|Home -> Other California History Books -> California Sketches - Second Series -> Dick|
Dick was a Californian. We made his acquaintance in Sonora about a month before Christmas, Anno Domini 1855. This is the way it happened:
At the request of a number of families, the lady who presided in the curious little parsonage near the church on the hill-side had started a school for little girls. The public schools might do for the boys, but were too mixed for their sisters - so they thought. Boys could rough it - they were a rough set, anyway - but the girls must be raised according to the traditions of the old times and the old homes. That was the view taken of the matter then, and from that day to this the average California girl has been superior to the average California boy. The boy gets his bias from the street; the girl, from her mother at home. The boy plunges into the life that surges around him; the girl only feels the touch of its waves as they break upon the embankments of home. The boy gets more of the father; the girl gets more of the mother. This may explain their relative superiority. The school for girls was started on condition that it should be free, the proposed teacher refusing all compensation. That part of the arrangement was a failure, for at the end of the first month every little girl brought a handful of money, and laid it on the teacher's desk. It must have been a concerted matter. That quiet, unselfish woman had suddenly become a money-maker in spite of herself. (Use was found for the coin in the course of events.) The school was opened with a Psalm, a prayer, and a little song in which the sweet voices of the little Jewish, Spanish, German, Irish, and American maidens united heartily. Dear children! they are scattered now. Some of them have died, and some of them have met with what is worse than death. There was one bright Spanish girl, slender, graceful as a willow, with the fresh Castilian blood mantling her cheeks, her bright eyes beaming with mischief and affection. She was a beautiful child, and her winning ways made her a pet in the little school. But surrounded as the bright, beautiful girl was, Satan had a mortgage on her from her birth, and her fate was too dark and sad to be told in these pages. She inherited evil condition, and perhaps evil blood, and her evil life seemed to be inevitable. Poor child of sin, whose very beauty was thy curse, let the curtain fall upon thy fate and name; we leave thee in the hands of the pitying Christ, who hath said, "Where little is given little will be required." Little was given thee in the way of opportunity, for it was a mother's hand that bound thee with the chains of evil.
Among the children that came to that remarkable academy on the hill was little Mary Kinneth, a thin, delicate child, with mild blue eyes, flaxen hair, a peach complexion, and the blue veins on her temples that are so often the sign of delicacy of organization and the presage of early death. Mike Kinneth, - her father, was a drinking Irishman, a good-hearted fellow when sober, but pugnacious and disposed to beat his wife when drunk. The poor woman came over to see me one day. She had been crying, and there was an ugly bruise on her cheek.
"Your riverence will excuse me," she said, curtseying, "but I wish you would come over and spake a word to me husband. Mike's a kind, good craythur except when he is dhrinking, but then he is the very Satan himself."
"Did he give you that bruise on your face, Mrs. Kinneth?"
"Yis; he came home last night mad with the whisky, and was breaking ivery thing in the house. I tried to stop him, and thin he bate me - O! he never did that before! My heart is broke!"
Here the poor woman broke down and cried, hiding her face in her apron.
"Little Mary was asleep, and she waked up frightened and crying to see her father in such a way. Seeing the child seemed to sober him a little, and he stumbled on to the bed, and fell asleep. He was always kind to the child, dhrunk or sober. And there is a good heart in him if he will only stay away from the dhrink."
"Would he let me talk to him?"
"Yis; we belong to the old Church, but there is no priest here now, and the kindness your lady has shown to little Mary has softened his heart to ye both. And I think he feels a little sick and ashamed this mornin', and he will listen to kind words now if iver."
I went to see Mike, and found him half-sick and in a penitent mood. He called me "Father Fitzgerald," and treated me with the utmost politeness and deference. I talked to him about little Mary, and his warm Irish heart opened to me at once.
"She is a good child, your riverence, and shame on the father that would hurt or disgrace her!"
The tears stood in Mike's eyes as he spoke the words.
"All the trouble comes from the whisky. Why not give it up?"
"By the help of God I will!" said Mike, grasping my hand with energy.
And he did. I confess that the result of my visit exceeded my hopes. Mike kept away from the saloons, worked steadily, little Mary had no lack of new shoes and neat frocks, and the Kinneth family were happy in a humble way. Mike always seemed glad to see me, and greeted me warmly.
One morning about the last of November there was a knock at the door of the little parsonage. Opening the door, there stood Mrs. Kinneth with a turkey under her arm.
"Christmas will soon be coming, and I've brought ye a turkey for your kindness to little Mary and your good talk to Mike. He has not touched a dhrop since the blissed day ye spake to him. Will ye take the turkey, and my thanks wid it?"
The turkey was politely and smilingly accepted, and Mrs. Kinneth went away looking mightily pleased.
I extemporized a little coop for our turkey. Having but little mechanical ingenuity, it was a difficult job, but it resulted more satisfactorily than did my attempt to make a door for the miniature kitchen attached to the parsonage. My object was to nail some cross-pieces on some plain boards, hang it on hinges, and fasten it on the inside by a leather strap attached to a nail. The model in my mind was, as the reader sees, of the most simple and primitive pattern. I spent all my leisure time for a week at work on that door. I spoiled the lumber, I blistered my hands, I broke several dollars' worth of carpenter's tools, which I had to pay, and - then I hired a man to make that door! This was my last effort in that line of things, excepting the turkey-coop, which was the very last. It lasted four days, at the end of which time it just gave way all over, and caved in. Fortunately, it was no longer needed. Our turkey would not leave us. The parsonage fare suited him, and he staid, and throve, and made friends.
We named him Dick. He is the hero of this Sketch. Dick was intelligent, sociable, and had a good appetite. He would eat any thing, from a crust of bread to the pieces of candy that the schoolgirls would give him as they passed. He became as gentle as a dog, and would answer to his name. He had the freedom of the town, and went where he pleased, returning at meal-times, and at night to roost on the western end of the kitchen-roof. He would eat from our hands, looking at us with a sort of human expression in his shiny eyes. If he were a hundred yards away, all we had to do was to go to the door and call out, "Dick!"
"Dick!" once or twice, and here he would come, stretching his long legs, and saying, "Oot," "oot," "oot" (is that the way to spell it?). He got to like going about with me. He would go with me to the post-office, to the market, and sometimes he would accompany me in a pastoral visit. Dick was well known and popular. Even the bad boys of the town did not throw stones at him. His ruling passion was the love of eating. He ate between meals. He ate all that was offered to him. Dick was a pampered turkey, and made the most of his good luck and popularity. He was never in low spirits, and never disturbed except when a dog came about him. He disliked dogs, and seemed to distrust them.
The days rolled by, and Dick was fat and happy. It was the day before Christmas. We had asked two bachelors to take Christmas-dinner with us, having room and chairs for just two more persons. (One of our four chairs was called a stool - it had a bottom and three legs, one of which was a little shaky, and no back.) There was a constraint upon us both all day. I knew what was the matter, but said nothing. About four o'clock in the afternoon Dick's mistress sat down by me, and, after a pause, remarked:
"Do you know that tomorrow is Christmas-day?"
"Yes, I know it."
Another pause. I had nothing to say just then. "Well, if - if - if any thing is to be done about that turkey, it is time it were done."
"Do you mean Dick?"
"Yes," with a little quiver in her voice.
"I understand you - you mean to kill him - poor Dick! the only pet we ever had."
She broke right down at this, and began to cry.
"What is the matter here?" said our kind, energetic neighbor, Mrs. T - , who came in to pay us one of her informal visits. She was from Philadelphia, and, though a gifted woman, with a wide range of reading and observation of human life, was not a sentimentalist. She laughed at the weeping mistress of the parsonage, and, going to the back-door, she called out:
Dick, who was taking the air high up on the hillside, came at the call, making long strides, and sounding his "Oot," "oot," "oot," which was the formula by which he expressed all his emotions, varying only the tone.
Dick, as he stood with outstretched neck and a look of expectation in his honest eyes, was scooped up by our neighbor, and carried off down the hill in the most summary manner.
In about an hour Dick was brought back. He was dressed. He was also stuffed.