"B E sure, my child," said the widow to her little daughter, "that you always do just as you are told."
"Very well, mother."
"Or at any rate do what will do just as well," said the small house-dog, as he lay blinking at the fire.
"You darling," cried little Joan, and she sat down on the hearth and hugged him. But he got up and shook himself, and moved three turns nearer the stove, to be out of the way; for though her arms were soft, she had kept her doll in them, and that was made of wood, which hurts.
"What a dear, kind house-dog you are!" said little Joan, and she meant what she said, for it does feel nice to have the sharp edges of one's duty a little softened off for one.
He was no particular kind of dog, but he was very smooth to stroke, and had a nice way of blinking with his eyes, which it was soothing to see. There had been a difficulty about his name. The name of the house-dog before him was Faithful, and well it became him, as his tombstone testified. The one before that was called Wolf. He was very wild and came to a bad end for worrying sheep. The little house-dog never chased anything, to the widow's knowledge. There was no reason whatever for giving him a bad name, and she thought of several good ones, such as Faithful, and Trusty, and Keeper, which are fine old-fashioned titles, but none of these seemed quite perfectly to suit him. So he was called So-so; and a very nice soft name it is.
The widow was only a poor woman, though she contrived by her industry to keep a decent home together, and to get now one and now another little comfort for herself and her child. One day she was going out on business, and she called her little daughter and said to her, "I am going out for two hours. You are too young to protect yourself and the house, and So-so is not as strong as Faithful was. But when I go, shut the house door and bolt the big wooden bar, and be sure you do not open it for any reason until I return. If strangers come So-so may bark, which he can do as well as a bigger dog. Then they will go away. With this summer's savings I have bought a quilted petticoat for you and a duffle coat for myself against the winter, and if I get the work I am going after to-day, I shall buy enough wool to knit warm stockings for us both, so be patient till I return, and then we will have the plum-cake that is in the cupboard for tea."
"Thank you, Mother."
"Good-bye, my child. Be sure you do just as I have told you," said the woman.
"Very well, Mother."
Little Joan laid down her doll, and shut the house door, and fastened the big bolt. It was very heavy, and the kitchen looked gloomy when she had done it.
"I wish Mother had taken us all three with her, and had locked the house and put the key in her big pocket, as she has done before," said little Joan, as she got into the rocking-chair, to put her doll to sleep.
"Yes, it would have done just as well," So-so replied, as he stretched himself on the hearth.
By and by Joan grew tired of hush-a-bying the doll, who looked none the sleepier for it, and she took the three-legged stool and sat down in front of the clock to watch the hands. After awhile she drew a deep sigh.
"There are sixty seconds in every single minute, So-so," said she.
"So I have heard," said So-so. He was snuffing in the back place, which was not usually allowed.
"And sixty whole minutes in every hour, So-so."
"You don't say so," growled So-so. He had not found a bit, and the cake was on the top shelf. There was not so much as a spilt crumb, though he snuffed in every corner of the kitchen, till he stood snuffling under the house door.
"The air smells fresh," said he.
"It's a beautiful day, I know," said little Joan. "I wish Mother had allowed us to sit on the doorstep. We could have taken care of the house—"
"Just as well," said So-so.
Little Joan came to smell the air at the key-hole, and, as So-so had said, it smelt very fresh. Besides, one could see from the window how fine the evening was.
"It's not exactly what mother told us to do," said Joan, "but I do believe—"
"It would do just as well," said So-so.
By and by little Joan unfastened the bar, and opened the door, and she and the doll and So-so went out and sat on the doorstep.
Not a stranger was to be seen. The sun shone delightfully. An evening sun, and not too hot. All day it had been ripening the corn in the field close by, and this glowed and waved in the breeze.
"It does just as well, and better," said little Joan, "for if any one comes we can see him coming up the field-path."
"Just so," said So-so, blinking in the sunshine.
Suddenly Joan jumped up.
"Oh!" cried she, "there's a bird, a big bird. Dear So-so, can you see him? I can't, because of the sun. What a queer noise he makes—Crake! Crake! Oh, I can see him now! He is not flying, he is running, and he has gone into the corn. I do wish I were in the corn. I would catch him and put him in a cage."
"I'll catch him," said So-so, and he put up his tail, and started off.
"No, no!" cried Joan. "You are not to go. You must stay and take care of the house, and bark if any one comes."
"You could scream, and that would do just as well," replied So-so, with his tail still up.
"No, it would n't," cried little Joan.
"Yes, it would," reiterated So-so.
Whilst they were bickering, an old woman came up to the door; she had a brown face, and black hair, and a very old red cloak.
"Good-evening, my little dear," said she. "Are you all at home this fine evening?"
"Only three of us," said Joan; "I, and my doll, and So-so. Mother has gone to the town on business, and we are taking care of the house, but So-so wants to go after the bird we saw run into the corn."
"Was it a pretty bird, my little dear?" asked the old woman.
"It was a very curious one," said Joan, "and I should like to go after it myself, but we can't leave the house."
"Dear, dear! Is there no neighbor would sit on the doorstep for you, and keep house till you slip down to the field after the curious bird?" said the old woman.
"I'm afraid not," said little Joan. "Old Martha, our neighbor, is now bed-ridden. Of course, if she had been able to mind the house instead of us, it would have done just as well."
"I have some distance to go this evening," said the old woman, "but I do not object to a few minutes' rest, and sooner than that you should lose the bird, I will sit on the doorstep to oblige you, while you run down to the cornfield."
"But can you bark if any one comes?" asked little Joan. "For if you can't So-so must stay with you."
"I can call you and the dog if I see any one coming, and that will do just as well," said the old woman.
"So it will," replied little Joan, and off she ran to the cornfield, where, for that matter, So-so had run before her and was bounding and barking and springing among the corn stalks.
They did not catch the bird, though they stayed longer than they had intended, and though So-so seemed to know more about hunting that was supposed.
"I dare say Mother has come home," said little Joan, as they went back up the field-path. "I hope she won't think we ought to have stayed in the house."
"It was taken care of," said So-so, "and that must do just as well."
When they reached the house, she had not come home.
But the old woman had gone, and she had taken the quilted petticoat and the duffle cloak, and the plum-cake from the top shelf away with her; and no more was ever heard of any of the lot.
"For the future, my child," said the widow, "I hope you will always do just as you are told, whatever So-so may say."
"I will, Mother," said little Joan (and she did). But the house-dog sat and blinked. He dared not speak, he was in disgrace.
I do not feel quite sure about So-so. Wild dogs often amend their ways, and the Faithful sometimes fall; but when any one begins by being only So-so, he is very apt to be So-so to the end. So-sos so seldom change.
But this one was very soft and nice, and he got no cake that tea-time. On the whole, we will hope that he lived to be a good dog ever after.