Benjy In Beastland by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Story type: Literature
ADAPTED FROM MRS. EWING.
“With the genuine story-teller the inner life of the genuine listener is roused; he is carried out of himself, and he thereby measures himself.”–FROEBEL.
Benjy was a very naughty, disagreeable boy! It is sad to say it, but it is truth. He always had a cloudy, smudgy, slovenly look, like a slate half-washed, that made one feel how nice it would be if he could be scrubbed inside and out with hot water and soap.
Benjy was the only boy in the family, but he had two little sisters who were younger than he. They were dear, merry little things, and many boys would have found them pleasant little playmates; but Benjy had shown how much he disliked to play with them, and it made them feel very badly. One of them said one day, “Benjy does not care for us because we are only girls, so we have taken Nox for our brother.” Nox was a big curly dog, something like a Newfoundland.
Now Benjy was not at all handsome, and he hated tubs and brushes and soap and water. He liked to lie abed late in the mornings, and when he got up he had only time enough to half wash himself. But Nox rose early, liked cold water, had snow-white teeth and glossy hair, and when you spoke to him he looked straight up at you with his clear honest brown eyes. Benjy’s jacket and shirt-front were always spotted with dirt, while the covering of Nox’s chest was glossy and well kept. Benjy came into the parlor with muddy boots and dirty hands; but Nox, if he had been out in the mud, would lie down when he came home, and lick his brown paws till they were quite clean. Benjy liked to kill all kinds of animals, but Nox saved lives, though he often came near losing his own.
Near their home was a deep river, where many a dog and cat was drowned. There was one place on the bank of this river where there was an old willow-tree, which spread its branches wide and stretched its long arms till they touched the water. Here Nox used to bring everything that he found in the river.
I must tell you that Benjy did not like Nox, and with very good reason. Benjy had had something to do with the death of several animals belonging to the people in the neighborhood, and he had tied stones or tin cans around their necks and dropped them into the river. But Nox used to wander round quite early in the morning, and very often found in the river and brought out what Benjy had thrown in, and this is why he did not like the brave dog.
There was another dog in the family, named Mr. Rough. His eyes had been almost scratched out by cats, his little body bore marks of many beatings, and he had a hoarse bark which sounded as if he had a bad cold.
If Benjy cared for any animal, it was for Mr. Rough, although he treated him worse than he did Nox, because he was small.
One day Benjy felt very mischievous; he even played a cruel trick on Nox while he was asleep. As he sat near to him he kept lightly pricking the dog’s lips with a fine needle. The dog would half wake up, shake his head, rub his lips with his paws, and then drop off to sleep again.
At last this cruel boy stuck the needle in too far and hurt poor Nox, who jumped up with a start, and as he did so the needle broke off, part of it staying in the flesh, where, after a great deal of work which hurt the poor dog dreadfully, the little sisters found it. How they cried for their pet! The braver one held Nox’s lips and pulled out the needle, while the other wiped the tears from her sister’s eyes, that she might see what she was doing. Nox sat still and moaned and wagged his tail very feebly, but when it was over he fairly knocked the little sisters down in his eagerness to show his gratitude. But Benjy went out and found Mr. Rough, and as he did not feel like being kind to any one, he kicked him, and Mr. Rough for the first time ran away. Benjy could not find him, but he found a boy as naughty as himself, who was chasing another little dog and pelting it with stones. This would have been very good fun, but one of the stones struck the dog and killed him. So the boys tied something around his neck and threw him into the river.
Benjy went to bed early that night, but he could not sleep, because he was thinking of that little white dog, and wishing he had not thrown him into the river; so at last he got up and went to the willow-tree. He looked up through the branches and saw the moon shining down at him, and it seemed so large and so close that he thought if he were only on the highest part of the tree he could touch it with his hand. While he was looking he thought of a book his mother had, which told him that all animals went up into the moon after they left the earth.
“I wonder,” said Benjy, “if that dog we killed last night is really up there.”
The Man in the Moon looked down on him just then, and, to his surprise, said:–
“This is Beastland. Won’t you come up and see if the dog is here? Can you climb?”
“I guess I can,” said Benjy, and he climbed up first on one branch, then up higher on to another, till he stood on the very top, and all he could see about him was a shining white light.
“Walk right in,” said the Man in the Moon. “Put out your feet,–don’t be afraid!” So Benjy stepped into the moon and found himself in Beastland.
Oh! it was such a funny place, and yet it was very beautiful. There were many more beasts there than in a menagerie, and they were so polite to each other, too, and so merry and kind to Benjy, that it made him feel quite at home.
A nice old spider was anxious to teach him how to make a web. So he said to Benjy:–
“When you are ready, look around and find a spot where you can tie your first line; then you have a ball of thread inside of you, of course.”
“I can’t say that I have,” said Benjy, “but I have a good deal of string in my pocket.”
“Oh, well!” said the spider, “that is all right; whether it’s in your pocket or your stomach it is all the same.”
Just as the spider was giving Benjy his lesson, one animal whispered to another, and that one to another, who and what Benjy was. Dear me! in a minute the beasts all changed their way of treating him. They called him BOY! and up there that meant something not at all nice. Then they took him to the Lion, the king of all the beasts, and asked him what should be done with the Boy.
The Lion said: “If you want me to have anything to do with this trouble, you must mind me. First, however, we will hear what Benjy has to say for himself.”
They all placed themselves in a circle, the Lion on a high chair, (because, you know, he was going to be judge, and all judges sit in big chairs,) and Benjy sat in the middle of the circle.
“Now, what has the Boy done?” asked the Lion.
“He stones and drowns dogs, and he hurts and kills cats,” shouted the beasts all together.
“Mr. Rough kills the cats,” said Benjy, because he was frightened.
“Very well,” said the Lion, “we will send some one down for Mr. Rough.”
So they all waited, and in a little while they heard the jingling of Mr. Rough’s collar, and he walked into the circle with his little short tail standing right up.
“Mr. Rough,” said the Lion, “Benjy says it is you, and not he, who tease and kill the cats.”
“Well,” said Mr. Rough, jumping about in an angry way, “am I to blame? BOUF, BOUF, who taught me to do it? BOUF, BOUF, it was that Boy over there. BOUF-BOUF!”
Then Mr. Rough told them that Benjy had made him tease and worry the cats and dogs so often that he had quite learned to like it. All the beasts were very angry at this, and said that Benjy must be punished.
The Lion said that he did not know just then what was best to be done with Benjy, so he asked the beasts if they would wait till he had walked around and thought about it. They said yes, so he walked around the circle seven times, lashing his tail in the grandest way; then he took his seat again and said:–
“Gentle beasts, birds and fishes, you have all heard what this Boy has done, and you would like him to be treated as he has treated you. We will not abuse Benjy, but I do not think he is good enough to stay with us. We will tie a tin-kettle to him and chase him from Beastland, and Mr. Rough shall be our leader.”
This was no sooner said than done. The Lion gave one dreadful roar as a signal for the animals to begin the chase.
With the tin-kettle fastened to him and hurting him at every step, and with Mr. Rough at his very heels, Benjy was run out of Beastland. When he got to the edge of the moon he jumped off, Mr. Rough after him.
Down, down, they went, oh! so fast and so far! Benjy screaming all the way and Mr. Rough’s collar jingling. They came to the river, and making all the noise they could, in they fell. As Benjy sank he thought of all the unkind things he had done. He came to the top, but sank again, and sinking, thought of his papa and mamma and his little sisters, and of his nice little bed, and of the prayers his dear mamma used to hear him say. He rose for the last time, and saw Nox standing on the bank, and thought, “Now he has come to do something to me because I have so often hurt him.” Down, down he went, as a lark flew up in the summer sky. The bird was almost out of sight when a soft black nose and great brown eyes came close to his face, and a kind, gentle mouth took hold of him, and paddling and swimming as hard as he could, Nox carried Benjy to the shore and laid him under the willow- tree. There Benjy’s papa found him, and took him home, where he was sick for a long, long time. When he got a little better he used to tell people of his visit to Beastland, but they always said it was only a dream he had during the fever.
In the long weeks of his sickness he grew much kinder and sweeter. But something happened when he was getting well which softened his little heart once and forever.
While he was sick, Mr. Rough was given to one of the servants to be cared for and fed well, but he did not treat him kindly, and besides, the dog wanted his little master; he wanted to see him, but no one would let him; so poor faithful Mr. Rough got thinner and weaker every day, till at last he would not eat anything nor even go out for a little walk.
One day the barn door was open and Mr. Rough thought of Benjy and crept into the house. When he got into the front hall he smelled Benjy and ran into the parlor; and when he got into the parlor he saw Benjy, who had heard the jingle of his collar and who stood up and held out his arms for him. Mr. Rough jumped into them, and then fell dead at his master’s feet.
Yes, dear children, Mr. Rough died of joy at seeing Benjy again. Benjy felt very sorry for him, and it kept him from growing well for a long time, but it did him good in other ways, for as the tears rolled down his cheeks on to Mr. Bough’s poor little scratched face, he felt as if he never could hurt or be unkind to any animal again.