From the Relief Society Magazine, March 1943 (search “Janet and Stevie” in the Topical Guide for previous stories about the two little orphans) –
There’s Always a Way
By Olive W. Burt
It was like a small cyclone in the quiet room. Paste bottle, scissors, and paper went flying in every direction as Stevie, bursting into a fit of sudden anger, flung his tools away from him.
“They’re mean!” he cried vehemently. “They won’t stick!”
Janet, shocked at such unusual behavior, spoke more sharply than she was accustomed to. “For shame, Stevie!”
Mr. and Mrs. Allen looked up from their own work, startled, too, at the sudden little tempest.
“Bedtime, son?” Mr. Allen suggested.
“I don’t want to go to bed, either!” cried Stevie. “I don’t want to do anything!”
Janet laid aside her own work and came around the table to her brother. She smiled apologetically at their foster parents. “I’ll put him to bed. I guess he’s sort of tired,” she explained.
In the bedroom she undressed him silently. She had learned long ago that scolding did no good with Stevie. He wasn’t a bad little boy, really. When he was naughty, it was generally something inside him; and if she gave him enough time he would tell her what it was.
But tonight Stevie didn’t intend to tell her anything, she could see that. So she washed his hands and face, combed his curly dark red hair, a task she adored, and tucked him into bed. then she bent over him.
“Goodnight, Stevie,” she said in her gentlest voice.
His small arms came out of the covers, up around his sister’s neck. He held her close to him, as if he would never let her go. Janet could feel his heart pounding, and she wondered whether he had been frightened someway. Then suddenly he let her go and turned his face to the wall without a word. Janet stood still a moment or two longer, then slipped quietly out of the room.
She went back to the table, where she was making a scrapbook on transportation for her fourth grade social studies class, and sat down to her work. She was embarrassed that Stevie should act so. Not once before in the year since the Allens had adopted them had he ever acted like that. She thought she’d better explain.
“When we were at the Home,” she began doubtfully, “sometimes, if the bigger boys had been scaring Stevie, he acted that way. I know he didn’t do it because he’s naughty –”
Mr. Allen got up and came and sat down beside her. He was smiling, and his blue eyes were twinkling.
“Now, Miss Worry,” he teased, “you don’t need to tell us that. We’ve had Stevie long enough to know he’s just the best little fellow ever. Any boy has to be cross sometimes. Can’t I help you with that scrapbook, honey?”
He began to clip pictures of trains and automobiles and airplanes, showing a surprising deftness. Janet looked at him and laughed.
“You kids have all the fun!” he said. “When I was your age, cutting out pictures was somewhat on the forbidden side. We certainly never got credit in school for it, did we, Mother?”
Mommy looked up from her sewing and smiled.
“That’s the fun of having children,” she said. “We get to enjoy all the new things!”
The clock struck the hour of Janet’s bedtime, so she stood up and gathered up her materials to put away for the night. When she came to kiss her parents goodnight, they were sitting very still, looking at each other.
“Don’t you think we ought to tell Janet our big secret, dear?’ Mommy asked.
Mr. Allen drew Janet to his knee.
“It’s about time,” he smiled. “I’ve been bursting with it for days. Janet, honey, how would you like a new brother or sister?”
At first the words didn’t mean much to Janet. She smiled.
“From the Home?” she asked, her mind flying back to the different children there, a vague little feeling that things were quite all right without changing them ruffling her mind’s surface.
“Oh, no! A real brother or sister, one of our very own!”
Janet grew very still; even her heart seemed to stop beating, waiting what would come next.
The arm about her tightened; her father’s lips were against her hair.
“We’re so excited about it we couldn’t wait to share the good news with you. You’ve been so wonderful with Stevie. But he’s getting to be such a big boy now, nearly seven. This will be a tiny baby that you can tend and love.”
Janet wanted to tell them she was thrilled and happy, but she couldn’t make any words come. She was happy, if they were; but she’d though, oh, she had thought that she and Stevie were all they wanted. A baby of their very own, her daddy had said. A real brother or sister. What was Stevie, then? What was she? her throat ached.
Her mother came over and knelt beside them.
“I know Janet understands just how I feel about this, don’t you, darling? You love babies, too, and some day you’ll grow up and have a cuddly little baby of your very own to hold in your arms and love. Then you’ll know what it’s like. Then you’ll understand how you can love Stevie so much, and me and daddy and still love your own little baby, too. It takes so many kinds of love to make a family, doesn’t it? And I’m so glad I have a big daughter to share this new love with me.”
Janet reached her arms up and put them around her mother’s neck.
“I am glad!” she whispered. “Babies smell so sweet in the back of the neck, don’t they? May I help you make the clothes for it?”
Her parents smiled at her. They were all happy, all excited, making plans.
But when Janet went into her bedroom she thought of Stevie, and went to look at him as he slept in his little bed in the next room. She wondered if he knew; if that was what had troubled him.
He stirred in his sleep, then opened his eyes and seeing Janet he began to whimper. Janet knelt down beside his bed, and put her arms around him.
“Oh, Janet!” he cried, “will we have to go? Won’t they want us any more? I heard Mommy and Daddy say they were going to get a new baby of their own. And they didn’t tell me, and I’m scared!”
“Of course we don’t have to go,” Janet reassured him. “We’re their very own, too. It will just mean one more to play with. Think what fun you can have.”
Then she talked of games and pleasures Stevie particularly liked until he was quieted, and at last fell asleep.
In her own bed Janet lay very still, thinking things out. She understood just how Stevie felt; she’d been a little bit afraid, herself, at first. But that was silly. Of course Mommy was glad she was going to have a baby. If they’d had their own mother, their very own – tears stung Janet’s eyes though she loved this new mother so dearly – there might have been other babies in time, and she and Stevie would have been delighted. So they should be delighted now. And she was! She told herself determinedly. She’d have to make Stevie see it, too.
But Stevie didn’t want to see it, evidently. He awoke the next morning in the same stubborn, resentful mood he had shown the day before, and nothing Mrs. Allen nor Janet could say or do pleased him. They told him about the coming baby, just as carefully as they could.
Stevie glared at them and then, without a word, turned and banged out of the door, stamping his feet down to make all the angry noise he could.
Janet looked up at Mrs. Allen in silent apology for her brother. If he doesn’t stop, she told herself, he’s going to spoil everything.
Mommy was worried, Janet could see. She looked at the little girl and said, “I wouldn’t have him feel like this for anything. Doesn’t he understand that we love him dearly? No one can take Stevie’s place with us!”
Janet knew this was true, now, but she knew it was going to be hard to make Stevie absolutely sure of it.
“It’s just because he’s scared,” she explained. “He’s not very old, yet, and he hasn’t forgotten living in the Home. It was nice there,” she hurried to add, “but neither of us would care to go back.”
“You darlings!” Mommy gathered Janet close. “you’ll never have to go back.”
“But three’s quite a big family for Daddy, isn’t it?”
“Not nearly big enough!” she cried. “I hope we have a lot of children so we can have a lot of fun!”
“Stevie will be all right after a while, I’m sure!” Janet went on. “But you know how boys are. It takes them quite a while to get used to a new idea.”
Janet was surprised at herself, the way she was planning for the new baby, the joy with which she was looking forward to it. She had always loved the babies in the Home, had always been called on to help with them. Now she would have one right here, day after day, night after night, to bathe, to dress –
And Mommy was so generous in sharing her plans for the new baby. She took Janet shopping with her to buy little bootees and sacques, and Janet was learning to knit a shawl of the most beautiful soft pink yarn. Everything would be perfect, Janet told herself, if it weren’t for Stevie.
After that one night he hadn’t mentioned the coming baby to his sister. He had scarcely talked to her at all. His gay, continuous chatter was stilled into a surly aloofness that made Janet’s heart ache. He banged and kicked at things. He sat for long spells alone on the back porch, looking across the yard at nothing.
His goodnight kisses for his father and mother were quick, sullen pecks, and when he sat on daddy’s lap for the evening story he didn’t snuggle down as he ought to do, but sat stiff and withdrawn and unhappy.
“What are we going to do with that fellow?” Daddy asked one night, running his hand up through his hair till he looked as worried and unhappy and almost as little boyish as Stevie himself.
“We’re doing everything we can, aren’t we Janet?” Mommy answered. “I think we’d better just ignore his attitude. Just go along as if nothing were wrong with him, talk about the baby, treat him as if he were as happy as we all are. I guess that is about all we can do.” Then she smiled at Janet. “We couldn’t manage at all without Janet,” she said tenderly, and Janet was glad that she was being such a help, and sorry that Stevie felt so badly.
“It’s just that I hate to have him unhappy,” Daddy went on, still worrying over Stevie. “It could be so much fun for all of us. But you can’t tell what a little fellow like Stevie will do when he is so unhappy. I can remember things like that when I was a kid – oh, not just the same, but things that worried me so that I was going around all the time trying to figure a way out. I’m worried.”
Janet couldn’t bear to see Daddy worried like that. She went over and put her arms around him.
“It’s going to be all right,” she promised, “I’ll find something to take his mind off it.”
“You’re a honey!” Daddy squeezed her, then sat up straight. “Say, sweetheart, maybe you have something there. Something to take his mind off it – Hasn’t he been wanting a puppy? Why can’t we get him one? Then he’ll have something to think about beside himself and his ‘broken nose.’”
Janet clapped her hands.
“I believe that would do it!” she cried.
So the next morning at breakfast Daddy said with an air of great excitement, “Queenie’s going to have pups very soon now, Stevie. Shall I speak to Mr. Wilson for one? Would you like one of Queenie’s pups?”
Stevie nodded his head. “Uh-huh,” he answered without enthusiasm.
Janet exclaimed, “Won’t that be fun, a baby puppy! When do you think they will come, Daddy?”
But Stevie wasn’t interested at all, and alter that morning when Queenie came over to Stevie as he sat on the back step, he pushed her away.
“Go on home, Queenie!” he said. “Nobody wants you hanging round here!”
Janet, standing just within the kitchen, shook her head. Stevie certainly did feel badly when he’d treat Queenie that way, for Queenie, whose home was next door with the Wilsons, had been one of Stevie’s best friends. Janet went out and sat down beside her brother.
“I’ll bet you made Queenie feel bad when you treated her like that!” she said. But Stevie kicked at the gravel and didn’t answer.
“Aren’t you excited about having one of her puppies?” Janet went on. “It’ll probably be a lot like Queenie. Daddy said her pups are extra fine. They’re registered and everything!”
“What’s registered?” Stevie asked listlessly.
“Oh,” Janet explained, “when people have extra nice dogs they keep records about them that tell who their mammas and papas are, their grandparents and everyone else, so the people know all about the dogs and all about their puppies. It makes them worth a lot more money. And it’s interesting, too!”
Stevie shook his head. “Who cares about a dog’s father and mother? It’s the dog that counts!” he replied, ready to pick a quarrel over any little thing.
Janet sat there, her chin in her hands, thinking. Stevie was right, maybe more truly right than he knew. Maybe this was getting down to his real trouble. The new baby would have its own mother and father, while he, Stevie, felt like an outcast. Maybe he had a real grudge against Queenie, after all.
That evening after Stevie was in bed, Janet perched herself on the arm of her daddy’s chair.
“Daddy,” she began, cautiously, “are you very anxious to have us have one of Queenie’s pups?”
“Now, what’s behind that question, sweetheart?” her father asked, pulling a lock of her red hair playfully.
“Well, I just wondered, do you care what kind of dog Stevie has?”
“Why, of course not!” her father answered. “Has he set his heart on some particular dog? We’ll get it for him, if he has.”
“No,” Janet was finding it hard, now, to explain the shadowy feeling she’d had that afternoon. “It’s just that Queenie’s pups would be so – so – well, so much a part of her family, you know, with cousins and brothers and sisters and a mother – ” Her words came tumbling, now they had got started. “And right now Stevie is feeling, oh, as if he didn’t have any real family at all. And I just thought if he could have a dog like him, you know, one that was sort of lonely, he might feel that it was more his very own, you know. I was wondering, do they have Homes for dogs?”
Her father, looking at her quizzically, was beginning to get the meaning.
“There’s the dog pound,” he suggested.
“Dog pound?” Janet repeated, doubtfully.
“Yes. Lost and strayed dogs are taken there and kept till someone calls for them. Sometimes their owners come; sometimes they are given to other people. Lots of times when people want dogs they go to the dog pound to find one.”
Janet’s eyes were shining.
“That’s just the thing. Don’t you see! If we could get Stevie out to the dog pound and he could find a puppy there that needed a home, and that sort of took to him,” she looked shyly, eagerly at him, “sort of the way we needed you and took to you, you see, then, if Stevie could have that dog, why he’d love it more than anything else and he would know how you feel about us. See?”
Janet wondered if those were really tears in her daddy’s eyes, and why? as he drew her very, very close in his arms and whispered, “A woman of understanding is more precious than fine jewels. Sweetheart, your daddy takes his hat off to you.” Then he laughed, gaily, “We’ll do it!”
“But he mustn’t know what we’re doing, Daddy! We’ve got to let him think it is all his very own idea!”
On Saturday afternoon when Daddy backed the car out of the garage, Janet shouted, “Where you going, Daddy?”
“To see a man on business,” her father answered, and then added, “Do you kids want to go along for the ride? We don’t get so many rides as we used to, do we?”
“Sure!” cried Janet. “Come on, Stevie!”
Even Stevie’s resentment couldn’t withstand the thought of a car ride on a lovely afternoon, they were so few, now, these joyous trips, so he came over and climbed into the front seat. But he wasn’t going to enjoy it, anyone could see that. He sat staring out, saying nothing.
They drove along, pretending not to notice Stevie’s attitude, talking and laughing, Janet and her father, bringing Stevie into the conversation when they could, but making no point of it.
At last they were outside the city and Daddy was parking the car in front of a low cement building.
“Where are we?” Stevie asked, and when his father said, “This is the dog pound!” Stevie questioned, without interest, “What’s a dog pound?” but paid little attention to his father’s brief explanation.
They went inside, and Daddy began to talk to the man there, leaving the children to their own devices.
There was a sound of barking somewhere within the building and Janet went nearer to the two men, as if she would ask a question. Her father said, “There are some dogs in the back. Just go through that door if you want to look at them while I’m talking.”
“Come on, Stevie!” cried Janet, taking her brother’s hand and opening the door for him.
The opening of the door seemed to be a signal of some sort, for suddenly there was a great uproar of barking, scratching, jumping, and tail wagging. Big dogs barked in big, deep voices; little dogs barked in sharp, quick tones; and puppies gave their own glad sounds as every dog in the place tried to leap through the wires and come toward the children.
For just an instant Stevie stood still, his back against the door, gripping Janet’s hand tightly. Before them stretched two long rows of wire cages with clean floors and running water. There was a strong dog smell in the room and the noise kept increasing. Stevie blinked, then went slowly ahead, letting go of Janet’s hand.
He peered into the first cage, where a big black dog was trying to make the children notice him above all others.
“Hey, big boy!” Stevie said, “Don’t make so much noise!”
The dog danced and pressed close to the wire.
In the next cage was a collie, serene and cool in spite of its attempts to attract attention, and Stevie looked at it and said, “Hi, ya, beauty!” and moved on.
At each cage the little boy stopped and spoke to the inmate, and the dog within, with that canny sense that dogs possess of knowing a friend, leaped and greeted him, and as he passed, barked helplessly to call him back.
Then halfway down the long line of dogs, Stevie stopped for a brief moment and then sank to his knees.
“Hello, fellow!” he said. “Hi, Spot! Here, Spot! come here, boy!” and he put his face against the wire while the puppy within went nearly crazy with excitement and joy.
Janet, watching, thought what a funny puppy it was. It was mostly white, with a few black spots scattered over its shaggy fur. One spot, circling his left eye, gave the puppy a solemn appearance; but one ear was longer than the other, and this gave him a comical look, too. So you really didn’t know whether to laugh or not when you looked at him.
But Stevie knew. With his face pressed against the wire, he was down on his knees, laughing and talking to the puppy. Stevie was saying things that only boys and dogs know about and understand, and when Janet called, “Stevie, come see this one!” her brother rose and moved slowly, reluctantly, away from the funny puppy as it threw itself against the wire in a crazy effort to follow.
The door opened and Daddy and the man came in. Stevie ran to the man. “Whose puppy is that?” he asked.
The man looked down at him and smiled.
“It’s nobody’s puppy right now,” he said. “It was brought in the other night during the big rainstorm, shivering, and hungry, and lost. Nobody has called for it, and nobody seems to want it. But he’s cute, isn’t he?”
Stevie went back to the puppy and knelt down by it again.
“Time to go, children!” Daddy called, and turned to leave the room. Janet followed, and, more slowly, came Stevie. But at the door he turned and flew back down the aisle to tell his new friend goodby.
Janet and her father didn’t dare look at each other for fear they’d laugh out loud. They climbed into the car and sat waiting patiently for the little boy.
He came out at last and stood there on the ground beside the car looking up at his father. His face was dirty where the puppy’s paws had reached through the wide mesh of the wire and caressed it; but it was clean where tears had run down in narrow crooked channels.
“Daddy!” said Stevie. “You said I could have a puppy. Can I? Can I have a puppy, Daddy?”
“Why, of course,” smiled his father. “Queenie will be having pups in a few days now and I’m sure Mr. Wilson will give us one.”
Stevie shook his head.
“I don’t want Queenie’s pups!” he said. “And it won’t want me. It won’t want to leave its mother.”
He stood there, beseeching his father with his wide, blue eyes, and Mr. Allen and Janet could hardly bear it when two tears welled up and spilled down the cheeks they loved so dearly.
“Daddy, can’t I have Spot? He’s all alone, and he doesn’t want me to leave him!”
“Spot?” Mr. Allen pretended not to understand.
Stevie nodded. “He knew me as soon as I came into the room,” he explained, “and I knew him. He wants to be my dog, and I want him. The man said nobody else wants him. Please, Daddy?”
Mr. Allen climbed down from the car.
“Let’s see about this,” he said, and Janet hurried to follow them into the office again.
“Why, of course Stevie can have the puppy if he wants him,” the man smiled. “I think it would be fine. He’s the kind of puppy that needs a boy like Stevie, and I’m sure Stevie is the kind of boy that needs a puppy like Spot.”
When the door to Spot’s cage was opened, there was no doubt about this. Spot gave one leap and was in Stevie’s arms, and he cuddled there, licking Stevie’s face, and wiggling with joy all the way home.
As soon as the car was stopped, Stevie leaped out and went running in the house, Spot scrambling about in his arms.
“Mommy! Mommy!” Stevie was yelling at the top of his voice, gay and noisy as he used to be. “Come here. Come see Spot! Mommy!”
Janet looked at her father and he looked at her.
“Sometimes you wonder just what to do about things,” she said, “but if you think hard enough, there’s always a way.”
Her father bent and kissed her.
“Do you know what, sweetheart?’ he said softly. “If they lined up all the little girls in the world, and all that ever will be in the world, and marched them past me, I know which one I’d pick. She’s got freckles on her nose and her hair is the color of ripe sunshine – ”
Janet was so happy she could almost cry. Stevie was happy again, her daddy was happy again, and now she and Mommy could settle down to the serious business of getting things ready for the new baby.