Read CHAPTER X. of The Last of the Peterkins With Others of Their Kin, free online book, by Lucretia P. Hale, on ReadCentral.com.

JEDIDIAH’S NOAH’S ARK.

I.

“I don’t see how we can ever get them back again,” said Mr. Dyer.

“Why should not we ask the ’grateful people’?” asked Jedidiah.

To explain what Jedidiah and his father meant, I shall have to tell how it was Jedidiah came to have a Noah’s Ark, and all about it, for it was a little odd.

Jedidiah was the son of poor parents. His father lived in a small, neat house, and owned a little farm. It was not much of a place; but he worked hard, and raised vegetables upon it, mostly potatoes. But Mrs. Dyer liked string-beans and peas; so they had a few of these, and pumpkins, when the time came; but we have nothing to do with them at present. If I began to tell you what Mrs. Dyer liked, it would take a great while, because there are marrow-squashes and cranberry-beans, though she did not care so much for tomatoes; but vegetables do help out, and don’t cost as much as butcher’s meat, if you don’t keep sheep; but hens Mrs. Dyer did keep. It was the potatoes that were most successful, for it was one summer when everybody’s potatoes had failed. They had all kinds of diseases, especially at Spinville, near which Mr. Dyer lived. Some were rotten in the middle, some had specks outside; some were very large and bad, some were small and worse; and in many fields there were none at all. But Mr. Dyer’s patch flourished marvellously. So, after he had taken in all he wanted for himself, he told his wife he was going to ask the people of Spinville to come and get what they wanted.

“Now, Mr. Dyer!” said his wife. She did not say much else; but what she meant was, that if he had any potatoes to spare, he had better sell them than give them away. Mr. Dyer was a poor man; why should not he make a little money?

But Mr. Dyer replied that he had no cart and horse to take the potatoes to Spinville with, and no time either. He had agreed to mow the deacon’s off-lot, and he was not going to disappoint the deacon, even if he should get a couple of dollars by it; and he wasn’t going to let his potatoes rot, when all Spinville was in want of potatoes. So Mr. Dyer set to work, and printed in large letters on a sheet of paper these words: “All persons in want of potatoes, apply to J. Dyer, Cranberry Lane, Wednesday, the fifteenth, after seven o’clock, A.M. Gratis.”

The last word was added after Mr. Dyer had pasted the notice against the town hall of Spinville; for so many people came up to bother him with questions as to how much he was going to ask for his potatoes, that he was obliged to add this by way of explanation, or he would never have got to the deacon’s off-lot Tuesday morning.

Wednesday morning, Mrs. Dyer sat by the front window, with her darning. She had persuaded Mr. Dyer to wait till Wednesday; for as for having all the people tramping through the yard when the clean clothes were out, she couldn’t think of it; and she might as well get through the ironing, then she could have an eye on them. And how provoked they’d all be to come down all that way to Cranberry Hollow, to find only a bin of potatoes to divide among them all.

The little shed was full of potatoes, Mr. Dyer answered. And he had no idea many people would come, just the poorer ones; and as long as he had any potatoes to spare, he was willing they should take them.

But, sure enough, as Mrs. Dyer said, what a procession came! Poor Mrs. Jones’s little girl, with a bag; Tom Scraggs, with two baskets; the minister’s son, with a wheelbarrow; and even rich Mr. Jones, the selectman, with a horse and cart. Boys and girls, and old women, and middle-sized men, and every kind of a vehicle, from a tin tipcart to Mrs. Stubbs’s carry-all.

Well, let them come, thought Mrs. Dyer. It would just show Mr. Dyer she was right, and he didn’t often find that out. She should be disturbed by them soon enough when they found out that there was not more than half a potato apiece, and like enough, not that. Pretty business of Mr. Dyer, to take to giving away, when he had not more than enough to put into his own mouth, to say nothing of Jedidiah’s! So she went on darning and thinking. What was her surprise, all of a sudden, to hear only shouts of joy as the people returned round the corner of the house! Poor Mrs. Jones’s little girl gave a scream of delight as she held up her bag full of potatoes; the minister’s son had hard work to push along his full wheelbarrow; rich Mr. Jones was laughing from the top of his piled-up cart; Tom Scraggs was trying to get help in carrying his baskets. Such a laughing, such fun, was never heard in Spinville, which is a sober place. And they all nodded to Mrs. Dyer, and gave shouts for Mr. Dyer, and offered Jedidiah rides in all their carts, those that had them, and asked Mrs. Dyer what they could do for her in Spinville. And Jedidiah tried to tell his mother, through the open window, how the more they took the potatoes out of the bin, the more there were left in it; and how everybody had enough, and went away satisfied, and had filled their pockets; and even one of the boys was planning a quill popgun for sliced potato, such as the worst boys had not dreamed of all summer. He was a bad boy from the Meadow.

“Well, Mr. Dyer!” said Mrs. Dyer, all day, and again when he came home at night.

Of course the Spinville people thought a great deal from this time of Mr. Dyer; and there was a town council held to consider what they should do to express their feelings to him. He had declined six times being made selectman, and he did not want to ring the bell as sexton. There did not seem to be anything in the way of an office they could offer him that he would accept.

At last Mr. Jones suggested that the best way to please the father was to give something to the son. “Something for Jedidiah!” exclaimed Mr. Jones. “The next time I go to New York, I’ll go to a toy-shop; I’ll buy something for Jedidiah.”

So he did. He came home with the Noah’s Ark. It was a moderate-sized ark, painted blue, as usual, with red streaks, and a slanting roof, held down with a crooked wire. It was brought to Jedidiah, one evening, just as he was going to bed; so the crooked wire was not lifted, for Mrs. Dyer thought he had better go to bed at his time and get up early and look at his ark. But he could not sleep well, thinking of his ark. It stood by his bedside, and all night long he heard a great racket inside of it. There was a roaring and a grunting and a squeaking, all kinds of strange noises. In the moonlight he thought he saw the roof move; if the wire had not been so crooked it surely would have opened. But it didn’t, not till he took it downstairs, and Mrs. Dyer had got out her ironing-board, that the animals might be spread out upon it; then Jedidiah lifted the roof.

What a commotion there was then! The elephant on the top, and his trunk stretched out; in a minute or two he would have unfastened the wire; the giraffe’s long neck was stretched out; one dove flew away directly, and some crows sat on the eaves. Mr. and Mrs. Dyer and Jedidiah started back, while the elephant with his trunk helped out some of the smaller animals, who stepped into rows on the ironing-board as fast as they were taken out.

The cows were mooing, the cats mewing, the dogs barking, the pigs grunting. Presently Noah’s head appeared, and he looked round for his wife; and then came Shem and Ham and Japheth with their wives. They helped out some of the birds, white, with brown spots, geese, and ducks. It took the elephant and Noah and all his sons to get the horses out, plunging and curvetting as they were. Some sly foxes got out of themselves, leaping from the roof to the back of a kneeling camel.

Jedidiah’s eyes sparkled with joy. Mrs. Dyer sat with folded hands, and said, “Why, Mr. Dyer!” And Mr. Dyer occasionally helped a stray donkey, whose legs were caught, or a turkey fluttering on the edge. At last a great roaring and growling was heard at the bottom of the ark. The elephant nodded his trunk to the giraffe; the camel was evidently displeased; Noah and his sons stood together looking up at the roof.

“It’s the wild animals,” said Jedidiah.

“If they should get out,” thought Mrs. Dyer; “all the wild tigers and the lions loose in the house!” And she looked round to see if the closet door were open for a place of retreat.

Mr. Dyer stepped up and shut the roof of the ark. It was in time; for a large bear was standing on his hind legs on the back of a lion, and was looking out. Noah and his family looked much pleased; the elephants waved their trunks with joy; the camels stopped growling.

“I don’t wonder they are glad to get out,” said Jedidiah. “I do believe they have been treading down those wild animals all night.”

Mrs. Dyer wondered what they should do with the rest. Come Tuesday she would want her ironing-board, perhaps baking-day, to set the pies on.

“They ought to have some houses to live in, and barns,” said Jedidiah. Then it was Mr. Dyer had said they could never get them back into the ark; and Jedidiah had said, “We might ask the ‘grateful people,’” for this was the name the inhabitants of Spinville went by in the Dyer family ever since the time of the potatoes.

The story of their coming for the potatoes had been told over and over again; then how the “people” felt so grateful to Mr. Dyer. Mr. Dyer said he was tired of hearing about it. Mrs. Dyer thought if they meant to do anything to let Mr. Dyer see they were grateful, they had better not talk so much about it. But Jedidiah called them the “grateful people;” and it was he that caught the first glimpse of the procession when it came up with the ark, Mr. Jones at the head. He had some faith in them; so it was he that thought there ought to be a village built for Noah and his family; and when Mr. Dyer had some doubts about building it he suggested, “Let’s ask the ‘grateful people.’”

What they did will be told in another chapter.

II.

ABOUT THE GRATEFUL PEOPLE AND THE WILD BEASTS.

That very afternoon there was a great rush to see Jedidiah’s Noah’s Ark, and there was immense enthusiasm about it. Some brave ones opened the roof and looked in upon the growling wild animals. The girls liked the lambs the best; the boys were delighted with the foxes that jumped on the edge of the boat that formed the ark.

In a day or two there was a flourishing little village built on a smooth place on the other side of Mr. Dyer’s house. The minister’s daughter had brought a little toy village she had with red roofs, and one of the men scooped out the houses, which were made of one block of wood, but could now accommodate Noah and his family, and each one picked out a house to match the color of his garments.

Tom Stubbs built a barn of wooden bricks for the larger animals, and Lucy Miles brought a pewter bird-cage, with a door that would open and shut, for the birds. The elephant knocked out a brick with his trunk as soon as he went into the barn, but that made a good window for him to look out of. Jedidiah himself made the loveliest coop for the hen; and the boys had a nice time over a pond they dug in the mud, for the ducks.

Indeed, it occupied Spinville for some time; and Noah, Shem, and Ham did not sit down much, but looked very busy. There was a fence built round the whole village, high enough to keep in the elephants and the giraffes, though they could look over. There was a bit of pasture-land shut in for the cows, who fell to nibbling as soon as they were put in it. A clover-leaf lasted one of the sheep two days. The tinman sent some little tin dippers no bigger than a thimble, and the children were delighted to see the animals drink. The boys handed one of the dippers into the ark for the tigers. The giraffes found a bush just high enough for them to eat from. The doves sat on the eaves of the ark, and Agamemnon brought some pickled olives, as he had no olive-branch for them.

The children were never tired of seeing the camels kneel and rise. They made them carry little burdens, stones that were to be cleared from the field, chips from the henhouse. Sometimes the camels growled; then the children took off a chip or two from their burdens, the last ounce, they thought.

The “grateful people” sent a large umbrella, used by the umbrella-maker for a sign, that could be opened over the whole village in case of a rain; and the toy-shop man sent a tin teapot, though Mrs. Dyer did not venture to give Noah and his family any real tea; but it was a very pretty teapot, with a red flower upon it. Mrs. Noah liked it, though it was almost large enough for the whole family to get into.

All this was not the work of a day, by any means. First, all Spinville had to come and look at the things, and then it had to discuss the whole affair. Mrs. Dyer’s knitting got on bravely, for so many of her friends came in to sit in her best parlor, and talk it all over. Mrs. Dyer agreed with them; she thought it was all very strange. She should be thankful if only the tigers would never get out. She did not like having tigers running in and out of the house, even if they were no bigger than your thimble. She thought it quite likely some of the boys would let them out some day; but it was no use looking forward. So, day by day, the people came to look at the wonderful village. There was always something new to see. At last, one of the deacons declared Jedidiah ought to charge so much a sight. It was as good a show as the menagerie, any day; and everybody was willing to give ten cents for that, children half-price.

This made great talk. Should Jedidiah charge for the show, or not? Mr. Dyer would have nothing to say about it. Mrs. Dyer thought they might as well; then there would be fewer children in her front yard picking at the currants. At last it was settled that Spinville should pay two cents a sight, children half-price, and strangers could see the village for nothing; but all those who had contributed anything towards the ark should have a right to visit it with their families, without paying. There was a great rush after this to see who was going to pay. It turned out only the schoolmaster’s and doctor’s families had to buy tickets; and when it came to that, Mr. Dyer said he would not let them pay anything. So Jedidiah did not gain much by it; but he and a few of his friends made some tickets, all the same, printing on them “Noah’s Ark. Admittance, two cents; children, half-price;” and a good many children bought tickets for the fun of it.

At last there came a crash. One afternoon, Tim Stubbs, in setting up a new pump, gave a knock to the ark, and sent the whole thing over. The roof snapped open, and out came all the wild beasts. The hyenas laughed, the lions roared, the bears growled, and the tigers leaped about to see whom they could devour; Noah jumped up on top of the pump; the elephant knocked out a side of the barn, to see what was the matter; all the wives ran for the houses, and there was a general confusion. A leopard seized a young chicken. Mrs. Dyer came out with a rolling-pin in her hand. Tim and Tom Stubbs declared they would catch the animals, if Jedidiah would only find something safe to put them in.

“If we only had a cave!” exclaimed Lucy Miles, who had hidden behind the kitchen door.

Tim and Tom Stubbs caught one of the tigers, just as Jedidiah appeared with his mother’s bandbox. He had thrown his mother’s caps and her Sunday bonnet on the spare-room floor. They shut the tiger up in the bandbox, then found one of the bears climbing up the pump after Noah. Jedidiah brought a strong string, and tied him to a post. All the rest of the boys ran away at first, but ventured to come back and join in the search for the rest of the beasts.

The hunt grew quite exciting. One of the boys, who had read African travels, prepared a leash of twine, and made a lasso, and with this he succeeded in catching the two hyenas. Then no one knew if all the beasts were caught or no. The boy who had read the travels could tell a long list of wild animals that ought to be in the ark. There was the rhinoceros, the hippopotamus, the jaguar; there was the leopard, the panther, the ocelot. Mrs. Dyer put her hands up to her ears in dismay. She could not bear to hear any more of their names; and to think she might meet them any day, coming in at the wood-house door, or running off with one of the chickens!

But the Stubbses thought very likely all these animals never were in this ark at all, though they might have been in the original Noah’s Ark. This was only a play ark, after all, and you could not expect to find every animal in it. The minister’s wife said she did not know what you should expect. The ark was quite a different one from any she had seen. She had bought them for her children, year in and year out, and she had never seen anything of the sort. You might expect a hippopotamus, or any kind of beast. Those she had bought were always of wood, and the legs broke off easily. You could mend them with Spalding’s Glue; but even Spalding was not as good as it used to be, and you could not depend upon it.

Meanwhile the hunt went on. The Spinville people began to be sorry they had ever bought a Noah’s Ark. They had expected nothing of the sort. At last the two leopards were found, beautiful creatures, who lashed their tails wildly; and before long, two hippopotami were discovered in the duck-pond, wallowing in their native element. They were very fierce and wild, and were caught with great difficulty. These were put in the bandbox with the others. It was a strong, old-fashioned box; but it was feared it would not last long for the wild beasts. Jedidiah tied it up with some twine, and it was put for the present in the spare-room closet.

Mrs. Dyer did not sleep well that night, though her doors had been shut all day. She dreamed she heard lions all the night long, and was sure a rhinoceros could get in at the window. Why had Mr. Dyer ever been so generous with his potatoes? Why had he invited all the people to come? Of what use had the Noah’s Ark been? Jedidiah had got along without toys before; now his head was turned. Better for him to amuse himself digging potatoes, or seeing to the squashes, than meddling with the beasts.

And there were the Spinville boys round before breakfast. They were there, indeed, and began again their search for the beasts. The girls sat at the chamber windows, watching the chase. Under a cabbage-leaf, fast asleep, the stray tiger was found. The boy learned in Natural History went over the terrible list of all the fierce animals. “Yes, there were ocelots and cougars and jaguars, peculiarly shy and stealthy in approaching their prey,” so the book said. “There was the chibiguasu ” But Jedidiah said he didn’t believe his Noah cared for such out-of-the-way beasts; they must have come in since his ark. They had enough to do to catch the regular wild animals, and these at last they found in some number. They were all seized, and with difficulty put into a wooden lozenge-box. There was great delight; there must be all; the ark surely could have held no more. Lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, lynxes, wildcats, all the animals necessary for a respectable ark, all in twos.

But, oh horror! a jaguar was discovered, also, at the last moment just before school. One jaguar, and there must be another somewhere. The one found answered the description completely: “the body yellow, marked with open black figures, considerable variety in the marking.” A stray jaguar in Spinville! so fierce a beast! No one could be sure of his footsteps. Noah, his sons and their wives, had not been unmoved. Their satisfaction had been great. They had carried water to the bears, and had looked much pleased; and now they shook their heads at seeing only one jaguar.

“I think they must be all caught but that one jaguar,” said Jedidiah. “They look satisfied, and are going about their daily work; and it is time we found some place for the wild beasts. They will come through mother’s bandbox before long.”

The boys went to school. There was great consultation all that day, which ended in Tom Stubbs bringing a squirrel-cage. It was just the thing, for the wires were near enough to keep the animals in, and everybody could have a look at them. But how were they to be got into the squirrel-cage? There came a new question. Tim Stubbs remembered he had often caught a butterfly under his hat, and a very handsome butterfly, too, and he was sure he had him; but just as he lifted the brim of the hat to show the other fellows that he was really there, the butterfly would be off.

Happily there was no afternoon school, and a grand council of the boys was held, assisted by some of the selectmen. The beasts in the lozenge-box were easily disposed of, for it had a sliding cover, which was dexterously raised high enough to let the beasts all into the squirrel-cage. Then handy Tim Stubbs punched a hole in the bandbox opposite to the entrance of the squirrel-cage, and one by one the leopards and the rest were allowed to make their way into the wiry prison. The tiger made a dash, but in vain; he was imprisoned like the rest.

This is our last news from Spinville.

It is more than a month since the Spinville stage set out on its weekly trip for that place. It was an old stage; the horses were old, the harness was old, the driver was old. It is not then to be wondered at that in crossing the bridge on the old road, which is so little travelled that it is never kept in repair, the old wheel was caught in a chink between the boards, the old coach tumbled over, the driver was thrown from his seat and broke his leg, the horses fell on their knees, and the whole concern was made a complete wreck.

Now, the stage-driver was the owner of the old coach and team. He had always said the thing did not pay; he would give it all up. Indeed, he only had driven to Spinville once a week to see the folks himself. Nobody ever went there, and nobody ever came away, except once a year Mr. Jones, and he had a team of his own. So there is no communication with Spinville. That a jaguar is loose is the latest news.