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- JEREMY - 6/48 -
glimpse, Jeremy discerned a fine independence. He was a short stumpy dog, in no way designed for dignified attitudes and patronising superiority; nevertheless, as he now wandered slowly up the street, his nose was in the air and he said to the whole world: "The storm may have done its best to defeat me--it has failed. I am as I was. I ask charity of no man. I know what is due to me."
It was this that attracted Jeremy; he had himself felt thus after a slippering from his father, or idiotic punishments from the Jampot, and the uninvited consolations of Mary or Helen upon such occasions had been resented with so fierce a bitterness that his reputation for sulkiness had been soundly established with all his circle.
Mary was reading. . .! "'an old Sheep, sitting in an arm-chair, knitting, and every now and then leaving off to look at her through a great pair of spec-t-a-c-les spectacles!'"
He touched her arm and whispered:
"I say, Mary, stop a minute--look at that dog down there."
They both stared down into the garden. The dog had stopped at the gate; it sniffed at the bars, sniffed at the wall beyond, then very slowly but with real dignity continued its way up the road.
"Poor thing," said Jeremy. "It IS in a mess." Then to their astonishment the dog turned back and, sauntering down the road again as though it had nothing all day to do but to wander about, and as though it were not wet, shivering and hungry, it once more smelt the gate.
"Oh," said Mary and Jeremy together.
"It's like Mother," said Jeremy, "when she's going to see someone and isn't sure whether it's the right house."
Then, most marvellous of unexpected climaxes, the dog suddenly began to squeeze itself between the bottom bar of the gate and the ground. The interval was fortunately a large one; a moment later the animal was in the Coles' garden.
The motives that led Jeremy to behave as he did are uncertain. It may have been something to do with the general boredom of the afternoon, it may have been that he felt pity for the bedraggled aspect of the animal--most probable reason of all, was that devil- may-care independence flung up from the road, as it were, expressly at himself.
The dog obviously did not feel any great respect for the Cole household. He wandered about the garden, sniffing and smelling exactly as though the whole place belonged to him, and a ridiculous stump of tail, unsubdued by the weather, gave him the ludicrous dignity of a Malvolio.
"I'm going down," whispered Jeremy, flinging a cautious glance at Helen who was absorbed in her sewing.
Mary's eyes grew wide with horror and admiration. "You're not going out," she whispered. "In the snow. Oh, Jeremy. They WILL be angry."
"I don't care," whispered Jeremy back again. "They can be."
Indeed, before Mary's frightened whisper he had not intended to do more than creep down into the pantry and watch the dog at close range; now it was as though Mary had challenged him. He knew that it was the most wicked thing that he could do--to go out into the snow without a coat and in his slippers. He might even, according to Aunt Amy, die of it, but as death at present meant no more to him than a position of importance and a quantity of red- currant jelly and chicken, THAT prospect did not deter him. He left the room so quietly that Helen did not even lift her eyes.
Then upon the landing he waited and listened. The house had all the lighted trembling dusk of the snowy afternoon; there was no sound save the ticking of the clocks. He might come upon the Jampot at any moment, but this was just the hour when she liked to drink her cup of tea in the kitchen; he knew from deep and constant study every movement of her day. Fortune favoured him. He reached without trouble the little dark corkscrew servants' staircase. Down this he crept, and found himself beside the little gardener's door. Although here there was only snow-lit dusk, he felt for the handle of the lock, found it, turned it, and was, at once, over the steps, into the garden.
Here, with a vengeance, he felt the full romance and danger of his enterprise. It was horribly cold; he had been in the nursery for two whole days, wrapped up and warm, and now the snowy world seemed to leap up at him and drag him down as though into an icy well. Mysterious shadows hovered over the garden; the fountain pointed darkly against the sky, and he could feel from the feathery touches upon his face that the snow had begun to fall again.
He moved forward a few steps; the house was so dark behind him, the world so dim and uncertain in front of him, that for a moment his heart failed him. He might have to search the whole garden for the dog.
Then he heard a sniff, felt something wet against his leg--he had almost stepped upon the animal. He bent down and stroked its wet coat. The dog stood quite still, then moved forward towards the house, sniffed at the steps, at last walked calmly through the open door as though the house belonged to him. Jeremy followed, closed the door behind him; then there they were in the little dark passage with the boy's heart beating like a drum, his teeth chattering, and a terrible temptation to sneeze hovering around him. Let him reach the nursery and establish the animal there and all might be well, but let them be discovered, cold and shivering, in the passage, and out the dog would be flung. He knew so exactly what would happen. He could hear the voices in the kitchen. He knew that they were sitting warm there by the fire, but that at any moment Jampot might think good to climb the stairs and see "what mischief they children were up to." Everything depended upon the dog. Did he bark or whine, out into the night he must go again, probably to die in the cold. But Jeremy, the least sentimental of that most sentimental race the English, was too intent upon his threatened sneeze to pay much attention to these awful possibilities.
He took off his slippers and began to climb the stairs, the dog close behind him, very grave and dignified, in spite of the little trail of snow and water that he left in his track. The nursery door was reached, pushed softly open, and the startled gaze of Mary and Helen fell wide-eyed upon the adventurer and his prize.
The dog went directly to the fire; there, sitting in the very middle of the golden cockatoos on the Turkey rug, he began to lick himself. He did this by sitting very square on three legs and spreading out the fourth stiff and erect, as though it had been not a leg at all but something of wood or iron. The melted snow poured off him, making a fine little pool about the golden cockatoos. He must have been a strange-looking animal at any time, being built quite square like a toy dog, with a great deal of hair, very short legs, and a thick stubborn neck; his eyes were brown, and now could be seen very clearly because the hair that usually covered them was plastered about his face by the snow. In his normal day his eyes gleamed behind his hair like sunlight in a thick wood. He wore a little pointed beard that could only be considered an affectation; in one word, if you imagine a ridiculously small sheep-dog with no legs, a French beard and a stump of a tail, you have him. And if you want to know more than that I can only refer you to the description of his great-great-great-grandson "Jacob," described in the Chronicles of the Beaminster Family.
The children meanwhile gazed, and for a long time no one said a word. Then Helen said: "Father WILL be angry."
But she did not mean it. The three were, by the entrance of the dog, instantly united into an offensive and defensive alliance. They knew well that shortly an attack from the Outside World must be delivered, and without a word spoken or a look exchanged they were agreed to defend both themselves and the dog with all the strength in their power. They had always wanted a dog; they had been prevented by the stupid and selfish arguments of uncomprehending elders.
Now this dog was here; they would keep him.
"Oh, he's perfectly sweet," suddenly said Helen.
The dog paused for a moment from his ablutions, raised his eyes, and regarded her with a look of cold contempt, then returned to his task.
"Don't be so silly," said Jeremy. "You know you always hate it when Aunt Amy says things like that about you."
"Did Nurse see?" asked Mary.
"No, she didn't," said Jeremy; "but she'll be up in a minute."
"What are you going to do?" asked Mary her mouth wide open.
"Do? Keep him, of course," said Jeremy stoutly; at the same time his heart a little failed him as he saw the pool of the water slowly spreading and embracing one cockatoo after another in its ruinous flood.
"We ought to wipe him with a towel," said Jeremy; "if we could get him dry before Nurse comes up she mightn't say so much."
But alas, it was too late for any towel; the door opened, and the Jampot entered, humming a hymn, very cheerful and rosy from the kitchen fire and an abundant series of chronicles of human failings and misfortunes. The hymn ceased abruptly. She stayed there where she was, "frozen into an image," as she afterwards described it. She also said: "You could 'ave knocked me down with a feather."
The dog did not look at her, but crocked under him the leg that had been stiff like a ramrod and spread out another. The children did not speak.
"Well!" For a moment words failed her; then she began, her hands spread out as though she was addressing a Suffragette meeting in Trafalgar Square. (She knew, happy woman, nothing of Suffragettes.) "Of all the things, and it's you, Master Jeremy, that 'as done it,
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