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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsHouse - Chapter 19. Other People's Dogs
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House - Chapter 19. Other People's Dogs Post by :stevekiene Category :Nonfictions Author :Eugene Field Date :May 2012 Read :2464

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House - Chapter 19. Other People's Dogs


When I discovered one morning that my young sunflowers and my tomato vines had been cut down during the night by some lawless depredator I was mightily incensed. I had not supposed that there was anybody so mean as to commit such a wanton destruction. The value of the property destroyed was not large; I had paid but five cents apiece for the twenty tomato vines, and the young sunflowers were a present from Fadda Pierce. The intrinsic value of these things was so small as to cut no figure in my mind, but having watched the graceful creatures wax large and comely from mere sprouts it was quite natural that I should have a strong sentimental attachment for them. For the fruit of the tomato vine I care nothing, but I had with much satisfaction pictured the enjoyment which Alice and the children would derive from the luscious tomatoes which I flattered myself were to ripen upon our own vines under the genial August sun.

Moreover, I had already made up a list of the names of city friends to whom I intended to send handsome specimens of these first fruits of my experiments in farming; the Reillys, the Lynches, the Chapins, the Maxwells, the Scotts, the Fayes, the Deweys, the Morrises, the Millards, the Larneds, the Fletchers, the Ways--these and other fortunate cronies were to be made recipients of my bounty in case the fruit held out. I will say nothing of the pleasing future I depicted for the sunflowers; the sunflower is a particular favorite of mine, presumably because it is one of the very few flowers I am capable of identifying.

My impulse, when beholding the tomato vines and sunflowers cut down in the innocence of youth, was to determine not to pursue gardening further. To this mood succeeded a fit of anger, and I was so outraged by the destruction I beheld that I would cheerfully have given any sum of money I could have borrowed of my neighbors for information leading to the apprehension of the perpetrator of this brutal wrong.

As it was, I wrote out an offer of five dollars reward upon a sheet of letter paper and nailed it with four large wire nails to a maple tree in front of the place, where all passers-by could see and read it. Later in the day I went to tell Fadda Pierce of the trouble which had befallen me, and he consoled me with the assurance that the work of destruction had been wrought--not by a human being, as I had surmised, but by cutworms, a kind of reptile that plies its nefarious trade between two days for no other apparent purpose than that of making gentlemen farmers like myself miserable.

Fadda Pierce told me that Paris green was an effective antidote against these destructive worms, and I have ordered a barrel of it from the city. I intend to spread a layer of this Paris green over all our flower and vegetable beds; the contrast thus presented to the dull, sere brown of our lawn will be very pleasing to the eye. In fact, I am not sure that it would not be cheaper to color our whole lawn with Paris green than to attempt to revise it with water, which can be used with legal liberality only between the first of November and the first of May.

By way of illustrating what a mockery our national Department of Agriculture is, I will say that I wrote to Secretary Morton about the cutworms and asked that he suggest an antidote against the same. Although five weeks have elapsed since I dispatched that letter I have had no word of any kind from the Department of Agriculture. I feel the slight all the more keenly because I am a personal acquaintance of Secretary Morton's, having been introduced to and shaken hands with him at the quadrennial convention of the Western Academy of Science at Omaha in 1884. Prompt attention to my letter was due on the score of old friendship. The Secretary of Agriculture will recognize his error in offending me if ever he becomes a candidate for the presidency. Reuben Baker never forgets an affront.

But, though my sunflowers and my tomato vines suffered as I have narrated, my potatoes were doing finely. The potato patch is located in the back yard, near the poplar trees; it is in the shape of the Big Dipper, and I took the precaution to plant the potatoes in the new of the moon. The first planting never amounted to anything, for the reason that I peeled them and cut out the eyes before putting them in their hills. I learned subsequently that this was as fatal a course as it were possible to pursue. You must never peel potatoes or cut out their eyes if you want them to grow. I do not know why this is so, but it is. At any rate, the second crop I planted was a success. Every day I dug down into the hills to see how the potatoes were progressing, and I was thus enabled to keep track of the development of the tender fruit.

My young friend Budd Taylor provided me with a dozen ears of seed popcorn which I planted in a warm, bright spot and which soon bristled up in splendid style. I think it likely that, but for the birds, I should have had a crop of popcorn sufficient to supply the Chicago market, for I never before saw anything like that corn for luxuriance and thrift. How the birds ever found out about it will doubtless remain a mystery.

The birds I refer to proved to be blackbirds, although for a time I mistook them for young crows. One morning I detected about three dozen of the poaching rogues stalking through the grass in the direction of my corn-patch, and, almost before I knew it, the feathered rascals had played havoc with my promising crop of popcorn. Then I remembered that I had read and seen pictures in books of scarecrows; so I dressed up a figure and set it up near the corn patch. It was really a very good counterfeit of a man, as indeed it ought to have been, for the clothing I used was far from ragged, and Alice had been intending to send it to a poor relative of hers in Nebraska.

The night after I had set up this lay figure in the yard a policeman came along Clarendon Avenue for the first time in his professional career. He espied the figure in the yard and at once mistook it for a thief who had come to steal our lawn hose. With a gallantry and with a devotion to duty which cannot be too highly commended, the intrepid policeman opened fire with his revolver and put seven holes through the scarecrow before he discovered his mistake.

The cannonading awakened Major Ryson, one of the nearest neighbors, and that discreet gentleman immediately set his bull terrier loose. This sagacious but vindictive animal bore down upon the scene of action and treed the policeman the first thing. Having expended all his ammunition upon the lay figure, the policeman had no means of interchanging compliments with his assailant, and was therefore compelled to spend the night in a willow. Meanwhile the bull terrier encountered the scarecrow, and, mistaking it for a human being, soon tore that unfortunate object into ten thousand pieces. Next day our lawn was literally strewn with straw and buttons and remnants of what had once been a very decent suit of clothes.

This reference to Major Ryson's bull terrier reminds me of the visit which the Baylors' dog paid to our new premises. The Baylors' dog is a St. Bernard about a year old and weighing one hundred and seventy-five pounds. Most of the time this amiable leviathan is confined in the Baylors' back yard, a spot hardly large enough to admit of the leviathan's turning around in it. The evening to which I refer the Baylors made a pilgrimage to our new house for the purpose of ascertaining whether we had put in a copper kitchen sink or a galvanized iron one. I can't imagine what possessed them to do it, but they took the St. Bernard with them. The sense of freedom which this playful beast felt upon being let loose in our extensive yard proved wholly uncontrollable, and while the Baylors were investigating the sink question the amiable leviathan gallivanted about the premises with that elephantine exuberance which is to be expected of a St. Bernard one year old and weighing one hundred and seventy-five pounds. Adah (who has an eye to the beautiful) had planted a vast number of nasturtiums and red geraniums, and under one of the oak trees had trained numerous graceful, dainty vines, which, as I recall, are known to horticultural amateurs as 'cobies.

In the twinkling of an eye the Baylor leviathan swept these blossoming innocents out of existence, and in other twinklings he wrought desolation among the peonies, the pansies, and other floral objects upon which the women folk had lavished a wealth of patient care. A bull in a china-shop could hardly create the havoc which the Baylor pup, with his one hundred and seventy-five pounds of animal spirits, wrought in our lawn. Next morning the lawn looked as if it had been honored with a nocturnal visitation from Burr Robbins' galaxy of domesticated wild beasts.

Curiously enough, the Baylors thought it was very funny. I don't know why it is, but it can't be denied that it _is a fact that those acts which in other people's pups strike us as strangely improper, become in our own pups the most natural and most mirth-provoking performances in the world. I recall the anger with which neighbor Baylor drove neighbor Macleod's mastiff off his porch one evening because that mastiff attempted to make his way through the screen door behind which the family cat was visible. In this instance the Macleod mastiff was simply following the predominating instinct of the canine kind, and neighbor Baylor hated the unreasonable beast for it. Yet I 'll warrant me that while his own lubberly pup was prancing around over our flowerbeds neighbor Baylor regarded the performance as the most cunning and most charming divertisement in the world.

It is much the same way with children. If I were put upon oath, I should have to admit that the very same antics which I regard as most seemly (not to say fascinating) in my own pretty little darlings I do not approve of at all when I see them attempted by the awkward, homely children of my neighbors.

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