Chapter XII. At Aunt Sallie's.
 

Probably that was the most unwise course poor Amy could have taken. Dogs, even the most savage, seldom come to a direct attack unless their prospective victim shows fear. Then, like a horse that takes advantage of a timid driver, the creature advances boldly to the attack.

It was so in this case. The other girls, not heeding Amy's frantic appeal, stood still, but she ran back toward the road, her short skirt giving her a chance to exercise her speed. The dog saw, and singling out her as the most favorable for his purposes, he leaped the fence in a great bound and rushed after the startled girl.

"Stop him! Stop him!"

"Oh, Amy!"

"If she falls!"

"I know I'm going to faint!"

"Don't you dare do it, Grace Ford!"

"Why doesn't that man keep his dog chained?"

These were only a few of the expressions that came from the lips of the girls as, horror-stricken, they watched the dog rush after poor Amy.

Never had she run so fast--not even during one of the basket ball games in which she had played, nor when they had races at the Sunday school picnic.

And, had it not been for a certain hired man, who, taking in the situation as he came on the run from the barn, acted promptly, Amy might have been severely injured. As it was the farmer's man, crossing the yard diagonally, was able to intercept the dog.

"Run to the left, Miss! Run to the left!" he cried. Then, leaping the low fence at a bound, he threw the pitchfork he carried at the dog with such skill that the handle crossed between the brute's legs and tripped it. Turning over and over in a series of somersaults, the dog's progress was sufficiently halted to enable the hired man to get to it. He took a firm grip in the collar of the dog and held on. Poor Amy stumbled a few steps farther and then Betty, recovering her scattered wits, cried out:

"All right, Amy! All right! You're in no danger!"

And Amy sank to the ground while her chums rushed toward her.

"Hold him, Zeke! Hold him!" cried the farmer, as he came lumbering up. "Hold on to him!"

"That's what I'm doin'!" responded the hired man.

"Is th' gal hurted? Land sakes, I never knew Nero to act so!" went on the farmer apologetically. "He must have been teased by some of th' boys. Be you hurted, Miss?"

Pale and trembling, Amy arose. But it was very evident that she had suffered no serious harm, for the dog had not reached her, and she had simply collapsed on the grass, rather than fallen.

The dog, choking and growling, was firmly held by the hired man, who seemed to have no fear of him.

"I'm awfully sorry," said the farmer, contritely. "I never knew him to act like that."

"Some one has tied a lot of burrs on his tail," called out the hired man. "That's what set him off."

"I thought so. Well, clean 'em off, and he'll behave. Poor old Nero!"

Even now the dog was quieting down, and as the hired man removed the irritating cause of the beast's anger it became even gentle, whining as though to offer excuses.

"I can't tell you how sorry I am," went on the farmer. "You're strangers around here, I take it."

"Yes," said Betty, "and we lost our way. We're going to Rockford. We must be there to-night."

"Rockford?"

"Yes, my aunt lives there."

"And who might your aunt be?"

"Mrs. Palmer."

"Bill Palmer's wife?"

"Yes, that's Uncle Will I guess," and Betty laughed.

"Pshaw now! You don't say so! Why, I know Bill well."

The farmer's wife came bustling out.

"Is the young lady hurt, Jason? What got into Nero, anyhow? I never see him behave so!"

"Oh, it was them pesky boys! No, she's not hurt."

Amy was surrounded by her chums. She was pale, and still trembling, but was fast recovering her composure.

"Won't you come in the house," invited the woman. "We're jest goin' t' set down t' supper, and I'm sure you'd like a cup of tea."

"I should love it!" murmured Grace.

"What be you--suffragists?" went on the woman, with a smile.

"That's the second time we've been taken for them to-day," murmured Betty, "Do we look so militant?"

"You look right peart!" complimented the woman. "Do come in?"

Betty, with her eyes, questioned her chums. They nodded an assent. Really they were entitled to something it seemed after the unwarranted attack of the dog.

"We ought to be going on to Rockford," said Betty, as they strolled toward the pleasant farm house. "I don't see how we can get there now--"

"You leave that to me!" said the farmer, quickly. "I owe you something on account of the way Nero behaved. Ain't you ashamed of yourself?" he charged.

The dog crouched, whined and thumped the earth with a contrite tail. He did not need the restraining hand of the hired man now.

"Make friends," ordered the farmer. The dog approached the girls.

"Oh--don't!" begged Amy.

"He wouldn't hurt a fly," bragged the farmer. "I can't account for his meanness."

"It was them burrs," affirmed the hired man.

"Mebby so. Wa'al, young ladies, come in and make yourselves t' hum! Behave, Nero!" for now the dog was getting too friendly, leaping up and trying to solicit caresses from the girls. "That's th' way with him, one minute he's up to some mischief, an' th' next he's beggin' your, pardon. I hope you're not hurt, miss," and he looked anxiously at Amy.

"No, not at all," she assured him, with a smile that was brave and winning. "I was only frightened, that's all."

"I'm glad of that. I'll have t' tie that dog up, I guess," and he threw a little clod of earth at the now cringing animal, not hitting him, however.

"Oh, don't hurt him," pleaded Betty.

"Hurt him! He wouldn't do that, miss!" exclaimed the hired man, who now had to defend himself from the over-zealous affections of the dog. "He's too fond of him. Nero isn't a bad sort generally, only some of the boys worried him."

The girls, with the farmer and his man in the lead, walked toward the house, the woman hurrying on ahead to set more places at the table.

"I'm afraid we're troubling you too much," protested Betty.

"Oh, it's no trouble at all," the farmer assured her. "And I owe you something on account of my dog's actions."

"But really, ought we to stay?" asked Grace. "It's getting dark, Betty, and your aunt--"

"Say, young ladies!" exclaimed the farmer, "I'll fix that all right. As soon as you have a bite to eat I'll hitch up and drive you over to Rockford, to Bill Palmer's."

"Oh!" began Betty, "we couldn't think--"

She stopped, for she did not know what to say. Truly, it was quite a dilemma in which they found themselves, and they must stay somewhere that night. To remain at a strange farm house was out of the question. Perhaps this was the simplest way after all.

"It won't be any trouble at all," the farmer assured her. "I've got a fast team and a three-seated carriage. I'll have you over there in no time."

"Then perhaps we'd better not stop for supper," said Mollie. "Your aunt might be worrying, Betty, and--"

"We'll telephone her!" exclaimed the farmer. "I've got a 'phone--lots of us have around here--and I can let her know all about it. Or you can talk to her yourself," he added.

So it was arranged; and soon Betty was talking to her anxious relative over the wire. Then, after a bountiful supper, which the girls very much enjoyed, the farmer hitched up his fine team, and soon they were on their way to Mrs. Palmer's. The drive was not a long one.

"My!" exclaimed Mollie, as they bowled along over the smooth road, under a young moon that silvered the earth, "this is better than walking!"

"I should say so," agreed Grace, whose shoes hurt her more than she cared to admit.

"You are both traitors to the Club!" exclaimed Betty. "The idea of preferring riding to walking!"

"Oh, it's only once in a while," added Mollie. "Really, pet, we've had a perfectly grand time."

"Even with the dog," added Amy, who was now herself again. "I was silly to run."

"I don't blame you," said the farmer, "and yet if you hadn't, maybe Nero wouldn't have chased you. It's a good thing not to run from a dog. If you stand, it let's him see you're not afraid."

"Put that down in your books, girls," directed Betty. "Never run from a dog. That advice may come in useful on our trip."

Half an hour later they were at Mrs. Palmer's house, and received a hearty welcome, the telephone message having done much to relieve the lady's anxiety.