FURTHER ADVENTURES OF LAD
ALBERT PAYSON TERHUNE
Sunnybank Lad won a million friends through my book, "LAD: A DOG"; and through the Lad-anecdotes in "Buff: A Collie." These books themselves were in no sense great. But Laddie was great in every sense; and his life-story could not be marred, past interest, by my clumsy way of telling it.
People have written in gratifying numbers asking for more stories about Lad. More than seventeen hundred visitors have come all the way to Sunnybank to see his grave. So I wrote the collection of tales which are now included in "Further Adventures of Lad." Most of them appeared, in condensed form, in the Ladies' Home Journal.
Very much, I hope you may like them.
ALBERT PAYSON TERHUNE "Sunnybank" Pompton Lakes, New Jersey
FURTHER ADVENTURES OF LAD
I. The Coming Of Lad II. The Fetish III. No Trespassing! IV. Hero-Stuff V. The Stowaway VI. The Tracker VII. The Juggernaut VIII. In Strange Company IX. Old Dog; New Tricks X. The Intruders XI. The Guard
CHAPTER I. The Coming Of Lad
In the mile-away village of Hampton, there had been a veritable epidemic of burglaries—ranging from the theft of a brand-new ash-can from the steps of the Methodist chapel to the ravaging of Mrs. Blauvelt's whole lineful of clothes, on a washday dusk.
Up the Valley and down it, from Tuxedo to Ridgewood, there had been a half-score robberies of a very different order—depredations wrought, manifestly, by professionals; thieves whose motor cars served the twentieth century purpose of such historic steeds as Dick Turpin's Black Bess and Jack Shepard's Ranter. These thefts were in the line of jewelry and the like; and were as daringly wrought as were the modest local operators' raids on ash-can and laundry.
It is the easiest thing in the world to stir humankind's ever-tense burglar-nerves into hysterical jangling. In house after house, for miles of the peaceful North Jersey region, old pistols were cleaned and loaded; window fastenings and doorlocks were inspected and new hiding-places found for portable family treasures.
Across the lake from the village, and down the Valley from a dozen country homes, seeped the tide of precautions. And it swirled at last around the Place,—a thirty-acre homestead, isolated and sweet, whose grounds ran from highway to lake; and whose wistaria-clad gray house drowsed among big oaks midway between road and water; a furlong or more distant from either.
The Place's family dog,—a pointer,—had died, rich in years and honor. And the new peril of burglary made it highly needful to choose a successor for him.
The Master talked of buying a whalebone-and-steel-and-snow bull terrier, or a more formidable if more greedy Great Dane. But the Mistress wanted a collie. So they compromised by getting the collie.
He reached the Place in a crampy and smelly crate; preceded by a long envelope containing an intricate and imposing pedigree. The burglary-preventing problem seemed solved.
But when the crate was opened and its occupant stepped gravely forth, on the Place's veranda, the problem was revived.
All the Master and the Mistress had known about the newcomer,—apart from his price and lofty lineage,—was that his breeder had named him "Lad."
From these meager facts they had somehow built up a picture of a huge and grimly ferocious animal that should be a terror to all intruders and that might in time be induced to make friends with the Place's vouched-for occupants. In view of this, they had had a stout kennel made and to it they had affixed with double staples a chain strong enough to restrain a bull.
(It may as well be said here that never in all the sixteen years of his beautiful life did Lad occupy that or any other kennel nor wear that or any other chain.)
Even the crate which brought the new dog to the Place failed somehow to destroy the illusion of size and fierceness. But, the moment the crate door was opened the delusion was wrecked by Lad himself.
Out on to the porch he walked. The ramshackle crate behind him had a ridiculous air of a chrysalis from which some bright thing had departed. For a shaft of sunlight was shimmering athwart the veranda floor. And into the middle of the warm bar of radiance Laddie stepped,—and stood.
His fluffy puppy-coat of wavy mahogany-and-white caught a million sunbeams, reflecting them back in tawny-orange glints and in a dazzle as of snow. His forepaws were absurdly small, even for a puppy's. Above them the ridging of the stocky leg-bones gave as clear promise of mighty size and strength as did the amazingly deep little chest and square shoulders.
Here one day would stand a giant among dogs, powerful as a timber-wolf, lithe as a cat, as dangerous to foes as an angry tiger; a dog without fear or treachery; a dog of uncanny brain and great lovingly loyal heart and, withal, a dancing sense of fun. A dog with a soul.
All this, any canine physiologist might have read from the compact frame, the proud head-carriage, the smolder in the deep-set sorrowful dark eyes. To the casual observer, he was but a beautiful and appealing and wonderfully cuddleable bunch of puppyhood.
Lad's dark eyes swept the porch, the soft swelling green of the lawn, the flash of fire-blue lake among the trees below. Then, he deigned to look at the group of humans at one side of him. Gravely, impersonally, he surveyed them; not at all cowed or strange in his new surroundings; courteously inquisitive as to the twist of luck that had set him down here and as to the people who, presumably, were to be his future companions.
Perhaps the stout little heart quivered just a bit, if memory went back to his home kennel and to the rowdy throng of brothers and sisters and most of all, to the soft furry mother against whose side he had nestled every night since he was born. But if so, Lad was too valiant to show homesickness by so much as a whimper. And, assuredly, this House of Peace was infinitely better than the miserable crate wherein he had spent twenty horrible and jouncing and smelly and noisy hours.
From one to another of the group strayed the level sorrowful gaze. After the swift inspection, Laddie's eyes rested again on the Mistress. For an instant, he stood, looking at her, in that mildly polite curiosity which held no hint of personal interest.
Then, all at once, his plumy tail began to wave. Into his sad eyes sprang a flicker of warm friendliness. Unbidden—oblivious of everyone else he trotted across to where the Mistress sat. He put one tiny white paw in her lap; and stood thus, looking up lovingly into her face, tail awag, eyes shining.
"There's no question whose dog he's going to be," laughed the Master. "He's elected you,—by acclamation."
The Mistress caught up into her arms the halfgrown youngster, petting his silken head, running her white fingers through his shining mahogany coat; making crooning little friendly noises to him.
Lad forgot he was a dignified and stately pocket-edition of a collie. Under this spell, he changed in a second to an excessively loving and nestling and adoring puppy.
"Just the same," interposed the Master, "we've been stung. I wanted a dog to guard the Place and to be a menace to burglars and all that sort of thing. And they've sent us a Teddy-Bear. I think I'll ship him back and get a grown one. What sort of use is—?"
"He is going to be all those things," eagerly prophesied the Mistress. "And a hundred more. See how he loves to have me pet him! And, look—he's learned, already, to shake hands; and—"
"Fine!" applauded the Master. "So when it comes our turn to be visited by this motor-Raffles, the puppy will shake hands with him, and register love of petting; and the burly marauder will be so touched by Lad's friendliness that he'll not only spare our house but lead an upright life ever after. I—"
"Don't send him back!" she pleaded. "He'll grow up, soon, and—"
"And if only the courteous burglars will wait till he's a couple of years old," suggested the Master, "he—"
Set gently on the floor by the Mistress, Laddie had crossed to where the Master stood. The man, glancing down, met the puppy's gaze. For an instant he scowled at the miniature watchdog, so ludicrously different from the ferocious brute he had expected. Then,—for some queer reason,—he stooped and ran his hand roughly over the tawny coat, letting it rest at last on the shapely head that did not flinch or wriggle at his touch.
"All right," he decreed. "Let him stay. He'll be an amusing pet for you, anyhow. And his eye has the true thoroughbred expression,—'the look of eagles.' He may amount to something after all. Let him stay. We'll take a chance on burglars."
So it was that Lad came to the Place. So it was that he demanded and received due welcome which was ever Lad's way. The Master had been right about the pup's proving "an amusing pet," for the Mistress. From that first hour, Lad was never willingly out of her sight. He had adopted her. The Master, too,—in only a little lesser wholeheartedness,—he adopted. Toward the rest of the world, from the first, he was friendly but more or less indifferent.
Almost at once, his owners noted an odd trait in the dog's nature. He would of course get into any or all of the thousand mischief-scrapes which are the heritage of puppies. But, a single reproof was enough to cure him forever of the particular form of mischief which had just been chidden. He was one of those rare dogs that learn the Law by instinct; and that remember for all time a command or a prohibition once given them.
For example:—On his second day at the Place, he made a furious rush at a neurotic mother hen and her golden convoy of chicks. The Mistress,—luckily for all concerned,—was within call. At her sharp summons the puppy wheeled, midway in his charge, and trotted back to her. Severely, yet trying not to laugh at his worried aspect, she scolded Lad for his misdeed.
An hour later, as Lad was scampering ahead of her, past the stables, they rounded a corner and came flush upon the same nerve-wrecked hen and her brood. Lad halted in his scamper, with a suddenness that made him skid. Then, walking as though on eggs, he made an idiotically wide circle about the feathered dam and her silly chicks. Never thereafter did he assail any of the Place's fowls.
It was the same, when he sprang up merrily at a line of laundry, flapping in alluring invitation from the drying ground lines. A single word of rebuke,—and thenceforth the family wash was safe from him.
And so on with the myriad perplexing "Don'ts" which spatter the career of a fun-loving collie pup. Versed in the patience-fraying ways of pups in general, the Mistress and the Master marveled and bragged and praised.
All day and every day, life was a delight to the little dog. He had friends everywhere, willing to romp with him. He had squirrels to chase, among the oaks. He had the lake to splash ecstatically in: He had all he wanted to eat; and he had all the petting his hungry little heart could crave.
He was even allowed, with certain restrictions, to come into the mysterious house itself. Nor, after one defiant bark at a leopard-skin rug, did he molest anything therein. In the house, too, he found a genuine cave:—a wonderful place to lie and watch the world at large, and to stay cool in and to pretend he was a wolf. The cave was the deep space beneath the piano in the music room. It seemed to have a peculiar charm to Lad. To the end of his days, by the way, this cave was his chosen resting place. Nor, in his lifetime, did any other dog set foot therein.
So much for "all day and every day." But the nights were different.
Lad hated the nights. In the first place, everybody went to bed and left him alone. In the second, his hard-hearted owners made him sleep on a fluffy rug in a corner of the veranda instead of in his delectable piano-cave. Moreover, there was no food at night. And there was nobody to play with or to go for walks with or to listen to. There was nothing but gloom and silence and dullness. When a puppy takes fifty cat-naps in the course of the day, he cannot always be expected to sleep the night through. It is too much to ask. And Lad's waking hours at night were times of desolation and of utter boredom. True, he might have consoled himself, as does many a lesser pup, with voicing his woes in a series of melancholy howls. That, in time, would have drawn plenty of human attention to the lonely youngster; even if the attention were not wholly flattering.
But Lad did not belong to the howling type. When he was unhappy, he waxed silent. And his sorrowful eyes took on a deeper woe. By the way, if there is anything more sorrowful than the eyes of a collie pup that has never known sorrow, I have yet to see it.
No, Lad could not howl. And he could not hunt for squirrels. For these enemies of his were not content with the unsportsmanliness of climbing out of his reach in the daytime, when he chased them; but they added to their sins by joining the rest of the world,—except Lad,—in sleeping all night. Even the lake that was so friendly by day was a chilly and forbidding playfellow on the cool North Jersey nights.
There was nothing for a poor lonely pup to do but stretch out on his rug and stare in unhappy silence up the driveway, in the impossible hope that someone might happen along through the darkness to play with him.
At such an hour and in such lonesomeness, Lad would gladly have tossed aside all prejudices of caste,—and all his natural dislikes, and would have frolicked in mad joy with the veriest stranger. Anything was better than this drear solitude throughout the million hours before the first of the maids should be stirring or the first of the farmhands report for work. Yes, night was a disgusting time; and it had not one single redeeming trait for the puppy.
Lad was not even consoled by the knowledge that he was guarding the slumbrous house. He was not guarding it. He had not the very remotest idea what it meant to be a watchdog. In all his five months he had never learned that there is unfriendliness in the world; or that there is anything to guard a house against.
True, it was instinctive with him to bark when People came down the drive, or appeared at the gates without warning. But more than once the Master had bidden him be silent when a rackety Puppy salvo of barking had broken in on the arrival of some guest. And Lad was still in perplexed doubt as to whether barking was something forbidden or merely limited.
One night,—a solemn, black, breathless August night, when half-visible heat lightning turned the murk of the western horizon to pulses of dirty sulphur, Lad awoke from a fitful dream of chasing squirrels which had never learned to climb.
He sat up on his rug, blinking around through the gloom in the half hope that some of those non-climbing squirrels might still be in sight. As they were not, he sighed unhappily and prepared to lay his classic young head back again on the rug for another spell of night-shortening sleep.
But, before his head could touch the rug, he reared it and half of his small body from the floor and focused his nearsighted eyes on the driveway. At the same time, his tail began to wag a thumping welcome.
Now, by day, a dog cannot see so far nor so clearly as can a human. But by night,—for comparatively short distances,—he can see much better than can his master. By day or by darkness, his keen hearing and keener scent make up for all defects of eyesight.
And now three of Lad's senses told him he was no longer alone in his tedious vigil. Down the drive, moving with amusing slowness and silence, a man was coming. He was on foot. And he was fairly well dressed. Dogs, the foremost snobs in creation,—are quick to note the difference between a well-clad and a disreputable stranger.
Here unquestionably was a visitor:—some such man as so often came to the Place and paid such flattering attention to the puppy. No longer need Lad be bored by the solitude of this particular night. Someone was coming towards the house;—and carrying a small bag under his arm. Someone to make friends with. Lad was very happy.
Deep in his throat a welcoming bark was born. But he stilled it. Once, when he had barked at the approach of a stranger, the stranger had gone away. If this stranger were to go away, all the night's fun would go with him. Also, no later than yesterday, the Master had scolded Lad for barking at a man who had called. Wherefore the dog held his peace.
Getting to his feet and stretching himself, fore and aft, in true collie fashion, the pup gamboled up the drive to meet the visitor.
The man was feeling his way through the pitch darkness, groping cautiously; halting once or twice for a smolder of lightning to silhouette the house he was nearing. In a wooded lane, a quarter mile away, his lightless motor car waited.
Lad trotted up to him, the tiny white feet noiseless in the soft dust of the drive. The man did not see him, but passed so close to the dog's hospitably upthrust nose that he all but touched it.
Only slightly rebuffed at such chill lack of cordiality, Lad fell in behind him, tail awag, and followed him to the porch. When the guest should ring the bell, the Master or one of the maids would come to the door. There would be lights and talk; and perhaps Laddie himself might be allowed to slip in to his beloved cave.
But the man did not ring. He did not stop at the door at all. On tiptoe he skirted the veranda to the old-fashioned bay windows at the south side of the living room; windows with catches as old-fashioned and as simple to open as themselves.
Lad padded along, a pace or so to the rear;—still hopeful of being petted or perhaps even romped with. The man gave a faint but promising sign of intent to romp, by swinging his small and very shiny brown bag to and fro as he walked. Thus ever did the Master swing Lad's precious canton flannel doll before throwing it for him to retrieve. Lad made a tentative snap at the bag, his tail wagging harder than ever. But he missed it. And, in another moment the man stopped swinging the bag and tucked it under his arm again as he began to mumble with a bit of steel.
There was the very faintest of clicks. Then, noiselessly the window slid upward. A second fumbling sent the wooden inside shutters ajar. The man worked with no uncertainty. Ever since his visit to the Place, a week earlier, behind the aegis of a big and bright and newly forged telephone-inspector badge, he had carried in his trained memory the location of windows and of obstructing furniture and of the primitive small safe in the living room wall, with its pitifully pickable lock;—the safe wherein the Place's few bits of valuable jewelry and other compact treasures reposed at night.
Lad was tempted to follow the creeping body and the fascinatingly swinging bag indoors. But his one effort to enter the house,—with muddy paws,—by way of an open window, had been rebuked by the Lawgivers. He had been led to understand that really well-bred little dogs come in by way of the door; and then only on permission.
So he waited, doubtfully, at the veranda edge; in the hope that his new friend might reappear or that the Master might perhaps want to show off his pup to the caller, as so often the Master was wont to do.
Head cocked to one side, tulip ears alert, Laddie stood listening. To the keenest human ears the thief's soft progress across the wide living room to the wall-safe would have been all but inaudible. But Lad could follow every phase of it; the cautious skirting of each chair; the hesitant pause as a bit of ancient furniture creaked; the halt in front of the safe; the queer grinding noise, muffled but persevering, at the lock; then the faint creak of the swinging iron door, and the deft groping of fingers.
Soon, the man started back toward the pale oblong of gloom which marked the window's outlines from the surrounding black. Lad's tail began to wag again. Apparently, this eccentric person was coming out, after all, to keep him company. Now, the man was kneeling on the window-seat. Now, in gingerly fashion, he reached forward and set the small bag down on the veranda; before negotiating the climb across the broad seat,—a climb that might well call for the use of both his hands.
Lad was entranced. Here was a game he understood. Thus, more than once, had the Mistress tossed out to him his flannel doll, as he had stood in pathetic invitation on the porch, looking in at her as she read or talked. She had laughed at his wild tossings and other maltreatments of the limp doll. He had felt he was scoring a real hit. And this hit he decided to repeat.
Snatching up the swollen little satchel, almost before it left the intruder's hand, Lad shook it, joyously, reveling in the faint clink and jingle of the contents. He backed playfully away; the bag-handle swinging in his jaws. Crouching low, he wagged his tail in ardent invitation to the stranger to chase him and get back the satchel. Thus did the Master romp with Lad, when the flannel doll was the prize of their game. And Lad loved such races.
Yes, the stranger was accepting the invitation. The moment he had crawled out on the veranda he reached down for the bag. As it was not where he thought he had left it, he swung his groping hand forward in a half-circle, his fingers sweeping the floor.
Make that enticing motion, directly in front of a playful collie pup; specially if he has something he doesn't want you to take from him;—and watch the effect.
Instantly, Lad was athrill with the spirit of the game. In one scurrying backward jump, he was off the veranda and on the lawn, tail vibrating, eyes dancing; satchel held tantalizingly towards its would-be possessor.
The light sound of his body touching ground reached the man. Reasoning that the sweep of his own arm had somehow knocked the bag off the porch, he ventured off the edge of the veranda and flashed a swathed ray of his pocket light along the ground in search of it.
The flashlight's lens was cleverly muffled; in a way to give forth but a single subdued finger of illumination. That one brief glimmer was enough to show the thief a right impossible sight. The glow struck answering lights from the polished sides of the brown bag. The bag was hanging in air, some six inches above the grass and perhaps five feet away from him. Then he saw it swig frivolously to one side and vanish in the night.
The astonished man had seen more. Feeble was the flashlight's shrouded ray, too feeble to outline against the night the small dark body behind the shining brown bag. But that same ray caught and reflected back to the incredulous beholder two splashes of pale fire;—glints from a pair of deep-set collie-eyes.
As the bag disappeared, the eerie fire-points were gone. The thief all but dropped his flashlight. He gaped in nervous dread; and sought vainly to account for the witch-work he had witnessed. He had plenty of nerve. He had plenty of experience along his chosen line of endeavor. But, while a crook may control his nerve, he cannot make it phlegmatic or steady. Always, he must be conscious of holding it in check, as a clever driver checks and steadies and keeps in subjection a plunging horse. Let the vigilance slacken, and there is a runaway.
Now this particular marauder had long ago keyed his nerve to the chance of interruption from some gun-brandishing householder; and to the possible pursuit of police; and to the need of fighting or of fleeing. But all his preparations had not taken into account this newest emergency. He had not steeled himself to watch unmoved the gliding away of a treasure-satchel, apparently moving of its own will; nor the shimmer of two greenish sparks in the air just above it. And, for an instant, the man had to battle against a craven desire to bolt.
Lad, meanwhile, was having a beautiful time. Sincerely, he appreciated the playful grab his nocturnal friend had made in his general direction. Lad had countered this, by frisking away for another five or six feet, and then wheeling about to face once more his playfellow and to await the next move in the blithe gambol. The pup could see tolerably well, in the darkness quite well enough to play the game his guest had devised. And of course, he had no way of knowing that the man could not see equally well.
Shaking off his momentary terror, the thief once more pressed the button of his flashlight; swinging the torch in a swift semicircle and extinguishing it at once; lest the dim glow be seen by any wakeful member of the family.
That one quick sweep revealed to his gaze the shiny brown bag a half-dozen feet ahead of him, still swinging several inches above ground. He flung himself forward at it; refusing to believe he also saw that queer double glow of pale light just above. He dived for the satchel with the speed and the accuracy of a football tackle. And that was all the good it did him.
Perhaps there is something in nature more agile and dismayingly elusive than a romping young collie. But that "something" is not a mortal man. As the thief sprang, Lad sprang in unison with him; darting to the left and a yard or so backward. He came to an expectant standstill once more; his tail wildly vibrating, his entire furry body tingling with the glad excitement of the game. This sportive visitor of his was a veritable godsend. If only he could be coaxed into coming to play with him every night—!
But presently he noted that the other seemed to have wearied of the game. After plunging through the air and landing on all fours with his grasping hands closing on nothingness, the man had remained thus, as if dazed, for a second or so. Then he had felt the ground all about him. Then, bewildered, he had scrambled to his feet. Now he was standing, moveless, his lips working.
Yes, he seemed to be tired of the lovely game;—and just when Laddie was beginning to enter into the full spirit of it. Once in a while, the Mistress or the Master stopped playing, during the romps with the flannel doll. And Laddie had long since hit on a trick for reviving their interest. He employed this ruse now.
As the man stood, puzzled and scared, something brushed very lightly,-even coquettishly,—against his knuckles. He started in nervous fright. An instant later, the same thing brushed his knuckles again, this time more insistently. The man, in a spurt of fear-driven rage, grabbed at the invisible object. His fingers slipped along the smooth sides of the bewitched bag that Lad was shoving invitingly at him.
Brief as was the contact, it was long enough for the thief's sensitive finger tips to recognize what they touched. And both hands were brought suddenly into play, in a mad snatch for the prize. The ten avid fingers missed the bag; and came together with clawing force. But, before they met, the finger tips of the left hand telegraphed to the man's brain that they had had momentary light experience with something hairy and warm,—something that had slipped, eel-like, past them into the night;—something that most assuredly was no satchel, but ALIVE!
The man's throat contracted, in gagging fright. And, as before, fear scourged him to feverish rage.
Recklessly he pressed the flashlight's button; and swung the muffled bar of light in every direction. In his other hand he leveled the pistol he had drawn. This time the shaded ray revealed to him not only his bag, but,—vaguely,—the Thing that held it.
He could not make out what manner of creature it was which gripped the satchel's handle and whose eyes pulsed back greenish flares into the torch's dim glow. But it was an animal of some kind;—distorted and formless in the wavering finger of blunted light; but still an animal. Not a ghost.
And fear departed. The intruder feared nothing mortal. The mystery in part explained, he did not bother to puzzle out the remainder of it. Impossible as it seemed, his bag was carried by some living thing. All that remained for him was to capture the thing, and recover his bag. The weak light still turned on, he gave chase.
Lad's spirits arose with a bound. His ruse had succeeded. He had reawakened in this easily-discouraged chum a new interest in the game. And he gamboled across the lawn, fairly wriggling with delight. He did not wish to make his friend lose interest again. So instead of dashing off at full speed, he frisked daintily, just out of reach of the clawing hand.
And in this pleasant fashion the two playfellows covered a hundred yards of ground. More than once, the man came within an inch of his quarry. But always, by the most imperceptible spurt of speed, Laddie arranged to keep himself and his dear satchel from capture.
Then, in no time at all, the game ended; and with it ended Lad's baby faith in the friendliness and trustworthiness of all human nature.
Realizing that the sound of his own stumblingly running feet and the intermittent flashes of his torch might well awaken some light sleeper in the house, the thief resolved on a daring move. This creature in front of him,—dog or bear or goat, or whatever it was,—was uncatchable. But by sending a bullet through it, he could bring the animal to a sudden and permanent stop.
Then, snatching up his bag and running at top speed, he himself could easily win clear of the Place before anyone of the household should appear. And his car would be a mile away before the neighborhood could be aroused. Fury at the weird beast and the wrenching strain on his own nerves lent eagerness to his acceptance of the idea.
He reached back again for his pistol, whipped it out, and, coming to a standstill, aimed at the pup. Lad, waiting only to bound over an obstruction in his path, came to a corresponding pause, not ten feet ahead of his playmate.
It was an easy shot. Yet the bullet went several inches above the obligingly waiting dog's back. Nine men out of ten, shooting by moonlight or by flashlight, aim too high. The thief had heard this old marksman-maxim fifty times. But, like most hearers of maxims, he had forgotten it at the one time in his speckled career when it might have been of any use to him.
He had fired. He had missed. In another second, every sleeper in the house and in the gate-lodge would be out of bed. His night's work was a blank, unless—
With a bull rush he hurled himself forward at the interestedly waiting Lad. And, as he sprang, he fired again. Then several things happened.
Everyone, except movie actors and newly-appointed policemen, knows that a man on foot cannot shoot straight, unless he is standing stock still. Yet, as luck would have it, this second shot found a mark where the first and better aimed bullet had gone wild.
Lad had leaped the narrow and deep ditch left along the lawn-edge by workers who were putting in a new water-main for the Place. On the far side of this obstacle he had stopped, and had waited for his friend to follow. But the friend had not followed. Instead, he had been somehow responsible for a spurt of red flame and for a most thrilling racket. Lad was more impressed than ever by the man's wondrous possibilities as a midnight entertainer. He waited, gayly expectant, for more. He got it.
There was a second rackety explosion and a second puff of lightning from the man's out-flung hand. But, this time, something like a red-hot whip-lash smote Lad with horribly agonizing force athwart the right hip.
The man had done this,—the man whom Laddie had thought so friendly and playful!
He had not done it by accident. For his hand had been out-flung directly at the pup, just as once had been the arm of the kennelman, back at Lad's birthplace, in beating a disobedient mongrel. It was the only beating Lad had ever seen. And it had stuck, shudderingly, in his uncannily sensitive memory. Yet now, he himself had just had a like experience.
In an instant, the pup's trustful friendliness was gone. The man had come on the Place, at dead of night, and had struck him. That must be paid for! Never would the pup forget,—his agonizing lesson that night intruders are not to be trusted or even to be tolerated. Within a single second, he had graduated from a little friend of all the world, into a vigilant watchdog.
With a snarl, he dropped the bag and whizzed forward at his assailant. Needle-sharp milk-teeth bared, head low, ruff abristle, friendly soft eyes as ferocious as a wolf's, he charged.
There had been scarce a breathing-space between the second report of the pistol and the collie's counterattack. But there had been time enough for the onward-plunging thief to step into the narrow lip of the water-pipe ditch. The momentum of his own rush hurled the upper part of his body forward. But his left leg, caught between the ditch-sides, did not keep pace with the rest of him. There was a hideous snapping sound, a screech of mortal anguish; and the man crashed to earth, in a dead faint of pain and shock,—his broken left leg still thrust at an impossible angle in the ditch.
Lad checked himself midway in his own fierce charge. Teeth bare, throat agrowl, he hesitated. It had seemed to him right and natural to assail the man who had struck him so painfully. But now this same man was lying still and helpless under him. And the sporting instincts of a hundred generations of thoroughbreds cried out to him not to mangle the defenseless.
Wherefore, he stood, irresolute; alert for sign of movement on the part of his foe. But there was no such sign. And the light bullet-graze on his hip was hurting like the very mischief.
Moreover, every window in the house beyond was blossoming forth into lights. There were sounds,—reassuring human sounds. And doors were opening. His deities were coming forth.
All at once, Laddie stopped being a vengeful beast of prey; and remembered that he was a very small and very much hurt and very lonely and worried puppy. He craved the Mistress's dear touch on his wound, and a word of crooning comfort from her soft voice. This yearning was mingled with a doubt lest perhaps he had been transgressing the Place's Law, in some new way; and lest he might have let himself in for a scolding. The Law was still so queer and so illogical!
Lad started toward the house. Then, pausing, he picked up the bag which had been so exhilarating a plaything for him this past few minutes and which he had forgotten in his pain.
It was Lad's collie way to pick up offerings (ranging from slippers to very dead fish) and to carry them to the Mistress. Sometimes he was petted for this. Sometimes the offering was lifted gingerly between aloof fingers and tossed back into the lake. But, nobody could well refuse so jingly and pretty a gift as this satchel.
The Master, sketchily attired, came running down the lawn, flashlight in hand. Past him, unnoticed, as he sped toward the ditch, a collie pup limped;—a very unhappy and comfort-seeking puppy who carried in his mouth a blood-spattered brown bag.
"It doesn't make sense to me!" complained the Master, next day, as he told the story for the dozenth time, to a new group of callers. "I heard the shots and I went out to investigate. There he was lying, half in and half out of the ditch. The fellow was unconscious. He didn't get his senses back till after the police came. Then he told some babbling yarn about a creature that had stolen his bag of loot and that had lured him to the ditch. He was all unnerved and upset, and almost out of his head with pain. So the police had little enough trouble in 'sweating' him. He told everything he knew. And there's a wholesale round-up of the motor-robbery bunch going on this afternoon as a result of it. But what I can't understand—"
"It's as clear as day," insisted the Mistress, stroking a silken head that pressed lovingly against her knee. "As clear as day. I was standing in the doorway here when Laddie came pattering up to me and laid a little satchel at my feet. I opened it, and well, it had everything of value in it that had been in the safe over there. That and the thief's story make it perfectly plain. Laddie caught the man as he was climbing out of that window. He got the bag away from him; and the man chased him, firing as he went. And he stumbled into the ditch and—"
"Nonsense!" laughed the Master. "I'll grant all you say about Lad's being the most marvelous puppy on earth. And I'll even believe all the miracles of his cleverness. But when it comes to taking a bag of jewelry from a burglar and then enticing him to a ditch and then coming back here to you with the bag—"
"Then how do you account—?"
"I don't. None of it makes sense to me. As I just said. But, whatever happened, it's turned Laddie into a real watchdog. Did you notice how he went for the police when they started down the drive, last night? We've got a watchdog at last."
"We've got more than a watchdog," amended the Mistress. "An ordinary watchdog would just scare away thieves or bite them. Lad captured the thief and then brought the stolen jewelry back to us. No other dog could have done that."
Lad, enraptured by the note of praise in the Mistress's soft voice, looked adoringly up into the face that smiled so proudly down at him. Then, catching the sound of a step on the drive, he dashed out to bark in murderous fashion at a wholly harmless delivery boy whom he had seen every day for weeks.
A watchdog can't afford to relax vigilance, for a single instant,—especially at the responsible age of five months.
CHAPTER II. The Fetish
From the night of the robbery, Lad's high position at the Place was assured.
Even in the months of ganglingly leggy awkwardness which generally separate furry puppyhood from dignified collie maturity, he gave sure promise of his quality. He was such a dog as is found perhaps once in a generation; the super-collie that neither knows nor needs such things as whip and chain; and that learns the Law with bewildering swiftness. A dog with a brain and a mighty heart, as well as an endless fund of loveableness and of gay courage.
Month by month, the youngster developed into a massive giant; his orange-mahogany coat a miracle of thickness and length, his deep chest promising power as well as wolflike grace. His mind and his oddly human traits developed as fast as did his body.
After the first month or so he received privileges never to be accorded to any other of the Place's dogs in Lad's lifetime. He slept at night under the music-room piano, in the "cave" that was his delight. At mealtimes he was even admitted into the sacred dining-room, where he lay on the floor at the Master's left hand. He had the run of the house, as fully as any human.
It was when Lad was eighteen months old that the mad-dog scare swept Hampton village; and reached its crawly tentacles out across the lake to the mile-distant Place.
Down the village street, one day, trotted an enormous black mongrel; full in the center of the roadway. The mongrel's heavy head was low, and lolled from side to side with each lurching stride of the big body. The eyes were bloodshot. From the mouth and the hanging dewlaps, flecks of foam dropped now and then to the ground.
The big mongrel was sick of mind and of body. He craved only to get out of that abode of men and to find solitude in the forests and hills beyond the village.
For this is the considerate way of dogs; and of cats as well. When dire sickness smites them, they do not hang about, craving sympathy and calling for endless attention. All they want is to get out of the way,—well out of the way, into the woods and swamps and mountains; where they may wrestle with their life-or-death problem in their own primitive manner; and where, if need be, they may die alone and peacefully, without troubling anyone else.
Especially is this true with dogs. If their malady is likely to affect the brain and to turn them savage, they make every possible attempt to escape from home and to be as far away from their masters as may be, before the crisis shall goad them into attacking those they love.
And, when some such suffering beast is seen, on his way to solitude, we humans prove our humanity by raising the idiotic bellow of "Mad dog!" and by chasing and torturing the victim. All this, despite proof that not one sick dog in a thousand, thus assailed, has any disease which is even remotely akin to rabies.
Next to vivisection, no crime against helpless animals is so needlessly and foolishly cruel as the average mad-dog chase.
Which is a digression; but which may or may not enable you to keep your head, next time a mad-dog scare sweeps your own neighborhood.
Down the middle of the dusty street trotted the sick mongrel. Five minutes earlier, he had escaped from the damp cellar in which his owner had imprisoned him when first he fell ill. And now, his one purpose was to leave the village behind him and to gain the leafy refuge of the foothills beyond.
Out from a door-yard, flashed a bumptious little fox terrier. Into the roadway he bounded; intent on challenging the bigger animal.
He barked ferociously; then danced in front of the invalid; yapping and snapping up at the hanging head. The big mongrel, in agony, snarled and made a lunge at his irritatingly dancing tormentor. His teeth dug grazingly into the terrier's withers; and, with an impatient toss, he flung the little beast to one side. Then he continued his interrupted flight; sick wrath beginning to encompass his reeling brain, at the annoyance he had encountered.
The yell of the slightly hurt terrier brought people to their doors. The sound disturbed a half-breed spaniel from his doze in the dust, and sent him out to continue the harrying his injured terrier chum had begun.
The spaniel flew at the black dog; nipping at the plodding forepaws. The mongrel raged; as might some painfully sick human who is pestered when he asks only to be let alone. His dull apathy gave place to sullen anger. He bit growlingly at the spaniel, throwing himself to one side in pursuit of the elusive foe. And he snapped with equal rage at an Irish terrier that had come out to add to the turmoil.
By this time, a score of people were dancing up and down inside their door-yard fences, squalling "Mad dog!" and flinging at the black brute any missile they could lay hand to.
A broken flower-pot cut the invalid's nose. A stone rebounded from his ribs. The raucous human yells completed the work the first dog had started. From a mere sufferer, the black mongrel had changed into a peril.
The Mistress had motored over to the Hampton post-office, that afternoon, to mail some letters. Lad, as usual, had gone with her. She had left him in the car, while she went into the post-office.
Lad lay there, in snug contentment, on the car's front seat; awaiting the return of his deity and keeping a watchful eye on anyone who chanced to loiter near the machine. Presently, he sat up. Leaning out, from one side of the seat, he stared down the hot roadway, in a direction whence a babel of highly exciting sounds began to issue.
Apparently, beyond that kick-up of dust, a furlong below, all sorts of interesting things were happening. Lad's soft eyes took on a glint of eager curiosity; and he sniffed the still air for further clues as to the nature of the fun. A number of humans,—to judge by the racket,—were shouting and screaming; and the well-understood word, "dog," formed a large part of their clamor. Also, there were real dogs mixed up in the fracas; and more than one of them had blood on him. So much the collie's uncanny senses of smell and of hearing told him.
Lad whimpered, far down in his throat. He had been left here to guard this car. It was his duty to stay where he was, until the Mistress should return. Yet, right behind him, there, a series of mighty entertaining things were happening,—things that he longed to investigate and to mix into. It was hard to do one's solemn duty as watchdog, when so much of wild interest was astir! Not once did it occur to Laddie to desert his post. But he could not forbear that low whimper and a glance of appeal toward the post-office.
And now, out of the smear of flying dust, loomed a lurching black shape;—gigantic, terrible. It was coming straight toward the car; still almost in mid-road. Behind, less distinct, appeared running men. And a shot was fired. Somebody had run indoors for a pistol, before joining the chase. The same somebody, in the van of the pursuers, had opened fire; and was in danger of doing far more damage to life than could a dozen allegedly mad dogs.
Just then, out from the post-office, came the Mistress. Crossing the narrow sidewalk, she neared the car. Lad stood up, wagging his plumed tail in welcome; his tiny white forepaws dancing a jig of eagerness on the leather seat-cushion.
On reeled the black mongrel; crazed by noise and pain. His bleared eyes caught a flash of the Mistress's white dress, on the walk, fifteen feet in front of him and a yard or more to one side.
In a frame of mind when every newcomer was a probable tormenter, the mongrel resolved to meet this white-clad foe, head-on. He swerved, with a stagger, from his bee-line of travel; growled hideously, and sprang full at her.
The Mistress paused, for an instant, in the middle of the sidewalk, to find out the reason for the sudden din that had assailed her ears as she emerged from the post-office. In that brief moment, she caught the multiple-bellowed phrase of "Mad dog!" and saw the black brute charging down upon her.
There was no time to dart back into the shelter of the building or to gain the lesser safety of the car. For the charging mongrel was not five feet away.
The Mistress stood stock-still; holding her hands at a level with her throat. She did not cry out; nor faint. That was not the Mistress's way. Like Lad, she was thoroughbred in soul as well as in body. And neither she nor her dog belonged to the breed of screamers. Through her mind, in that briefest fraction of a second whizzed the consoling thought:
"He's not mad, whatever else he is. A mad dog never swerves from his path."
But if the Mistress remained moveless, Lad did not. Seeing her peril even more swiftly than did she, he made one lightning dive from his perch on the car seat.
He did not leap at random. Lad's brain always worked more quickly than did his lithe body; flyingly rapid as were that body's motions. As he gathered himself for the spring, his campaign was mapped out.
Down upon the charging beast swooped a furry whirlwind of burnished mahogany-and-snow. Down it swooped with the whirring speed and unerring aim of an eagle. Sixty-odd pounds of sinewy weight smote the lunging mongrel, obliquely, on the left shoulder; knocking the great brute's legs from under him and throwing him completely off his balance. Into the dust crashed the two dogs; Lad on top. Before they struck ground, the collie's teeth had found their goal ire the side of the larger dog's throat; and every whalebone muscle in Lad's body was braced to hold his enemy down.
It was a clever hold. For the fall had thrown the mongrel on his side. And so long as Lad should be able to keep the great foaming head in that sideways posture, the other dog could not get his feet under him again. With his legs in their present position, he had no power to get up; but lay thrashing and snapping and snarling; and trying with all his cramped might to free himself from the muscular grip that held him prostrate.
It was all over in something like two seconds. Up stormed the crowd; the pistol-wielder at its head. Three shots were fired at point-blank range. By some miracle none of them harmed Lad; although one bullet scratched his foreleg on its way to the black giant's brain.
As soon as she could, the Mistress got herself and the loudly-praised Lad into the car and set off for home. Now that the peril was over, she felt dizzy and ill. She had seen what it is not well to see. And the memory of it haunted her for many a night thereafter.
As for Lad, he was still atingle with excitement. The noisy praise of those babbling humans had bothered him; and he had been glad to escape it. Lad hated to be mauled or talked to by strangers. But the Mistress's tremulous squeeze and her shuddering whisper of "Oh, Laddie! LADDIE!" had shown she was proud of him. And this flattered and delighted Lad, past all measure.
He had acted on impulse. But, from the Mistress's manner, he saw he had made a wonderful hit with her by what he had done. And his tail thumped ecstatically against the seat as he cuddled very close to her side.
At home, there was more praise and petting;—this time from both the Mistress and the Master. And the Master bathed and patched the insignificant bullet-scratch on the collie's foreleg. Altogether, it was a gala afternoon for the young dog. And he loved it.
But, next morning, there was quite another phase of life awaiting him. Like most Great Moments, this exploit of Lad's was not on the free list. And Trouble set in;—grim and sinister trouble.
Breakfast was over. The Mistress and the Master were taking their wonted morning stroll through the grounds. Lad cantered along, ahead of them. The light bullet-scratch on his foreleg did not lame or annoy him. He inspected everything of canine interest; sniffing expert inquiry at holes which might prove to be rabbit warrens; glaring in truculent threat up some tree which might or might not harbor an impudent squirrel; affecting to see objects of mysterious import in bush clumps; crouching in dramatic threat at a fat stag-beetle which scuttled across his path.
There are an immense number of worth-while details for a very young collie, in even the most casual morning walk; especially if his Mistress and his Master chance to be under his escort. And Laddie neglected none of these things. If a troop of bears or a band of Indians or a man-eating elephant were lurking anywhere in the shrubbery or behind tree-trunks, Lad was not going to fail in discovering and routing out such possible dangers to the peace of mind of his two adored deities.
Scent and sight presently were attracted by a feeble fluttering under a low-limbed catalpa tree in whose branches a pair of hysterical robins were screeching. Lad paused, his tulip ears at attention, his plumed tail swaying. Then he pushed his long muzzle through a clump of grass and emerged carrying a flapping and piping morsel between his mighty jaws. The birds, on the limb above, redoubled their frenzied chirping; and made little futile dashes at the collie's head.
Unheeding, Lad walked back to the Mistress and laid gently at her feet the baby robin he had found. His keen teeth had not so much as ruffled its pinfeather plumage. Having done his share toward settling the bird's dilemma, Laddie stood back and watched in grave interest while the Mistress lifted the fluttering infant and put it back in the nest whence it had fallen.
"That makes the fifth baby bird Laddie has brought to me in a month," she commented, as she and the Master turned back toward the house. "To say nothing of two field mice and a broken-winged bat. He seems to think I'll know what to do for them."
"I only hope he won't happen upon a newborn rattlesnake or copperhead and bring it to you for refuge," answered the Master. "I never saw another dog, except a trained pointer or setter, that could handle birds so tenderly. He—"
The bumping of a badly handled rowboat, against the dock, at the foot of the lawn, a hundred yards below, checked his rambling words. Lad, at sudden attention, by his master's side, watched the boat's occupant clamber clumsily out of his scow; then stamp along the dock and up the lawn toward the house. The arrival was a long and lean and lank and lantern-jawed man with a set of the most fiery red whiskers ever seen outside a musical comedy. The Master had seen him several times, in the village; and recognized him as Homer Wefers, the newly-appointed Township Head Constable. The Mistress recognized him, too, as the vehement official whose volley of pistol-bullets had ended the sufferings of the black mongrel. She shivered, in reminiscence, as she looked at him. The memory he evoked was not pleasant.
"Morning!" Wefers observed, curtly, as the Master, with Lad beside him, stepped forward to greet the scarlet-bearded guest. "I tried to get over here, last night. But I guess it's soon enough, today. Has he showed any signs, yet?" He nodded inquiringly at the impassive Lad, as he spoke.
"'Soon enough' for what?" queried the puzzled Master.
"And what sort of 'signs' are you talking about?"
"Soon enough to shoot that big brown collie of yours," explained Wefers, with businesslike briskness. "And I'm asking if he's showed any signs of hydrophoby. Has he?"
"Are you speaking of Laddie?" asked the Mistress, in dismay; as the slower-witted Master, stared and gulped. "Why should he show any signs of hydrophobia? He—"
"If he hasn't, he will," rapped out the visitor. "Or he would, if he wasn't put out of the way. That's what I'm here for. But I kind of hoped maybe you folks might have done it, yourselves. Can't be too careful, you know. 'Specially—"
"What in blue blazes are you blithering about?" roared the Master, finding his voice and marshaling his startled wits. "Do you mean—"
"I mean," said Wefers, rebuking with a cold glare the Master's disrespectful manner, "I mean I'm here to shoot that big collie of yours. He was bit by a mad dog, yesterday. So was three other dogs over in the village. I shot 'em all; before they had time to d'velop symptoms and things; or bite anybody. One of 'em," he added, unctuously, "one of 'em b'longed to that little crippled Posthanger girl. She cried and begged, something pitiful, when I come for him. But dooty is dooty. So I—"
The Mistress's horrified monosyllable broke in on the smug recital. She caught Lad protectingly by the ruff and stared in mute dread at the lanky and red-whiskered officer. Lad, reading her voice as always, divined this nasal-toned caller had said or done something to make her unhappy. His ruff bristled. One corner of his lip lifted in something which looked like a smile, but which was not. And, very far down in his throat a growl was born.
But the Master stepped in front of his wife and his dog, and confronted the constable. Fighting for calmness, he asked:
"Do I understand that you shot those harmless little pups just because a dog that was sick, and not rabid, happened to nip them? And that you've come across here with an idea of doing the same thing to Lad? Is that it?"
"That's the idea," assented Wefers. "I said so, right off, as soon as I got here. Only, you're wrong about the dog being 'sick.' He was mad. Had rabies. I'd ought to know. I—"
"How and why ought you to know?" demanded the Master, still battling for perfect calm, and succeeding none too well. "How ought you to know? Are you a veterinary? Have you ever made a study of dogs and of their maladies? Have you ever read up, carefully, on the subject of rabies? Have you read Eberhardt or Dr. Bennett or Skinner or any of a dozen other authorities on the disease? Have you consulted such eminent vets as Hopper and Finch, for instance? If you have, you certainly must know that a dog, afflicted with genuine rabies, will no more turn out of his way to bite anyone than a typhoid patient will jump out of bed to chase a doctor. I'm not saying that the bite of any sick animal (or of any sick human, for that matter) isn't more or less dangerous; unless it's carefully washed out and painted with iodine. But that's no excuse to go around the country, shooting every dog that some sick mongrel has snapped at. Put such dogs under observation, if necessary; and then—"
"You talk like a fool!" snorted Wefers, in lofty contempt. "I—"
"But I am going to keep you from acting like a fool," returned the Master, his hard-held temper beginning to fray. "You say you've come over here to shoot my dog. If ever anyone shoots Lad, I'll be the man to do it. And I'll have to have lots better reason for it than—"
"Go ahead, then!" vouchsafed the constable, fishing out a rusty service pistol from his coat-tail pocket. "Go ahead and do it yourself, then; if you'd rather. It's all one to me, so long's it's done."
With sardonic politeness, he proffered the bulky weapon. The Master caught it from his hand and flung it a hundred feet away, into the center of a clump of lilacs.
"So much for the gun!" he blazed, advancing an the astounded Wefers. "Now, unless you want to follow it—"
"Dear!" expostulated the Mistress, her sweet voice atremble.
"I'm an of'cer of the law!" blustered the offended constable; in the same breath adding:
"And resisting an of'cer in the p'soot of his dooty is a misde—"
He checked himself, unconsciously turning to observe the odd actions of Lad.
As the Master had hurled the pistol far from him, the collie had sped in breakneck pursuit of it. Thus, always, did he delight to retrieve any object the Mistress or the Master might toss for his amusement. It was one of Laddie's favorite games, this fetching back of anything thrown. The farther it might be flung and the more difficult its landing place, the more zest to the sport.
This time, Lad was especially glad at the diversion. From the voices of these deities of his, Lad had gathered that the Master was furiously angry and that the Mistress was correspondingly unhappy. Also, that the lanky and red-bearded visitor was directly responsible for their stress of feeling. He had been eyeing alternately the Master and Wefers; tensely awaiting some overt act or some word of permission which should warrant him in launching himself on the intruder.
And now, it seemed, the whole thing was a game;—a game wherein he himself had been invited to play a merry and spectacular part. Joyously, he flew after the hurtling lump of steel and rubber.
The Master, facing the constable, did not see his pet's performance. He took up the thread of speech where Wefers dropped it.
"I don't know what the law does or doesn't empower you to do, in such cases," he said, trying to force his way back to the earlier semblance of calm. "But I doubt if it permits you to trespass on my land, without a warrant or a court order of some sort; or to shoot a dog of mine. And, until I find out the law in the matter, you'll get off this place and keep off of it. As for the dog, I'll be legally responsible for him; and I'll guarantee he'll do no damage. So—"
Like Wefers, the Master came to an abrupt halt in his harangue.
For Lad was cantering gleefully toward him, carrying something dark and heavy between his jaws. Straight to the Master came Lad. Carefully, at the Master's feet, he laid the rusty pistol.
Then, stepping back a pace, he looked up, eagerly, into the dumfounded man's face, tail waving, dark eyes aglint with expectation. It had been hard to locate the weapon, in all that tangle of lilac-stems. It had been harder to carry the awkwardly heavy thing all the way back, in his mouth, without dropping it. But, if this was the plaything the Master had chosen, Lad was only too willing to continue the game.
A little choking sound made the collie shift his gaze suddenly to the Mistress's troubled face. And the light of fun in his eyes was quenched. The sight of her splendid dog retrieving so joyously the weapon designed for his death, was almost too much for the Mistress's self-control.
The effect on the Master was different.
As Wefers made as though to jump forward and grab the pistol, the Master said sharply:
"WATCH it, Laddie!"
Instantly, Lad was on the alert. The game, it seemed, had begun again, and along sterner lines. He was to guard this plaything;—particularly from the bearded intruder who was snatching so avidly for it.
There was a sharp growl, a flash of fierce white teeth, a bound. One of Lad's snowy little forepaws was on the fallen pistol. And the rest of Lad's sinewy body was crouching above it, fangs aglint, eyes blazing with hot menace.
Wefers jerked back his protruding arm, with extreme quickness; barely avoiding a deep slash from the collie's shearing eye-teeth. And Lad, continued to "watch" the pistol.
The dog was having a lovely time. Seldom had he been happier. All good collies respond in semi-psychic fashion to the moods of their masters. And, to Lad, the very atmosphere about him was thrilling just now to waves of stark excitement. With the delightful vanity which is a part of the collie make-up, he realized that in some manner he himself was a prominent part of this excitement. And he reveled in it.
As Wefers pulled back his imperiled arm, the Mistress stepped forward, before the Master could speak or move.
"Even if it were true that he could get rabies by a bite from a rabid dog," said she, "and even if that dog, yesterday, were mad, that wouldn't affect Laddie. For he didn't bite Laddie. He never got the chance. Lad pinned him to the ground. And while the mongrel was struggling to get up, you shot him. One of your bullets flicked Lad's foreleg. But the mongrel's teeth never came within twelve inches of him. I can testify to that."
"He was fighting with a mad dog!" reiterated Wefers, fumingly. "I saw 'em, myself. And when a dog is fighting, he's bound to get bit. I'm not here to argue over it. I'm here to enforce the law of the sov'r'n State of Noo Jersey, County of P'saic, Township of—"
"But the law declares a prisoner innocent, till he's proved guilty," urged the Mistress, restraining the Master, by a light hand on his restless arm. "And Lad's not been proved guilty. It isn't proved he was bitten, at all. I can testify he wasn't. My husband washed the scratch and he can tell you it wasn't made by a bite. Any veterinary can tell you the same thing, at a glance. We can establish the fact that Lad was not bitten. So even if the law lets you shoot a bitten dog,—which I don't believe it does,—it doesn't empower you to shoot Lad. Why!" she went on, shuddering slightly, "if Lad hadn't sprung between that brute and myself, you'd probably be wanting to shoot ME! For I'd have been bitten, terribly, if Lad hadn't—"
"I'm not here to listen to silly nonsense!" announced Wefer, glaring at the watchful dog and back at the man and woman, "I came here in p'soot of my sworn dooty. I been balked and resisted by the two of you; and my pistol's been stole from me and a savage dog's been pract'c'lly sicked onto me. I'm an of'cer of the law. And I'm going to have the law on both of you, for int'fering with me like you have. And I'm going to get a court order to shoot—"
"Then you haven't a court order or any other authority to shoot him?" the Master caught him up. "You admit that! You came over here, thinking you could bluff us into letting you do it, just because you happen to wear a tin badge! I thought so. Now, my pink-whiskered friend, you'll stop shouting and making faces; and you'll listen to me, a minute. You aren't the first officer who has exceeded his authority on the chance that people will think he's acting within his rights. This time the bluff fails. With no warrant or summons or other legal power to back him, a constable has no more right on my place than any negro trespasser. What you may or may not be able to persuade some magistrate to do about this, I don't know. But, for the present, you'll clear out. Get that? I've warned you, in the presence of a witness. If you know anything of law, you know that a landowner, after such warning, may eject a trespasser by force. Go. And keep going. That's all."
Wefers sputtered wordlessly, from time to time, during the tirade. But before its end, he fell silent and began to fidget. He himself was none too well versed in the matter of his legal rights of intrusion. And, for the moment, he had no chance to execute his errand. Later, armed with a magistrate's order, he could pay back with interest his humiliation of this morning. In the meantime—
"Gimme my gun!" he demanded in grouchy surrender.
The Master stooped; picked up the pistol, and held it in both hands. Lad, all eagerness, stood dancingly waiting for him to throw it again. But it was not thrown. Instead, the Master "broke" the weapon; shaking the greasy cartridges out on to his own palm and then transferring them to his pockets.
"In case of accidents," he explained, pleasantly, as he handed the pistol back to its scowling owner. "And if you'll stop at the post-office, this afternoon, you'll find these shells in an envelope in your letter-box. Now, chase; unless you want Lad to escort you to your boat. Lad is fine at escorting undesirables off the Place. Want to see him perform?"
But Wefers did not answer. Snatching the impotent pistol and shoving it back into his coattail pocket, he strode lakeward, muttering lurid threats as he went.
The Mistress watched his lank figure on its way down the lawn to the dock.
"It's-it's AWFUL!" she faltered, clutching at her husband's arm. "Oh, you don't suppose he can—can really get leave to shoot Laddie, do you?"
"I don't know," answered the Master, as uneasy as she. "A mad-dog scare has a way of throwing everybody into a fool panic. There's no knowing what some magistrate may let him do. But one thing is mighty certain," he reassured her. "If the whole National Guard of New Jersey comes here, with a truckload of shooting-warrants, they aren't going to get Laddie. I promise you that. I don't quite know how we are going to prevent it. But we're going to. That's a pledge. So you're not to worry."
As they talked they continued to watch the constable in his clumping exit from the Place. Wefers reached the dock, and stamped out to its extreme end, where was moored the livery scow he had commandeered for his journey across the lake from the village.
A light wind was blowing. It had caught the scow's wide stern and had swung it out from the dock. Wefers unhooked the chain and dropped it clankingly into the bottom. Then, with ponderous uncertainty, he stepped from the dock's string-piece to the prow of his boat.
A whiff of breeze slapped the loosened scow, broadside on, and sent it drifting an inch or two away. As a result, Homer Wefers' large shoe-sole was planted on the edge of the prow, instead of its center. His sole was slippery from the dew of the lawn. The prow's edge was still more slippery, from having been the scene of a recent fish-cleaning.
The constable's gangling body strove in vain to hold any semblance of balance. His foot slid out from its precarious perch, pushing the boat farther into the lake. And the dignified officer flapped wildly in mid-air.
Not being built on a lighter-than-air principle, he failed to hold this undignified aerial pose for more than the tenth of a second. At the end of that time he plunged splashingly into the lake, at a depth of something like eight feet of water.
"Good!" applauded the Master, as the Mistress gasped aloud in not wholly sorrowful surprise and as Lad ambled gayly down the lawn for a closer view of this highly diverting sight. "Good! I hope he ruins every stitch he has on; and then gets rheumatism and tonsilitis. He—"
The Master's babbling jaw fell slack; and the pleased grin faded from his face.
Wefers had come to the surface, after his ducking. He was fully three yards beyond the dock and as far from his drifting scow. And he was doing all manner of sensational things with his lanky arms and legs and body. In brief, he was doing everything except swim.
It was this phenomenon which had wiped away the Master's grin of pure happiness.
Any man may fall into the water, and may present a most ludicrous spectacle in doing so. But, on the instant he comes to the surface, his very first motions will show whether or not he is a swimmer. It had not occurred to the Master that anyone reared in the North Jersey lake-country should not have at least enough knowledge of swimming to carry him a few yards. But, even as many sailors cannot swim a stroke, so many an inlander, born and brought up within sight of fresh water, has never taken the trouble to grasp the simplest rudiments of natation. And such a man, very evidently, was Homer Wefers, Township Head Constable.
His howl of crass panic was not needed to prove this to the Master. His every wild antic showed it. But that same terror-stricken screech was required to set forth the true situation to the one member of the trio who had learned from birth to judge by sound and by scent, rather than by mere sight.
With no good grace, the Master yanked off his own coat and waistcoat, and bent to unstrap his hiking boots. He did not relish the prospect of a wetting, for the mere sake of saving from death this atrocious trespasser. He knew the man could probably keep afloat for at least a minute longer. And he was not minded to shorten the period of fear by ripping off his own outer garments with any melodramatic haste.
As he undid the first boot-latchet, he felt the Mistress's tense fingers on his shoulder.
"Wait!" she exhorted
Astounded at this cold-blooded counsel from his tender-hearted wife, he looked up, and followed the direction of her eagerly pointing hand.
"Look!" she was exulting. "It'll all solve itself! See if it doesn't. Look! He can't shoot Laddie, after—after—"
The Master was barely in time to see Lad swirl along the dock with express-train speed and spring far out into the lake.
The dog struck water, a bare ten inches from Wefers' madly tossing head. The constable, in his crazy panic, flung both bony arms about the dog. And, man and collie together disappeared under the surface, in a swirl of churned foam.
The Mistress cried aloud, at this hideous turn her pretty plan had taken. The Master, one shoe off and one shoe on, hobbled at top pace toward the dock.
As he reached the foot of the lawn, Lad's head and shoulders came into view above the little whirlpool caused by the sinking bodies' suction. And, at the same moment, the convulsed features of Homer Wefers showed through the eddy. The man was thrashing and twisting in a way that turned the lake around him into a white maelstrom.
As the Master set foot on the dock he saw the Collie rush forward with an impetus that sent both shaggy mahogany shoulders far out of water. Striking with brilliant accuracy, the dog avoided Wefers' flailing arms and feet, and clinched his strong teeth into the back of the drowning man's collar.
Thus, Lad was safe from the blindly clinging arms and from a kick. He had chosen the one strategic hold; and he maintained it. A splashing of the unwieldy body made both heads vanish under water, for a bare half-second, as the Master poised himself on the string-piece for a dive. But the dive was not made.
For the heads reappeared. And now, whether from palsy of fright or from belated intelligence,—Wefers ceased his useless struggles; though not his strangled shrieks for help. The collie, calling on all his wiry power, struck out for the dock; keeping the man's face above water, and tugging at his soggy weight with a scientific strength that sent the two, slowly but steadily, shoreward.
After the few feet of the haul, Wefers went silent. Into his blankly affrighted face came a look of foolish bewilderment. The Master, remembering his wife's hint, and certain now of Lad's ability to complete the rescue, stood waiting on the string-piece. Once, for a second, Wefers' eyes met his; but they were averted in queer haste.
As Lad tugged his burden beneath the stringpiece, the Master bent down and gripped the sodden wet shoulders of the constable. One none-too-gentle heave, and Wefers was lying in a panting and dripping heap on the clean dock. Lad, relieved of his heavy load, swam leisurely around to shore. It had been a delightfully thrilling day, thus far, for the collie. But he was just a bit tired.
By the time the dazed constable was able to sit up and peer owlishly into the unloving faces of the Mistress and the Master, Lad had shaken himself thrice and was pattering across the dock toward the group. From the two humans, Wefers' gaze shifted to the oncoming dog. Then he glanced back at the sullen depths of lake water beyond the string-piece. Then he let his head sink on his chest. For perhaps a whole minute, he sat thus; his eyes shut, his breath still fast and hysterical.
Nobody spoke. The Mistress looked down at the drenched man. Then she winked at the equally silent Master, and laid a caressing little hand on Lad's wet head. At length, Wefers lifted his face and glowered at the trio. But, as his eye met Lad's quizzically interested gaze, he fidgeted.
"Well?" prompted the Master, "do you want those cartridges back?"
Wefers favored him with a scowl of utter dislike. Then, his eyes again averted, the wet man mumbled:
"I come over here today, to do my dooty.—Dogs that get bit by mad dogs had ought to be shot.—I come over here to do my dooty. Likewise, I done it.—I shot that dog of yours that got bit, yest'day."
"Huh?" ejaculated the Master.
"This dog here looks some like him," went on Wefers, sulkily. "But it ain't him. And I'll so report to the author'ties.—I done what I come to do. The case is closed. And-and-if you folks ever want to sell your dog, why,—well, I'll just go mortgage something and—and buy him off'n you!"
CHAPTER III. No Trespassing!
There were four of them; two gaudily-clad damsels and two men. The men, in their own way, were attired as gloriously as the maidens they were escorting. The quartet added generously to the glowing beauty of the summer day.
Down the lake they came, in a canoe modestly scarlet except for a single broad purple stripe under the gunwale. The canoe's tones blended sweetly with the pink parasol and blue picture hat of one of the women.
Stolid and unshaven fishermen, in drab scows, along the canoe's route, looked up from their lines, in bovine wonder at the vision of loveliness which swept resonantly past them. For the quartet were warbling. They were also doing queer musical stunts which are fondly miscalled "close harmony."
Thus do they and their kind pay homage to a divine day on a fire-blue lake, amid the hush of the eternal hills. Lesser souls may find themselves speaking in few and low-pitched words, under the holy spell of such surroundings. But to loftier types of holiday-seekers, the benignant silences of the wilderness are put there by an all-wise Providence for the purpose of being fractured by any racket denoting care-free merriment;—the louder the merrier. There is nothing so racket-breeding as a perfect day amid perfect scenery.
The four revelers had paddled down into the lake, on a day's picnicking. They had come from far up the Ramapo river; beyond Suffern. And the long downstream jaunt had made them hungry. Wherefore, as they reached mid-lakes they began to inspect the wooded shores for an attractive luncheon-site. And they found what they sought.
A half-mile to southward, a gently rolling point of land pushed out into the lake. It was smooth-shaven and emerald-bright. It formed the lower end of a lawn; sloping gently downward, a hundred yards or more, from a gray old house which nestled happily among mighty oaks on a plateau at the low hill's summit.
The point (with its patch of beach-sand at the water's edge, and with comfortable shade from a lakeside tree or so), promised an ideal picnic-ground. The shaven grass not only offered fine possibilities for an after-luncheon snooze; but was the most convenient sort of place for the later strewing of greasy newspapers and Japanese napkins and wooden platters and crusts and chicken bones and the like.
Moreover, a severely plain "No Trespass" sign, at the lake-margin, would serve as ideal kindling for a jolly little camp-fire. There is always a zest in using trespass boards for picnic fires. Not only are they seasoned and painted in a way to cause quick ignition, but people laugh so appreciatively, when one tells, afterward, of the bit of jovial audacity.
Yes, this point was just the place for luncheon and for siesta. It might have been made to order. And by tacit consent the two paddlers sent their multi-chrome canoe sweeping toward it. Five minutes later, they had helped the girls ashore and were lifting out the lunch-basket and various newspaper parcels and the red-and-purple cushions.
With much laughter and a snatch or two of close harmony, the lunch was spread. One of the men picked out a place for the fire (against the trunk of a two-century oak; perhaps the millionth noble old tree to be threatened thus with death from care-free picnickers' fires) and the other man sauntered across to the trespass board to annex it for kindling.
Everything was so happy and so complete and everyone was having such a perfect time! Into such moments Fate loves best to toss Trouble. And, this day, Fate played true to form.
As the fire-maker's hand was laid on the trespass board, even as his inconsequential muscles were braced to rip it loose from its post,—a squeal from the girl in the blue picture hat and the Nile-green georgette waist, checked his mirthful activities.
Now, there was nothing remarkable in the fact that the chromatic lass had squealed. Indeed, she and her equally fair companion had been squealing at intervals, all morning. But there was nothing coquettish or gay about this particular squeal. It savored rather of a screech. In its shrill note was a tiny thread of terror. And the two men wheeled about, to look.
The blue-hatted girl had paused in her dainty labor of helping to spread out the lunch; in order to peep inquisitively up the slope toward the tree-framed house above. It might be fun, after eating, to stroll up there and squint in through the veranda windows; or,—if no one was at home, to gather an armful of the roses that clambered over one end of the porch.
During that brief exploratory glance, her eye had been caught by something moving through the woods beyond.
Behind the house, these woods ran up to the highroad, a furlong above. A driveway led twistingly down from the gate-lodge, to the house. Along this drive, was pacing a dog.
As the girl caught sight of him, the dog halted in his lazy stroll and stood eagerly erect, his nose upraised, his tulip ears pricked. Sound or scent, or both, had been arrested by some unusual presence. And he paused to verify the warning.
As he stood there, an instant, in the shade-flecked driveway, the girl saw he was a collie; massive, graceful, majestic; in the full strength of his early prime; his shaggy coat of burnished mahogany-and-snow glinting back the showers of sun-rays that filtered down through the leaves.
Before the watching girl could take further note of him, the dog's aspect of tense listening merged into certainty. With no further shadow of doubt as to direction, he set off at a sweeping run past the house and toward the point.
He ran with head down; and with tawny ruff abristle. There was something in his lithe gallop that was as ominous as it was beautiful. And, nervous at the great collie's approach, the girl squealed.
It had been a dull morning for Lad. The Mistress was in town for the day. The Master was shut up in his study, hard at work. And, for once, he had not remembered to call Lad to a resting place on the study rug; before closing the door on the outside world. Alone and bored, the collie had wandered into the woods; in quest of possible rabbits to chase or squirrels to tree. Finding the sport tame, he started homeward. Midway down the drive, his supersensitive nostrils caught the whiff of alien humans on the Place. At the same time, he heard the raucous gabbling of several voices. Though his near-sighted eyes did not yet show the intruders to him, yet scent and sound made it ridiculously easy for him to trace them.
From early puppyhood, Lad had been the official guardian of the Place. He knew the limits of its thirty acres; from lake to highroad; from boundary fence to boundary fence. He knew, too, that visitors must not be molested as long as they were on the driveway; but that no stranger might be allowed to cross the land, by any other route; or to trespass on lawn or oak-grove.
And now, apparently, strangers were holding some sort of unlicensed revelry, down on the point. His sense of smell told him that neither the Master nor anyone else belonging to the Place was with them. True watchdog indignation swelled up in Lad's heart. And he ran at top speed.
The girl's three companions, turning at sight of her gesturing hand, beheld a mahogany-and-white thunderbolt whizzing down the hundred-yard slope toward them.
It chanced that both the men had served long apprenticeship as dog-fanciers; and that both of them knew collies. Thus, no second look was needed. One glimpse of the silently charging Lad told them all they needed to know. Not in this way does a blatant or bluffing watchdog seek to shoo off trespassers. This giant collie, with his lowered head and glinting fangs and ruffling hackles, meant business. And the men acted accordingly.
"Run for it!" bellowed one of them; setting a splendid example by reaching the beached canoe at a single scrambling bound. The second man was no whit behind him. Between them, the canoe, at one shove, was launched. The first man grabbed one of the girls by the arm and propelled her into the wobbling craft; while the other shoved off. The remaining girl,—she of the azure headgear and the verdant waist,—slipped on the grassy bank, in her flight, and sat down very hard, at the water's edge. Already the canoe was six feet from shore; and both men were doing creditable acrobatic stunts to keep it from turning turtle.
"Stand perfec'ly still," one of them exhorted the damsel, as he saw with horror that she had been left ashore in the tumbling flight. "Stand still and don't holler! Keep your hands high. It's likely he won't bother you. These highbred collies are pretty gentle with women; but some of 'em are blue murder to strange men. He—"
The man swayed for balance. His fellow-hero had brought the canoe about, in an effort to smite with uplifted paddle at the oncoming dog without venturing too close to the danger-line.
In the same moment, Lad had gained the brink of the lake. Ignoring the panic-struck woman on the bank, he flashed past her and galloped, body-deep, into the water; toward the swaying canoe.
Here he paused. For Lad was anything but a fool. And, like other wise collies, he had sense enough to realize that a swimming dog is one of the most helpless creatures in the universe; when it comes to self-defense.