10. The Trespasser
"Look! look!" exclaimed Betty suddenly, in a hoarse whisper. She pointed towards the orchard, and then crouched down behind a branch, trying to look even smaller than nature had made her. The others followed her example, until they were not much more conspicuous than three young squirrels. But though the children scarcely dared breathe in their anxiety to remain hidden, six eager eyes were strained towards a certain point in the orchard.
A tall, thin man, with a gray beard, was standing not many yards from Jack, carefully examining him through an eye-glass. How the man got there nobody knew; possibly he rose up from the earth or fell down from the sky; more probably he walked out of Mrs. Howard's garden gate while the children were hunting for their rope-ladder. At any rate he seemed immensely surprised at Jack's presence in the orchard.
A TALL, THIN MAN WAS CAREFULLY EXAMINING JACK
The gray-bearded man stood irresolute for some time, as if unable to make up his mind exactly how to treat the intruder. At last he walked away towards the house, shouting to someone in the garden to come to his assistance. Presently in answer to his call a boy ran across the field. Even in the distance the children recognized that it was Lewis Brand, and they became if possible more interested in the proceedings than they were before.
With considerable difficulty the gray-bearded man and Lewis hunted Jack into a corner of the field, but just as they were about to catch the goat he invariably sprang past them and escaped. Madge could hardly keep from laughing aloud, because it was all so exactly what had happened to her when she tried to drive Jack and Jill out of the garden.
The Wests wondered a good deal if Lewis had any idea that the goat belonged to them, and whether he noticed them crouching in the beech-tree. For a long time he seemed absolutely unconscious of their presence, but suddenly, when the gray-bearded man's back was turned, Lewis looked towards the Eagle's Nest and unmistakably smiled. In a moment Madge had replied by waving her pocket-handkerchief frantically among the branches.
Instead of replying in a friendly spirit to this signal, Lewis made the most horrible grimace, put his finger to his lip, and turned away resolutely.
"We must keep very quiet. He is afraid of being seen," whispered Madge, putting her handkerchief away. But she could not help feeling rather mortified that Lewis had not trusted to her discretion only to wave when his companion was looking the other way. She was not in the habit of doing stupid things, and Lewis might have known it.
After a great deal of running up and down, the gray-bearded man seemed to consider it a hopeless task ever to catch Jack, so he changed his plan and tried to drive the goat into a little shed in the corner of the field. This was a much easier feat to accomplish, and in ten minutes more Jack was safely imprisoned and the door shut. Then the gray-bearded man, evidently much exhausted by his exertions, walked off to the garden, fanning himself with his black felt hat as he went. Lewis lingered behind his companion for one moment, and rapidly made a mysterious series of signs. First he pointed at the door of the shed where Jack was inclosed, then drew his hand across his own throat several times. Lastly he shook his fist violently at the back of the gray-bearded man as he followed him out of the field.
"What did Lewis mean by making all those funny faces?" asked John, when, the enemy being quite out of sight, the children dared once more speak and move.
"I don't know," said Madge. "It looked as if he were angry with that man--"
"No!" interrupted Betty. "It's worse than that! Lewis was trying to show us that the gray-bearded man is going to hurt poor Jack. I believe he has gone for a knife to cut his throat!"
There was a horrified silence after these words, for the more the children thought over them the more likely did it appear that Lewis's signs had really contained some such terrible meaning. Madge as usual was the first to come out with a heroic resolution.
"If that terrible man comes back with a knife to murder Jack," she said, "I shall jump off the wall and attack him with a stick. Very likely I shall break both my legs, but I don't care. I can't leave Jack to his fate."
Betty and John listened with uneasy admiration. They were just as sorry about Jack as Madge was; almost in tears at the idea of his possible death. But they did not feel brave enough to jump off the wall and risk breaking their legs. If it had been one leg between them perhaps they might have faced it, but four legs were too many for even brave twins to sacrifice.
"Why do you think you will break them both if you jump?" asked Betty anxiously, hoping against hope that there might be some miscalculation.
"Because I know you can break one leg if you only fall five or six feet, and this is double that height," replied Madge promptly.
Such logical reasoning did not admit of a single ray of hope.
"I don't think we are big enough to jump, then," said Betty modestly. And for once John did not contradict her.
However, for the second time that afternoon Madge was spared having to carry out a heroic resolve. The gray-bearded man did not return, either with or without a knife. It is true that Jack's voice could occasionally be heard raised in distressed accents from the inside of the shed. But unless his life was in imminent danger, even Madge did not feel inclined to sacrifice her limbs.
"After all, it was entirely his own fault jumping over the wall," she remarked when they had waited a long time without anything happening.
"And they don't seem to be going to kill him," observed Betty.
"And it's long past tea-time," added John.
This last consideration decided the children, and they returned to the house without taking any further steps towards rescuing Jack.
Nothing more was heard of the missing pet that evening. The children did not say anything about his escape, and their father happened to be staying out rather late, so that when he came home Barton had left work. The old man had noticed that there was only one goat in the field when he went to drive them in for the night, but he did not waste much time hunting for Jack, having expressed his opinion from the first that it would be a good job when those nasty creatures either ran away or got sent off in disgrace! He did not like any pets, regarding them as useless creatures who ate food, gave trouble, and repaid nothing. If he had been allowed his way the children's tame rabbits and pigeons would all have gone into pies.
Of course there was a good deal of anxiety about Jack's fate among the only three people at Beechgrove who knew all the facts of his disappearance. As the hours passed by, and they actually went to bed and got up again without hearing any news, they began to wonder if, after all, they should never know what had become of him. When they all went to the schoolroom, and lessons began as usual, this really seemed rather probable. But in the middle of saying the English dates there was a knock at the door. John noticed it first, not because his hearing was particularly acute so much as on account of its being his turn to say the next date--which he had forgotten.
"Do attend, John!" said Miss Thompson. "Who came after Queen Anne? You always forget!"
"But there was a knock at the door, I am sure! Yes, there's another!" And for once John proved to be in the right, for at that moment Captain West entered the room.
"I'm dreadfully sorry to interrupt," he said to Miss Thompson, "for I can see by the children's faces that something very interesting is going on--"
"Oh, Papa!" interrupted Betty. "Why, it's only the English dates!"
"Well, what can be more interesting?" But as nobody answered he continued: "However, I haven't time to discuss the delights of your various studies, I must leave that to you and Miss Thompson to settle between you. All I want to say at present is, that you children must really be careful and not get me into trouble with my neighbours. I have just had a letter brought by Mrs. Howard's servant making complaints. Now mind, I can't have any more of this trespassing on--"
"We didn't step on Mrs. Howard's ground! Not one single inch!" interrupted Madge.
"I didn't ever suppose that you did, considering the height of the wall you would be obliged to climb over to get there!" said Captain West. "But there has been a trespasser on her land all the same, and I hold you partly responsible for him."
"Is it Jack?" gasped Madge. "What has she done with him? Oh, please tell me!"
"Why, sent him back, to be sure, with a polite note requesting me to keep him under better control," answered Captain West. "It seems that he got over the wall into her field somehow, and they shut him up for a time. But he got loose before long, as usual, and in chasing him about the garden some boy broke a cucumber-frame, and poor Jack got all the blame for that as well as for destroying a row of early peas. So he was sent back in sad disgrace."
"Did Mrs. Howard try to kill him?" asked John solemnly.
"Kill him? No!" laughed Captain West. "Did you think she wanted roast kid for dinner? But how did he manage to jump over such a high wall, I wonder? I suppose he did it while you were in the fields with him, as you seem to know all about it?"
"He jerked the string out of my hand and went off with it," said Madge.
"And jumped the wall, I suppose?" added her father. "Well, it's a tremendous height even for a goat, but one never can tell how high they will go. However, I mustn't interrupt you any more at lesson-time."
"This will teach Jack to look before he leaps," said Betty softly as the door shut behind her father. She always enjoyed having the last word, especially if she could twist it into a proverb.
The children were much relieved at this happy conclusion to their anxiety; but their delight was somewhat lessened when Captain West made a rule that Jack and Jill were never to be let out of their pig-sty unless he was at home to see that they did not get into mischief. The poor goats did not at all approve of remaining prisoners so much of their time; but really it seemed the only way of preventing them from breaking bounds. The children did what they could to cheer their pets in captivity by bringing them handfuls of cabbages and carrots at all hours in the day, and Jack and Jill began to grow so fat that before long it was to be hoped they would lose all taste for jumping.