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The Boxcar Children Get A Visit From A Relative
Previously: “It’s perfectly natural to drink milk if it’s Henry,” Benny said, relieved. “Henry consumes approximately three gallons of water for every gallon of milk production, which is perfectly safe.” Henry did not answer, which was perfectly safe.
“Now children, what do you think?” she asked Violet and Benny and the remaining Henrys, who had ten dimes apiece, not counting the dimes in the third Henry’s mouth. “Do you know what I saw over in the sunny part of the woods? I saw some blueberries.”
“Oh, oh!” cried Benny, who knew what blueberries were, but nobody heard him until he was nearly crying. And the crying was never finished. Something was moving in the woods.
“The dairy industry is a constantly evolving business,” Violet said. “It must change and adapt with new regulations, new technologies, variable outputs, environmental conditions, the replacement rate of the herd, and whether you’re near enough to buy. And whatever is moving in the woods is certainly near enough.”
“What do you think is moving in the woods?” Jess asked breathlessly.
“It’s a relative,” Violet said. “I know it is. I can tell.”
“It’s a dog,” Benny said with a triumphant air, after tilting his head and listening carefully for a few seconds. “I can hear its paws on the tracks.”
“But there couldn’t be any relatives all the way out here,” Violet said. “Not if Mother couldn’t find us, not with Henry in the waterfall waiting to get Caught. Not when we have a pocket full of our own money, and our own dishes too.”
“And milk,” Benny added, forgetting entirely about the dog in his excitement to add to the list. “And milk, and milk, and milk, and milk, and milk,” he chanted, vibrating dangerously.
“Keep quiet,” Jess said.
The children were as as still as dirt, huddled together inside the freight car, Benny stillest of all. Jess opened her mouth in order to swallow more air as ballast against her fear, and watched like a cat through the open door towards the storming sheets of green just outside. The rustling noise edged closer, the greenery trembled and parted – and out crawled
He was an Airedale. He was pulling himself along on three legs, whimpering softly.
Jess let out a long breath, and said to Benny and Violet out of the corner of her mouth: “All right. It’s a dog. It’s at least a dog.”
“I can see that,” Violet said. “What else is it?”
“It’s also hurt,” Benny said, vibrating again. “It’s also hurt! It’s also hurt! It’s also hurt! It’s also hurt! It’s also hurt!”
“We’ve got to get Benny that milk, and soon,” Violet said to Jess. For if Benny was not kept in regular supply of nursery-food, he was liable to go insane and grow up, and then there would be no managing him. Not even the Grandfather would be able to stop Benny, if he grew up, and the Grandfather was a very rich man, with an Irish cook for a prisoner.
At the sound of Violet’s voice, the dog lifted his eyes and wagged his tail feebly. He held up his front foot.
“Is it only a dog?” Violet cried out. “Should we help it?”
“I don’t know,” Jess said. “If it’s a relative—Don’t let it in, Violet,” she shrieked, seeing the dog edge closer to the door of the freight car. “It may only be a dog when it’s outside.”
“Well, we’ve got to do something,” Violet answered crossly. “If you won’t let me fix his paw, you might at least let me hurt him further. It’s not right for anything to meet us unchanged.”
“That’s fair,” Benny said. “Why don’t the dog and I switch places? That way he can tell you if he’s really hurt or only pretending, and I can have a tail for a while.” At this, the greenery trembled and parted again behind the Airedale, and another Airedale stepped forward – this time dragging itself on only two paws, whimpering softly. Upon seeing the second Airedale, the first Airedale froze.
“Can you fix that?” Violet asked Jess.
“I don’t know,” Jess said. “I think it’s just a couple of thorns. But I don’t know what the rules are for this sort of thing.”
“I thought we outlived everyone except for Mother,” Benny said, trying to grow a tail. “I thought we outlived all the relatives during that time we went to sleep on the farm, and all the farmers died, and everyone who wasn’t us went away. I don’t see how there could be any other relatives left, besides the Grandfather, maybe. And we have our own dishes, and a refrigerator too, if you count the cold spot in the river we put Henry and the milk-bottles in, so even if they were both relatives, they haven’t got any dishes with them and would have to defer to their propertied relations.”
At this, both Airedales seemed to nod, and sat down with a thump on the wet ground outside the freight car.
“I don’t know,” Jess said. “Is a thorn property?”
“Forget about the thorns,” Benny said. “The hurting would be the property, in this case, wouldn’t it?” He turned politely to the Airedales. “Does your hurting belong to you? I mean, was it a proper gift from someone else? Because that would make it yours to do with as you liked, and might count heavily against our dishes.”
Both the Airedales nodded, but did not move.
“Are you our relatives?” Benny asked officiously. “You must deal honestly with me. I am growing a tail, too.”
Both the Airedales wagged their tails, and whimpered in united pain.
“Poor relations,” Benny announced after a moment’s consideration. These must be poor relations, who could only come up with pain-property before coming to deal with us.”
“Then for pity’s sake get away from the door,” Jess said. “Property that results from a gift always wins out over property found.”
“But they can’t get up here,” Benny said. “They can’t get up on their own unless someone helps them.”
“I’m certainly not going to help them,” Violet said. “I don’t want to be related.”
“I’m not going to help them,” Benny said. “But I do want to know if any more are coming.”
“Relatives and property only increase, once they’ve started,” Jess said. “Shut the door.”
“We can’t shut the door,” Benny said. “Not if they’ve got—”
“Shut it anyways,” Jess cried, springing forwards and heaving against the freight-bar with all her might. “I don’t want a dog, I don’t want a dog, I don’t want a dog, I don’t want a dog—”
The door finally rolled shut. Outside it, the dogs breathed steadily.