the only sensible thing to do
Bonny had bitten a neighbor’s child. That’s when Mr. Macleod had to make his difficult decision. They fought against it. . . hut they knew that it was
MRS. MACLEOD and her sister Vera had just sat down to tea that Saturday afternoon when Carol, aged eleven, burst in.
“You’ll have to do something to Bonny,” Carol said importantly. “She just bit someone.”
“I knew it,” said Aunt Vera, which was her way of expressing surprise. “I really think Bonny’s more trouble than she’s worth.”
“Oh dear,” said Mrs. Macleod. “Oh dear . . . who?”
“Donna Richards.” Carol led the way to the front door. “In the arm. Charline’s holding Bonny.”
From the doorstep, Mrs. Macleod called to her second daughter. “Charline, bring her in. Here, Bonny, Bonny ...”
“I’ll go and coax her,” said Carol, running down the steps.
Mrs. Macleod thought anxiously, they must have been teasing Bonny, or something. She wouldn’t bite if she weren’t provoked. From down the street came the sound of Carol’s voice, persuading, soothing, and of Charline’s impatient scolds. They returned, Bonny whimpering, halfabject, half-defiant, a few yards behind them.
“She knows she was bad,” panted Charline. “Donna and Carol and I were playing hopscotch and she bit Donna right in the arm. It was because she was in the way and Donna pushed her. Donna hit her really hard.”
“Well,” said her mother, aware of Vera’s disapproval but, because she was weak, unable to do anything more definite, “Put her in the basement.”
“Come on, Bonny, good girl,” sugared Carol.
“Come on, Bonny,” shouted Charline.
Bonny, who had been wa.fing at the bottom of the steps, ascended warily, passed the aunt by as wide a margin as possible, and followed the two girls into the house. I he basement door opened, then slammed shut.
In the front room, the aunt asked, “How badly was she hurt?”
“Donna?” Carol shrugged. Shrugging
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The Only Sensible Thing To Do
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was a new habit; she enjoyed shrugging. "Donna was crying her head off, of course. I don’t know.”
"Bonny really dug in,” said Charline, who was fonder of Bonny but had a nine-year-old’s strong sense of justice. "Donna yelled like anything.”
"You were crying too,” Carol told lier sister.
"Because of Bonny. It wasn’t really Bonny’s fault. I think if someone hit me that hard, I’d do something, myself.”
"Don’t be silly, Charline.” Vera spoke a little sharply, and with finality. The two girls went outside again. In the garden Carol shrugged, thought a little, and shrugged again.
DON’T you think you should telephone Mrs. Richards?”
Mrs. Macleod, who had sat down a 'ain, got up. "Yes, 1 should. It is too bad—Hester Richards is an awfully i ice person.” Mrs. Macleod turned to lier sister as if hoping that Hester Richards’ niceness would somehow soften the disapproval. Vera’s face however gave no indication of her relenting. Phone she must, phone, and listen to a distraught mother—for Mrs. Richards, nice as she was, was also known for an almost eccentric instability—and apologize, and promise something about doctor’s bills, if Donna was badly hurt—oh, it got nastier and nastier . . .
"Roger will be home soon,” attempted Mrs. Macleod.
But her sister’s eyes said, phone now. Mrs. Richards was extremely and remarkably and really almost too nice about it. Donna’s arm was certainly nothing to worry about. She had it washed and dressed. No, it was not a bad bite at all. And Donna had confessed she’d hit Bonny quite hard.
"Mrs. Richards really rather felt that Donna had provoked Bonny,” finished Mrs. Macleod to Vera.
"But you must agree that Bonny is much too highly strung and excitable.” "Yes,” said Mrs. Macleod. She thought: but she is so affectionate.
"And you remember the incident with the Duncan baby.”
"Yes.” She thought: I wish Vera wouldn’t say, "incident”; she makes it sound like a case in court. And everyone knows Bonny is rough, and she had been provoked—"Bonny had been provoked.”
"Provoked or not.” Vera’s words were spoken with finality. She was irritated for some reason by her sister’s repetition of "provoked.” Provoked. The word was idiotic. Provoked indeed. The two ladies sat silent, staring out the window.
Mr. Macleod was a little late. His wife came out from the kitchen to meet him, although she would rather have put off the telling. But Vera beside her cutting up the turnip would have said, don’t you think you had better tell Roger—she was undoubtedly thinking it as she sliced, sliced, sliced. And so Mrs. Macleod came to her husband as lie was hanging up his coat.
"I hear we have had a little catastrophe,” he said. He explained, "Coming up the block I stopped and had a conversation with Mrs. Burke.”
"Oh—and?” Following him into the front room, Mrs. Macleod felt again the nervousness which always associated itself with the name and person of Mrs. Burke. Mrs. Burke was active in the church, efficient, pious and dreadful in the eyes of the meek Mrs. Macleod,
who knew herself incapable of any real sort of activity, efficiency, or piety.
"And I think we are going to have to get rid of Bonny.”
They sat down.
"It seems a shame,” she said. "Bonny is so affectionate,” she added.
"I know. Bonny wouldn’t bite unless she had been—”
"Provoked,” put in the wife.
Vera, in the kitchen, heard the word and sliced on.
"Mrs. Burke and I went over the thing quite thoroughly, dear. The point is that Bonny is a nuisance to the neighbors, and she does tend to get excited, and now she’s bitten someone. And a thing like that isn’t excusable. And, Mrs. Burke has been telling me that her children are afraid to pass the house if Bonny is out.”
He went on, "I don’t think keeping Bonny in would solve anything. She wouldn’t be happy. No, there’s nothing for it but to get rid of her. I thought perhaps we could get someone in the
country to take Bonny off our hands, hut that’s foolish, really. She wouldn’t take to anyone else, and besides, who’d take her now?”
"Well—” said Mrs. Macleod.
"Well, I’m sorry for Carol and Charline but it’ll be good for them too in the long run. They tease her too much. Where is Bonny?”
"In the basement.”
"Did you punish her?”
"I put her in the basement,” murmured the wife, knowing that she was weak.
TJONNY, crouched against the house _l3wall next to the coal bin, heard Mr. Macleod’s approach with trembling. Although she was no longer in the desperation of excitement in which she had been when she was first sent down, she was still aware of her badness. She did not remember what she had done; but the badness remained, over her and around her, and it intensified at his footsteps, and she quivered.
"Bonny.” His voice was kind. She knew her name well, and his voice also, and his kindness.
"Bonny, girl, what are you doing in there? Here, Bonny.”
She came. He put his hand on her head. He began to speak. She did not understand what he said but his voice ran over her and enclosed her, enfolded her in warm, tender sounds. 11 was sad; she was aware even in her happiness of his sadness. After a little while he left her and went upstairs. The basement door shut. She followed; she lay on the dark top step and listened and waited. The badness was gone and she did not remember it. Something had come in its place that was good and serene and yet very sad. She waited, not knowing what she was waiting for.
Supper was a quiet meal. Carol and Charline argued and chattered a little, but the silence of the grown-ups depressed their natural high spirits. Charline saved all her dessert and took it down to Bonny, and no one commented.
The doorbell rang just after Charline and Carol had been sent upstairs to bed. Bonny also slept upstairs, but it seemed that the grown-ups had forgotten her. Actually their forgetting was on purpose; they knew she was there, but they didn’t want to think about it. They lacked the hypocrisy necessary to be kind to her. They were incapable at present of doing anything about her.
IT WAS Vera who admitted Mrs. Richardsand Mrs. Burke.
Mrs. Burke entered largely, pushing Mrs. Richards before her. She had come because of a certain dissatisfaction with Mr. Macleod’s attitude of that afternoon. She felt that he had tended to minimize the danger of Bonny at large, and her admitted purpose now was to reassure herself that he would take the necessary steps and, if need be, to convince him of his duty therein. Her unadmitted purpose was, however, to see that Mrs. Richards behaved herself. When she had spoken to Mrs. Richards earlier she had been gravely worried about that lady’s ideas on the matter. They had almost quarreled. Mrs. Richards, for motives unknown and indeed sentimental to the extreme, had defended Bonny against her child. And so Mrs. Burke, in order to restrain Mrs. Richards, visited the Macleods that evening. It would have surprised her to know that Mrs. Richards felt a similar purpose, having appeared only because she feared the consequences of a dutiful Mrs. Burke there and unchecked.
"Please sit down,” said Mr. Macleod, and everyone sat.
"How is Donna?” asked Mrs. Macleod, timid of Mrs. Burke and all she might say, but feeling it her duty to plunge headlong.
"Oh, she is really perfectly all right,” Mrs. Richards said in the most reassuring of voices. "I sent her to bed just after supper as she was feeling sorry for herself, hut it was just the surprise, truly that was all there was to it—,” and she laughed a little.
"Shock,” announced Mrs. Burke in serious tones. "Shock is often quite as dangerous as actual injury, is it not?” She looked toward Mrs. Richards as if awaiting an assent, hut the question, Mrs. Macleod felt, was directed toward herself and she found herself nodding.
Mr. Macleod, leaning forward a little, said, "I understood there was no serious hurt, but let me assure you, Mrs. Richards, that if anything should come up, it will he taken care of.”
"Oh no, no, you must believe me— Donna is perfectly all right. It was nothing. And she confessed to me that she hit Bonny on the head as hard as she could, and really for no reason.” There was a pause. She went on. "I simply called in for a moment to let you know—that—I don’t wish to—that I can see no reason that—anything should happen to Bonny,” she finished.
How extremely upset she is! thought Mr. Macleod. He wanted to say, My dear Mrs. Richards.
"My dear Mrs. Richards,” said Mrs. Burke, "we must look at this clearly. The reason we called”— she was telling Mrs. Richards as well as the Macleods —"was to enquire as to whether you have come to any decision regarding what is your duty in this matter.” "We’ve certainly considered taking a definite step,” said Mr. Macleod. "If Bonny is dangerous and if she cannot get along with children, we shall have to get rid of her. I’m afraid she really is much too excitable. When she gets excited she is difficult to control, you see.”
"And it has happened before, has it not?” went on Mrs. Burke. "The Duncan child—little Ross Duncan— he was only a baby then, and was there not some trouble?”
"Yes,” agreed Mr. Macleod. "Mr. Duncan was playing about here with Bonny, I remember, and Bonny got over-excited.”
"And out of control,” emphasized Mrs. Burke. "It’s a shame, but there it is. And, as I told you, Miriam and John are quite terrified to pass this house. But I’m not speaking so much for them in particular as for all the
children, for Donna especially, for—” she turned to Mrs. Macleod, "your own Carol and Charline.”
Mrs. Macleod, gazing into the face of the woman who frightened her, remained silent. Mrs. Burke went on, "And Our Lord said, 'Whoso shall offend one of these little ones, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.’ ”
Monstrous, this is monstrous, the strange Mrs. Richards was thinking. She writhed inwardly; she clasped and
unclasped her hands. She was suffering such anxiety on Mrs. Macleod’s behalf that she could scarcely bear to sit still.
Mrs. Macleod, on the contrary, was unaffected. She said nothing at all. She was repeating over and over in her thoughts: Bonny is so affectionate . . Bonny is so affectionate . . . but Bonny is so affectionate. The recurring words protected her from any thought which may have followed Mrs. Richards’ ideas. Mrs. Burke’s talk about Carol and Charline and about the millstone certainly was not affecting her as Mrs. Richards feared. She was numbed to some extent; the capable presence of her husband rendered her as usual the more incapable. She felt a certain apprehension but beyond that nothing. She leaned on her husband’s justness.
(^HARLINE, missing Bonny, had gerept downstairs and along the hall to the basement door. She opened it stealthily and whispered, "Come on, but be quiet,” and Bonny, who had been as close to the door as she could get, came on and followed Charline down the hall. Charline could hear her father’s voice, and visitors were in the front room. Now her father was saying, "It really is necessary. Bonny is dangerous and we cannot frighten and endanger the children of the neighborhood.”
Mrs. Richards -yes it was Donna’s mother and sounding very excited— said, "But if the children are careful. . . Why, nothing will ever happen again— whether they’re careful or not!” Mrs. Burke—yes it was Miriam the brat’s mother—said, "Nothing may happen, but think how easily something could happen! Think of the risk, Hester. Think of the frightened children-— think of your own dear little child!” Then Charline heard Donna’s mother make a sort of quick, sad little cry, like a breathing only out loud.
Then Mrs. Burke said, "Bonny must go.”
Then there was a quietness, and then all sorts of standing-up noises and everyone talking, and Charline knew the visitors were going to leave. She went to the stairs and hustled Bonny up in front of her and into Carol’s room which was next to the nursery where Charline slept.
"Listen, Carol — ” Charline sat down on the edge of her sister’s bed "—oh Carol, Mrs. Burke is down there and Donna Richards’ mother, and Mrs. Burke said, 'Bonny must go.’ What does she mean, Carol? Will they take her away?” Charline threw her arms around Bonny.
"It means, I think, that she has to be got rid of,” explained her sister. " 'Go’ means really go, like go to heaven, like Grandfather. You know.” Carol was not sure how she should express her greater understanding to her younger sister and could not bring herself to say more. The words in the darkness were horrible enough. Charline hugged Bonny closer and said, "They can’t. Mrs. Burke can’t say, because Bonny is ours. I hate her. And old Miriam, she always teases Bonny. I wish Bonny would bite
Miriam. Carol, they can’t take Bonny away from us, can they? Can’t we hide her somewhere?”
Carol, more sensible and less attached to Bonny, said, "It wouldn’t be right because if Daddy really thinks she must go, then that is what’s right. I mean, if she bites people and Daddy thinks it’s dangerous, then it’s right for her to go. Where she can’t bite people. She would be a lot happier.”
Charline began to cry and was unable to see that Bonny would be happier somewhere else.
"Don’t cry, anyway,” Carol cautioned. "You’ll only get her all
excited. Put her to bed. Bonny, go on.”
Charline took Bonny into the nursery. "I’m taking her to bed with me,” she told Carol between sobs.
DOWNSTAIRS Mrs. Burke and Mrs. Richards had been seen to the door. Mrs. Burke felt the satisfaction of a good deed done. Mrs. Richards was feeling wretched and ashamed. At the door she had wanted to say something —anything kind—to Mrs. Macleod but somehow the chance had slipped by and she had not spoken. Now, walking down the dark street with Mrs. Burke’s serene voice telling assurances into her ear, she thought, why did I not speak? How awful it is—how cruel I am!
Mrs. Burke was saying, "My dear Hester, we do appreciate your concern, but don’t you feel now that there is a real peace, now that we know that we have been just?” She took Mrs. Richards’ arm affectionately.
IN THE front room of the Macleod house three people sat still. Vera, who disliked scenes, was feeling relieved that the visit had been got through so easily and was well content with its outcome. She was glad that she had not had to join in the squabbling; glad she would be to see the last of the troublesome Bonny, of whom she had never approved. Mr. Macleod, burdened with an undertaking most unpleasant but fortified with his incontestible rationalism, aligned himself—almost by force, for his kind heart was a little torn—with a universe which he thought was just and fair; and so he was secure. Mrs. Macleod was looking at her husband with a sort of mute desire to enter also into his ordered universe, but she could not. enter. Vera, regarding her, thought: how pale she looks! Rather than remain in such morbid company she left the room.
Mr. Macleod also rose*. His wife watched him go into the hall. She thought: now he is going to the basement door. Now he is opening it. Now he is bringing Bonny up.
"Bonny,” called Mr. Macleod. "Bonny.”
Silence. Then the door shut again. He said, half to himself, "They must have taken her upstairs.” He went to the closet and his wife knew he was getting his coat and the old cape. He went into the bedroom and she heard him open the top drawer. She heard him go to the stairway and give a soft little call.
"Bonny’s up here, Daddy. She’s up here asleep,” Charline’s answer came. She heard her husband say, "I want her. Bonny.” She listened. Soon she heard Bonny coming downstairs, slowly as though she knew. He already had 1 he front door open.
Then suddenly she heard Charline and Carol coming downstairs too, running, and Charline’s voice loud and frightened: "Daddy, are you taking our Bonny away?” And for some reason Mrs. Macleod suddenly remembered Mrs. Richards’ face—
She jumped up and ran into the hall. She snatched her husband’s arm. "You can’t!” she cried. "Oh, you must not!” and she implored him and wept and threw her arms around Bonny. And Carol and Charline wept too, frightened and hardly understanding. But Mr. Macleod said in a loud, hard voice, "Let her go. She must go. It’s only fair.”
in a few moments Mrs. Macleod obeyed him. He took Bonny’s hand firmly—and she was not loathe to give it for she loved her father dearly, although she was afraid. Together they went out to the car.
"It’s inhuman, inhuman,” wept Mrs. Macleod. if