Wee Janet's Problem by Unknown

[Illustration: "<i>He used to chase them and threaten to cut off their ears.</i>"]

Everything small and helpless was once afraid of a certain ragged, barefooted little boy who had recently come to live in the country. His home was the old Perkins' house, in which no one had lived for years; at least no one but wild-wood folks, like birds and squirrels. They didn't stay long after the arrival of Pete and his family, because Pete threw stones even at the bluebirds.

Wee Janet was afraid of Pete. All the Primer Class children who attended the country school were afraid of the boy. He used to chase them and threaten to cut off their ears; once he whispered across the aisle to Bessie Saunders that he would like to eat little girls, and she believed it.

The teacher said that Pete was a bad boy. There was never a school day when the child wasn't justly punished for something. It did seem as if no one ever said a kind word about Pete. Wee Janet thought that even his mother was discouraged, because he cruelly teased his own brothers and sisters until they were in tears half the time.

No one in the country knew where Pete and his family lived before they came to the Perkins' farm. In reply to that question Pete said "None of yer business!" to the Sabbath school superintendent.

Wee Janet was much troubled about Pete. "He'll be a dreadfully bad man," she said to her mother, "unless someone can make him into a good little boy. The teacher says she can't do it—she's tried. She says it's a problem."

"I'll tell you what to do, little daughter," said Wee Janet's mother. "Try to think Pete is the lovely boy he might have been if he had been born in the Perkins' house, and dear old Grandma Perkins was his own grandmother."

"But—but my thinker isn't strong enough," objected Wee Janet. "Besides, that wouldn't make Pete into a different kind of a boy."

"No," agreed Wee Janet's mother; "but if you could imagine Pete is lovely, you must treat him in a different way, and it might make him better."

The following day Wee Janet tried her best to do as her mother suggested. The day after she begged all the little girls in the Primer Class to treat Pete as if he were a good boy. At last Wee Janet and the Primer Class gave it up.

"He just gets worse and worse," Wee Janet told her mother. "He says he 'don't care for nuthin' nor nobody,'—that's just what he said."

"Well," replied Janet's mother, "there is one thing you can do, and that is, always be polite and kind to him. 'Overcome evil with good.'"

Days passed. Every night when she said her prayers Wee Janet remembered Pete. Each day she tried to be kind to him in every way known to a little girl eight years old and extremely small for her age. He threw the flowers she gave him into the dusty road and danced on them. He accepted her gifts only to destroy them, every one, and then called her "Cry-baby."

At last the Sabbath-school superintendent learned that Pete was born and had lived all his life in a tenement house in a great city. His father died in State's Prison. After that it seemed to Wee Janet that there was almost no hope for Pete.

One Thursday morning the little girl's mother asked her to carry a pail of buttermilk to Aunt Nancy. "You needn't be afraid to go by the Perkins' house this morning," she said, "because your father was told that Pete went fishing to-day."

Wee Janet was half way to Aunt Nancy's when not far up the road she beheld Mr. Mason's red cow eating grass outside instead of inside the fence.

"Oh, the hooking cow!" exclaimed the child, almost dropping her pail of buttermilk.

At that moment the red cow lifted her head. It is possible she thought that Janet was a big clover blossom. Anyway, on came the cow lowing gently. Mr. Mason always said the cow was harmless.

Janet, too frightened to stir, screamed in terror. That scream brought a barefooted boy running over the fields. That boy was Pete.

[Illustration: "<i>Janet screamed in
terror.</i>"]

"What's the matter, Weejan?" he called.

At that moment Pete looked beautiful to Wee Janet. It seemed to her that she never saw a finer looking boy than Pete, the ragged, when he picked up a stick and made the cow turn around and go the other way.

[Illustration: <i>The Robin's Nest</i>]

"Come on, Weejan," called Pete. "I won't let her hurt yez. I'll drive her back in her pasture and lock the gate. Yez see if I don't!"

After the cow was in her pasture Pete insisted upon going to Aunt Nancy's with Wee Janet. "Yer might see a rattler," he explained, as if such a thing were probable.

"Now I'll take yer home," the boy observed when Wee Janet found him waiting at the gate. "Yer too little to be out alone."

Janet's mother thanked Pete for taking care of her small daughter. Then she gave him a piece of gingerbread. After that she showed him Wee Janet's robin's nest and told him all about how the mother robin worked to build the nest, and how long she sat upon the eggs before the little nestlings were hatched. Father Robin scolded the boy so vigorously Wee Janet was afraid Pete's feelings might be hurt. "You see," she explained, "he knows that you're a stranger. Now, Father Robin, don't make such a fuss. If Pete took care of me, he'd take care of your babies, too. Wouldn't you, Pete.

"Sure!" Pete replied with a broad grin.

From that hour there was a change in Pete. He told Wee Janet's mother that he never knew anything about birds before; whereupon he was invited to come every day to visit all of Wee Janet's birds' nests and to read her bird books.

Before the end of the year even the little girls in the Primer Class forgot, or appeared to forget, that Pete was ever a bad boy. He is in high school now, in town, and his mother never looks discouraged when she speaks of her eldest son, Peter.

As for Wee Janet, to this day she sometimes wonders how it all came about.