Albert Payson Terhune
TO MY TEN BEST FRIENDS:
Who are far wiser in their way and far better in every way, than I; and yet who have not the wisdom to know it
Who do not merely think I am perfect, but who are calmly and permanently convinced of my perfection;—and this in spite of fifty disillusions a day
Who are frantically happy at my coming and bitterly woebegone in my absence
Who never bore me and never are bored by me
Who never talk about themselves and who always listen with rapturous interest to anything I may say
Who, having no conventional standards, have no respectability; and who, having no conventional consciences, have no sins
Who teach me finer lessons in loyalty, in patience, in true courtesy, in unselfishness, in divine forgiveness, in pluck and in abiding good spirits than do all the books I have ever read and all the other models I have studied
Who have not deigned to waste time and eyesight in reading a word of mine and who will not bother to read this verbose tribute to themselves
In short, to the most gloriously satisfactory chums who ever appealed to human vanity and to human desire for companionship
TO OUR TEN SUNNYBANK COLLIES MY STORY IS GRATEFULLY AND AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED
Albert Payson Terhune
I. The Coming Of Bruce II. The Pest III. The War Dog IV. When Eyes Were No Use V. The Double Cross VI. The Werewolf
CHAPTER I. The Coming Of Bruce
She was beautiful. And she had a heart and a soul—which were a curse. For without such a heart and soul, she might have found the tough life-battle less bitterly hard to fight.
But the world does queer things—damnable things—to hearts that are so tenderly all-loving and to souls that are so trustfully and forgivingly friendly as hers.
Her "pedigree name" was Rothsay Lass. She was a collie—daintily fragile of build, sensitive of nostril, furrily tawny of coat. Her ancestry was as flawless as any in Burke's Peerage.
If God had sent her into the world with a pair of tulip ears and with a shade less width of brain-space she might have been cherished and coddled as a potential bench-show winner, and in time might even have won immortality by the title of "CHAMPION Rothsay Lass."
But her ears pricked rebelliously upward, like those of her earliest ancestors, the wolves. Nor could manipulation lure their stiff cartilages into drooping as bench-show fashion demands. The average show-collie's ears have a tendency to prick. By weights and plasters, and often by torture, this tendency is overcome. But never when the cartilage is as unyielding as was Lass's.
Her graceful head harked back in shape to the days when collies had to do much independent thinking, as sheep-guards, and when they needed more brainroom than is afforded by the borzoi skull sought after by modern bench-show experts.
Wherefore, Lass had no hope whatever of winning laurels in the show-ring or of attracting a high price from some rich fancier. She was tabulated, from babyhood, as a "second"—in other words, as a faulty specimen in a litter that should have been faultless.
These "seconds" are as good to look at, from a layman's view, as is any international champion. And their offspring are sometimes as perfect as are those of the finest specimens. But, lacking the arbitrary "points" demanded by show-judges, the "seconds" are condemned to obscurity, and to sell as pets.
If Lass had been a male dog, her beauty and sense and lovableness would have found a ready purchaser for her. For nine pet collies out of ten are "seconds"; and splendid pets they make for the most part.
But Lass, at the very start, had committed the unforgivable sin of being born a female. Therefore, no pet-seeker wanted to buy her. Even when she was offered for sale at half the sum asked for her less handsome brothers, no one wanted her.
A mare—or the female of nearly any species except the canine—brings as high and as ready a price as does the male. But never the female dog. Except for breeding, she is not wanted.
This prejudice had its start in Crusader days, some thousand years ago. Up to that time, all through the civilized world, a female dog had been more popular as a pet than a male. The Mohammedans (to whom, by creed, all dogs are unclean) gave their European foes the first hint that a female dog was the lowest thing on earth.
The Saracens despised her, as the potential mother of future dogs. And they loathed her accordingly. Back to Europe came the Crusaders, bearing only three lasting memorials of their contact with the Moslems. One of the three was a sneering contempt for all female dogs.
There is no other pet as loving, as quick of wit, as loyal, as staunchly brave and as companionable as the female collie. She has all the male's best traits and none of his worst. She has more in common, too, with the highest type of woman than has any other animal alive. (This, with all due respect to womanhood.)
Prejudice has robbed countless dog-lovers of the joy of owning such a pal. In England the female pet dog has at last begun to come into her own. Here she has not. The loss is ours.
And so back to Lass.
When would-be purchasers were conducted to the puppy-run at the Rothsay kennels, Lass and her six brethren and sisters were wont to come galloping to the gate to welcome the strangers. For the pups were only three months old—an age when every event is thrillingly interesting, and everybody is a friend. Three times out of five, the buyer's eye would single Lass from the rollicking and fluffy mass of puppyhood.
She was so pretty, so wistfully appealing, so free from fear (and from bumptiousness as well) and carried herself so daintily, that one's heart warmed to her. The visitor would point her out. The kennel-man would reply, flatteringly—
"Yes, she sure is one fine pup!"
The purchaser never waited to hear the end of the sentence, before turning to some other puppy. The pronoun, "she," had killed forever his dawning fancy for the little beauty.
The four males of the litter were soon sold; for there is a brisk and a steady market for good collie pups. One of the two other females died. Lass's remaining sister began to "shape up" with show-possibilities, and was bought by the owner of another kennel. Thus, by the time she was five months old, Lass was left alone in the puppy-run.
She mourned her playmates. It was cold, at night, with no other cuddly little fur-ball to snuggle down to. It was stupid, with no one to help her work off her five-months spirits in a romp. And Lass missed the dozens of visitors that of old had come to the run.
The kennel-men felt not the slightest interest in her. Lass meant nothing to them, except the work of feeding her and of keeping an extra run in order. She was a liability, a nuisance.
Lass used to watch with pitiful eagerness for the attendants' duty-visits to the run. She would gallop joyously up to them, begging for a word or a caress, trying to tempt them into a romp, bringing them peaceofferings in the shape of treasured bones she had buried for her own future use. But all this gained her nothing.
A careless word at best—a grunt or a shove at worst were her only rewards. For the most part, the men with the feed-trough or the water-pail ignored her bounding and wrigglingly eager welcome as completely as though she were a part of the kennel furnishings. Her short daily "exercise scamper" in the open was her nearest approach to a good time.
Then came a day when again a visitor stopped in front of Lass's run. He was not much of a visitor, being a pallid and rather shabbily dressed lad of twelve, with a brand-new chain and collar in his hand.
"You see," he was confiding to the bored kennel-man who had been detailed by the foreman to take him around the kennels, "when I got the check from Uncle Dick this morning, I made up my mind, first thing, to buy a dog with it, even if it took every cent. But then I got to thinking I'd need something to fasten him with, so he wouldn't run away before he learned to like me and want to stay with me. So when I got the check cashed at the store, I got this collar and chain."
"Are you a friend of the boss?" asked the kennel-man.
"The boss?" echoed the boy. "You mean the man who owns this place? No, sir. But when I've walked past, on the road, I've seen his 'Collies for Sale' sign, lots of times. Once I saw some of them being exercised. They were the wonderfulest dogs I ever saw. So the minute I got the money for the check, I came here. I told the man in the front yard I wanted to buy a dog. He's the one who turned me over to you. I wish—OH!" he broke off in rapture, coming to a halt in front of Lass's run. "Look! Isn't he a dandy?"
Lass had trotted hospitably forward to greet the guest. Now she was standing on her hind legs, her front paws alternately supporting her fragile weight on the wire of the fence and waving welcomingly toward the boy. Unknowingly, she was bidding for a master. And her wistful friendliness struck a note of response in the little fellow's heart. For he, too, was lonesome, much of the time, as is the fate of a sickly only child in an overbusy home. And he had the true craving of the lonely for dog comradeship.
He thrust his none-too-clean hand through the wire mesh and patted the puppy's silky head. Lass wiggled ecstatically under the unfamiliar caress. All at once, in the boy's eyes, she became quite the most wonderful animal and the very most desirable pet on earth.
"He's great!" sighed the youngster in admiration; adding naively: "Is he Champion Rothsay Chief—the one whose picture was in The Bulletin last Sunday?"
The kennel-man laughed noisily. Then he checked his mirth, for professional reasons, as he remembered the nature of the boy's quest and foresaw a bare possibility of getting rid of the unwelcome Lass.
"Nope," he said. "This isn't Chief. If it was, I guess your Uncle Dick's check would have to have four figures in it before you could make a deal. But this is one of Chief's daughters. This is Rothsay Lass. A grand little girl, ain't she? Say,"—in a confidential whisper,—"since you've took a fancy for her, maybe I could coax the old man into lettin' you have her at an easy price. He was plannin' to sell her for a hundred or so. But he goes pretty much by what I say. He might let her go for—How much of a check did you say your uncle sent you?"
"Twelve dollars," answered the boy,—"one for each year. Because I'm named for him. It's my birthday, you know. But—but a dollar of it went for the chain and the collar. How much do you suppose the gentleman would want for Rothsay Lass?"
The kennel-man considered for a moment. Then he went back to the house, leaving the lad alone at the gate of the run. Eleven dollars, for a high-pedigreed collie pup, was a joke price. But no one else wanted Lass, and her feed was costing more every day. According to Rothsay standards, the list of brood-females was already complete. Even as a gift, the kennels would be making money by getting rid of the prick-eared "second." Wherefore he went to consult with the foreman.
Left alone with Lass, the boy opened the gate and went into the run. A little to his surprise Lass neither shrank from him nor attacked him. She danced about his legs in delight, varying this by jumping up and trying to lick his excited face. Then she thrust her cold nose into the cup of his hand as a plea to be petted.
When the kennel-man came back, the boy was sitting on the dusty ground of the run, and Lass was curled up rapturously in his lap, learning how to shake hands at his order.
"You can have her, the boss says," vouchsafed the kennel-man. "Where's the eleven dollars?"
By this graceless speech Dick Hazen received the key to the Seventh Paradise, and a life-membership in the world-wide Order of Dog-Lovers.
The homeward walk, for Lass and her new master, was no walk at all, but a form of spiritual levitation. The half-mile pilgrimage consumed a full hour of time. Not that Lass hung back or rebelled at her first taste of collar and chain! These petty annoyances went unfelt in the wild joy of a real walk, and in the infinitely deeper happiness of knowing her friendship-famine was appeased at last.
The walk was long for various reasons—partly because, in her frisking gyrations, Lass was forever tangling the new chain around Dick's thin ankles; partly because he stopped, every block or so, to pat her or to give her further lessons in the art of shaking hands. Also there were admiring boy-acquaintances along the way, to whom the wonderful pet must be exhibited.
At last Dick turned in at the gate of a cheap bungalow on a cheap street—a bungalow with a discouraged geranium plot in its pocket-handkerchief front yard, and with a double line of drying clothes in the no larger space behind the house.
As Dick and his chum rounded the house, a woman emerged from between the two lines of flapping sheets, whose hanging she had been superintending. She stopped at sight of her son and the dog.
"Oh!" she commented with no enthusiasm at all. "Well, you did it, hey? I was hoping you'd have better sense, and spend your check on a nice new suit or something. He's kind of pretty, though," she went on, the puppy's friendliness and beauty wringing the word of grudging praise from her. "What kind of a dog is he? And you're sure he isn't savage, aren't you?"
"Collie," answered Dick proudly. "Pedigreed collie! You bet she isn't savage, either. Why, she's an angel. She minds me already. See—shake hands, Lass!" "Lass!" ejaculated Mrs. Hazen. "'SHE!' Dick, you don't mean to tell me you've gone and bought yourself a—a FEMALE dog?"
The woman spoke in the tone of horrified contempt that might well have been hers had she found a rattlesnake and a brace of toads in her son's pocket. And she lowered her voice, as is the manner of her kind when forced to speak of the unspeakable. She moved back from the puppy's politely out-thrust forepaw as from the passing of a garbage cart.
"A female dog!" she reiterated. "Well, of all the chuckle-heads! A nasty FEMALE dog, with your birthday money!"
"She's not one bit nasty!" flamed Dick, burying the grubby fingers of his right hand protectively in the fluffy mass of the puppy's half-grown ruff. "She's the dandiest dog ever! She—"
"Don't talk back to me!" snapped Mrs. Hazen. "Here! Turn right around and take her to the cheats who sold her to you. Tell them to keep her and give you the good money you paid for her. Take her out of my yard this minute! Quick!"
A hot mist of tears sprang into the boy's eyes. Lass, with the queer intuition that tells a female collie when her master is unhappy, whined softly and licked his clenched hand.
"I—aw, PLEASE, Ma!" he begged chokingly. "PLEASE! It's—it's my birthday, and everything. Please let me keep her. I—I love her better than 'most anything there is. Can't I please keep her? Please!"
"You heard what I said," returned his mother curtly.
The washerwoman, who one day a week lightened Mrs. Hazen's household labors, waddled into view from behind the billows of wind-swirled clothes. She was an excellent person, and was built for endurance rather than for speed. At sight of Lass she paused in real interest.
"My!" she exclaimed with flattering approval. "So you got your dog, did you? You didn't waste no time. And he's sure a handsome little critter. Whatcher goin' to call him?"
"It's not a him, Irene," contradicted Mrs. Hazen, with another modest lowering of her strong voice. "It's a HER. And I'm sending Dick back with her, to where she came from. I've got my opinion of people who will take advantage of a child's ignorance, by palming off a horrid female dog on him, too. Take her away, Dick. I won't have her here another minute. You hear me?"
"Please, Ma!" stammered Dick, battling with his desire to cry. "Aw, PLEASE! I—I—"
"Your ma's right, Dick," chimed in the washerwoman, her first interested glance at the puppy changing to one of refined and lofty scorn. "Take her back. You don't want any female dogs around. No nice folks do."
"Why not?" demanded the boy in sudden hopeless anger as he pressed lovingly the nose Lass thrust so comfortingly into his hand. "WHY don't we want a female dog around? Folks have female cats around them, and female women. Why isn't a female dog—"
"That will do, Dick!" broke in his shocked mother. "Take her away."
"I won't," said the boy, speaking very slowly, and with no excitement at all.
A slap on the side of his head, from his mother's punitive palm, made him stagger a little. Her hand was upraised for a second installment of rebellion-quelling—when a slender little body flashed through the air and landed heavily against her chest. A set of white puppy-teeth all but grazed her wrathful red face.
Lass, who never before had known the impulse to attack, had jumped to the rescue of the beaten youngster whom she had adopted as her god. The woman screeched in terror. Dick flung an arm about the furry whirlwind that was seeking to avenge his punishment, and pulled the dog back to his side.
Mrs. Hazen's shriek, and the obbligato accompaniment of the washerwoman, made an approaching man quicken his steps as he strolled around the side of the house. The newcomer was Dick's father, superintendent of the local bottling works. On his way home to lunch, he walked in on a scene of hysteria.
"Kill her, sir!" bawled the washerwoman, at sight of him. "Kill her! She's a mad dog. She just tried to kill Miz' Hazen!"
"She didn't do anything of the kind!" wailed Dick. "She was pertecting me. Ma hit me; and Lass—"
"Ed!" tearily proclaimed Mrs. Hazen, "if you don't send for a policeman to shoot that filthy beast, I'll—"
"Hold on!" interrupted the man, at a loss to catch the drift of these appeals, by reason of their all being spoken in a succession so rapid as to make a single blurred sentence. "Hold on! What's wrong? And where did the pup come from? He's a looker, all right a cute little cuss. What's the row?"
With the plangently useless iterations of a Greek chorus, the tale was flung at him, piecemeal and in chunks, and in a triple key. When presently he understood, Hazen looked down for a moment at the puppy—which was making sundry advances of a shy but friendly nature toward him. Then he looked at the boy, and noted Dick's hero-effort to choke back the onrush of babyish sobs. And then, with a roughly tolerant gesture, he silenced the two raucous women, who were beginning the tale over again for the third time.
"I see," he said. "I see. I see how it is. Needn't din it at me any more, folks. And I see Dicky's side of it, too. Yes, and I see the pup's side of it. I know a lot about dogs. That pup isn't vicious. She knows she belongs to Dick. You lammed into him, and she took up and defended him. That's all there is to the 'mad-dog' part of it."
"But Ed—" sputtered his wife.
"Now, you let ME do the talking, Sade!" he insisted, half-grinning, yet more than half grimly. "I'm the boss here. If I'm not, then it's safe to listen to me till the boss gets here. And we're goin' to do whatever I say we are—without any back-talk or sulks, either. It's this way: Your brother gave the boy a birthday check. We promised he could spend it any way he had a mind to. He said he wanted a dog, didn't he? And I said, 'Go to it!' didn't I? Well, he got the dog. Just because it happens to be a she, that's no reason why he oughtn't to be allowed to keep it. And he can. That goes."
"Oh, Dad!" squealed Dick in grateful heroworship. "You're a brick! I'm not ever going to forget this, so long as I live. Say, watch her shake hands, Dad! I've taught her, already, to—"
"Ed Hazen!" loudly protested his wife. "Of all the softies! You haven't backbone enough for a prune. And if my orders to my own son are going to be—"
"That'll be all, Sade!" interposed the man stiffly—adding: "By the way, I got a queer piece of news to tell you. Come into the kitchen a minute."
Grumbling, rebellious, scowling,—yet unable to resist the lure of a "queer piece of news," Mrs. Hazen followed her husband indoors, leaving Dick and his pet to gambol deliriously around the clothes-festooned yard in celebration of their victory.
"Listen here, old girl!" began Hazen the moment the kitchen door was shut behind them. "Use some sense, can't you? I gave you the wink, and you wouldn't catch on. So I had to make the grandstand play. I'm no more stuck on having a measly she-dog around here than you are. And we're not going to have her, either. But—"
"Then why did you say you were going to? Why did you make a fool of me before Irene and everything?" she demanded, wrathful yet bewildered.
"It's the boy's birthday, isn't it?" urged Hazen. "And I'd promised him, hadn't I? And, last time he had one of those 'turns,' didn't Doc Colfax say we mustn't let him fret and worry any more'n we could help? Well, if he had to take that dog back to-day, it'd have broke his heart. He'd have felt like we were his enemies, and he'd never have felt the same to us again. And it might have hurt his health too—the shock and all. So—"
"But I tell you," she persisted, "I won't have a dirty little female—"
"We aren't going to," he assured her. "Keep your hair on, till I've finished. Tonight, after Dick's asleep, I'm going to get rid of her. He'll wake up in the morning and find she's gone; and the door'll be open. He'll think she's run away. He'll go looking for her, and he'll keep on hoping to find her. So that'll ease the shock, you see, by letting him down bit by bit, instead of snatching his pet away from him violent-like. And he won't hold it up against US, either, as he would the other way. I can offer a reward for her, too."
There was a long and thought-crammed pause. The woman plunged deep into the silences as her fat brain wrought over the suggestion. Then—
"Maybe you HAVE got just a few grains of sense, after all, Ed," grudgingly vouchsafed Mrs. Hazen. "It isn't a bad idea. Only he'll grieve a lot for her."
"He'll be hoping, though," said her husband. "He'll be hoping all the while. That always takes the razor-edge off of grieving. Leave it to me."
That was the happiest day Dick Hazen had ever known. And it was the first actively happy day in all Lass's five months of life.
Boy and dog spent hours in a ramble through the woods. They began Lass's education—which was planned to include more intricate tricks than a performing elephant and a troupe of circus dogs could hope to learn in a lifetime. They became sworn chums. Dick talked to Lass as if she were human. She amazed the enraptured boy by her cleverness and spirits. His initiation to the dog-masters' guild was joyous and complete.
It was a tired and ravenous pair of friends who scampered home at dinner-time that evening. The pallor was gone from Dick's face. His cheeks were glowing, and his eyes shone. He ate greedily. His parents looked covertly at each other. And the self-complacency lines around Hazen's mouth blurred.
Boy and dog went to bed early, being blissfully sleepy and full of food—also because another and longer woodland ramble was scheduled for the morrow.
Timidly Dick asked leave to have Lass sleep on the foot of his cot-bed. After a second telegraphing of glances, his parents consented. Half an hour later the playmates were sound asleep, the puppy snuggling deep in the hollow of her master's arm, her furry head across his thin chest.
It was in this pose that Hazen found them when, late in the evening, he tiptoed into Dick's cubby-hole room. He gazed down at the slumberous pair for a space, while he fought and conquered an impulse toward fair play. Then he stooped to pick up the dog.
Lass, waking at the slight creak of a floorboard, lifted her head. At sight of the figure leaning above her adored master, the lip curled back from her white teeth. Far down in her throat a growl was born. Then she recognized the intruder as the man who had petted her and fed her that evening. The growl died in her throat, giving place to a welcoming thump or two of her bushy tail. Dick stirred uneasily.
Patting the puppy lightly on her upraised head, Hazen picked up Lass in his arms and tiptoed out of the room with her. Mistaking this move for a form of caress, she tried to lick his face. The man winced.
Downstairs and out into the street Hazen bore his trustful little burden, halting only to put on his hat, and for a whispered word with his wife. For nearly a mile he carried the dog. Lass greatly enjoyed the ride. She was pleasantly tired, and it was nice to be carried thus, by some one who was so considerate as to save her the bother of walking.
At the edge of the town, Hazen set her on the ground and at once began to walk rapidly away in the direction of home. He had gone perhaps fifty yards when Lass was gamboling merrily around his feet. A kick sent the dismayed and agonized puppy flying through the air like a whimpering catapult, and landed her against a bank with every atom of breath knocked out of her. Before she had fairly struck ground,—before she could look about her,—Hazen had doubled around a corner and had vanished.
At a run, he made for home, glad the unpleasant job was over. At the door his wife met him.
"Well," she demanded, "did you drown her in the canal, the way you said?"
"No," he confessed sheepishly, "I didn't exactly drown her. You see, she nestled down into my arms so cozy and trusting-like, that I—well, I fixed it so she'll never show up around here again. Trust me to do a job thoroughly, if I do it at all. I—"
A dramatic gesture from Mrs. Hazen's stubby forefinger interrupted him. He followed the finger's angry point. Close at his side stood Lass, wagging her tail and staring expectantly up at him.
With her keen power of scent, it had been no exploit at all to track the man over a mile of unfamiliar ground. Already she had forgiven the kick or had put it down to accident on his part. And at the end of her eager chase, she was eager for a word of greeting.
"I'll be—" gurgled Hazen, blinking stupidly.
"I guess you will be," conceded his wife. "If that's the 'thorough' way you do your jobs at the factory—"
"Say," he mumbled in a sort of wondering appeal, "is there any HUMAN that would like to trust a feller so much as to risk another ribcracking kick, just for the sake of being where he is? I almost wish—"
But the wish was unspoken. Hazen was a true American husband. He feared his wife more than he loved fairness. And his wife's glare was full upon him. With a grunt he picked Lass up by the neck, tucked her under his arm and made off through the dark.
He did not take the road toward the canal, however. Instead he made for the railroad tracks. He remembered how, as a lad, he had once gotten rid of a mangy cat, and he resolved to repeat the exploit. It was far more merciful to the puppy—or at least, to Hazen's conscience,—than to pitch Lass into the slimy canal with a stone tied to her neck.
A line of freight cars—"empties"—was on a siding, a short distance above the station. Hazen walked along the track, trying the door of each car he passed. The fourth he came to was unlocked. He slid back the newly greased side door, thrust Lass into the chilly and black interior and quickly slid shut the door behind her. Then with the silly feeling of having committed a crime, he stumbled away through the darkness at top speed.
A freight car has a myriad uses, beyond the carrying of legitimate freight. From time immemorial, it has been a favorite repository for all manner of illicit flotsam and jetsam human or otherwise.
Its popularity with tramps and similar derelicts has long been a theme for comic paper and vaudeville jest. Though, heaven knows, the inside of a moving box-car has few jocose features, except in the imagination of humorous artist or vaudevillian!
But a far more frequent use for such cars has escaped the notice of the public at large. As any old railroader can testify, trainhands are forever finding in box-cars every genus and species of stray.
These finds range all the way from cats and dogs and discarded white rabbits and canaries, to goats. Dozens of babies have been discovered, wailing and deserted, in box-car recesses; perhaps a hundred miles from the siding where, furtively, the tiny human bundle was thrust inside some conveniently unlatched side door.
A freight train offers glittering chances for the disposal of the Unwanted. More than once a slain man or woman has been sent along the line, in this grisly but effective fashion, far beyond the reach of recognition.
Hazen had done nothing original or new in depositing the luckless collie pup in one of these wheeled receptacles. He was but following an old-established custom, familiar to many in his line of life. There was no novelty to it,—except to Lass.
The car was dark and cold and smelly. Lass hated it. She ran to its door. Here she found a gleam of hope for escape and for return to the home where every one that day had been so kind to her. Hazen had shut the door with such vehemence that it had rebounded. The hasp was down, and so the catch had not done its duty. The door had slid open a few inches from the impetus of Hazen's shove.
It was not wide enough open to let Lass jump out, but it was wide enough for her to push her nose through. And by vigorous thrusting, with her triangular head as a wedge, she was able to widen the aperture, inch by inch. In less than three minutes she had broadened it far enough for her to wriggle out of the car and leap to the side of the track. There she stood bewildered.
A spring snow was drifting down from the sulky sky. The air was damp and penetrating. By reason of the new snow the scent of Hazen's departing footsteps was blotted out. Hazen himself was no longer in sight. As Lass had made the journey from house to tracks with her head tucked confidingly under her kidnaper's arm, she had not noted the direction. She was lost.
A little way down the track the station lights were shining with misty warmth through the snow. Toward these lights the puppy trotted.
Under the station eaves, and waiting to be taken aboard the almost-due eleven-forty express, several crates and parcels were grouped. One crate was the scene of much the same sort of escape-drama that Lass had just enacted.
The crate was big and comfortable, bedded down with soft sacking and with "insets" at either side containing food and water. But commodious as was the box, the unwonted confinement did not at all please its occupant—a temperamental and highly bred young collie in process of shipment from the Rothsay Kennels to a purchaser forty miles up the line.
This collie, wearying of the delay and the loneliness and the strange quarters, had begun to plunge from one side of the crate to the other in an effort to break out. A carelessly nailed slat gave away under the impact. The dog scrambled through the gap and proceeded to gallop homeward through the snow.
Ten seconds later, Lass, drawn by the lights and by the scent of the other dog, came to the crate. She looked in. There, made to order for her, was a nice bed. There, too, were food and drink to appease the ever-present appetite of a puppy. Lass writhed her way in through the gap as easily as the former occupant had crawled out.
After doing due justice to the broken puppy biscuits in the inset-trough, she curled herself up for a nap.
The clangor and glare of the oncoming express awakened her. She cowered in one corner of the crate. Just then two station-hands began to move the express packages out to the edge of the platform. One of them noticed the displaced board of the crate. He drove home its loosened nails with two sharp taps from a monkey-wrench, glanced inside to make certain the dog had not gotten out, and presently hoisted the crate aboard the express-car.
Two hours later the crate was unloaded at a waystation. At seven in the morning an expressman drove two miles with it to a country-home, a mile or so from the village where Lass had been disembarked from the train.
An eager knot of people—the Mistress, the Master and two gardeners—crowded expectantly around the crate as it was set down on the lawn in front of The Place's veranda. The latch was unfastened, and the crate's top was lifted back on its hinges.
Out stepped Lass,—tired, confused, a little frightened, but eagerly willing to make friends with a world which she still insisted on believing was friendly. It is hard to shake a collie pup's inborn faith in the friendliness of mankind, but once shaken, it is more than shaken. It is shattered beyond hope of complete mending.
For an instant she stood thus, looking in timid appeal from one to another of the faces about her. These faces were blank enough as they returned her gaze. The glad expectancy was wiped from them as with a sponge. It was the Master who first found voice.
"And THAT'S Rothsay Princess!" he snorted indignantly. "That's the pup worth two hundred dollars at eight months, 'because she has every single good point of Champion Rothsay Chief and not a flaw from nostril to tail-tip'! Rothsay wrote those very words about her, you remember. And he's supposed to be the most dependable man in the collie business! Lord! She's undersized—no bigger than a five monther! And she's prick-eared and apple-domed; and her head's as wide as a church door!"
Apparently these humans were not glad to see her. Lass was grieved at their cold appraisal and a little frightened by the Master's tone of disgust. Yet she was eager, as ever, to make a good impression and to lure people into liking her. Shyly she walked up to the Mistress and laid one white little paw on her knee.
Handshaking was Lass's one accomplishment. It had been taught her by Dick. It had pleased the boy. He had been proud of her ability to do it. Perhaps it might also please these strangers. And after the odd fashion of all new arrivals who came to The Place, Lass picked out the Mistress, rather than any one else, as a potential friend.
The Mistress had ever roused the impatience of collie experts by looking past the showier "points" of a dog and into the soul and brain and disposition that lay behind them. So now she looked; and what she saw in Lass's darkly wistful eyes established the intruder's status at The Place.
"Let her stay!" pleaded the Mistress as the Master growled something about bundling the dog into her crate again and sending her back to the Rothsay Kennels. "Let her stay, please! She's a dear."
"But we're not breeding 'dears,'" observed the Master. "We planned to breed a strain of perfect collies. And this is a mutt!"
"Her pedigree says there's no better collie blood in America," denied the Mistress. "And even if she happens to be a 'second,' that's no sign her puppies will be seconds. See how pretty and loving and wise she is. DO keep her!"
Which of course settled the matter.
Up the lawn, from his morning swim in the lake, strolled a great mahogany-and-white collie. At sight of Lass he lowered his head for a charge. He was king of The Place's dogs, this mighty thoroughbred, Sunnybank Lad. And he did not welcome canine intruders.
But he halted midway in his dash toward the puppy who frisked forth so gayly to meet him. For he recognized her as a female. And man is the only animal that will molest the female of his species.
The fiercely silent charge was changed in a trice to a coldly civil touching of noses, and the majestic wagging of a plumy tail. After which, side by side, the two collies—big and little—old and new—walked up to the veranda, to be petted by the humans who had so amusedly watched their encounter.
"See!" exclaimed the Mistress, in triumph. "Lad has accepted her. He vouches for her. That ought to be enough for any one!"
Thus it was that Lass found a home.
As she never yet had been taught to know her name, she learned readily to respond to the title of "Princess." And for several months life went on evenly and happily for her.
Indeed, life was always wondrous pleasant, there at The Place,—for humans and for animals alike. A fire-blue lake bordered the grounds on two sides. Behind stretched the forest. And on every side arose the soft green mountains, hemming in and brooding over The Place as though they loved it. In the winter evenings there was the huge library hearth with its blaze and warmth; and a disreputable fur rug in front of it that might have been ordained expressly for tired dogs to drowse on. And there were the Mistress and the Master. Especially the Mistress! The Mistress somehow had a way of making all the world seem worth while.
Then, of a morning, when Lass was just eleven months old, two things happened.
The Mistress and the Master went down to her kennel after breakfast. Lass did not run forth to greet them as usual. She lay still, wagging her tail in feeble welcome as they drew near. But she did not get up.
Crowding close to her tawny side was a tiny, shapeless creature that looked more like a fat blind rat than like anything else. It was a ten-hour-old collie pup—a male, and yellowish brown of hue.
"That's the climax!" complained the Master, breaking in on the Mistress's rhapsodies. "Here we've been planning to start a kennel of home-bred collies! And see what results we get! One solitary puppy! Not once in ten times are there less than six in a collie-litter. Sometimes there are a dozen. And here the dog you wheedled me into keeping has just one! I expected at least seven."
"If it's a freak to be the only puppy in a litter," answered the Mistress, refusing to part with her enthusiasm over the miracle, "then this one ought to bring us luck. Let's call him 'Bruce.' You remember, the original Bruce won because of the mystic number, seven. This Bruce has got to make up to us for the seven puppies that weren't born. See how proud she is of him! Isn't she a sweet little mother?"
The second of the morning's events was a visit from the foreman of the Rothsay Kennels, who motored across to The Place, intent on clearing up a mystery.
"The Boss found a collie yesterday, tied in the front yard of a negro cabin a mile or two from our kennels," he told the Master. "He recognized her right away as Rothsay Princess. The negro claims to have found her wandering around near the railroad tracks, one night, six months ago. Now, what's the answer?"
"The answer," said the Master, "is that your boss is mistaken. I've had Rothsay Princess for the past six months. And she's the last dog I'll ever get from the Rothsay Kennels. I was stung, good and plenty, on that deal.
"My wife wanted to keep her, or I'd have made a kick in the courts for having to pay two hundred dollars for a cheeky, apple-domed, prick eared—"
"Prick-eared!" exclaimed the foreman, aghast at the volleyed sacrilege. "Rothsay Princess has the best ears of any pup we've bred since Champion Rothsay Chief. Not a flaw in that pup. She—"
"Not a flaw, hey!" sniffed the Master. "Come down to the kennel and take a look at her. She has as many flaws as a street-cur has fleas."
He led the way to the kennel. At sight of the stranger Lass growled and showed her teeth. For a collie mother will let nobody but proven friends come near to her newborn brood.
The foreman stared at the hostile young mother for a half-minute, whistling bewilderedly between his teeth. Then he laughed aloud.
"That's no more Rothsay Princess than I am!" he declared. "I know who she IS, though. I'd remember that funny mask among a million. That's Rothsay Lass! Though how she got HERE—!
"We couldn't have shipped her by mistake, either," he went on, confused. "For we'd sold her, that same day, to a kid in our town. I ought to know. Because the kid kept on pestering us every day for a month afterward, to find if she had come back to us. He said she ran away in the night. He still comes around, once a week or so, to ask. A spindly, weak, sick-looking little chap, he is. I don't get the point of this thing, from any angle. But we run our kennels on the square. And I can promise the boss'll either send back your check or send Rothsay Princess to you and take Lass back."
Two days later, while all The Place was still mulling over the mystery, a letter came for the Master from Lass's home town. It was signed "Edw'd Hazen," and it was written on the cheap stationery of his employer's bottling works. It read:
"Six months ago, my son bought a dog from the Rothsay Kennels. It was a she-dog, and his ma and I didn't want one around. So I put it aboard a freight-car on the sly. My boy went sick over losing his dog. He has never rightly got over it, but he peaks and mopes and gets thinner all the time. If I had known how hard he was going to take it, I would of cut off my hand before I would of done such a thing. And my wife feels just like I do about it. We would both of us have given a hundred dollars to get the dog back for him, when we saw how bad he felt. But it was too late. Somehow or other it is most generally too late when a rotten thing has been done.
"To-day he went again to the Rothsay Kennels to ask if she had come back. He has always been hoping she would. And they told him you have her. Now, sir, I am a poor man, but if one hundred dollars will make you sell me that dog, I'll send it to you in a money order by return mail. It will be worth ten times that much, to my wife and me, to have Dick happy again. I inclose a stamp. Will you let me know?"
Six weeks afterward The Place's car brought Dick Hazen across to receive his long-lost pet.
The boy was thinner and shakier and whiter than when he had gone to sleep with his cherished puppy curled against his narrow chest. But there was a light in his eyes and an eagerness in his heart that had not been there in many a long week.
Lass was on the veranda to welcome him. And as Dick scrambled out of the car and ran to pick her up, she came more than half-way to meet him. With a flurry of fast-pattering steps and a bark of eager welcome, she flung herself upon her long-vanished master. For a highbred collie does not forget. And at first glimpse of the boy Lass remembered him.
Dick caught her up in his arms—a harder feat than of yore, because of her greater weight and his own sapped strength,—and hugged her tight to his breast. Winking very fast indeed to disperse tears that had no place in the eyes of a self-contained man of twelve, he sputtered rapturously:
"I KNEW I'd find you, Lassie—I knew it all the time;—even the times when I was deadsure I wouldn't! Gee, but you've grown, though! And you're beautifuler than ever. Isn't she, Miss?" he demanded, turning to the Mistress with instinctive knowledge that here at least he would find confirmation. "Indeed she is!" the Mistress assured him.
"And see how glad she is to be with you again! She—"
"And Dad says she can stay with me, for keeps!" exulted Dick. "He says he'll put a new lock on the cellar door, so she can't ever push out again, the way she did, last time. But I guess she's had her lesson in going out for walks at night and not being able to find her way back. She and I are going to have the dandiest times together, that ever happened. Aren't we, Lass? Is that her little boy?" he broke off, in eager curiosity, as the Master appeared from the kennels, carrying Bruce.
The puppy was set down on the veranda floor for Dick's inspection.
"He's cunning, isn't he? Kind of like a Teddy Bear,—the sort kids play with. But," with a tinge of worry, "I'm not sure Ma will let me keep two. Maybe—"
"Perhaps," suggested the Mistress, "perhaps you'd like us to keep little Bruce, to remember Lass by? We'll try to make him very happy."
"Yes'm!" agreed Dick, in much haste, his brow clearing from a mental vision of Mrs. Hazen's face when she should see him return with twice as many dogs as he had set out for. "Yes'm. If you wouldn't mind, very much. S'pose we leave it that way? I guess Bruce'll like being with you, Miss. I—I guess pretty near anybody would. You'll—you'll try not to be too homesick for Lass, won't you?"
On the steps of the veranda the downy and fat puppy watched his mother's departure with no especial interest. By the Mistress's wish, Mr. Hazen had not been required to make any part of his proffered hundred-dollar payment for the return of his boy's pet. All the Mistress had stipulated was that Lass might be allowed to remain at The Place until baby Bruce should no longer need her.
"Bruce," said the Mistress as the car rolled up the drive and out of sight, "you are the sole visible result of The Place's experiment in raising prize collies. You have a tremendous responsibility on those fat little shoulders of yours,—to live up to it all."
By way of showing his scorn for such trifles as a "tremendous responsibility," Bruce proceeded to make a ferocious onslaught at the Mistress's temperamental gray Persian kitten, "Tipperary," which was picking a mincing way across the veranda.
A howl of pain and two scratches on his tiny nose immediately followed the attack. Tipperary then went on with her mincing promenade. And Bruce, with loud lamentations, galloped to the shelter of the Mistress's skirt.
"Poor little chap!" soothed the Mistress, picking him up and comforting him. "Responsibility isn't such a joke, after all, is it, Baby?"
CHAPTER II. The Pest
Thackeray, as a lad, was dropped from college for laziness and for gambling. Bismarck failed to get a University degree, because he lacked power to study and because he preferred midnight beer to midnight oil. George Washington, in student days, could never grasp the simplest rules of spelling. The young Lincoln loved to sprawl in the shade with fish-pole or tattered book, when he should have been working.
Now, these men were giants—physically as well as mentally. Being giants, they were by nature slow of development.
The kitten, at six months of age, is graceful and compact and of perfect poise. The lion-cub, at the same age, is a gawky and foolish and ill-knit mass of legs and fur; deficient in sense and in symmetry. Yet at six years, the lion and the cat are not to be compared for power or beauty or majesty or brain, or along any other lines.
The foregoing is not an essay on the slow development of the Great. It is merely a condensation of the Mistress's earnest arguments against the selling or giving away of a certain hopelessly awkward and senseless and altogether undesirable collie pup named Bruce.
From the very first, the Mistress had been Bruce's champion at The Place. There was no competition for that office. She and she alone could see any promise in the shambling youngster.
Because he had been born on The Place, and because he was the only son of Rothsay Lass, whom the Mistress had also championed against strong opposition, it had been decided to keep and raise him. But daily this decision seemed less and less worth while. Only the Mistress's championing of the Undesirable prevented his early banishment.
From a fuzzy and adventurous fluff-ball of gray-gold-and-white fur, Bruce swiftly developed into a lanky giant. He was almost as large again as is the average collie pup of his age; but, big as he was, his legs and feet and head were huge, out of all proportion to the rest of him. The head did not bother him. Being hampered by no weight of brain, it would be navigated with more or less ease, in spite of its bulk. But the legs and feet were not only in his own way, but in every one else's.
He seemed totally lacking in sense, as well as in bodily coordination. He was forever getting into needless trouble. He was a stormcenter. No one but a born fool—canine or human—could possibly have caused one-tenth as much bother.
The Mistress had named him "Bruce," after the stately Scottish chieftain who was her history-hero. And she still called him Bruce—fifty times a day—in the weary hope of teaching him his name. But every one else on The Place gave him a title instead of a name—a title that stuck: "The Pest." He spent twenty-four hours, daily, living up to it.
Compared with Bruce's helplessly clownish trouble-seeking propensities, Charlie Chaplin's screen exploits are miracles of heroic dignity and of good luck.
There was a little artificial water-lily pool on The Place, perhaps four feet deep. By actual count, Bruce fell into it no less than nine times in a single week. Once or twice he had nearly drowned there before some member of the family chanced to fish him out. And, learning nothing from experience, he would fall in again, promptly, the next day.
The Master at last rigged up a sort of sloping wooden platform, running from the lip of the pool into the water, so that Bruce could crawl out easily, next time he should tumble in. Bruce watched the placing of this platform with much grave interest. The moment it was completed, he trotted down it on a tour of investigation. At its lower edge he slipped and rolled into the pool. There he floundered, with no thought at all of climbing out as he had got in, until the Master rescued him and spread a wire net over the whole pool to avert future accidents.
Thenceforth, Bruce met with no worse mischance, there, than the perpetual catching of his toe-pads in the meshes of the wire. Thus ensnared he would stand, howling most lamentably, until his yells brought rescue.
Though the pool could be covered with a net, the wide lake at the foot of the lawn could not be. Into the lake Bruce would wade till the water reached his shoulders. Then with a squeal of venturesome joy, he would launch himself outward for a swim; and, once facing away from shore, he never had sense enough to turn around.
After a half-hour of steady swimming, his soft young strength would collapse. A howl of terror would apprise the world at large that he was about to drown. Whereat some passing boatman would pick him up and hold him for ransom, or else some one from The Place must jump into skiff or canoe and hie with all speed to the rescue. The same thing would be repeated day after day.
The local S.P.C.A. threatened to bring action against the Master for letting his dog risk death, in this way, from drowning. Morbidly, the Master wished the risk might verge into a certainty.
The puppy's ravenous appetite was the wonder of all. He stopped eating only when there was nothing edible in reach. And as his ideas of edible food embraced everything that was chewable,—from bath-towels to axle-grease—he was seldom fasting and was frequently ill.
Nature does more for animals than for humans. By a single experience she warns them, as a rule, what they may safely eat and what they may not. Bruce was the exception. He would pounce upon and devour a luscious bit of laundry-soap with just as much relish as though a similar bit of soap had not made him horribly sick the day before.
Once he munched, relishfully, a two-pound box of starch, box and all; on his recovery, he began upon a second box, and was unhappy when it was taken from him.
He would greet members of the family with falsetto-thunderous barks of challenge as they came down the drive from the highway. But he would frisk out in joyous welcome to meet and fawn upon tramps or peddlers who sought to invade The Place. He could scarce learn his own name. He could hardly be taught to obey the simplest command. As for shaking hands or lying down at order (those two earliest bits of any dog's education), they meant no more to Bruce than did the theory of quadratic equations.
At three months he launched forth merrily as a chicken-killer; gleefully running down and beheading The Place's biggest Orpington rooster. But his first kill was his last. The Master saw to that.
There is no use in thrashing a dog for killing poultry. There is but one practically sure cure for the habit. And this one cure the Master applied.
He tied the slain rooster firmly around Bruce's furry throat, and made the puppy wear it, as a heavy and increasingly malodorous pendant, for three warm days and nights.
Before the end of this seventy-two-hour period, Bruce had grown to loathe the sight and scent of chicken. Stupid as he was, he learned this lesson with absolute thoroughness,—as will almost any chicken-killing pup,—and it seemed to be the only teaching that his unawakened young brain had the power to grasp.
In looks, too, Bruce was a failure. His yellowish-and-white body was all but shapeless. His coat was thick and heavy enough, but it showed a tendency to curl—almost to kink—instead of waving crisply, as a collie's ought. The head was coarse and blurred in line. The body was gaunt, in spite of its incessant feedings. As for contour or style—
It was when the Master, in disgust, pointed out these diverse failings of the pup, that the Mistress was wont to draw on historic precedent for other instances of slow development, and to take in vain the names of Thackeray, Lincoln, Washington and Bismarck and the rest.
"Give him time!" she urged once. "He isn't quite six months old yet; and he has grown so terribly fast. Why, he's over two feet tall, at the shoulder, even now—much bigger than most full-grown collies. Champion Howgill Rival is spoken of as a 'big' dog; yet he is only twenty-four inches at the shoulder, Mr. Leighton says. Surely it's something to own a dog that is so big."
"It IS 'something,'" gloomily conceded the Master. "In our case it is a catastrophe. I don't set up to be an expert judge of collies, so maybe I am all wrong about him. I'm going to get professional opinion, though. Next week they are going to have the spring dogshow at Hampton. It's a little hole-in-a-corner show, of course. But Symonds is to be the all-around judge, except for the toy breeds. And Symonds knows collies, from the ground up. I am going to take Bruce over there and enter him for the puppy class. If he is any good, Symonds will know it. If the dog is as worthless as I think he is, I'll get rid of him. If Symonds gives any hope for him, I'll keep him on a while longer."
"But," ventured the Mistress, "if Symonds says 'Thumbs down,' then—"
"Then I'll buy a pet armadillo or an ornithorhynchus instead," threatened the Master. "Either of them will look more like a collie than Bruce does."
"I—I wonder if Mr. Symonds smokes," mused the Mistress under her breath.
"Smokes?" echoed the Master. "What's that got to do with it?"
"I was only wondering," she made hesitant answer, "if a box of very wonderful cigars, sent to him with our cards, mightn't perhaps—"
"It's a fine sportsmanly proposition!" laughed the Master. "When women get to ruling the world of sport, there'll be no need of comic cartoons. Genuine photographs will do as well. If it's just the same to you, dear girl, we'll let Symonds buy his own cigars, for the present. The dog-show game is almost the only one I know of where a judge is practically always on the square. People doubt his judgment, sometimes, but there is practically never any doubt of his honesty. Besides, we want to get the exact dope on Bruce. (Not that I haven't got it, already!) If Symonds 'gates' him, I'm going to offer him for sale at the show. If nobody buys him there, I'm going—"
"He hasn't been 'gated' yet," answered the Mistress in calm confidence.
At the little spring show, at Hampton, a meager eighty dogs were exhibited, of which only nine were collies. This collie division contained no specimens to startle the dog-world. Most of the exhibits were pets. And like nearly all pets, they were "seconds"—in other words, the less desirable dogs of thoroughbred litters.
Hampton's town hall auditorium was filled to overcrowding, with a mass of visitors who paraded interestedly along the aisles between the raised rows of stall-like benches where the dogs were tied; or who grouped densely around all four sides of the roped judging-ring in the center of the hall.
For a dogshow has a wel-nigh universal appeal to humanity at large; even as the love for dogs is one of the primal and firm-rooted human emotions. Not only the actual exhibitor and their countless friends flock to such shows; but the public at large is drawn thither as to no other function of the kind.
Horse-racing, it is true, brings out a crowd many times larger than does a dogshow. But only because of the thrill of winning or losing money. For where one's spare cash is, there is his heart and his all-absorbing interest. Yet it is a matter of record that grass is growing high, on the race-tracks, in such states as have been able to enforce the anti-betting laws. The "sport of kings" flourishes only where wagers may accompany it. Remove the betting element, and you turn your racetrack into a huge and untrodden lot.
There is practically no betting connected with any dogshow. People go there to see the dogs and to watch their judging, and for nothing else. As a rule, the show is not even a social event. Nevertheless, the average dogshow is thronged with spectators. (Try to cross Madison Square Garden, on Washington's Birthday afternoon, while the Westminster Kennel Club's Show is in progress. If you can work your way through the press of visitors in less than half an hour, then Nature intended you for a football champion.)
The fortunate absence of a betting-interest alone keeps such affairs from becoming among the foremost sporting features of the world. Many of the dogs on view are fools, of course. Because many of them have been bred solely with a view to show-points. And their owners and handlers have done nothing to awaken in their exhibits the half-human brain and heart that is a dog's heritage. All has been sacrificed to "points"—to points which are arbitrary and which change as freakily as do fashions in dress.
For example, a few years ago, a financial giant collected and exhibited one of the finest bunches of collies on earth. He had a competent manager and an army of kennel-men to handle them. He took inordinate pride in these priceless collies of his. Once I watched him, at the Garden Show, displaying them to some Wall Street friends. Three times he made errors in naming his dogs. Once, when he leaned too close to the star collie of his kennels, the dog mistook him for a stranger and resented the intrusion by snapping at him. He did not know his own pets, one from another. And they did not know their owner, by sight or by scent.
At the small shows, there is an atmosphere wholly different. Few of the big breeders bother to compete at such contests. The dogs are for the most part pets, for which their owners feel a keen personal affection, and which have been brought up as members of their masters' households. Thus, if small shows seldom bring forth a world-beating dog, they at least are full of clever and humanized exhibits and of men and women to whom the success or failure of their canine friends is a matter of intensest personal moment. Wherefore the small show often gives the beholder something he can find but rarely in a larger exhibition.
A few dogs genuinely enjoy shows—or are supposed to. To many others a dogshow is a horror.
Which windy digression brings us back by prosy degrees to Bruce and to the Hampton dogshow.
The collies were the first breed to be judged. And the puppy class, as usual, was the first to be called to the ring.
There were but three collie pups, all males. One was a rangy tri-color of eleven months, with a fair head and a bad coat. The second was an exquisite six-months puppy, rich of coat, prematurely perfect of head, and cowhocked. These two and Bruce formed the puppy class which paraded before Symonds in the oblong ring.
"Anyhow," whispered the Mistress as the Master led his stolidly gigantic entry toward the enclosure, "Bruce can't get worse than a third-prize yellow ribbon. We ought to be a little proud of that. There are only three entries in his class."
But even that bit of barren pride was denied the awkward youngster's sponsor. As the three pups entered the enclosure, the judge's half-shut eyes rested on Bruce—at first idly, then in real amazement. Crossing to the Master, before giving the signal for the first maneuvers, he said in tired disgust—
"Please take your measly St. Bernard monstrosity out of the ring. This is a class for collies, not for freaks. I refuse to judge that pup as a collie."
"He's a thoroughbred," crossly protested the Master. "I have his certified pedigree. There's no better blood in—"
"I don't care what his ancestors were," snapped the judge. "He's a throw-back to the dinosaur or the Great Auk. And I won't judge him as a collie. Take him out of the ring. You're delaying the others."
A judge's decision is final. Red with angry shame and suppressing an unworthy desire to kick the luckless Bruce, the Master led the pup back to his allotted bench. Bruce trotted cheerily along with a maddening air of having done something to be proud of. Deaf to the Mistress's sympathy and to her timidly voiced protests, the Master scrawled on an envelope-back the words "For Sale. Name Your Own Price," and pinned it on the edge of the bench.
"Here endeth the first lesson in collie-raising, so far as The Place is concerned," he decreed, stalking back to the ringside to watch the rest of the judging.
The Mistress lingered behind, to bestow a furtive consolatory pat upon the disqualified Bruce. Then she joined her husband beside the ring.
It was probably by accident that her skirt brushed sharply against the bench-edge as she went—knocking the "For Sale" sign down into the litter of straw below.
But a well-meaning fellow-exhibitor, across the aisle, saw the bit of paper flutter floorward. This good soul rescued it from the straw and pinned it back in place.
(The world is full of helpful folk. That is perhaps one reason why the Millennium's date is still so indefinite.)
An hour later, a man touched the Master on the arm.
"That dog of yours, on Bench 48," began the stranger, "the big pup with the 'For Sale' sign on his bench. What do you want for him?"
The Mistress was several feet away, talking to the superintendent of the show. Guiltily, yet gratefully, the Master led the would-be purchaser back to the benches, without attracting his wife's notice.
A few minutes afterward he returned to where she and the superintendent were chatting.
"Well," said the Master, trying to steel himself against his wife's possible disappointment, "I found a buyer for Bruce—a Dr. Halding, from New York. He likes the pup. Says Bruce looks as if he was strong and had lots of endurance. I wonder if he wants him for a sledge-dog. He paid me fifteen dollars for him; and it was a mighty good bargain. I was lucky to get more than a nickel for such a cur."
The Master shot forth this speech in almost a single rapid breath. Then, before his wife could reply,—and without daring to look into her troubled eyes,—he discovered an acquaintance on the far side of the ring and bustled off to speak to him. The Master, you see, was a husband, not a hero.
The Mistress turned a worried gaze on the superintendent.
"It was best, I suppose," she said bravely. "We agreed he must be sold, if the judge decided he was not any good. But I'm sorry. For I'm fond of him. I'm sorry he is going to live in New York, too. A big city is no place for a big dog. I hope this Dr. Halding will be nice to the poor puppy."
"Dr.—WHO?" sharply queried the superintendent, who had not caught the name when the Master had spoken it in his rapid-fire speech. "Dr. Halding? Of New York? Huh!
"You needn't worry about the effect of city life on your dog," he went on with venomous bitterness. "The pup won't have a very long spell of it. If I had my way, that man Halding would be barred from every dog-show and stuck in jail. It's an old trick of his, to buy up thoroughbreds, cheap, at shows. The bigger and the stronger they are, the more he pays for them. He seems to think pedigreed dogs are better for his filthy purposes than street curs. They have a higher nervous organism, I suppose. The swine!"
"What do you mean?" asked the Mistress, puzzled by his vehemence. "I don't—"
"You must have heard of Halding and his so-called 'research work,'" the superintendent went on. "He is one of the most notorious vivisectionists in—"
The superintendent got no further. He was talking to empty air. The Mistress had fled. Her determined small figure made a tumbled wake through the crowd as she sped toward Bruce's bench. The puppy was no longer there. In another second the Mistress was at the door of the building.
A line of parked cars was stretched across the opposite side of the village street. Into one of these cars a large and loose-jointed man was lifting a large and loose-jointed dog. The dog did not like his treatment, and was struggling pathetically in vain awkwardness to get free.
"Bruce!" called the Mistress, fiercely, as she dashed across the street.
The puppy heard the familiar voice and howled for release. Dr. Halding struck him roughly over the head and scrambled into the machine with him, reaching with his one disengaged hand for the self-starter button. Before he could touch it, the Mistress was on the running-board of the car.
As she ran, she had opened her wristbag. Now, flinging on the runabout's seat a ten and a five-dollar bill, she demanded—
"Give me my dog! There is the money you paid for him!"
"He isn't for sale," grinned the Doctor. "Stand clear, please. I'm starting."
"You're doing nothing of the sort," was the hot reply. "You'll give back my dog! Do you understand?"
For answer Halding reached again toward his self-starter. A renewed struggle from the whimpering puppy frustrated his aim and forced him to devote both hands to the subduing of Bruce. The dog was making frantic writhings to get to the Mistress. She caught his furry ruff and raged on, sick with anger.
"I know who you are and what you want this poor frightened puppy for. You shan't have him! There seems to be no law to prevent human devils from strapping helpless dogs to a table and torturing them to death in the unholy name of science. But if there isn't a corner waiting for them, below, it's only because Hades can't be made hot enough to punish such men as they ought to be punished! You're not going to torture Bruce. There's your money. Let go of him."
"You talk like all silly, sloppy sentimentalists!" scoffed the Doctor, his slight German accent becoming more noticeable as he continued: "A woman can't have the intellect to understand our services to humanity. We—"
"Neither have half the real doctors!" she flashed. "Fully half of them deny that vivisection ever helped humanity. And half the remainder say they are in doubt. They can't point to a single definite case where it has been of use. Alienists say it's a distinct form of mental perversion,—the craving to torture dumb animals to death and to make scientific notes of their sufferings."
"Pah!" he sniffed. "I—"
She hurried on
"If humanity can't be helped without cutting live dogs and kittens to shreds, in slow agony—then so much the worse for humanity! If you vivisectors would be content to practice on one another—or on condemned murderers,—instead of on friendly and innocent dogs, there'd be no complaint from any one. But leave our pets alone. Let go of my puppy!"
By way of response the Doctor grunted in lofty contempt. At the same time he tucked the wriggling dog under his right arm, holding him thus momentarily safe, and pressed the self-starter button.
There was a subdued whir. A move of Halding's foot and a release of the brake, and the car started forward.
"Stand clear!" he ordered. "I'm going."
The jolt of the sudden start was too much for the Mistress's balance on the running-board. Back she toppled. Only by luck did she land on her feet instead of her head, upon the greasy pavement of the street.
But she sprang forward again, with a little cry of indignant dismay, and reached desperately into the moving car for Bruce, calling him eagerly by name.
Dr. Halding was steering with his left hand, while his viselike right arm still encircled the protesting collie. As the Mistress ran alongside and grasped frantically for her doomed pet, he let go of Bruce for an instant, to fend off her hand—or perhaps to thrust her away from the peril of the fast-moving mud-guards. At the Mistress's cry—and at the brief letup of pressure caused by the Doctor's menacing gesture toward the unhappy woman—Bruce's long-sleeping soul awoke. He answered the cry and the man's blow at his deity in the immemorial fashion of all dogs whose human gods are threatened.
There was a snarling wild-beast growl, the first that ever had come from the clownlike puppy's throat,—and Bruce flung his unwieldy young body straight for the vivisector's throat.
Halding, with a vicious fist-lunge, sent the pup to the floor of the car in a crumpled heap, but not before the curving white eyeteeth had slashed the side of the man's throat in an ugly flesh-wound that drove its way dangerously close to the jugular.
Half stunned by the blow, and with the breath knocked out of him, Bruce none the less gathered himself together with lightning speed and launched his bulk once more for Halding's throat.
This time he missed his mark—for several things happened all at once.
At the dog's first onslaught, Halding's foot had swung forward, along with his fist, in an instinctive kick. The kick did not reach Bruce. But it landed, full and effectively, on the accelerator.
The powerful car responded to the touch with a bound. And it did so at the very moment that the flash of white teeth at his throat made Halding snatch his own left hand instinctively from the steering-wheel, in order to guard the threatened spot.
A second later the runabout crashed at full speed into the wall of a house on the narrow street's opposite side.
The rest was chaos.
When a crowd of idlers and a policeman at last righted the wrecked car, two bodies were found huddled inertly amid a junk-heap of splintered glass and shivered wood and twisted metal. The local ambulance carried away one of these limp bodies. The Place's car rushed the smash-up's other senseless victim to the office of the nearest veterinary. Dr. Halding, with a shattered shoulder-blade and a fractured nose and jaw and a mild case of brain-concussion,—was received as a guest of honor at the village hospital.
Bruce, his left foreleg broken and a nasty assortment of glass-cuts marring the fluffiness of his fur, was skillfully patched up by the vet' and carried back that night to The Place.
The puppy had suddenly taken on a new value in his owners' eyes—partly for his gallantly puny effort at defending the Mistress, partly because of his pitiful condition. And he was nursed, right zealously, back to life and health.
In a few weeks, the plaster cast on the convalescent's broken foreleg had been replaced by a bandage. In another week or two the vet' pronounced Bruce as well as ever. The dog, through habit, still held the mended foreleg off the ground, even after the bandage was removed. Whereat, the Master tied a bandage tightly about the uninjured foreleg.
Bruce at once decided that this, and not the other, was the lame leg; and he began forthwith to limp on it. As it was manifestly impossible to keep both forelegs off the ground at the same time when he was walking, he was forced to make use of the once-broken leg. Finding, to his amaze, that he could walk on it with perfect ease, he devoted his limping solely to the well leg. And as soon as the Master took the bandage from that, Bruce ceased to limp at all.
Meanwhile, a lawyer, whose name sounded as though it had been culled from a Rhine Wine list, had begun suit, in Dr. Halding's name, against the Mistress, as a "contributory cause" of his client's accident. The suit never came to trial. It was dropped, indeed, with much haste. Not from any change of heart on the plaintiff's behalf; but because, at that juncture, Dr. Halding chanced to be arrested and interned as a dangerous Enemy Alien. Our country had recently declared war on Germany; and the belated spy-hunt was up.
During the Federal officers' search of the doctor's house, for treasonable documents (of which they found an ample supply), they came upon his laboratory. No fewer than five dogs, in varying stages of hideous torture, were found strapped to tables or hanging to wall-hooks. The vivisector bewailed, loudly and gutturally, this cruel interruption to his researches in Science's behalf.
One day, two months after the accident, Bruce stood on all four feet once more, with no vestige left of scars or of lameness. And then, for the first time, a steady change that had been so slow as to escape any one's notice dawned upon the Mistress and the Master. It struck them both at the same moment. And they stared dully at their pet.
The shapeless, bumptious, foolish Pest of two months ago had vanished. In his place, by a very normal process of nature-magic, stood a magnificently stately thoroughbred collie.
The big head had tapered symmetrically, and had lost its puppy formlessness. It was now a head worthy of Landseer's own pencil. The bonily awkward body had lengthened and had lost its myriad knobs and angles. It had grown massively graceful.
The former thatch of half-curly and indeterminately yellowish fuzz had changed to a rough tawny coat, wavy and unbelievably heavy, stippled at the ends with glossy black. There was a strange depth and repose and Soul in the dark eyes—yes, and a keen intelligence, too.
It was the old story of the Ugly Duckling, all over again.
"Why!" gasped the Mistress. "He's—he's BEAUTIFUL! And I never knew it."
At her loved voice the great dog moved across to where she sat. Lightly he laid one little white paw on her knee and looked gravely up into her eyes.
"He's got sense, too," chimed in the Master. "Look at those eyes, if you doubt it. They're alive with intelligence. It's—it's a miracle! He can't be the same worthless whelp I wanted to get rid of! He CAN'T!"
And he was not. The long illness, at the most formative time of the dog's growth, had done its work in developing what, all the time, had lain latent. The same illness—and the long-enforced personal touch with humans—had done an equally transforming work on the puppy's undeveloped mind. The Thackeray-Washington-Lincoln-Bismarck simile had held good.
What looked like a miracle was no more than the same beautifully simple process which Nature enacts every day, when she changes an awkward and dirt-colored cygnet into a glorious swan or a leggily gawky colt into a superb Derby-winner. But Bruce's metamorphosis seemed none the less wonderful in the eyes of the two people who had learned to love him.
Somewhere in the hideous wreck of Dr. Halding's motorcar the dog had found a soul—and the rest had followed as a natural course of growth.
At the autumn dog-show, in Hampton, a "dark-sable-and-white" collie of unwonted size and beauty walked proudly into the ring close to the Mistress's side, when the puppy class was called—a class that includes all dogs under twelve months old. Six minutes later the Mistress was gleesomely accepting the first-prize blue ribbon, for "best puppy," from Judge Symonds' own gnarled hand.
Then came the other classes for collies—"Novice," "Open," "Limit," "Local," "American Bred." And as Bruce paced majestically out of the ring at last, he was the possessor of five more blue ribbons—as well as the blue Winner's rosette, for "best collie in the show."
"Great dog you've got there, madam!" commented Symonds in solemn approval as he handed the Winner's rosette to the Mistress. "Fine dog in every way. Fine promise. He will go far. One of the best types I've—"
"Do you really think so?" sweetly replied the Mistress. "Why, one of the foremost collie judges in America has gone on record as calling him a 'measly St. Bernard monstrosity.'"
"No?" snorted Symonds, incredulous. "You don't say so! A judge who would speak so, of that dog, doesn't understand his business. He—"
"Oh, yes, he does!" contradicted the Mistress, glancing lovingly at her handful of blue ribbons. "I think he understands his business very well indeed—NOW!"
CHAPTER III. The War Dog
The guest had decided to wait until next morning, before leaving The Place, instead of following his first plan of taking a night train to New York. He was a captain in our regular army and had newly come back from France to forget an assortment of shrapnel-bites and to teach practical tactics to rookies.
He reached his decision to remain over night at The Place while he and the Mistress and the Master were sitting on the vine-hung west veranda after dinner, watching the flood of sunset change the lake to molten gold and the sky to pink fire. It would be pleasant to steal another few hours at this back-country House of Peace before returning to the humdrum duties of camp. And the guest yielded to the temptation.
"I'm mighty glad you can stay over till morning," said the Master. "I'll send word to Roberts not to bring up the car."
As he spoke, he scrawled a penciled line on an envelope-back; then he whistled.
From a cool lounging-place beneath the wistaria-vines arose a huge collie—stately of form, dark brown and white of coat, deep-set of eye and with a head that somehow reminded one of a Landseer engraving. The collie trotted up the steps of the veranda and stood expectant before the Master. The latter had been folding the envelope lengthwise. Now he slipped it through the ring in the dog's collar.
"Give it to Roberts," he said.
The big collie turned and set off at a hand-gallop.
"Good!" approved the guest. "Bruce didn't seem to be in any doubt as to what you wanted him to do. He knows where Roberts is likely to be?"
"No," said the Master. "But he can track him and find him, if Roberts is anywhere within a mile or so from here. That was one of the first things we taught him—to carry messages. All we do is to slip the paper into his collar-ring and tell him the name of the person to take it to. Naturally, he knows us all by name. So it is easy enough for him to do it. We look on the trick as tremendously clever. But that's because we love Bruce. Almost any dog can be taught to do it, I suppose. We—"
"You're mistaken!" corrected the guest. "Almost any dog CAN'T be taught to. Some dogs can, of course; but they are the exception. I ought to know, for I've been where dog-couriers are a decidedly important feature of trench-warfare. I stopped at one of the dog-training schools in England, too, on my way back from Picardy, and watched the teaching of the dogs that are sent to France and Flanders. Not one in ten can be trained to carry messages; and not one in thirty can be counted on to do it reliably. You ought to be proud of Bruce."
"We are," replied the Mistress. "He is one of the family. We think everything of him. He was such a stupid and awkward puppy, too! Then, in just a few months, he shaped up, as he is now. And his brain woke."
Bruce interrupted the talk by reappearing on the veranda. The folded envelope was still in the ring on his collar. The guest glanced furtively at the Master, expecting some sign of chagrin at the collie's failure.
Instead, the Master took the envelope, unfolded it and glanced at a word or two that had been written beneath his own scrawl; then he made another penciled addition to the envelope's writing, stuck the twisted paper back into the ring and said—
Off trotted Bruce on his second trip.
"I had forgotten to say which train you'll have to take in the morning," explained the Master. "So Roberts wrote, asking what time he was to have the car at the door after breakfast. It was careless of me."
The guest did not answer. But when Bruce presently returned,—this time with no paper in his collar-ring,—the officer passed his hand appraisingly through the dog's heavy coat and looked keenly down into his dark eyes.
"Gun-shy?" asked the guest. "Or perhaps he's never heard a gun fired?"
"He's heard hundreds of guns fired," said the Master. "I never allow a gun to be fired on The Place, of course, because we've made it a bird refuge. But Bruce went with us in the car to the testing of the Lewis machineguns, up at Haskell. They made a most ungodly racket. But somehow it didn't seem to bother the Big Dog at all."
"H'm!" mused the guest, his professional interest vehemently roused. "He would be worth a fortune over there. There are a lot of collies in the service, in one capacity or another—almost as many as the Airedales and the police dogs. And they are doing grand work. But I never saw one that was better fitted for it than Bruce. It's a pity he lives on the wrong side of the Atlantic. He could do his bit, to more effect than the average human. There are hundreds of thousands of men for the ranks, but pitifully few perfect courier-dogs."
The Mistress was listening with a tensity which momentarily grew more painful. The Master's forehead, too, was creased with a new thought that seemed to hurt him. To break the brief silence that followed the guest's words, he asked:
"Are the dogs, over there, really doing such great work as the papers say they are? I read, the other day—"
"'Great work!'" repeated the guest. "I should say so. Not only in finding the wounded and acting as guards on listening posts, and all that, but most of all as couriers. There are plenty of times when the wireless can't be used for sending messages from one point to another, and where there is no telephone connection, and where the firing is too hot for a human courier to get through. That is where is the war dogs have proved their weight in radium. Collies, mostly. There are a million true stories of their prowess told, at camp-fires. Here are just two such incidents—both of them on record, by the way, at the British War Office
"A collie, down near Soissons, was sent across a bad strip of fire-scourged ground, with a message. A boche sharpshooter fired at him and shattered his jaw. The dog kept on, in horrible agony, and delivered the message. Another collie was sent over a still hotter and much longer stretch of territory with a message. (That was during the Somme drive of 1916.) He was shot at, a dozen times, as he ran. At last two bullets got him. He fell over, mortally wounded. He scrambled to his feet and kept on falling, stumbling, staggering—till he got to his destination. Then he dropped dead at the side of the Colonel the message had been sent to. And those are only two of thousands of true collie-anecdotes. Yet some fools are trying to get American dogs done away with, as 'non-utilitarian,' while the war lasts! As if the dogs in France, today, weren't earning their overseas brothers' right to live—and live well!"
Neither of his hearers made reply when the guest finished his earnest, eager recital. Neither of them had paid much heed to his final words. For the Master and the Mistress were looking at each other in mute unhappiness. The same miserable thought was in the mind of each. And each knew the thought that was torturing the mind of the other.
Presently, at a glint of inquiry in the Master's eye, the Mistress suddenly bent over and buried her face in the deep mass of Bruce's ruff as the dog stood lovingly beside her. Then, still stroking the collie's silken head, she returned her husband's wretchedly questioning glance with a resigned little nod. The Master cleared his throat noisily before he could speak with the calm indifference he sought. Then, turning to the apparently unnoticing guest, he said—
"I think I told you I tried to get across to France at the very start—and I was barred because I am past forty and because I have a bum heart and several other defects that a soldier isn't supposed to have. My wife and I have tried to do what little we can for the Cause, on this side of the ocean. But it has seemed woefully little, when we remember what others are doing. And we have no son we can send."
Again he cleared his throat and went on with sulky ungraciousness:
"We both know what you've been driving at for the past five minutes. And—and we agree. Bruce can go."
"Great!" applauded the guest. "That's fine! He'll be worth his—"
"If you think we're a couple of fools for not doing this more willingly," went on the Master with savage earnestness, "just stop to think what it means to a man to give up the dog he loves. Not to give him up to some one who will assure him a good home, but to send him over into that hell, where a German bullet or a shell-fragment or hunger or disease is certain to get him, soon or late. To think of him lying smashed and helpless, somewhere in No Man's Land, waiting for death; or caught by the enemy and eaten! (The Red Cross bulletin says no less than eight thousand dogs were eaten, in Saxony alone, in 1913, the year BEFORE the war began.) Or else to be captured and then cut up by some German vivisector-surgeon in the sacred interests of Science! Oh, we can bring ourselves to send Bruce over there! But don't expect us to do it with a good grace. For we can't."
"I—" began the embarrassed guest; but the Mistress chimed in, her sweet voice not quite steady.
"You see, Captain, we've made such a pet—such a baby—of Bruce! All his life he has lived here—here where he had the woods to wander in and the lake to swim in, and this house for his home. He will be so unhappy and—Well, don't let's talk about that! When I think of the people who give their sons and everything they have, to the country, I feel ashamed of not being more willing to let a mere dog go. But then Bruce is not just a 'mere dog.' He is—he is BRUCE. All I ask is that if he is injured and not killed, you'll arrange to have him sent back here to us. We'll pay for it, of course. And will you write to whomever you happen to know, at that dog-training school in England, and ask that Bruce be treated nicely while he is training there? He's never been whipped. He's never needed it, you see."
The Mistress might have spared herself much worry as to Bruce's treatment in the training school to which he was consigned. It was not a place of cruelty, but of development. And when, out of the thousands of dogs sent there, the corps of trainers found one with promise of strong ability, such a pupil was handled with all the care and gentleness and skill that a temperamental prima donna might expect.
Such a dog was the big American collie, debarked from a goods car at the training camp railway station, six weeks after the Mistress and the Master had consented to his enlistment. And the handlers treated him accordingly.
The Master himself had taken Bruce to the transport, in Brooklyn, and had led him aboard the overfull ship. The new sights and sounds around him interested the home-bred collie. But when the Master turned him over to the officer in whose charge he was to be for the voyage, Bruce's deep-set eyes clouded with a sudden heartsick foreboding.
Wrenching himself free from the friendly hand on his collar, he sprang in pursuit of his departing deity,—the loved Master who was leaving him alone and desolate among all these strange scenes and noises. The Master, plodding, sullen and heavy-hearted, toward the gangway, was aware of a cold nose thrust into his dejected hand.
Looking down he beheld Bruce staring up at him with a world of stark appeal in his troubled gaze. The Master swallowed hard; then laid his hand on the beautiful head pressed so confidingly against his knee. Turning, he led the dog back to the quarters assigned to him.
"Stay here, old friend!" he commanded, huskily. "It's all right. You'll make good. I know that. And there's a chance in a billion that you'll come back to us. I'm—I'm not deserting you. And I guess there's precious little danger that any one on The Place will ever forget you. It's—it's all right. Millions of humans are doing it. I'd give everything I've got, if I could go, too. IT'S ALL RIGHT!"
Then Bruce understood at last that he was to stay in this place of abominations, far from everything he loved; and that he must do so because the Master ordained it. He made no further effort to break away and to follow his god ashore. But he shivered convulsively from head to foot; and his desolate gaze continued to trace the Master's receding figure out of sight. Then, with a long sigh, he lay down, heavily, his head between his white forepaws, and resigned himself to whatever of future misery his deities might have ordained for him.
Ensued a fortnight of mental and bodily anguish, as the inland-reared dog tasted the horrors of a voyage in a rolling ship, through heaving seas. Afterward, came the landing at a British port and the train ride to the camp which was to be his home for the next three months.
Bruce's sense of smell told him the camp contained more dogs than ever he had beheld in all his brief life put together. But his hearing would have led him to believe there were not a dozen other dogs within a mile of him.
From the encampment arose none of the rackety barking which betokens the presence of many canines, and which deafens visitors to a dog-show.
One of the camp's first and most stringent rules forbade barking, except under special order. These dogs—or the pick of them—were destined for work at the front. The bark of a dog has a carrying quality greater than the combined shouting of ten men. It is the last sound to follow a balloonist, after he has risen above the reach of all other earth-noises.