The Little Dog Who Couldn't Sleep
by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott
It was our Uncle Peter who sent us the little piece of paper.
It was a piece of paper torn out of that part of a newspaper where
people tell what they want if they've got money enough to pay for it.
This is what it said:
"WANTED a little dog who can't sleep to be night companion
for a little boy who can't sleep. Will pay fifty dollars."
Our Uncle Peter sent it to my Father and told him to give it to us.
"Your children know so many dogs," he said.
"Not—fifty dollars' worth," said my Father. He said it with points in
"Oh—I'm not so sure," said my Mother. She said it with just a little
smile in her voice.
It was my Mother who gave us the big sheet of brown paper to make our
sign. My brother Carol mixed the paint. I mixed the letters. It was a
nice sign. We nailed it on the barn where everybody who went by could
see it. It said:
"Carol and Ruthy.
Dealers in Dogs who
Nobody dealt with us. We were pretty discouraged.
We asked the Grocer if he had a little dog who couldn't sleep. We asked
the Postman. We asked the Butcher. They hadn't.
We asked the old whiskery man who came every Spring to buy old bottles
and papers. HE HAD!
He brought the dog on a dungeon chain. He said if we'd give him fifty
cents for the dungeon chain we could have the dog for nothing.
It seemed like a very good bargain.
Our Father lent us the fifty cents.
He was a nice dog. We named him Tiger Lily. His hair was red and smooth
as Sunday all except his paws and ears. His paws and ears were sort of
rumpled. His eyes were gold and very sweet like keepsakes you must never
spend. He had a sad tail. He was a setter dog. He was meant to hunt. But
he couldn't hunt because he was so shy. It was guns that he was so shy
Our Mother invited us to wash him. He washed very nicely.
We wrote our triumph to our Uncle Peter and asked him to send us the
Our Uncle Peter came instead in an automobile and took Tiger Lily and
Carol and me to the city.
"Of course he isn't exactly a 'little dog,'" we admitted. "But at least
he's a dog! And at least he 'can't sleep'!"
"Well—I wonder," said our Uncle Peter. He seemed very pleased to wonder
about it. He twisted his head on one side and looked at Tiger Lily.
"What do you mean,—'doesn't sleep'?" he said.
Because my brother Carol is dumb and never talks I always have to do the
explaining. It was easy to explain about Tiger Lily.
"Why when you're in bed and fast asleep," I explained, "he comes and
puts his nose in your neck! It feels wet! It's full of sighs and a cool
breeze! It makes you jump and want your Mother!—All the rest of the
time at night he's roaming! And prowling! And s'ploring!—Up the front
stairs and down the back—and up the front and down the back!—Every
window he comes to he stops and listens! And listens!—His toe-nails
have never been cut!—It sounds lonely!"
"What does he seem to be listening for?" said our Uncle Peter.
"Listening for gun-bangs," I explained.
"O—h," said our Uncle Peter.
The city was full of noises like gun-bangs. It made Tiger Lily very
nervous. He tried to get under everything. It took us most all the
afternoon to get him out.
The little boy's name was Dicky. He wasn't at home. "Come again," said
the man at the door. We came again about eight o'clock at night. It
seemed as late as Christmas Eve and sort of lonely without our Parents
or any other presents. We had to climb a lot of stairs. It made Tiger
Lily puff a little and look very glad. It made our Uncle Peter puff some
too. It made the little boy's Mother puff a good deal. There wasn't any
Father. The Mother was all in black about it. Her clothes looked very
sorrowful. But her face was just sort of surprised. She had white hands.
She carried them all curved up like pond-lilies. She was pretty. Even
if you'd never seen her but once in a train window you'd always have
The little boy's room was very large and full of lights. There were
tinkly glass things hanging everywhere. There was a music-box playing.
There was a tin railroad train running round and round the room all by
itself making a bangy noise. There was a wound-up bird in a toy cage
crying "Hi! Hi!" There was a crackling fire. Everything was tinkling or
playing or singing or banging or crackling. It sounded busy. You had to
talk very loud to make any one hear you.
The little boy sat on top of a table in a big bay window looking out at
the night. His knees were all cuddled up into the curve of his arms. He
had on a little red wrapper and bare legs and fur slippers. He was lots
littler than us. He looked cunning.
We stamped our feet on the rug.
"Here's your dog!" I said.
When the little boy saw Tiger Lilly he jumped right down from the table
and screamed. It was with joy that he screamed. He threw his arms right
around Tiger Lily's neck and screamed all over again. Tiger Lily liked
it very much.
"What makes his paws so fluffy?" he screamed. "How soft his face is!
He's got sweet eyes! He's got a sad tail! What's his name? Where did you
get him? Is he for me? Do I have to pay money for him? What does he eat?
Will he drink coffee?" Just as though he was mad about something he
began suddenly to jump up and down and cry tears. "Why doesn't somebody
answer me?" he screamed. "Why doesn't somebody tell me?"
He got so excited about it that he hit Carol on the nose and blooded him
quite a good deal.
The little boy's mother came running.
"Oh hush—hush, Dicky!" she cried. "Don't be in such a hurry! The boy
will tell you all about it in time! Give him time I say! Give him
"No he won't," I explained. "My brother Carol never tells anything. He
"He's—dumb," said our Uncle Peter.
The Lady looked sort of queer.
"Oh dear—Oh dear—Oh dear," she said. "What a misfortune!"
Our Uncle Peter sort of sniffed his expression.
"Misfortune?" he said. "I call it the greatest blessing in the world!"
He glared at little Dicky. "Yes the greatest blessing in the world!" he
said. "A child who doesn't babble or fuss!—Or SCREAM!"
The Lady looked more and more surprised. She turned to the little boy.
"'Dumb,' Dicky," she said. "You understand? Doesn't speak?"
Dicky looked at his Mother. He looked at Carol. A little pucker came and
blacked itself between his eyebrows. As though to toss the pucker away
he tossed back his whole head and ran to Tiger Lily and threw his arms
around Tiger Lily's neck.
"Doesn't——EVER?" he said.
"Doesn't ever—what?" said our Uncle Peter.
"Sleep?" said Dicky.
"It was the boy we were talking about," laughed his Mother. "Not the
doggie." She tried to put her arms around him.
He wiggled right out of them and ran back to Tiger Lily.
"Is it his adenoids?" he cried. "Have you had his eyes tested? How do
you know but what it's his teeth?"
"Whose teeth?" frowned our Uncle Peter.
"Tiger Lily's!" cried Dicky.
His Mother made a sorry sound in her throat.
"Poor Dicky," she said. "He's had most everything done to
him!—Tonsils,—spine,—eyes,—ears,—teeth!—Why the last Doctor I saw
was almost positive that the Insomnia was due entirely to—" In the very
middle of what it was due to she turned to our Uncle Peter. Her voice
got very private. Our Uncle Peter had to stoop his head to hear it. He
had a proud head. It didn't stoop very easily.
"He isn't my own little boy," she whispered.
As though his ears were magic the little boy looked up and grinned. His
eyes looked naughty.
"Nobody's own little boy," he said. "Nobody's own little boy!" As though
it was a song without any tune he began to sing it. "Nobody's—Nobody's
own little boy!"
The Lady tried to stop him. He struck at her with his feet. It made a
hurt on her arm. He snatched Tiger Lily by the collar and started for
"Going to find Cook and get a bone!" he said. He said it like a boast.
He slammed the door behind him. It made a rude noise. He came running
back and looked a little sorry, but mostly bashful. He pointed at Tiger
Lily. "What—What's HE afraid of?" he said.
"Noises," I explained.
"Noises?" cried the little boy. He cried it with a sort of a hoot. It
"Oh pshaw!" he said. "There isn't a noise in the world that I'm afraid
of! Not thunder! Not guns! Not ANYTHING! Noises are my friends! In the
night I take torpedoes and crack 'em on the hearth just to hear them
sputter! I've got three tin pans tied on a string! I've got a pop-gun!"
He ran back to the table to get the gun. It was a nice gun. It was
painted bright blue. It looked loud.
When Tiger Lily saw it he dove under the bed. It was hard to get him
out. The little boy looked very astonished.
"It's gun-bangs—specially—that Tiger Lily is afraid of," I explained.
"Gun-bangs?" said the little boy.
"That's why he can't ever hunt," I explained.
"Hunt?" said the little boy. "Not—ever you mean?" He looked at Tiger
Lily. He looked at the blue pop-gun. "Not ever? Ever? Ever?" Way down in
his little fur slippers it was as though a little sigh started and
shivered itself up-up-up—up till it reached his smile. It made his
smile sort of wobbly. "Oh all right!" he said and ran away as fast as he
could to hide the blue pop-gun in the bottom of the closet. A velocipede
he piled on top of it and two pillows and a Noah's Ark and a stuffed
squirrel. When the piling was all done he looked back at our Uncle
Peter. It was across one shoulder that he looked back. It made his
little smile look twisty as well as wobbly. One of his eyebrows had
crooked itself. "It's—It's SILENCES that I'm afraid of," he said.
He grabbed Tiger Lily by the collar again and started for the door. As
though he was playing a Game he reached out one finger and tagged
everybody as he passed them. Everybody except Carol. When he started to
tag Carol he snatched back his finger and screamed instead. "He's a
Silence!" he screamed. "He's a Silence!" Still holding tight to Tiger
Lily's collar he ran for the stairs.
Flop-Flop-Flop his little fur slippers thudded on the hard wood floor.
Tick-Tick-Tick Lily's toe-nails clicked along beside him. It sounded
cool. And slippery.
His Mother wrung her hands. It seemed to be with despair that she wrung
"Yes that's just it," she despaired. "It's 'Silences' that he's afraid
of! That's what keeps him awake all night banging at things! That's what
worries him so!"
"But he gave up the noisy pop-gun," said our Uncle Peter. "Gave it up of
his own accord when he saw that it frightened the dog."
"Why so he did!" said the Mother. She seemed very much surprised. "Why
so he did!—Why I don't know that I ever knew him to give up anything
before. He's been so delicate—and—and the only child and
everything—I'm afraid we've spoiled him."
"U—m—m," said our Uncle Peter.
"And all the circumstances of the case are so bewildering," despaired
Like white pond-lilies floating in a black gloom her sad hands curled in
her lap. It seemed to be at our Uncle Peter that they curled.
"Are they indeed?" said our Uncle Peter. It was the "circumstances" that
"Very bewildering," said the Lady. Her cheeks got a little pink. She
jumped up and went to the door and listened a minute at the head of the
stairs. When she came back to her chair she shut the door behind her.
"As I told you," she whispered, "the little boy isn't my own little
"So I understood," said our Uncle Peter.
"His Mother died when he was born," said the Lady.
"Very sad indeed," said our Uncle Peter.
"Dicky is six years old," said the Lady. "I married his Father a year
and a half ago. His Father was killed in an accident a year ago—"
"Oh dear—Oh dear," said our Uncle Peter.
The Lady began all over again as though it was a lesson.
"Dicky is six years old," she said. "I married his Father a year and a
half ago. He was killed in an accident a year ago. It was all so
sudden,—the marriage,—the accident,—everything—!" She began to cry a
little. It made her clothes look sorrowfuller and sorrowfuller and her
face more and more surprised. Once again she curled up her white
pond-lily hands at our Uncle Peter. It was as though she thought that
our Uncle Peter could help her perhaps with some of her surprises.
"I—I didn't know his Father very long," she cried. "I never knew his
Mother at all!—--It's—It's pretty bewildering," she said, "to be left
all alone—for life—with a perfectly, strange little boy—who isn't any
relation at all!—All his funny little suits to worry about—and his
mumps and his measles—and—and whether he ought to play marbles 'for
keeps'—and shall I send him to college or not? And suppose he turns out
a burglar or something dreadful like that?—And how in the world am I
going to tackle his first love affair? Or his choice of a
profession?—Merciful Heavens!—Perhaps he'll want to fly!"
"Why—you're just like a Hen," said our Uncle Peter.
The Lady didn't like to be called a Hen.
It ruffled her all up.
Our Uncle Peter had to talk about Base Ball to soothe her.
The Lady didn't know anything about Base Ball but it seemed to soothe
her considerably to hear about it.
When our Uncle Peter was all through soothing her she looked up as
pleasant as pleasant could be.
"WHY?" she said.
"Why—what?" said our Uncle Peter. He seemed a little perplexed.
"Why—am I like a Hen?" said the Lady.
"O—h," said our Uncle Peter. He acted very much relieved. "O—h," he
said. "I was afraid it was something you were going to ask me about Base
Ball. But a Hen——?" He looked with smiles at the Lady. "Oh but a
Hen—?—Why even a Hen, my dear Madam," he smiled, "a real professional
true-enough hen doesn't take any too easily to the actual chick itself
until she's served a certain sit-tightly, go-lightly, egg-shell sort of
apprenticeship as it were to the IDEA.—Thrust a bunch of chicks under
her before she's served this apprenticeship and——"
I jumped up and down and clapped my hands. I just couldn't help it.
"Oh, I know what happens!" I cried. "She sits too heavy! And squashes
'em perfectly flat!—There was a hen," I cried. "Her name was Lizzie!
She was a good hen! But childless! The Grocer gave us some day-old
chicks to put under her! But when we went out to the nest the next
morning to see 'em—they couldn't have been flatter if they'd been
pressed in the Bible!—My Brother Carol cried,—I cried,—my Mother——"
"I don't care at all who cried," said the Lady. It was true. She didn't.
All she cared was to look at our Uncle Peter. The look was a stern look.
"And are you trying to imply, Mr.—Mr.—?"
"Merredith," said our Uncle Peter. "Percival Merredith.—'Uncle Peter'
"Mr. Merredith," repeated the Lady coldly. "Are you trying to imply that
my——step-son looks as though he had been pressed in a—a—Bible?"
I shook in my boots. Carol shook in his boots. You could hear us.
Our Uncle Peter never shook a bit. He just twinkled.
"Well—hardly," he said.
The Lady looked pretty surprised. When she wasn't looking surprised she
Her voice sounded little when she got it started again.
"Maybe—Maybe I DO take my responsibilities too heavily," she said. "But
it's this—this sleeping business that worries me so."
"I should think it would," said our Uncle Peter.
"No Nurse Maid will stay with me," said the Lady. "They say it gives
them the creeps.—It's enough to give anyone the creeps.—A grown
person of course expects a certain amount of wakefulness, but a
child,—a little care-free—heedless child—? Just when you think you've
got him safely to sleep—all cuddled up in your own bed or even in his
own bed—and are just drowsing off into the first real sleep you've had
for a week—?—Patter—Patter—Patter in the hall! Creak—Creak—Creak
on the stairs! A chair bumped over in the Library!—Bumped over on
purpose you understand! Just to make a noise! 'Noises are his friends,'
he says. Why once—once—" The Lady's mouth smiled a little. "Once when
I woke and missed him and hunted everywhere—I found him at last in the
Pantry—on the floor—with his ear cuddled close up to a mouse-hole!
Mouse-Nibble Noises he says are his special friends in the middle of the
night when there isn't anything else.—ANYTHING to break the silence it
seems to be!—Why in the world should he be afraid of a Silence? Nobody
can account for it!"
"Possibly not," said our Uncle Peter. "Yet the fact remains that either
within or just outside the borders of his consciousness the only two
people responsible for his Being have disappeared unaccountably into a
Silence——from which they have not returned."
"Oh dear," said the Lady. "I never thought of that! You mean—You
mean—that perhaps he thinks that a Silence is a Hole that you might
fall into if you don't fill it up with a Noise? Why the poor little
fellow!—How in the world is one ever to tell?—Oh dear—Oh dear——"
She sank back in her chair and floated her hands in her lap. Her eyes
looked as though she was going to cry again. But she didn't cry. That
is, not much. Mostly she just sighed. "It isn't as though he was an easy
child to understand," she sighed. "He catches cold so easily, and mumps
and everything.—And he's so irritable.—He kicks,—he bites,—he
"So I have seen demonstrated," said our Uncle Peter.
"Oh, it's quite evident," cried the Lady, "that you think I'm harsh with
him!—But whatever in the world would YOU do?" She threw out her hands
toward the pretty room,—the rugs,—the pictures,—the fire,—the toys.
"Perhaps you can tell me what he NEEDS?" she said.
"A good spanking," said our Uncle Peter.
The Lady gave a little gasp.
"Oh, not for punishment," said our Uncle Peter. "But just for
exercise.—It's the only exercise that a lot of pampered, sedentary
children ever get!"
"P—Pampered?" gasped the Lady. "S—Sed—entary?" As though her head was
bursting with the noises all around the room she clapped her hands over
Our Uncle Peter jumped up from his chair and began to chase the little
tin railroad train. It looked funny to see so large a man running after
so small a train. When he caught it it was having a railroad accident in
the tunnel under the table where a book had fallen on the track. Like a
beetle with no paint on its stomach he left it lying on its back with
its little wheels kicking in the air.
"If only all the racket was as easily disposed of!" said the Lady.
"It IS!" said our Uncle Peter.
Like turning off faucets of water he turned off the noises one by
one,—the window-breeze that made the glass dangles tinkle,—the funny
jiggly spring that kept the toy bird screaming "Hi-Hi" in its wicker
cake,—the music box that tooted horns and beat drums right in the
middle of its best tunes! He looked like a giant stalking through the
Noah's Ark animals! His foot was longer than the village store!
"If only I figured as largely in a less miniature world!" he said.
He looked at the Lady very hard when he said it as though he was saying
something very important.
The Lady didn't seem to consider it important at all. She looked at her
skirts instead and smoothed them very tidily.
"It's a—It's a pleasant day—isn't it?" said our Uncle Peter.
"V—very," said the Lady. Quite suddenly she looked up at him. Her
cheeks were pink. She seemed to want to speak but didn't know quite how.
She looked more surprised than ever. She bent forward very suddenly and
stared and stared at him.
"Why—Why you're the gentleman," she said, "who was in the Fruit Store
the day I bought the Alligator pears and dropped my pocket-book down
behind the trash-barrel?"
"Also the day you bought the Red Mackintosh Apples," said our Uncle
Peter. "The Grocer cheated you outrageously on them.—Also the day you
wore the bunch of white violets and pricked your finger so
brutally,—also the day on the ferry when there was a slight collision
with a tug-boat and I had the privilege of—of——."
The Lady looked very haughty.
"It was the day of the Alligator Pears—that I referred to," she said.
"The only day in my recollection!" Very positively she said it,—"the
only day in my recollection." But all the time that she said it her
cheeks got pinker and pinker. It was when she looked in the glass and
saw how mistaken her positiveness looked that her cheeks got so pink.
Tap—Tap—Tap her foot stamped on the rug. "Did—Did you know who it was
going to be——when you brought the dog?" she said. "That is,—did you
know when you first saw the advertisement in the paper." Her white
forehead got all black and frowny. "How in the world did you know—my
name?" she said.
Our Uncle Peter made an expression on his face. It was the
expression that our Mother calls his "Third-Helping-of-Apple-Pie
Expression,"—bold and unashamed.
"I asked the Grocer," he said.
"It was a—a great liberty," said the Lady.
"Was it?" said our Uncle Peter. He didn't seem as sorry as you'd have
The Lady looked at Carol. The Lady looked at me.
"How many children have you?" she said.
"None of my own," said our Uncle Peter. "But three of my brother
Philip's,—Carol and Ruthy as here observed, and Rosalee aet. eighteen
who is at present in Cuba engaging herself to be married."
"O—h," said the Lady.
"I am in short," said our Uncle Peter, "that object of Romance and Pity
popularly known as a 'Bachelor Uncle.'"
"O—h," said the Lady. She seemed more relieved than you'd have
"But in my own case, of course—" said our Uncle Peter.
In the very midst of his own case he stopped right off short to look all
around the room again as though he was counting how heavy the toys were
and how heavy the money was that had bought the toys. All the twinkle
came back to his eyes.
"But in my own case," he said, "I've always known ahead—of course—for
a very long time—that I was going to have 'em.—Learned to sit lightly
on the idea,—re-balance my prejudices,—re-adjust my—"
"Have—what?" gasped the Lady.
"Nephews and nieces," said our Uncle Peter.
"O—h," said the Lady.
"Had their names all selected I mean," explained our Uncle Peter. "Their
virtues, their vices, their avocations, all decided upon.——Ruthy of
course might have done with less freckles, and Carol here doesn't quite
come up to specifications yet concerning muscle and brawn—and it was
never my original intention of course that any young whipper-snapper
niece of mine should engage herself to the first boy she fell in love
with.—But taken all in all,—all in all I say—"
"I think," frowned the Lady, "you are perfectly——absurd."
The word "absurd" didn't seem to be at all the word she meant to say.
She tried to bite it back but got it all mixed up with a little giggle.
She bit the giggle instead. It twisted her mouth like a bitter taste.
Our Uncle Peter looked very sympathetic.
"You ought to get away somewhere on a journey," he said. "There's
nothing like it as a tonic for the mind. Even if it's a place you don't
like very much it clarifies the vision so,—dissipates all one's minor
"—Minor worries?" said the Lady.
"Travel! Yes that's the thing!" said our Uncle Peter quite positively.
All in a minute he seemed to rustle with time tables and maps and smell
of cinders and railroad tickets. "Now there's Bermuda for instance!" he
suggested. "Just a month of blue waters and white sand would put the
roses back in your cheeks.—And Dicky—"
"Impossible," said the Lady.
"Or if Bermuda's too far," insisted our Uncle Peter. "What about
Atlantic City? Think how Dicky would enjoy romping on the board
walk—while you followed more sedately of course in a luxurious wheel
chair!—The most diverting place in the world!—Yes quite surely you
must go to Atlantic City!"
The Lady made a little gasp as though her Patience was bursted.
"You don't seem to understand," she said. "I tell you it's quite
"W-H-Y?" said our Uncle Peter. He said it sharply like a Teacher. It HAD
to be answered.
The Lady looked up. She looked down. She looked sideways. She wrung her
hands in her lap. Her face got sort of white.
"It isn't very kind of you," she said, "to force me so to a confession
"'Poverty'?" laughed our Uncle Peter. He looked around at the
furniture,—at the toys,—at the pictures. It was at most everything
that he looked around. He seemed to be very cheerful about it.
The Lady didn't like his cheerfulness.
"Oh I've always had a little for myself," she explained. "Enough for one
person to live very simply on. But NOW——? With this strange little boy
on my hands,—I—I intend to go to work!"
"Go to——work?" said our Uncle Peter. "WORK?" He said it with a sort of
a hoot. "Work? Work? Why, what in the world could YOU do?"
"I can crochet," said the Lady proudly. "And embroider. I can mend. I
can play the piano. And really you know I can make the most beautiful
"Apple pies," said our Uncle Peter.
"Apple pies," said the Lady. Like a handful of black tissue paper she
crumpled up suddenly in her chair. Her shoulders shook and shook. The
sound she made was like a sob going down and a laugh coming up. "I'm not
crying," she said, "because it's so hard—but b—because the idea is so
"F—F—Funny?" said our Uncle Peter. "It's preposterous! It's
gro—tesque! It's—it's fantastic!"
He began to walk very fast from the book-case to the window and from the
window back to the book-case again. It wasn't till he'd stubbed his toe
twice on a toy Ferris Wheel that the twinkle came back to his eyes.
"Carol!" he said. "Ruthy!—In consideration of the reduced circumstances
in which this very pleasant Lady finds herself don't you think that you
could afford to offer her a reduced price on the dog,—your original
profit on the deal being as noted $49.50?"
The Lady jumped to her feet.
"Oh no—no—no!" she said. "Not for a moment! Fifty dollars is what I
offered! And fifty dollars it shall be! All dogs I'm sure are worth
fifty dollars. Especially if they don't sleep! Why all the other dogs
that people brought me did nothing except sleep! On my sofas! In my
chairs! Under my tables! Night or day you couldn't drop even so much as
a handkerchief on the floor that one or the other of them didn't camp
right down and go to sleep on it! Oh, no—no—no," protested the Lady,
"whatever my faults, a bargain is a bargain and——"
"Whatever your faults, my dear Madam," said our Uncle Peter, "they are
essentially feminine and therefore enchanting! It is only when ladies
ape the faults of men that men resent the same!—Your extravagant
indulgency—" he bowed towards the toys—"your absolute innocence of
all business guile—" he bowed towards Tiger Lily—"nerves strung so
exquisitely that the slightest—the slightest—"
The Lady shivered her clothes like a black frost.
"It was advice that I was looking for, not compliments," she said.
"Oh ho!" said Uncle Peter. "I'm infinitely more adept with advice than I
am with compliments!"
The Lady looked a little bit surprised. She frowned.
"It's my little boy that I want advice about," she said. "What IS the
best thing I can do for him?"
Our Uncle Peter looked at the ceiling. He looked at the rug. He looked
at the pictures on the wall. But it seemed to satisfy him most to look
at the Lady's face.
"U—m—m," he said. "U—m—mmmm.—That isn't an easy question to answer
unless you're willing first to answer a question of mine."
"Ask any question you want to," said the Lady.
"U—m—m," said our Uncle Peter all over again.
"U—m—m—Um—m—m—U—m—m. It takes a great deal of patience," said
our Uncle Peter, "to bring up a little boy.—Unless every time he's
naughty you can say to yourself 'Well, even so—think what a good man
his Father grew to be!'——Or every time he's good you're fair enough to
admit that 'Even his naughty Father was once as nice as this!'"——All
the twinkle went suddenly out of our Uncle Peter's eyes. It left them
looking narrow. He made a quick glance at Carol. He made a quick glance
at me. He seemed very pleased that we were so busy looking at a map of
Bermuda. He stepped a little nearer to the Lady. His voice sounded
funny. "Were you—were you very fond of the little boy's Father?" he
The Lady's face went blazing like a flame out of her black clothes. It
was like a white flame that it went blazing. Her eyes looked screaming.
"How dare you?" she said. "You have no business!—What if I was?—What
if I wasn't?" All the scream in her eyes fell down her throat into a
whisper. "Suppose—Suppose—I—WASN'T?" she whispered.
"Then indeed I CAN give you advice," said our Uncle Peter.
The Lady reached out a hand to the book-case to make herself more
"What—what is it?" she said.
Our Uncle Peter looked funnier and funnier. It wasn't like Christmas
that he looked. Nor Fourth of July. Nor even like when we've got the
mumps or the measles. It was like Easter Sunday that he looked! There
was no twinkle in it. Nor any smoke. Nor even paper dolls. But just
SHININGNESS! His voice was all SHININGNESS too!—If it hadn't been you
never could have heard it 'cause he made his words so little.
"It's almost a year now," he said, "since our eyes first met.—You've
tried your best to hide from me—but you couldn't do it.—Fate had other
ideas in mind.—A chance encounter on the street,—that day on the ferry
boat,—your funny little dog-advertisement in the paper?"
Quite suddenly our Uncle Peter straightened up like a soldier and spoke
right out loud again.
"About your little boy," he said, "my advice about your little boy?—It
being indeed so well-nigh impossible, Madam, for a woman to bring up a
little boy very successfully unless—she did love his Father,—my advice
to you is that without the slightest unnecessary delay you proceed to
get him a Father whom you COULD love!"
Whereupon, as people always say in books, our Uncle Peter turned upon
his heel and started for the door.
The Lady swooned into her chair.
Our Uncle Peter had to get a glass of water to un-swoon her.
I ran for a fan. It bursted my garter. When our Uncle Peter tried to
mend it he swore instead.
The Lady came out of her swoon without an instant's hesitation.
"Here at least," she said, "is something that I know enough to do."
Her mouth was full of scorn and pins. It was with pins that she knew
enough to do it.
Our Uncle Peter looked very humble.
The Lady patted my knees.
"Little girls are so much easier to manage than little boys," she said.
"I don't seem to understand little boys."
"Nor big boys either!" said our Uncle Peter. He said it with gruffness.
It sounded cross.
"Perhaps I—don't want to understand them," said the Lady.
Our Uncle Peter's cheeks got sort of red.
"Suit yourself, my dear Madam," he said and started for the door. He
picked up my hat and put it on Carol's head.—Carol's head looked pretty
astonished. He took Carol's cap and put it on my head. He handed us our
coats upside down.—All our pennies and treasures fell out on the floor.
He snatched up the little boy's gloves by mistake and thrust them into
his own pockets.
The Lady collected everything again and re-distributed them. She seemed
to think it was funny. Not very funny but just a little. She looked at
Carol sort of specially.
"Oh my dear Child," she said. "I hope you didn't mind because Dicky
called you a 'Silence'?"
Carol did mind. He minded very much. I could tell by the way he carried
his ears. They looked very stately. Our Uncle Peter whirled round in the
door-way. His ears looked pretty stately too.
"All the men in our family," he said, "aim to meet the exigencies of
The Lady seemed to consider the fact quite a long time before she smiled
"Oh very well," she said. "If the Uncle really is as sensible as the
nephew perhaps he will consent to leave the children here with me
to-night—instead of bearing them off to the confusion and general
mis-button-ness of hotels."
Our Uncle Peter's face fairly burst into relief.
"Oh, do you really mean that?" he cried. "It IS their infernal buttons
that makes most of the worry!—And their prayers?—What IS the
difference anyway between a morning and an evening prayer?—And this
awful responsibility about cereals? And how in the world do you make
sure about their necks?"
"Oh those are the things I know perfectly," said the Lady. "All the nice
gentle in-door things."
Our Uncle Peter began to strut again.
"Oh pshaw!" he said. "It's only the outdoor things that are really
important,—how to climb mountains, how to stop a runaway horse,—how to
smother a grass fire!"
It put the Lady all in a flutter.
"Oh pshaw!" said our Uncle Peter. "That's nothing!—The very first
instant you hear the maddened hoofs on the pavement you place yourself
thus! And THUS!—And——"
The Lady tried to explain to him the difference between a morning and an
evening prayer. "Now at night, of course," she explained, "everything is
so very lonely that—"
Our Uncle Peter didn't seem to care at all how lonely it was.
"The instant you see the horses's blood-red nostrils,—JUMP!" cried our
It sounded pretty muddled to me.
"Personally," insisted the Lady, "I consider a rather soft sponge best
for the neck."
"So that with your hands clutched like a vise on either side of the
mouth," cried our Uncle Peter, "you can saw up and down with all the
violence at your command! Now in fighting a grass fire, it's craft, not
might, that you need. In that case of course—"
"Two hours if you're using a double boiler," explained the Lady, "but
many people consider a rapider action more digestible, I suppose."
"My dear Lady——let me finish my explanation!" said our Uncle Peter.
"But I want to finish mine!" said the Lady.
Our legs got pretty tired waiting for all the explanations to get
un-mixed up again.
It was nine o'clock before the Lady gave our Uncle Peter a cup of hot
chocolate and turned him out doors.
"Just like a dog," said our Uncle Peter. We heard him say it across his
shoulder as he went down the steps.
It made the Lady laugh a little.
It was warm milk in two great blue bowls that she gave us. "Just like
kittens," we thought it was!
We heard the little boy's feet come thud-thud-thudding up the stairs. We
heard Tiger Lily's toe-nails click-click-click along behind him.
The little boy looked very full of chicken and joyfulness. So did Tiger
"Cook says I've got to romp him!" he said. "Every day!—Twice every
day!—More'n a hundred times some days! Out doors too! Not just in
parks,—parks are good enough for cats,—but in real fields! Else he'll
DIE!" Almost as though he was frightened he stooped down suddenly and
laid his little ear on Tiger Lily's soft breast. "He's alive now!" he
boasted. "You can hear his heart nibbling!" He threw back his little
head and laughed and laughed and clapped his hands. He took Tiger Lily
by the collar and led him over to the table by the window. He climbedup on the table and pulled Tiger Lily after him.
Tiger Lily was frightened, but not too much. He felt proud. His ears
looked fluffy. His back was shining silk. His tail hung down across the
edge of the table like a plume.
Far off in the city streets somewhere there was a noise that trolly cars
make when they're climbing up a hill and the switch is too hard for
them. It was a sour sound.
Tiger Lily started to make a little quiver in his back. The little boy
threw his arm around him. A mouse nibbled in the wall. Tiger Lily cocked
his head to listen but kissed the little boy's cheek instead. It was a
nice kiss. But wet. The little boy laughed right out loud. Way down on
the very tip end of Tiger Lily's plumey tail about two hairs wagged.
When the little boy saw it his face went all shining. He threw both arms
around Tiger Lily's neck. "T—Tiger Lily's—little boy!" he said.
"T—T—" Something funny happened to his mouth. It was a teeny-weeny
yawn that didn't seem to know just what to do about it. Nothing in all
the world felt lonely any more.
The Lady put me to bed.
Carol put himself to bed all except the knots in his shoestrings.
We went to sleep.
Pretty soon it was morning. And we went home.
Our Uncle Peter changed a lot of our dog-money into nickles so it would
jingle. We sounded like cow-bells. It felt rich. Our Uncle Peter held us
very tight by the hands all the way. He said he was afraid we might step
into something wet and sink.
It had been Wednesday when we went away. It was only Thursday when we
got home. It seemed later than that.
Our Mother was very glad to see us. So was our Father.
The Tame Crow flew down out of the Maple Tree and sat on Carol's head.
Our Tame Coon came out of the hole under the piazza and sniffed at our
The posie bed in front of the house was blue with violets. The white
Spirea bush foamed like a wave against the wood-shed window.
In spite of our absence nothing seemed changed.
We gave our Father a dollar of our money to buy some Tulips. We gave our
Mother a dollar to spend any way she wanted to. We put the rest of it in
a book. It was a Savings Bank Book that we put it into.
"For your old age," our Father said.
Our Father's eyes had twinkles in them.
"I hope you've thanked your Uncle Peter properly!" he said.
"For what?" said our Uncle Peter.
Our Father jingled the twenty nickles in his hand. "For all favors," he
Our Uncle Peter said he was perfectly repaid. He made a frown at my
When bed-time came I climbed up into my Mother's lap and told her all
about it,—the house,—the cocoa,—the toy Ferris Wheel,—the blue
daisies on the stair carpet,—the pigeon that lit on my window-sill in
the morning,—the splashy way Tiger Lily lapped his milk.
"It will be interesting," said my Mother, "to see what we hear from
Tiger Lily as Time goes on."
Time went on pretty quickly. Pansies happened and yellow poppies and
ducks and two kittens and August.
It wasn't till almost Autumn that we ever heard from Tiger Lily or the
little boy again.
When the letter came it was from the little boy. But it was the Lady who
We thought her writing would be all black and sorrowful. But it was
violet-colored instead, with all the ends of her letters quirked up
with surprise like her face, only prancier.
"My dear little friends," wrote the Lady, "Dicky wishes me
to tell you how much we enjoyed your delightful visit, and
to say that Tiger Lily is a sweet dog. He thinks you are
mistaken about Tiger Lily not hunting. Tiger Lily hunts very
well he says,—'only different.' It's mice, he wants me to
tell you, that Tiger Lily is very fierce about. And bugs of
any sort. All in-door hunting in fact. Certainly our
wood-boxes and our fire-places have been kept absolutely
free of mice this entire season. And Cook says that not a
June Bug has survived. Truly it's very gratifying. Also
Dicky wants me to tell you that there's a field. It's got a
brook in it where you can sail boats and everything. It's
most a mile. This is all for this time Dicky says.
"With affectionate regards, I am, etc.——"
Our Mother looked up across the top of the letter. It was at my Father
that she looked.
"Poor dear Lady," she said. "I hope she's happier now. It's that Mrs.
Harnon, you know. Her marriage was so unfortunate to that dreadful
"U—m—m," said my Father.
We read the letter over and over waiting for the next one and wondering
about Tiger Lily.
There wasn't any next one till most Thanksgiving. When it came at last
it was Dicky's letter just the same, but it was written in our Uncle
Peter's handwriting this time. It seemed funny. But perhaps the Lady's
hand was lame and she advertised for help.—Our Uncle Peter reads all
The letter was awful short. And there weren't any quirks in it or
anything. Just ink. This is what it said:
Tiger Lily's got nine puppies. We're sleeping fine.
Our Mother looked at our Father. Our Father looked at our Mother. They
both looked at the letter again.
"My brother Peter's handwriting just as sure as you're born!" said my
"Of course it's Peter's writing," said our Mother. Her cheeks were quite
pink. "Well of all the unexpected romances—" she said.
"Whose?" I said.
"Tiger Lily's," said my Father. He seemed to be in an awful hurry to say
I looked at my Mother. Her eyes were shining.
"Is a—Is a 'Romance' a something that you make a story out of?" I said.
"Yes it is," said my Mother.
I thought of my gold pencil.
"Oh, all right," I said, "when I get tall enough and more spelly I'll
make a little story about it."
"You already have!" said my Mother.