“The meantime,” however, brought no relief. Indeed so acute had the financial strain become that another and a greater sacrifice—one that fairly cut his heart in two—faced him—the parting with his dogs. That four mouths besides his own and Todd’s were too many to feed had of late become painfully evident. He might send them to Wesley. of course, but then he remembered that no one at Tom Coston’s ever had a gun in their hands, and they would only be a charge and a nuisance to Peggy. Or he might send them up into Carroll County to a farmer friend, but in that case he would have to pay their keep, and he needed the money for those at home. And so he waited and pondered.
A coachman from across the park solved the difficulty a day or two later with a whispered word in Todd’s ear, which set the boy’s temper ablaze—for he dearly loved the dogs himself—until he had talked it over with Pawson and Gadgem, and had then broken the news to his master as best he could.
“Dem dogs is eatin’ dere haids off,” he began, fidgeting about the table, brushing the crumbs on to a tray only to spill half of them on the floor—“an’ Mister Floyd’s coachman done say dat his young marster’s jes’ a-dyin’ for ’em an’ don’t cyar what he pay for ’em, dat is if ye—” but St. George cut him short.
“What did you say, Todd?”
“Why dat young marster dat’s jes’ come up f’om Ann’rundel—got mo’ money den he kin th’ow ’way I yere.”
“And they are eating their heads off, are they?—and he wants to swap his dirty money for my—Yes—I know. They think they can buy anything with a banknote. And its Floe and Dandy and Sue and Rupert, is it? And I’m to sell them—I who have slept with them and ate with them and hugged them a thousand times. Of course they eat their heads off. Yes—don’t say another word. Send them up one at a time—Floe first!”
The scene that followed always lingered in his mind. For days thereafter he could not mention their name, even to Todd, without the tears springing to his eyes.
Up the kitchen flight they tumbled—not one at a time, but all in a scramble, bounding straight at him, slobbering all over his face and hands, their paws scraping his clothes—each trying to climb into his lap—big Gordon setters, all four. He swept them off and ranged them in a row before his arm-chair with their noses flat to the carpet, their brown agate eyes following his every movement.
“Todd says you eat too much, you damned rascals!” he cried in enforced gayety, leaning forward, shaking his finger in their faces. “What the devil do you mean, coming into a gentleman’s private apartments and eating him out of house and home!—and that’s what you’re doing. I’m going to sell you!—do you hear that?—sell you to some stingy curmudgeon who’ll starve you to death, and that’s what you deserve! ... Come here, Floe—you dear old doggie, you—nice Floe! ... Here, Dandy—Rupert—Sue!”