Not Guilty by Unknown

'Douglas, I want you.'

Douglas jumped up obediently from the kitchen floor, where he was bathing a wound in his terrier's side. He followed his father into the study, and Bully the terrier followed at his heels.

A red-faced man stood in the door, and Douglas guessed what was wrong.

'That's him,' almost shouted the visitor. Bully crept closer to Douglas' side, and bared two teeth, for it was to him the farmer alluded.

'It wasn't,' said Douglas, and his face grew as red as if it were he who was accused of some crime. 'He has been with me all the time. He has not touched anything of yours.'

'He knows, you see, mister,' said the man slily, 'knows all about it before a word's said. If that was my boy—— '

Douglas' father interrupted. 'A moment, please,' he said. 'Listen to me, Douglas. Mr. Wilkins says that your dog and you, too, were in his yard a few days ago. Is that so?'

'Yes, Father,' said Douglas, 'the cowboy threw mud at me, and I went over to thrash him.'

'Trespassing,' said the farmer, 'and the lad rolled him in the mud for his pains.'

'He is bigger than I, a lot,' said Douglas; 'I didn't see him properly till after I had hit him once.'

'Well, my lad has seen him in the yard once before—the dog I mean, not you, boy; and I have missed three chickens this week, and that's the dog which took them. It ought to be shot.'

Douglas' hand tightened on his friend's collar, and his face whitened. 'It's not true,' he said. 'Bully is an awfully good dog. He never touches anything; he wouldn't even touch my rabbits if they were loose.'

So far as looks went, Bully came short of this good reputation. His face was villainous-looking, and a wound on one side, and sundry scratches on his nose did not add to his beauty.

'I have paid for those chickens, Douglas,' said his father, when the angry farmer had gone away. 'I don't suppose it was Bully, but as he is so much at large, we must take Mr. Wilkins's word for it. In future he must be kept under control.'

Several weeks passed without any further complaint. Bully spent all his time, when Douglas was at school, on his chain by the back-door, an injustice which the boy resented as bitterly as the dog.

After an interval of this restraint the discipline was gradually relaxed, and Bully at times was allowed his usual freedom.

Douglas was scarcely surprised when the farmer appeared at their house again, this time with his enemy the cowboy.

'Here sir,' Farmer Wilkins hailed the boy, 'that dog of yours has made away with four as nice pullets as ever I saw.'

'I don't believe it,' said Douglas, bluntly.

'Well, here is my boy. Saw the dog in the yard, didn't you, boy?'

'Yes, I did, said the boy. 'I saw it with my own eyes, slinking away in the dusk.'

'Are you sure?' asked Douglas's father.

'Quite sure, sir,' answered the boy.

'I have never caught him telling lies,' said the man. 'I would take his word before your boy's.'

The upshot of it was that the chickens were again paid for, and Bully the favourite—Bully, who was almost one of the family—was condemned to go. Douglas polished his coat-sleeve with some salt tears in private, and Bully poked him all over with his damp cool nose, as if he guessed that something was wrong.

Towards evening, Douglas went out, taking Bully with him. He thought he would see for himself if Bully would try to take the chickens, and with this idea, went up the garden to a place overlooking the farm hen-roost. The chickens were chirping and snuggling on their perches, and he felt sure that Bully was innocent, for he did not even prick an ear at the sound.

As he stood there, somebody came quietly up the yard.

'The boy, to shut up for the evening,' thought Douglas, for he knew that at this time the farmer was generally out with the milk. But when they came nearer he saw that there were two people, the cowboy and a man with a bag.

Douglas tightened his hold on the dog's collar to cut short a growl, and listened with all his ears, as the lad went into the shed, and some squawking and fluttering went on.

'I daren't take more than one,' he said; 'and it is the last time. I have been putting it on the dog over yonder, and they are getting rid of it now.'

The man looked annoyed. 'Make it half a dozen, if it's the last time,' he said. 'I can't give you more than sixpence for that one. It's not worth coming up here for.'

Douglas loosened Bully's collar.

'Watch him,' he said, and Bully needed no second telling, managing to keep the tail of his eye on the frightened cowboy as well as on the stranger with the bag.

'You wicked boy,' said Douglas. 'It was you that stole the chickens. I heard everything you said.'

'I will never do it again,' cried the boy, blubbering. 'Don't tell Master, young gentleman, it won't happen again.'

'No, that it won't,' put in a new voice, as Farmer Wilkins arrived unexpectedly on the scene. 'I will take good care of that. Call your dog off, if you please, Master Douglas; I don't much like the looks of him.'

Douglas secured Bully, and the farmer seized the dishonest cowboy by the collar. The stranger was quick to take advantage of the moment, and before anybody could say 'knife,' he had slipped behind the barn, and away over the fields.

'Let him go,' said the farmer, who was too fat to want to run. 'He has had a fright. As for you.' turning to the cowboy, 'I have an account to settle with you, before I send you off. I am much obliged to you, young sir,' he said, turning to Douglas, 'and very sorry for the trouble you have been caused.'

'Well, look here,' said Douglas, 'will you do something to oblige me?'

'Why, yes,' said the farmer.

"'Watch him!' said Douglas." "'Watch him!' said Douglas."

'I wish you would let him off pretty easily. You won't send him away, will you?'

'I just will,' said the man, hotly; 'and give him up to the police too.'

'Oh, please, don't do that,' Douglas, pleaded, 'to oblige me. Give him one more chance.'

Farmer Wilkins scratched his head.

'It's perfectly ridiculous,' he said; 'but there, seeing that you have got a say in the matter, so to speak, I don't know but what—'

And the cowboy gave Douglas such a grateful look that he could not help feeling that there was still some hope of his turning out all right in the end.

'You see,' Douglas afterwards explained to his father, 'I felt so awfully glad when I found that I should not have to send Bully away, that I didn't want to pay the boy out in the least. And I think it would do him more good to be forgiven than if he was sent to prison, don't you.' And Father thought it would.