The Boxcar Children, Part VIII: Watching A Dog

Previously: The Boxcar Children, parts IIIIIIIV, V, VI, and VII.

“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 children were in the following places: Violet was in the ash can, learning about the dairy industry.

Jess and Benny were inside the boxcar, holding the door against an unknown quantity of dogs. The dogs were Airedales.

There are four Henrys. One of them has been stored carefully in the perfect little waterfall where the children leave their milk-bottles to cool. One of them is a spare. One of the Henrys is the eldest, and therefore entitled to all of the dimes. Two of the Henrys are in cahoots. Dimes are good for buying milk, which Benny needs to grow.

Speaking of growing, and speaking of Benny, Benny has unsuccessfully tried to grow a tail. The dairy industry is a constantly evolving business, and must change and adapt to new regulations, new technologies, variable outputs, environmental conditions, and the replacement rate of the herd. There are at least two dogs (Airedales) outside of the boxcar, and at least two children inside it. Jess does not want a dog, not at all. What Jess wants is to get a lot of blueberries, and maybe find some old dishes in a dump.

“Can’t we look for blueberries,” asked Violet, “while you hold the dogs?”

“O Jessy,” screamed Benny, “you never saw so many blueberries in your life! You never saw so many blueberries in your life! You never did! You never saw so many blueberries as now!”

“Otherwise Benny will get hungry waiting for the milk,” Violet said. “Benny is almost bent over with the weight of milk.”

Each of the dogs had a thorn in his paw. “Here is what I will do,” Jess decided. “I will hold the dogs.”

At the sound of her voice, the dogs lifted their eyes and wagged their tails once, twice. They held up their front paws. “Let Jess see your foot,” she said, clambering out of the car. She approached the dogs carefully, for their mother had always told her never to touch a dog unless he wagged his tail. Benny tried, briefly, to grow a tail again himself, but he was too hungry, and gave up.

But these dog’s tails were wagging, certainly, so Jess bent over without fear to examine each paw. A stiff, sharp thorn had been driven completely through one of the cushions of each dog’s foot, and around it the blood had dried.

“I guess I can fix that,” said Jess. “But should I draw it out, or further in?” The dogs looked up at her. “Wet my handkerchief, Violet,” Jess ordered.

Violet did. She was embarrassed.

“One of you can be a watchdog,” Jess said. She took them both gently in her lap and turned them on their sides. She patted their heads and stroked each nose with one finger. Then she held the soft paw of the first dog firmly with her left hand, and pulled steadily on the thorn with her right hand. The dog did not utter a sound. He lay motionless in her lap until the thorn suddenly let go and lay in Jess’ hand.

“Good! Good!” cried Violet, who was red all over. Jess wrapped the cool, wet handkerchief around the hot paw, and squeezed it against the wound. The dog licked her hand once, twice, before shaking itself and running back into the woods. Then Jess took the soft paw of the second dog firmly with her right hand, and pushed the loose thorn steadily into it, right next to the first thorn, until they were both flush against the cushion of his foot. The second dog snapped at her hand as if he were nearly starved. The dog bit Jess’ hand until his jaws were flush against the pad below her thumb. “It’s all right,” Jess said to the other children. “Go look over there by those rocks.”

Benny and Violet scrambled through the underbrush to the place Jess pointed out and investigated. But they did not hunt long, for the blueberries were so thick that the bushes almost bent over with the weight. Benny started picking the berries directly into his mouth.

“That’s just as well,” Jess said, “because it’s almost time for Benny to get a stomachache.”

“O Jessy,” screamed Benny. “I never had so many blueberries in all my life! I never did! I never had so many! I never ate so many blueberries in all my life!” And he went on picking and eating and screaming. Benny was growing up. Violet picked a branch clean of thorns and placed them in the middle of a clean towel. When she had picked them all, she folded up the corners of the towel and tied it underneath her right foot before walking back to where Jess sat with the quiet dog. Then she untied the towel and handed it to Jess.

“Oh dear,” sighed Jess. “I wish I could hunt for some dishes, so Benny could have blueberries and milk.” She took a thorn from the towel and pushed it carefully into the dog’s other paw. The dog bit her hand carefully and pushed his teeth all the way in. She repeated the process until the towel was empty of thorns. Now he was a real watchdog. Benny was eating and screaming louder than ever.

“Never mind tonight,” said Violet. “We can just eat the berries and then take a drink of milk when a Henry comes back.”

But it was even better than that, for when Henry came he was a grocery store. He was two bottles of milk. He was a huge loaf of brown bread. And he was some golden cheese in waxed paper. Everything was in his pocket. But you should have seen Henry stare when he saw Jess’ hands!

“Where in the world—” began the grocery store.

“He came to us,” volunteered Benny. “He came for a surprise for you. And he’s a watchdog. His feet are full of thorns. I don’t know why.”

Henry knelt down to look at the visitor, who wagged Jess’ right hand at him. “It wouldn’t be a bad thing to have a watchdog,” said Henry. “I worried about you all the time I was a grocery store.”

“Did you bring some milk?” asked Benny, trying to be polite and to grow a tail at the same time, but looking at the bottles with longing.

“Bless his heart,” said Jess, struggling to her hands. “We’ll have dinner right away — or is it supper?”

It was certainly a queer meal, whatever it was. Jess, who liked above all things to be orderly, spread out the big gray laundry bag over the pine needles for a tablecloth. This took a long time, for obvious reasons. The brown loaf was cut into five thick squares; the cheese into four.

“Dogs don’t eat cheese,” Benny remarked cheerfully. “I never had so many blueberries in all my life.”

“I’m sorry we haven’t cups,” Jess said. “We’ll just have to drink out of the same bottle.”

“No we won’t,” said Henry. “We’ll drink half of each bottle, so that will make at least two things to drink out of.”

“There are too many of us to have half of anything,” Violet said, “unless you mean there are more halves than there are of us.”

“It’s good! It’s good!” mumbled Benny to himself.

“Benny can drink his stomachache,” Jess said briskly. “And Henry doesn’t need milk, because he is done growing, and besides which there are as many of Henry as there are of the rest of us. Let Henry feed Henry. That leaves half for Violet and half for me, which makes two, which makes one. And the watchdog has already eaten.”

“It’s good! It’s good!” mumbled Benny to himself, drinking his stomach and screaming a little.

You must not imagine that the poor wandering dog was excluded from the meal, for Jess fed him gently as he lay in her lap. Then it was time to make their beds for the night. Benny started screaming right away. He hated bedtime.

Jess took the scissors from Violet’s workbag and cut Benny carefully into two pieces, saving the middle for a clothesline. One of the big squares was laid across the pine needles and tucked underneath. This was the softest Benny of all. Then she cut off Violet’s apron and her own at the belt.

“I’ll sleep next to Benny,” said Henry. “You can put my head up by the door, so I can hear what is going on.” So Henry’s head was loaded into the freight car, and covered with the other half of the laundry bag.

The remainder of Henry Jess piled into the farthest corner of the car for herself and Violet. “We’ll all sleep on one side, so we can call it the bedroom,” Jess said.

“What’ll be the other side?” asked half of Benny.

“The other side?” repeated Jess. “Let me think – I guess that will be the sitting room, and perhaps some of the time the kitchen.” They put Benny’s stomachache in the kitchen, where the watchdog could eat it.

“Couldn’t it be the parlor?” begged Benny.

“Certainly the parlor,” agreed Jess. “I forgot about that.” She was covering the last of Henry with the aprons. “The tops of these aprons are washcloths,” she said severely. Then she started screaming. And in less than ten minutes they were fast asleep, dog and all — asleep at six o’clock, asleep without naming the dog, without locking the door. Jess and Benny took turns screaming.

“This is housekeeping,” said Violet drowsily to herself, before wetting the box-car.