His manoeuvre, however, merely served to increase the animal’s frenzy. As Charlie approached the dog retired slowly toward the house, his head thrown back, and his rapid barking increased to a long-drawn howl.
“Good boy, come! Bother the brute! He’ll wake up the whole household! Nice doggie! Phe-e–”
The noise, however, had no apparent effect upon the occupants of the house. All remained as dark and silent as ever.
“Sharlie, Sharlie, let him go!” cried Nels, in a voice smothered with laughter. “Ay go in dose parn; maype ha’ll chase me.”
His hope was well founded. The dog, observing this treacherous occupation by the enemy of his last harbour of refuge, gave pursuit and disappeared within the door, which Charlie, hard behind him, closed with a bang. There was the sound of a hurried scuffle within. The dog’s barking gave place to terrified whinings, which in turn were suddenly quenched to a choking murmur.
“Gome in, Sharlie, kvick!”
“You got him?” queried Charlie, opening the door cautiously. “Did he bite you?”
“Na, yust ma mitten. Gat a sack or someding da die him oop in.”
A sack was procured from somewhere, into which the dog, now silenced from sheer exhaustion and fright, was unceremoniously thrust, after which the sack was tied and flung into the wagon. This formidable obstacle overcome and the Roneys still slumbering peacefully, the rest was easy. The granary door was pried open and the wheat shovelled hurriedly in upon the empty floor. Charlie then crept up to the house and slipped his note under the door.
The sack was lifted from the now empty wagon and opened before the barn, whereupon its occupant slipped meekly out and retreated at once to a far corner, seemingly too much incensed at his discourteous treatment even to fling a volley of farewell barks at his departing captors.
“Vell,” remarked Nels, with a sigh of relief as they gained the road, “Ay tank dose Roneys pelieve en Santa Claus now. Dose peen funny vay fer Santa Claus to coom.”
Charlie’s laugh was good to hear. “He didn’t exactly come down the chimney, that’s a fact, but it’ll do at a pinch. We ought to have told them to get a present for the dog–collar and chain. I reckon he wouldn’t hardly be thankful for it, though, eh?”
“Ay gass not. Ha liges ta haf hes nights ta hemself.”
“Well, we had our fun, anyway. Sort of puts me in mind of old Wisconsin, somehow.”
From far off over the valley, with its dismantled cornfields and snow-covered haystacks, beyond the ice-bound river, floated slow, and sonorous, the mellow clanging of church bells. They were ushering in the Christmas morn. Overhead the starlit heavens glistened, brooding and mysterious, looking down with luminous, loving eyes upon these humble sons of men doing a good deed, from the impulse of simple, generous hearts, as upon that other Christmas morning, long ago, when the Jewish shepherds, guarding their flocks by night, read in their shining depths that in Bethlehem of Judea the Christ-Child was born.
The rising sun was touching the higher hilltops with a faint rush of crimson the next morning when the back door of the Roney house opened with a creak, and Mr. Roney, still heavy-eyed with sleep, stumbled out upon the porch, stretched his arms above his head, yawned, blinked at the dazzling snow, and then shambled off toward the barn. As he approached, the dog ran eagerly out, gambolled meekly around his feet and caressed his boots. The man patted him kindly.
“Hello, old boy! What were you yappin’ around so for last night, huh? Grain-thieves? You needn’t worry about them. There ain’t nothin’ left for them to steal. No, sir! If they got into that granary they’d have to take a lantern along to find a pint of wheat. I don’t suppose,” he added, reflectively, “that I could scrape up enough to feed the chickens this mornin’, but I guess I might’s well see.”