Chapter XXI. The "Vandoo"
 

The next morning at about eight o'clock Mr. Jones arrived in a long farm-wagon on springs, with one seat in it; but Junior had half filled its body with straw, and he said to Merton, "I thought that p'raps, if you and the children could go, you'd like a straw-ride."

The solemnity with which Winnie and Bobsey promised to obey orders gave some hope of performance; so I tossed them into the straw, and we drove away, a merry party, leaving Mousie consoled with the hope of receiving something from the vendue.

"There's allers changes and breakin's up in the spring," said Mr. Jones, as we drove along; "and this family's goin' out West. Everything is to be sold, in doors and out."

The farmhouse in question was about two miles away. By the time we arrived, all sorts of vehicles were converging to it on the muddy roads, for the weather had become mild again. Stylish-looking people drove up in top-buggies, and there were many heavy, springless wagons driven by rusty-looking countrymen, whose trousers were thrust into the top of their cowhide boots. I strolled through the house before the sale began, thinking that I might find something there which would please Mousie and my wife. The rooms were already half filled with the housewives from the vicinity; red-faced Irish women, who stalked about and examined everything with great freedom; placid, peach-cheeked dames in Quaker bonnets, who softly cooed together, and took every chance they could to say pleasant words to the flurried, nervous family that was being thrust out into the world, as it were, while still at their own hearth.

I marked with my eye a low, easy sewing-chair for my wife, and a rose geranium, full of bloom, for Mousie, purposing to bid on them. I also observed that Junior was examining several pots of flowers that stood in the large south window. Then giving Merton charge of the children, with directions not to lose sight of them a moment, I went to the barn-yard and stable, feeling that the day was a critical one in our fortunes. True enough, among the other stock there was a nice-looking cow with a calf, and Mr. Jones said she had Jersey blood in her veins. This meant rich, creamy milk. I thought the animal had a rather ugly eye, but this might be caused by anxiety for her calf, with so many strangers about. We also examined the old bay horse and a market wagon and harness. Then Mr. Jones and I drew apart and agreed upon the limit of his bids, for I proposed to act solely through him. Every one knew him and was aware that he would not go a cent beyond what a thing was worth. He had a word and a jest for all, and "How are you, John?" greeted him wherever he went.

At ten o'clock the sale began. The auctioneer was a rustic humorist, who knew the practical value of a joke in his business. Aware of the foibles and characteristics of the people who flocked around and after him, he provoked many a ripple and roar of laughter by his telling hits and droll speeches. I found that my neighbor, Mr. Jones, came in for his full share, but he always sent back as good as he received. The sale, in fact, had the aspect of a country merrymaking, at which all sorts and conditions of people met on common ground, Pat bidding against the best of the landed gentry, while boys and dogs innumerable played around and sometimes verged on serious quarrels.

Junior, I observed, left his mark before the day was over. He was standing, watching the sale with his usual impassive expression, when a big, hulking fellow leered into his face and cried.

"Tow head, white-head, Thick-head, go to bed."

The last word was scarcely out of his mouth before Junior's fist was between his eyes, and down he went.

"Want any more?" Junior coolly asked, as the fellow got up.

Evidently he didn't, for he slunk off, followed by jeers and laughter.

At noon there was an immense pot of coffee with crackers and cheese, placed on a table near the kitchen door, and we had a free lunch. To this Bobsey paid his respects so industriously that a great, gawky mountaineer looked down at him and said, with a grin, "I say, young 'un, you're gettin' outside of more fodder than any critter of your size I ever knowed."

"'Tain't your fodder," replied Bobsey, who had learned, in the streets, to be a little pert.

The day came to an end at last, and the cow and calf, the old bay horse, the wagon, and the harness were mine. On the whole, Mr. Jones had bought them at reasonable rates. He also bid in for me, at one dollar per pair, two cocks and twenty hens that looked fairly well in their coop.

For my part, I had secured the chair and blooming geranium. To my surprise, when the rest of the flowers were sold, Junior took part in the bidding for the first time, and, as a result, carried out to the wagon several other pots of house-plants.

"Why, Junior," I said, "I didn't know you had such an eye for beauty."

He blushed, but made no reply.

The chickens and the harness were put into Mr. Jones's conveyance, the wagon I had bought was tied on behind, and we jogged homeward, the children exulting over our new possessions. When I took in the geranium bush and put it on the table by the sunny kitchen window, Junior followed with an armful of his plants.

"They're for Mousie," he said; and before the delighted child could thank him, he darted out.

Indeed, it soon became evident that Mousie was Junior's favorite. She never said much to him, but she looked a great deal. To the little invalid girl he seemed the embodiment of strength and cleverness, and, perhaps because he was so strong, his sympathies went out toward the feeble child.

The coop of chickens was carried to the basement that we had made ready, and Winnie declared that she meant to "hear the first crow and get the first egg."

The next day the horse and the cow and calf were brought over, and we felt that we were fairly launched in our country life.

"You have a bigger family to look after outdoors than I have indoors," my wife said, laughingly.

I was not long in learning that some of my outdoor family were anything but amiable. The two cocks fought and fought until Junior, who had run over before night, showed Merton that by ducking their heads in cold water their belligerent spirit could be partially quenched. Then he proceeded to give me a lesson in milking. The calf was shut up away from the cow, which was driven into a corner, where she stood with signs of impatience while Junior, seated on a three- legged stool, essayed to obtain the nectar we all so dearly loved. At first he did not succeed very well.

"She won't let it down--she's keepin' it for the calf," said the boy. But at last she relented, and the white streams flowed. "Now," said Junior to me, "you see how I do it. You try."

As I took his place, I noticed that Brindle turned on me a vicious look. No doubt I was awkward and hurt her a little, also; for the first thing I knew the pail was in the air, I on my back, and Brindle bellowing around the yard, switching her tail, Junior and Merton meanwhile roaring with laughter. I got up in no amiable mood and said, roughly, to the boys, "Quit that nonsense."

But they couldn't obey, and at last I had to join in the laugh.

"Why, she's ugly as sin," said Junior. "I'll tell you what to do. Let her go with her calf now, and in the morning we'll drive her down to one of the stalls in the basement of the barn and fasten her by the head. Then we can milk her without risk. After her calf is gone she'll be a great deal tamer."

This plan was carried out, and it worked pretty well, although it was evident that, from some cause, the cow was wild and vicious. One of my theories is, that all animals can be subdued by kindness. Mr. Jones advised me to dispose of Brindle, but I determined to test my theory first. Several times a day I would go to the barn-yard and give her a carrot or a whisp of hay from my hand, and she gradually became accustomed to me, and would come at my call. A week later I sold her calf to a butcher, and for a few days she lowed and mourned deeply, to Mousie's great distress. But carrots consoled her, and within three weeks she would let me stroke her, and both Merton and I could milk her without trouble. I believe she had been treated harshly by her former owners.