From the Children’s Friend, March 1936 –
A Little Girl’s Heart
Grace Zenor Pratt
“O, Mother, come and see what the peddler man has to sell.” Janie’s voice was excited. “Hurry, Mother.”
Mother put Baby Jim in his cart and fastened the straps securely so he couldn’t fall out and gave him a ball to play with.
Janie was out on the sidewalk now where the big elder trees made the coolest shade and the peddler man was showing her something delightful, for she danced up and down and squeaked with joy.
The peddler had taken the box from his shoulder and sure enough when Mother looked, she saw enough to delight most any little girl.
There was a whole set of doll furniture, all so neatly made and so cunning, just like grown up furniture. It was all painted ivory; the dresser had wee drawers with knobs and the dearest little swinging mirror. The table was carved like Mother’s library table and the chairs were darlings.
“Mother, I want them so, may I have them, Mother?” Mother hesitated for a moment. It would be so hard for her to disappoint Janie, but there were so many places for the five dollar bill she had put away this morning. But once, long ago, mother had been a little girl, herself, and she had longed for a wee dresser, so like this one, which she never had.
“Yes, dear, I think we’ll take them, if you really care so much.”
“O, thank you, Mother, you’re a darling, and I’ll tend Baby Jim every day for you while you rest.”
Then the peddler man brought the furniture to the veranda and placed it carefully on the step. “Thank you,” said Janie’s mother as she paid him and the peddler lifted his hat and walked away.
“I wonder, Mother,” Janie said as she looked after him, “if he doesn’t make all kinds of cunning things for his own little girls.”
It was after lunch. Mother was away and Baby Jim was asleep. Janie and her little friend, Alice, played keeping house out under the lilac tree. It was all in bloom and so shady and sweet. First there was a play dinner with bits of cake and sips of punch from the small earthen dishes. And all the while a saucy oriole sat on a bough near by and flaunted his black and orange feathers and cocked a shining eye at every crumb that dropped. Mac, the big police dog, lay dozing in the cool shade but he never went soundly to sleep, for occasionally he lifted his sharp ears to listen when the little girls were noisy, or when someone passed by.
“Mac looks as if his ears were starched, doesn’t he, Alice?” said Janie, and the little girls laughed again.
Suddenly the dog sat up, growling; there was someone at the gate. He showed his teeth and the ruff of grey fur on his neck stood up stiffly as it always did when he was very angry.
“Where’s your mother?” the tramp said to the children. He had stepped just inside the gate in the shade of the trees. He had an evil face and a large rock in his hand to throw at the dog.
“Where’s your mother, I say?”
“Mother’s not here,” Janie answered, and she was afraid, for the tramp was coming toward her. Now big Mac stepped between and barked in his deep voice.
“Call off that dog,” the man said, “and you two keep still. I’m going into the house and don’t you squeal or I’ll come back and get you when it’s dark. Call yer dog off.”
“Mac,” and Janie’s hand was on his collar. “Mac, good dog!” She held him tightly, and talked softly but he growled and barked fiercely to be free. But he had been taught obedience.
The tramp hurried up the walk, looking backward, the rock still in his hand – he was almost to the porch. Baby Jim was asleep in there, maybe he was a kidnapper and wanted Baby Jim. Jamie couldn’t let him get Jim. Mother had left him in her care and she had promised, just this morning to tend him better than ever.
Swift as thought she leaned down and spoke in Mac’s stiff ear, “Take him, Mac!” and letting go her hold upon his collar, “take him, Mac, get him!” she screamed, wildly.
Like a flash, the big, grey dog was upon his enemy. The man was too surprised to use his weapon and the dog was at his throat, his fangs bared with hate and anger.
“Hold him!” Janie called, as she waved her arms in excitement. Then Father came running down the sidewalk, all out of breath; dear Father, how glad Janie was to see him.
“What is all this, children?” he asked as he took in the situation. He smiled grimly at the tramp’s predicament. At one word more the tramp’s life would be worth very little.
“Down!” father said, sternly. “Good dog! Stand guard!”
Then looking the man over, Father said, “I wonder if I had better call a policeman, or if you will leave this neighborhood peacefully. You have no right to frighten children or to enter houses.”
The man said he was desperate, that he was hungry and he could find no work. He had watched these children at play, decided they were alone and taken a chance. He said he had not meant to harm them.
Father had a kind heart and when Mother came home they talked it over. Then they gave the unfortunate stranger some food and what clothing they could spare and he really seemed grateful for their kindness.
“That is a wonderful dog of yours,” he said as father went with him to the gate, and Mac growled ominously. “And you have a brave little girl, there, too,” he said as he caught sight of Janie.
That same evening, Jamie was telling Mother what fun she and Alice had had playing with the new doll furniture under the lilac tree; about the lunch and the saucy oriole.
“Mother, I’ve been thinking, if you hadn’t bought me the doll furniture this morning, maybe I wouldn’t have been trying so hard to keep my promise about taking care of baby Jim, and O, so many things I’ve thought of” – and Janie’s sleepy voice trailed off. “And Mother, I’m so glad you can understand a little girl’s heart.”