasped Mrs. Graham, when her husband came In with the $50 and his tale.
"We must live, Mary," he said huskily.
"But Rose - It will break her heart"
There was pressing need for immediate cash for urgent household necessities, but John Graham could not muster the courage to go down town and spend any of the money. He hung uneasily about the place until Rose came tripping home, a patient, brave-spirited child, the light and life of the little home through all the dark days they had known.
Mr. Graham slunk into the shed as Rose ran into the house to her mother. In a few moments he heard a low, heart-searing wall. He knew that his wife had told Rose of the sale of Laddie. When he came in, however, she greeted him with her usual loving kiss and sunny smile, but he noted her deep pallor, her mental anguish. Brave little spirit! All through the evening she never allowed a look or word to betoken her sufferings.
John Graham could not sleep that night. He wandered, about the house listlessly. He crept close to the door of Rose's room. He could hear her low sobbings. Then, as he sat in the darkness in the front room of the house, there was a patter of two little bare feet. A bar of moonlight fell upon a piece of carpet in the kitchen that was Laddie's bed. And kneeling upon it, as though it were some sacred prayer rug, was Rose!
She was too ill to arise in the morning. There were tokens of fever. Graham attended to his round of duties about house and yard. He kept putting off going down town. Then as he caught the echo of a muffled cry from Rose, his lips grew cruelly stern and decided.
"Laddie must come back!" he muttered. "Hunger, homelessness, rags we can bear them all better than our poor darling's suffering."
He clutched the little roll of bank, bills in his pocket with forceful determination. He knew where the Doanes' home was located and he started in its direction. Half the distance accomplished, he was met by Mr. Doane and his chauffeur in the automobile. He hailed him to stop. Then he noticed Laddie in the machine.
“I've come to give you back that money," said Mr. Graham at once. "My little one is heart-broken, over him."
"Why, I was just bringing the dog back to you," replied Mr. Doane. “I declare; we're in a terrible mess, both of us. I left my child fairly hysterical over my taking the dog away. No, no, my friend," continued Mr. Doane, pushing back the proffered $50. "It was a fair sale and I return the dog to you."
"Why I don't understand," stammered Mr. Graham.
"He's lovable as a lamb to Elsa," replied Mr. Doane, "but a wild terror to everybody else. He chased a neighbor's chickens till they nearly had fits. He howled all night long. He guarded the house so well that the milkman couldn't enter the yard. Oh, we couldn't think of keeping him, "even for Elsa's sake!"
"Laddie did that!" cried the astounded Mr. Graham, incredulously.
He glanced at Laddie, meek as a lamb. Was it possible? Ridiculous! But, actually, the intelligent and scandalous Laddie seemed to wink at him as if to say, "I worked it"
Yes, Laddie, the gentle, had certainly played a part! Mr. Graham happened to explain to Mr. Doane the family necessities.
By this time the latter was convinced that Laddie had foiled him. A small house he owned right next to his own was vacant. Would Mr. Graham move and let both the children enjoy the company of the animal they loved so devotedly?
Never again did artful, two-faced Laddie find it necessary to act the dog; villain! He divided his time between his two doting young mistresses, there were better times for the Grahams and all hands were happy.