Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Frank of Freedom Hill
Author: Derieux, Samuel A. (Samuel Arthur), 1881-1922
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Frank of Freedom Hill" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



FRANK OF FREEDOM HILL


BY
SAMUEL A. DERIEUX


[Illustration: Publisher's logo]


WITH A FRONTISPIECE IN COLOUR


GARDEN CITY NEW YORK
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
1922


[Illustration: _Old Frank and Tommy_]


COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF TRANSLATION
INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN

COPYRIGHT, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921, BY THE CROWELL COMPANY

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES AT
THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.



TO

DR. BLANCHE COLTON WILLIAMS

WHO BELIEVED I COULD WRITE



CONTENTS


                                                 PAGE

   I. THE DESTINY OF DAN VI                         1

  II. PARADISE REGAINED                            28

 III. THE BOLTER                                   51

  IV. OLD FRANK SEES IT THROUGH                    74

   V. AN ACT OF GOD                               100

  VI. COMET                                       122

 VII. THE CRISIS IN 25                            147

VIII. THE TRIAL IN TOM BELCHER'S STORE            167

  IX. THE PURSUIT                                 194

   X. THE LITTLE BOY IN THE BLACKBERRY PATCH      219

  XI. BLOOD MONEY                                 245

 XII. THE CALL OF HOME                            266



FRANK OF FREEDOM HILL



I

THE DESTINY OF DAN VI


The baggageman slid open the side door of the car. With a rattle of his
chain Dan sprang to his feet. A big red Irish setter was Dan, of his
breed sixth, and most superb, his colour wavy-bronze, his head erect and
noble, his eyes eloquent with that upward-looking appeal of hunting dog
to hunting man.

Cold, pine-laden air deluged the heated car and chilled his quivering
nose and swelled his heaving chest. Beyond the baggageman he saw through
the open door, as on a moving-picture screen, sunlit fields and sunlit
woods whirling past. He began to bark at them eagerly, his eyes hungry,
his tail beating against the taut chain an excited tattoo. The
baggageman turned with a grin.

"Birds?" he said.

At the word the dog reared straight up like a maddened horse.
Full-throated angry barks, interspersed with sharp, querulous yaps,
filled his roaring, swaying prison. How long since he had got so much
as a whiff of untainted air, or a glimpse of wild fields and woods! Out
there oceans of such air filled all the space between the gliding earth
and the sky. Out there miles on miles of freedom were rushing forever
out of his life. He began to rage, to froth at the mouth. The baggageman
closed the door.

"Hard, old scout!" The baggageman shook his head.

Resignedly the dog sank on his belly, his long body throbbing, his nose
between his paws. A deep sigh puffed a little cloud of dust from the
slatted floor.

Three years before he had opened his amazed puppy eyes on this man (and
woman) ruled planet. An agreeable place of abode he had found it as long
as he was owned by a man. The Jersey kennels of George Devant had bred
him; Devant had himself overlooked his first season's training, had
hunted him a few times. At Devant's untimely death, Mrs. Devant had sold
the place, the kennels, the mounts. But when, followed by a group of
purchasing sportsmen, the widow came to the kennel where he waited at
the end of his chain, she had clasped her hands together and cried out:

"I won't sell this one!"

Lancaster, bachelor friend of the late Devant, spoke up:

"Why, I had _my_ eyes on him."

"You won't get him," she laughed. "He'll live with me--won't you,
beauty?"

"He's not a lap dog," Lancaster had reminded her.

"Don't you suppose _I_ understand him?" she demanded.

Understand him? What did the woman know of a bird dog's soul? The most
intolerable of burdens is kindness where no understanding is. To Mrs.
Devant it never occurred, even remotely, that her Riverside Drive
apartment was a prison. She never dreamed why it was that on their
afternoon walks the dog, straining at his leash, kept his hungry eyes
fastened always on the cliffs across the Hudson. When they returned, as
she pulled off her wraps, she would look down at him.

"I know," she would say; "you are trying to tell me you love me!"

Courteously he would wag his tail. Futilely, out of upraised, gently
brave eyes he would plead for freedom--from a woman who did not know,
and could not understand.

Then Lancaster, a frequent caller at the apartment of Mrs. Devant, had
borrowed him. That morning Lancaster himself had put him aboard this
train. "The trip," Lancaster had said, "will be easier if we don't crate
him." All day he had known he was being hurled away. Was another grimy
wilderness of brick his destination? Had the baggageman closed the door
forever on all he loved in the world?

The train slowed up, stopped. The baggageman opened the door and
dropped to the ground. They were in the country and the sun had set.
Through the door the dog looked across a dusky field to a black horizon
of forest. Above this forest flamed a scarlet glow. Something far in its
depths called him, and he plunged against the chain.

He was jerked back, choking, the glow out yonder reflected in his
desperate eyes. He backed against the wall, took a running start, and
plunged again. The breaking of his collar hurled him against a trunk on
the other side of the car, dazed and confused.

A sharp approaching whistle, an ever-loudening roar in that brooding
silence out there aroused him to a sense of his surroundings. A
telegraph pole that had stood black athwart the glow began to move
backward. The silhouette of the baggageman rose in the doorway. The dog
gathered himself together and leaped. He landed on shining rails, in
front of a blinding headlight; the pilot just missed him as he sprang
out of the way. A northbound passenger train roared past. From the other
train two sharp whistles, the screeching of brakes, and a shout. For a
moment he stood on the slight embankment, his ears thrown defiantly
back. Then he turned, and with great lung-filling leaps bounded toward
the glow in the west.

It was dark in the woods when he stopped and lapped loud and long of
icy running water. An alarmed owl went flopping heavily away under the
low-growing branches. Underneath this embodied spirit of night galloped
the dog, filling the woods with barks, leaping high into the air, his
teeth snapping and clicking like castanets. In the edge of a straw field
looked down upon by stars he rushed a covey on the roost. One struck
against a tree and came chirping down. Dan leaped upon him. His hunger
satisfied, he tramped a pile of leaves into a bed, and slept.

At sunrise he chased an early rabbit into an impenetrable,
frost-incrusted brier patch. He rushed another covey, that flew away
like the wind. He sat down on his haunches and with ears erect watched
the distant, whirling specks scatter into the woods. He was helpless in
the daylight without man and gun. He remembered a white-tiled butcher
shop on upper Broadway, and licked his chops at the recollection.

At midday, a hungry tramp, he approached a farmhouse. A big shepherd dog
met him. When the fierce mix-up was over, and the shepherd had
retreated, Dan carried in his shoulder a long, deep cut. Impelled by the
gnawing in his stomach, he limped toward a log cabin. A troop of black
children ran screaming at sight of him, and a black man burst out of the
cabin door with a gun. As he turned and bounded away, a shot stung his
rump, and others hummed around him. He made for the woods, a pack of
yelping curs on his trail.

From this time he avoided the habitations and highways of man, keeping
to the woods and streams, turning reluctantly aside at the smell of a
human being. Now and then he picked up a stray chicken; twice he fought
inquisitive hounds; always his nose pointed like a compass toward the
place where the sun set. He no longer resembled the dog that had graced
the canine parade on Riverside Drive. He was gaunt, torn, caked with
mud. His proud tail followed the curve of his haunches; he carried his
head low to the ground; in his eyes gleamed hunger and outlawry. Freedom
had exacted its price.

Near the close of the third day there was borne on the slight wind the
smell of a man. Toward it he cautiously slunk, in his heart a desperate,
gnawing loneliness. A masterless dog is like a godless man: there is no
motivation sufficient for his struggles and achievements. If the dog had
been full of meat, if a mate had trotted beside him, still he would have
hungered for the countenance and voice of a master.

Suddenly he sank to the ground and looked keenly ahead. A young human
three feet high, bare and frowsy of head, stood alone in the woods. His
body was shaken by dry sobs, as if the tear supply had long since been
exhausted. Now and then he looked fearfully around at the darkening
shadows. Plainly, he was lost; plainly, he needed protection. Therefore
the big dog advanced with ingratiating tail.

The man-child shrieked, turned, and ran, his terrified red face turned
over his shoulder. He tripped, fell headlong, scrambled to his feet,
picked up a stick, and faced about like a little cave man. The dog still
advanced wagging his tail, throwing his ears far back, crawling
contritely on his belly, begging in every way he could beg to be allowed
to serve this offspring of a man.

The pantomime won. The boy dropped his stick. The dog went to him and
gazed longingly into the tear-reddened eyes. Humbly he licked the chubby
hands, then the tear-soaked face. The boy smiled with a dawn of trust,
put his hand testingly on the shaggy head, then round his neck. The dog
sank to his haunches, his tail stirring the leaves. The boy gave a
convulsive hug. Dan VI knew that his wanderings were over.

Far the child must have wandered from home, and suffered much, for,
terror removed, he curled up in the leaves and fell asleep, the dog's
warm body curled up beside. Suddenly Dan sprang up. From the sunset came
the ringing of a bell. Perhaps this bell called this lost boy. Dan sat
on his haunches, elevated his nose like an aircraft gun, and began to
bay.

For an hour he answered the bell. Then there came through the woods the
crash of running footsteps, and a young man burst into view, his
clean-shaven face drawn and anxious. He stooped, picked the boy up,
felt his arms and legs, laughed out loud. He lifted the boy to a broad
shoulder and started for the bell.

"Come along," he said to the dog.

The bell was still ringing when they came in sight of a big house set on
a high hill, with oak trees in the yard and barns behind. The man
shouted; the bell ceased; a slender young woman came running toward
them, followed by a fat old black woman who waddled as she ran. The
young woman snatched the boy from the man's shoulder, and Dan knew from
the crooning noises she made that she was his mother. Not until they
were within a spacious fire-ruddied room did she notice the dog. She set
the boy wonderingly down.

"Where did he come from?" she gasped.

The man laughed. "From Mars, I guess. He guided me to Tommy."

"Oh--you beauty! You wonder!" She stooped suddenly and caught the big
head between her hands. Her eyes were bright and soft. "You noble, noble
dog!"

Dan drew back. Why all this feminine fuss? Self-consciously he dropped
his tail, imploringly he looked up at the man. The man understood. He
poked the dog with his foot, and Dan started back with a mock snarl.
Embarrassment vanished, equilibrium was established, they were placed at
once on that footing of good-fellowship so necessary in the highest
relations of man and man and man and dog.

"Sob stuff," laughed the man, "rattles him."

"Do you think we can keep him, Steve?" the woman pleaded.

"Of course."

"But suppose his owners come after him!"

"I tell you, Marian, he dropped from Mars. I know every bird dog fifty
miles around. There's no such breed in _this_ country. One minute."

He crossed the floor to a closet. When he turned he held in his hand a
gun.

At the sight the dog leaped up into the man's laughing face. He ran
round and round the room, his eyes brilliant, his nose quivering. The
man put the gun away.

"To-morrow," he said significantly.

They named him Frank. In a week his old life was a memory, a disturbed
memory, though, such as sometimes lingers after a grotesque dream. He
had awakened, as it were, into a new world, a new and glorious life.
From the porch of the old homestead--it sat on a hill that commanded an
extensive view--he saw in maplike demarcations fields and woods and
bottoms, like those that had rushed past in the dream, lying still and
silent beneath him in sunlit reality.

His bondage was over. He came and went at will. He had his place by the
fire when the night was cold. The strained, restless look left his eyes,
and there was peace in his heart. Earle saw and understood.

"You haven't always been this way, have you, old man?" he asked. "I
guess this is Freedom Hill for you, all right."

Frank did not know--being only a dog--the story that lay back of the
name: the story that Earle's great-grandfather on the morning the old
columned house was completed had summoned the slaves to the porch and
given each his freedom.

"There will be no bondage here," he had said.

Dog and master took long hunts through the fair country that stretched
away in blue undulations to the mountains. They returned at dusk, Earle
with bulging game pockets, gun stuck under his arm, the setter trotting
at his heels. They learned to know each other intimately, to respect
each other's ability.

"One in a million, that dog," was Earle's verdict.

A sense of power, of superabundant life, of fulfilment tingled in his
nerves and bones during these hunts. What joy came with the knowledge
that his nose was growing keener, his judgment more profound! What added
joy that his master knew--his master, stern and unrelenting when he was
careless, generous with praise when he did well.

He developed fine scorn for visiting huntsmen who missed frequent
shots--old Squire Kirby and John Davis, neighbours; sportsmen from afar,
drawn to Breton Junction by the field trials held every year. How his
master towered above them! How well he knew the crack of his master's
gun! How well he knew there was a bird to retrieve when it spoke. He
welcomed competition with man and dog. His nose like his master's gun
was peerless in the field.

But hunting did not fill his life--there were idle days when he
sauntered about at will. There was his sunny spot near the big rock
chimney on the southern side of the house. There was his box underneath
the back porch, filled always with clean straw, into which he could
crawl on bleak days and listen to the rain spouting from the gutters and
to the wind mourning around the corners.

Every shrub in the yard, every ancient oak, the wide-halled barn, the
cribs filled with corn, the woodshed boarded up on the west, the
blacksmith shop where Earle repaired the tools, all took on the intimate
kindliness of home. He grew to be a privileged character with the very
animals on the place. He took his privileges as his due, even treating
with amused condescension the fat black woman in the kitchen, who fussed
and spluttered like her frying pans when he entered, but who never drove
him out.

No living creature, however, not even a well-used bird dog, knows
perfect peace. With the close of the hunting season, Tommy Earle, whom
he had found in the woods, took him boisterously in hand. It was a
season when a hard-worked bird dog stretches himself out to the lazy
warmth of the sun, and pads with flesh his uncomfortably lean, hard
muscles.

The persecution began a little timidly, for even Tommy could not be
insensible to the latent power of those muscles and fangs. But when no
punishment followed, it increased until there was no rest in the yard
for the dog. He had never been accustomed to children. It galled him to
be straddled as if he were a hobby horse; it reflected on his dignity to
be yanked about by the ears and turned round by the tail. He realized
that viciousness played no part in the annoyances, the demand was simply
that he metamorphose himself into a boon companion. This he steadfastly
refused to do.

Many times--his nose was on a level with Tommy's frowsy head--he looked
sternly, even menacingly, into those irresponsibly bright blue eyes, but
with no effect whatever. There were other times when the red Irish
flared up, and he sprang back, strongly tempted to snap and snap hard.
But always he reflected that master and mistress set a high valuation on
the little biped. And Frank would have been a gentleman if he hadn't
been a dog.

Self-control embitters a small spirit--it ennobles a large one. His
forbearance was not without its reward. He found himself, partly through
the virtue of necessity, growing indulgent. On that lonely plantation
what outlet did the child have for his playmania? The dog remembered
that in a former kennel life a puppy had incessantly chewed his ears.
Perhaps he had been that way himself--all young animals are. And what
was this creature, in spite of the fact that he ran upright instead of
on all fours, and wore small overalls made for him by his mother, what
was he but an active young animal?

Then instinct told him that on occasion Tommy would be loyal to the
death. This was evidenced by the fact that Tommy once savagely fought a
visiting boy who threw a stone into his box. Again, when enticed by the
wanderlust of spring, he was gone three days, it was Tommy who, like the
prodigal's father, spied him from afar and came running down the lane to
welcome him eagerly home.

"No wonder he ran off," said Earle. "You worry him to death!"

Tommy looked up, past the belt, along the soft shirt, to the face bent
down upon him like a disapproving providence. When he turned his eyes on
the dog, there was wonderment in them as if perhaps the truth were
dawning. Certainly for days he followed the dog around, plainly
apprehensive that he would run off again. And Frank, far more ready to
forget grievances than to remember them, began to watch him in his
incessant play, even to take part on occasion.

Spring passed, summer came, and Earle was a busy man on the farm. The
dog either followed him to the field, or sauntered about the yard with
lolling tongue. He grew stouter, his coat glossier, his muscles more
stanch. He grew sedate, too, like a gentleman of broad estates. More and
more his face bore that stamp of magnanimity that comes only to noble
breeds.

So things might have gone to the end, and Earle declared he dropped in
from Mars, and Marian contended that he was sent to find her boy, and
Tommy cared not where he came from so he was there. So things might have
gone if Frank had not followed the buggy to Breton Junction.

For two weeks previous he had been growing restless. Long, cold nights,
frosty mornings, gaudy colours here and there in the woods, a haze as of
burning brush in the air--all these pointed to one conclusion: another
hunting season was rolling majestically around. On the very night
previous Earle had oiled the gun, Marian had patched the old hunting
coat, Tommy had smeared the hunting boots with grease, and Frank had
been let in to the fire to witness the performance.

He had never been allowed to follow the buggy to Breton. "It corrupts
the morals of a dog to loaf around a railroad station," Earle had always
said. But this morning he stole secretly after the buggy, and trotted
under the rear axle unobserved by Earle and Tommy. A mile down the road
he thought it safe to show himself. He ran eagerly around the buggy, as
if he had suddenly conceived the idea of going with them, had just
overtaken them, and had no doubt whatever of his welcome.

"Go back!" ordered Earle.

He stopped, ears thrown back, with that banal expression on his face of
a dog pretending not to understand. The histrionic excellence of the
performance was not lost on Tommy, who laughed out loud.

"Let him go, Popper."

"All right--you rascal!"

Frank ran ahead, barking up into the blazed face of the sorrel. Five
miles farther from the crest of a hill they looked down on the village
of Breton Junction, with the squat, sunlit roof of the station in the
middle--box cars grouped about, semaphore above, and long lines of
telegraph poles that came from out the south and disappeared into the
north--one of those small centres in a vast nerve system that controls
the activities of a continent.

At sight of station and box cars, at the sound of a freight engine
hissing lazily, Frank came back to the buggy and looked up inquiringly
into the faces of man and boy. When at a store awning Earle tied the
horse, he followed close at their heels, confidence suddenly gone out of
him. Association and instinct stirred vague recollections of a former
life. Whence came that hissing engine? Where led those long flashing
rails that disappeared into the blue of distant hills?

In a littered room, heated by a pot-bellied stove, with an instrument
on a table that rattled monotonously like a mechanical species of
cricket, a man handed Earle a crate of shotgun shells. Then twinkling,
he looked down at the wide-eyed boy and the big red dog who stuck close
to the boy.

"Steve, which do you think most of? Dog or boy?"

Earle laughed. "Hard to tell, Bill. On the whole, Tommy takes
precedence."

"Ever find out where the dog came from?"

"No; and that's not all, Bill--I don't want to. All right, young man,
let's get back home."

Frank sprang out of the door and ran for the buggy. His fears had
vanished with the turning of his back on this reminder of things past.
But when Earle and Tommy did not follow, he came dejectedly back. Tommy
wanted to wait and see the train; he had never seen but one, he
pleaded--that was a "fate" train. Far down the track a fateful whistle
blew. Above them, the semaphore dropped with a clang.

"Come, F'ank!" shouted Tommy, dancing with excitement.

On the platform the boy took firm hold of providence as represented by
Steve Earle's big forefinger with one hand and clutched the dog's mane
with the other, lest the "suction" all children fear draw him under the
grinding wheels. He felt the solid earth under his feet tremble as the
great hissing engine rolled between him and the sun, the rod rising and
falling on the terrible wheels, the engineer high above in a window.
Then the long black baggage car--and in the door a man in a cap, who
looked at them with open mouth as if he knew suddenly who they were. As
the train stopped, the baggageman jumped to the ground and came running
back to Earle, all out of breath.

"That your dog?" he demanded.

"Sure, he's my dog!"

"Where'd you get him?"

The wrinkles in the corner of Earle's eye came close together.

"Is that any of your affair?"

But the baggageman smiled ingratiatingly, like a man who wanted to be
friends.

"Tell you why I ask," he explained. "I lost that dog on my old run with
the Coast Line. Owners sued the road. Road came back on me--said I had
no business accepting him without a crate. Had to hunt a new job----"

"Oh, come off!" interrupted Earle. "The Coast Line's a hundred miles
east."

"Can't help it. That's the dog. Watch him. Commere--Commere, Dan. See?
Knows me. Ever see the beat of that? I'm sorry, mister--but--if you
don't mind--what's your name and address?"

Earle had turned, and was looking at the dog under the truck. Then
without a word he gave his name. The baggageman wrote it hastily in a
notebook. The bell began to ring. The baggageman started away running.

"That's what I call white, Mr. Earle!" he called as he swung aboard,
waving his hand back at them like a man unaccountably happy and
relieved.

Earle looked down. Tommy noticed that his mouth was grim.

"Come, son," he said.

Tommy looked at the dog with fear and with mute apology. In his heart
was hatred of that baggageman, and vain, vain regret that he had ever
come to Breton Junction to see the train. All the way home the dog
trotted under the axle of the buggy. In the days that followed a far
less sagacious dog than he would have sensed the anxiety that disturbed
the homestead on the hill to which his destiny had led him.

There was nothing particularly extraordinary about a buggy turning in
from the main road and coming up the long hill toward the house. Frank,
basking in the morning sun, kept his eyes on it merely out of curiosity.
But as it drew closer he rose slowly to his feet, his ears erect.
Unreasoning antipathy to the couple in it raised his hair in a long tuft
down his back. He withdrew toward the barn, his head over his shoulder,
the sun glistening on his coat of silk.

"There he is!" cried Lancaster.

"Dan--Dan!" shrilled the woman.

The man jumped out of the buggy, lifted her to the ground, and both
hurried toward him, smiling like old friends eager to be recognized. The
woman extended her hand.

"Dan!" she coaxed.

He drew away toward the barn, his tail wagging sheepishly, mollified by
their friendliness, wishing he could extend to them the welcome of the
hill--but afraid of them and of what they represented. Steve Earle
hurried out of the house, followed by Marian and Tommy, who held his
mother's hand. They all shook hands--all but Tommy, who withdrew from
the group with a frightened glance at the dog. Then Earle and Lancaster
came toward him, Lancaster talking.

"We received notice from the railroad," he was saying, "and as Mrs.
Lancaster and I were on our way to Florida, we thought we would stop
over and make sure. The railroad has never met our claim." He laughed.
"You know how a railroad is."

"Is that the dog?" demanded Earle.

"Oh, yes--undoubtedly."

Earle stopped. "Come, Frank," he ordered.

Frank hesitated, still wagging his tail. Smiling, Lancaster took a step
toward him. A wolfish gleam came into the dog's eyes. He threw his head
up like a wild horse. Lancaster took another step forward. He turned
and bounded across the field, down the hill to the woods.

All day long he remained in the woods, gold with autumn, brilliant with
many coloured leaves that sifted slowly to the ground and flashed for a
moment transparent as they crossed the shafts of sunlight. The bell at
the house tolled. The gun shot again and again. But not until late at
night did he venture cautiously back, stopping in shadows like a big red
fox come to rob the chicken roost.

He trailed the buggy off to the main road and toward Breton Junction. He
returned to find his supper waiting on the back steps. Profoundly
grateful, he crawled into his box. But at daybreak Earle came out,
fastened a collar round his neck, led him by a chain to the corner of
the front porch, and there fastened him. The cook brought him his
breakfast.

It was his last meal there, she declared bluntly. That rich man and his
wife were going to take him. They had spent the night at Breton
Junction. They would be back directly. He had too much sense for a dog,
anyhow. He made her feel spooky. She laughed. She was a big, bluff black
woman. To her a dog was a dog.

Frank ran his nose over the food, but his stomach revolted. He shivered
with cold and fear. Down the hill he watched the morning mists lift from
the maplike demarcation of field and wood, revealing the rich pageantry
of an autumn morning. He knew every spot that birds frequented in all
that gorgeous country.

In the living room above him he could hear Earle poking the fire. He
could hear the low mumble of his voice, the soft treble of Marian's.
They avoided him now as if he were a plague. He did not try to make it
out. His master was providence. He could not question the decrees of
providence, but he would circumvent them if he could. Once he had broken
a collar. He began to plunge, but was jerked back, coughing and choking.
He lay down, and with his paws tried to pull the collar over his head.
Worn out at last, he crawled underneath the house.

Then came a guarded tap-rap down the front steps. From under the porch
he saw blue overalls and stubby shoes. They hugged the porch, they made
their way toward him. Then Tommy squatted down and peered with solemn
face into the shadow.

"F'ank," he whispered fearfully.

The dog went to him and licked the chubby hands and the soft cheek, as
he had licked them that first day. With a secret look all about, Tommy
began to work with the fastening of the chain, his tongue poking through
his lips and wiggling. The spring was strong, the thumb that pressed
feeble, numb with cold. Once it clicked, and Tommy bit down on his
tongue, and the dog sprang forward. The fastening caught, the boy
gasped--then frantically began to press.

"What're you doing there?"

He dropped the chain; both conspirators looked up with a jerk. Earle's
face was poked over the banisters above them.

"Nuffin!" The lie was shiveringly spoken.

"Come in the house, sir."

The mother came out and caught the boy by the hand. Her face was
distressed. She cast a pitying look at the dog; then she pulled his
would-be rescuer away.

"Ain't he our dog?" pleaded Tommy.

"No, dearest, he belongs to Mrs. Lancaster."

"Well, I can take him a jink of water, can't I?"

"He doesn't want any water."

The dog heard the little shoes hit each step twice. Of all the
depressing signs of that depressing morning, the last protesting wail as
the front door smothered it was the most ominous. Defeated, humbled, the
dog slunk back underneath the porch.

But at sight of the hated buggy, he plunged and charged, frothing like a
mad dog, running backward, trying to jerk the collar over his head,
rolling over and over in his frantic struggles. Not until people were
grouped above him did he grow quiet. Then when his former mistress
stooped down and petted him, he begged her with his eyes as he had
begged her in that other life, and knew, as he had known then, that she
did not understand.

"I wonder what's the matter with him?" she said.

"It's plain enough what's the matter," replied Lancaster.

"Would you sell him?" asked Earle eagerly.

She straightened up. "No, indeed; we would not think of that."

"Then," said Earle wearily, "suppose we go in to the fire. You have a
couple of hours to wait."

But he and Lancaster lingered near the porch while the women went into
the house.

"I've just learned," Lancaster was saying, "that this is the plantation
where the field trials are run. Have you thought of entering Dan?"

"No," said Earle. "Frank's an old-fashioned shooting dog. The greatest
one I ever saw. He doesn't seem to have had field trial training."

Lancaster laughed. "Between you and me, until he came out here, most of
his training was designed to fit him for a lap dog."

They went into the house, still talking.

The dog heard chairs dragged across the living-room floor. He slunk
again underneath the porch. Then he heard a scraping sound behind him,
and turned quickly about with pricked ears. Under the house, from the
direction of the kitchen, Tommy Earle was crawling toward him on hands
and knees.

The boy lost no time. He sat up straddle-legged like a tailor, and
pulled the dog's head on his knee. Frank's eyes were green with
excitement, foam rose from his bruised throat, his tail beat a tattoo on
the dried dust.

First the boy attempted to unfasten the collar, but the leather was
stiff, the buckle rusty. Then he tried to press the spring in. Once,
like a dumpy animal, he crawled away. But he came back with a brickbat
and hammered like a blacksmith at the spring. Then he bent over, caught
the fastening savagely in his teeth, and gritted down. A sobbing intake
of breath announced failure.

Time, precious time, was passing. People somewhere in the house were
growing restless. The dog felt his self-control slipping in a mad desire
to plunge at the chain. He started to rise, but the boy caught him
angrily by the ear and jerked his head back into place. Chairs were
pushed back in the living room. Down the back steps came a rapid,
clumsy, heavy tread. Then the loud, coarse voice of the cook.

"Tommee--Tommee! I wonder whar dat chile gone to!"

The front door opened with a burst of voices. Enemies of freedom were
closing in from every side. Freedom and slavery hung in the crimson
pressing thumb. The cook's voice burst raucously--she was peering with
rolling eyes underneath the house.

"Lawsy, Mr. Steve! Dat chile turnin' dat dawg loose!"

The fastening clicked. The boy gasped, the dog sprang up. No chain
jerked him back. He leaped past the cook, who held her wide skirts out
as if to catch him in a net. He heard Earle call. He heard Lancaster
laugh. The field flew under him, the woods drew near. Long after he had
reached them he galloped on and on.

In the afternoon he returned to the edge of the woods. He saw Earle come
down the back steps, peer into the box, and shake his head at Marian,
who stood on the back porch. Then Earle walked round to the old south
chimney in the sun and knocked out his pipe, straightened up, and
called. A fine figure of a man--his call carried command in every tone!
To resist the overwhelming impulse toward obedience, the dog sank to the
ground, his tail shaking the leaves, his eyes bright with worship of
yonder man--and with a glint of humour in them, too. Did they think he
would twice walk into the same trap!

But as the shadows climbed the hill toward the house his gaunt stomach,
no less than his heart, longed to cross that intervening field. The west
windows flamed with the sunset, as if the whole interior were a mass of
silent fire. Smoke rose from the kitchen chimney, and on the cold air
came the whiff of frying bacon. The cook waddled down the back steps, a
tin bucket flashing under her arm, and the chickens flocked round her
like fringes to her skirt. But still the dog remained in the woods,
with the hunger in his stomach and the longing in his heart.

Then, when the cook had gone back, chickens vanished, the glow grown dim
in the windows, and life seemed to have ceased in the yard, a little
figure darted across it, disappeared in the lot, reappeared in the back
door of the barn, and with a backward glance made for the woods where he
lay. He had run away, plainly, for he had on neither overcoat nor hat.
He was frightened, for he stopped a hundred feet away from the woods and
his voice quavered.

"F'ank?"

He listened painfully, his mouth open, his chest heaving. When next he
called there were tears in his voice. Finally, he looked all up and down
the border of the woods. A third time he called, shriller, more
tremulously. Then slowly he turned his back and started toward the
house. Something must have blinded him, for he stumbled and fell. He got
to his feet and looked at the hands he must have cut on the sharp stones
of the field. Again he faced about and looked up and down the woods, and
again he turned away.

Something tragic in this last turning about, something final, as if he
had left hope behind him buried in the woods, swelled the tender heart
of the watching dog. He could stand it no longer. Lightly he leaped the
fringe of bushes, silently he galloped after the disconsolate little
figure. Not until his warm breath on the nape of the white neck caused
Tommy to turn, did he realize the depth of woe through which Tommy had
passed. The frightened gasp, the look of terrible reproach, the
tear-soiled face, the tragic eyes, told the story. It was fully a minute
before Tommy controlled his sobs and hugged him round the neck. Then,
ashamed to have been seen in this hour of weakness, the boy began to
pound the dog with his fists. Finally he cried out--and in the shrill
exultation of his voice, Frank knew that his own troubles and Tommy's
troubles had all passed away.

"They gone--they gone on the chain!" Then, with wistful wonderment,
"Where you been, F'ank?"

There were lights in the living-room and kitchen windows when they
started toward the house, the boy's hand tightly clutching the mane of
the dog.

"Mr. Lancaster," Tommy was explaining in a breathless voice that caught,
"he says--he says you b'long to us! He says he come down an' hunt wif me
an' you an' Popper! He says he give--give me a dun!"

In his ecstasy he grabbed the dog round the neck.

"Ol' F'ank! Ol' F'ank! I love ol' F'ank!"

Then in a voice he was training for future fox hunts Tommy Earle yelled,
and the woods and the house and the barn between them tossed back and
forth the thin echoes.



II

PARADISE REGAINED


Little Tommy Earle stood on tiptoe in the rear of the capacious hall of
his father's barn, and glanced excitedly along the nickel-plated barrel
of his air rifle, which he had poked through a knot hole. Out there on
the ground between the barn and the corn field he had sprinkled some
crumbs of bread. When sparrows came to pick up those crumbs--well,
thought Tommy, it would be hard on the sparrows.

Behind him in the straw that carpeted the barn lay old Frank, Irish
setter, taking his ease. Except during hunting season, wherever you
found the boy you found old Frank. Now and then, at some slight movement
of the boy, he pricked his ears in the direction of this miniature
stalker of game. The rest of the time he either dozed off, or, suddenly
aroused, snapped at a fly with that fierce look in his eyes with which
dogs and fly-swatting women view these buzzing pests.

Cathedral-high above them towered the overflowing hay loft. Through the
wide-open doors behind them the barn lot blazed in the afternoon sun.
The somnolence of a farmyard mid-afternoon brooded over the scene. Only
the boy, peering through the knothole, was tense and vibrant.

For him this was a serious occasion. He had owned the air gun two weeks
now, and he hadn't killed a thing. True, he had hit an upstairs window
pane, but he hadn't intended to do that. He had merely shot at a raucous
jaybird in a tree, and the upstairs window pane, the innocent bystander,
as it were, had fallen inward with a sharp tinkle of broken glass. The
mishap had brought down on him the warning from his father that if it,
or any similar exploit, were repeated, the air gun would be confiscated.

"But I didn't mean to, Papa!" he had cried.

"That doesn't make any difference, old man," Steve Earle had said; "the
window is broken all the same."

The boy had walked away from the interview, sobered. Sprung from the
loins of generations of hunters, the love of a gun was in his blood, and
this air rifle was his first love. Since the warning he had used the
horizon as a backstop for all his shots. Old Frank, who had followed him
around at first, pricking his ears at every shot, ready to bring in the
game, had concluded that there would be no game to bring in, and had
lost interest at last.

Then, just an hour ago, the boy had hit upon this scheme of baiting
sparrows to their doom. And now with the patience of the born hunter,
tireless like the patience of the cat watching at the mouse hole, he
waited for sparrows to come. His face was flushed, his eyes were
shining, the smooth muscles of his bare, sturdy legs were knotted as he
stood a-tiptoe, peering.

Now, Steve Earle, the father, was not only a mighty hunter, a bigger
edition merely of the boy--he was also a modern, successful planter. His
corn and tobacco and cotton crops were the talk of the county; his
horses were pedigreed; his mules sleek; his chickens the finest. Among
these latter was a prize-winning Indian Game super-rooster named Pete.
He was big, boisterous, stubborn, and swollen with pride and vainglory.

It was Pete who now appeared through the aisles of the tall corn, within
range of Tommy's periscopic vision, chortling and boasting to the sober
harem that followed him. Suddenly he raised his head; his beady eyes
glittered; he hurried greedily toward the crumbs, squawking hoarsely,
clucking wildly, like a crude fellow who aspires to be a gallant and
overdoes the part.

"Shoo!" cried Tommy through the porthole.

Pete raised his head high and cackled in amazed indignation that anybody
should say such a thing to him. Then, dismissing this temporary
annoyance of a small boy yelling at him through a knothole, he hurried
into the very midst of the crumbs. He picked one up; he turned round to
the hens; he dropped it to demonstrate what he had found. The hens
cackled in admiration of the splendid performance.

At this Pete went crazy; his clucking increased prodigiously; he pawed
crumbs into the ground, just to show how grandly careless he could be in
the midst of such profusion. And here came all the hens to him, half
flying like a covey of quail about to alight.

"Shoo!" yelled the boy a second time.

Again Pete cried out indignantly, as if he really didn't know what to
make of such impertinence. Crimson of face, Tommy left his lookout.
Frank following, he ran round the barn and burst into the midst of the
feasters. A wild scattering ensued. Cackling and squawking, the valiant
Pete led the retreat through the corn. Face still flushed, Tommy came
back to his post and poked his gun through the knothole. And once more,
after a very brief interval, here came Pete.

To analyze the motives that led to his return would require a knowledge
of rooster psychology, if any such thing exists. Maybe Pete actually
forgot what had just happened--his head was very small, his face very
narrow, and he had a receding forehead. More likely, though, his
enormous vanity lay at the bottom of it. He would show these wives of
his, in whose admiration he basked all the day long, whether or not he
was to be thwarted in his purpose of eating crumbs by a meddling boy
with some kind of shiny instrument in his hand.

Yet once more, when Tommy burst upon him and into the midst of his
admirers, he threw all semblance of dignity aside. He ran ingloriously
away, jumping high into the air when clods of dirt like exploding bombs
struck near him, and hitting the ground again on the run, with loud
cackles of indignation and wild excitement.

"Sick him, F'ank!" screamed the boy. "Sick him!"

But old Frank sat down on his haunches panting, which is a dog's way of
shaking his head. To injure his master's property, even at an order from
his master's offspring, was something which he, as a dog of honour,
could never think of doing. He did look with a touch of regretful
longing at the fleeing rooster; he pricked his ears, his eyes grew
fierce, he licked his chops. There had been a time, perhaps--but that
was long ago, in the dim past of his irresponsible puppyhood.

"You ain't no 'count!" said the boy.

The long silken ears flattened; the brown eyes looked indulgently into
the angry blue ones. He could stand such an accusation very well; his
character was thoroughly established, his life an open book. Just now
the boy was beside himself with anger, and a friend passes over things
said in anger. Only a small spirit without magnanimity is touchy on
such points.

Tail waving gently, therefore, he followed the outraged boy back to the
barn. The crumbs were all gone. The nimble bills of the hens, the
greedy, overbearing beak of the rooster, had gobbled them all up.
Resentfully, Tommy picked up his shiny air rifle and went to the house
after more.

In the spacious kitchen, hung with pots and pans, old Aunt Cindy, big,
fat, black, her head tied up in a red bandanna handkerchief, sat
churning butter and singing a hymn:


     "Dere was ninety an' nine dat safely lay
       In de shelter ob de fol',
     But one had wandered fur away,
       Fur from de streets ob gol'."


At sight of the boy's flushed face, and in the presence of his eager
request, hymn and churning ceased together.

"What you gwine do wid mo' bread, honey?" she asked.

"I'm going to kill some birds," declared the boy with a burst of
optimism, forgetting for the moment that Pete might have decreed
otherwise.

The old woman rose chuckling from her churn and waddled across the floor
to the cupboard, no bigger and broader than she.

"Whar you baitin' 'em, honey?" she asked next.

"Behind the barn!"

She sat down, bread in hand, pulled him to her, and patted his back.
That was the price he had always to pay for bread or butter or jam.
Finally, she gave him the bread and let him go. Down the back steps he
came, running eagerly and calling Frank. Once more in the kitchen began
the flop of the churn, once more rose the wail of the song.


     "Away on de mountings he heered its cry,
       Sick an' helpless an' ready to die----"


Twice more did Tommy drive the intolerable rooster away. The first time
he chased him deep into the corn, almost to the pasture. The second time
he tried to corral him and the hens and drive the whole bunch into the
chicken yard, running here and there with eager face and outstretched
hands.

He almost succeeded, for Frank helped him at this like a collie dog
herding sheep. Right to the gate of the chicken yard Pete went, followed
by the excited hens. Then he seemed to suspect some sort of trap or
hidden mine in there, and, with loud ejaculations, broke away and ran
streaming toward the corn, followed by the hens.

Grim of face, the boy took his stand once more at the knothole. Boastful
as ever, after an interval, came Pete. Not only to-day, but to-morrow
and the next day and through all the days to come, he would have to
give up shooting sparrows because Pete liked bread crumbs.

"Shoo!" he said for the last time, rather quietly now.

"Caw, caw!" retorted Pete, throwing up his head.

The shiny sight of the air rifle glistened against the beady, vicious,
triumphant eye, cocked a little sideways. "Ping!" spoke the air rifle.
In a stall a frisky young mule wheeled around and kicked the bars
continuously like a rapid-fire gun. Old Frank, who had lain soberly
down, sprang to his feet with pricked ears and eager eyes. From without
came a hoarse, faint squawk and heavy flopping of wings. Out of breath,
Tommy turned round. "I hit him, F'ank!" he gasped.

Pete, big and heavy as a turkey gobbler, was flopping round and round
when they reached him, beating the ground with lusty wings, sliding his
limp head along the dirt, acting crazy generally, as if Aunt Cindy had
wrung his neck.

"Aw, get up!" said Tommy.

But Pete did not get up, and, sobered, the boy glanced around. The hens
had fled the violent scene; the hulk of the barn hid what was going on
from the yard. Only Frank had seen, and Frank never told anything. Tommy
leaned his rifle against the barn, straddled the heavy rooster and, face
flushed, lifted him, limp and dangling, to his feet.

"Stand up, Pete," he coaxed. "You ain't dead!"

But when he released him Pete collapsed like an empty sack, kicked
frantically a time or two, and was still. Then the boy saw the blood
that trickled from his head. Straight into his eye and into his brain,
if he had any, the BB shot had gone. Pete would never eat any more
crumbs. Breathing fast, the boy looked at Frank. Ears drooped, eyes
worried, Frank looked at the boy. And while they looked, down the back
steps came the solid tread of Aunt Cindy's broganned feet, and her
regular afternoon summons broke the silence:

"Chick! Chick! Chick!"

Through the corn the silly hens went running toward the yard, their
appetites nowise affected by the calamity. Again the old woman called.
Then she spoke, and Tommy's heart jumped up into his mouth. His father
had evidently sauntered round the house, as fathers have a way of
sauntering, just at the wrong time.

"Mr. Steve--whar dat rooster?" asked the old woman.

Earle laughed. "I haven't got him, Aunt Cindy."

"It sho a funny thing," she declared. "He allis de fust to come when
dey's anything to eat. Somethin' done happen to him. You stay here. I
lay I kin fin' him!"

Tommy hastily picked up his rifle. The old woman was coming; he could
hear her skirts dragging across the weeds at the side of the barn. A
short distance in the opposite direction was the corn crib. To the side
of it away from the barn he retreated, followed closely by Frank.

He heard her exclamation when her eyes fell on the dead rooster.

"Honey!" she called gently, "whar you, honey?"

He didn't answer; he didn't have to answer. She could stand there
calling till night if she wanted to. Then he heard her grunt and sigh as
she stooped down. When he peeped cautiously around the corner, she had
picked up the rooster and started for the yard. They would all know now.

His heart grew bitter at the thought. He ought to have hid the rooster.
He ought to have got a spade and buried him. He was full of regrets, not
for what he had done, but for what he had not done. He would stay here
till dark. He would stay here all night. He never would go home any
more. He would hide in the woods, and he and Frank would hunt. He would
kill what they wanted to eat and cook it over a fire. His face was set.
His mind was full of grim little desperate outcast thoughts.

Then his dark romance was shattered. From the yard his father had called
him. The call seemed to search out this very spot, but he did not
answer. Let them find him if they wanted him. He wasn't going to them,
and he wasn't going to run, either. They would try to take his gun away
now. There was a lump in his throat as he thought of the injustice of
it, of the insults he had patiently borne, of the futility of
explanations where grown people, who loved and treasured roosters above
everything else, were concerned.

He heard them coming through the lot and flattened himself against the
wall, his eyes full of fight. They would have to throw him down and beat
him into insensibility. To the end he would cling to his gun, asking no
quarter, making no explanations. And thus they found him--Aunt Cindy
first, then his father and his mother. He glanced sullenly at them and
said nothing.

"Hiding, old man?" asked his father.

At something kind and comradely in the tones he looked up with sudden
hope beyond the belt and the shirt into the clean-cut face and gray,
twinkling eyes bent down upon him.

"No, sir," he said. "I wasn't hidin'."

"Well, who killed Pete?"

His heart began to pound in his ears; the eyes of his father held him;
he had almost owned up; then it came over him, as all such things come,
by inspiration. There stood old Frank, gently wagging his tail. Frank
had nothing to lose; nothing would be done to Frank. Frank's reputation
was spotless; it could stand a stain or two. Eagerly he smiled up into
his father's face.

"F'ank killed him!" he said.

For a moment the air was electric with uncertainty. Then his mother
spoke, her eyes full of pain and reproach.

"Why, dear!"

"Honey, honey!" remonstrated Aunt Cindy, "you know dat dawg----!"

But a quick glance from his father silenced this feminine outburst. "All
right, old scout," said Earle gravely. "Just as you say. We'll go back
to the house now; and we'll see to it that Frank doesn't kill any more
chickens."

Tommy took a deep breath; he could hardly believe his ears. He had
braced himself for fight, prepared himself to defend his assertion, and
now there wasn't going to be any fight at all. At first he thought his
father must have understood and become _particeps_ in the secret with
him and Frank and the gun. Then it dawned on his delighted mind--his
father actually believed what he had said!

He went back to the yard with them, profoundly relieved, as if he were
walking on air. He even had for a moment a virtuous feeling as if Frank
had really killed the rooster, and he had only spoken the truth. Then he
began to feel proud in a secret sort of way. It had been quite a stroke.
He had never experimented sufficiently with this method of getting out
of trouble. It was really quite simple. He would try it again some time.

He had a vague idea that something had hurt his mother, and he was
sorry for that. But she would get over it; he would be unusually loving
to her. Really, all one had to do was to make a statement, and grown
people would swallow it. They were easy marks.

Yet, somehow, though he had won out by superior intelligence, he wasn't
as happy as he should have been. He felt some of the loneliness of
genius. And when in the back yard his father turned and called Frank
sternly to him, he began to fear that the affair might not be so simple
after all.

With growing uneasiness he watched old Frank go to Earle, tail
depressed, eyes troubled. Earle led him to the kennel at the side of the
house and chained him up. Frank sat down on his haunches and looked up
into his master's face.

"Now," said Earle, "I'm going to give you time to think about it. Then
I'm going to wear you out!"

"Pete ate my crumbs, Papa!" cried the boy, the blood rushing to his
face.

His father turned and spoke to him confidentially, as man to man. They
would have to cure Frank, right now, before killing chickens got to be a
habit. They couldn't afford to have a chicken-killing dog on the
place--it was too expensive.

And that was just the beginning of his troubles and complications. Every
afternoon since he could remember, he and his father and Frank had gone
to the pasture to see about the cattle. But now old Frank was chained
up. And when his father asked _him_ to come along, he shook his head. He
didn't want to be alone with his father. He had an idea that it would be
terribly and silently embarrassing down there with no one around but the
two of them.

"I don't want to go," he declared.

"Very well," said Earle, and went off alone, through the lot and into
the corn.

And he got no comfort whatever out of the talk he had with his mother a
little later in the living room, though she smiled at him when he
entered, and put her sewing aside.

Encouraged, he went to her and leaned against her knee; she brushed his
hair back off his forehead, just as she always did.

"What is it, dear?" she asked.

"Papa ain't goin' to whip F'ank, is he, Mama?"

"Why, yes--he has to."

"I tol' F'ank to kill him!"

"But Frank's a grown dog--he knew better."

He grew suddenly angry--angry at her very simplicity.

"F'ank won't kill any more chickens!"

"How do you know?"

"I know!" he cried, and stamped his foot. "I know!"

He came away from this futile interview in a suppressed rage. From the
hall he saw old Aunt Cindy waddling about in the dining room. No use to
appeal to her. She knew too much, anyhow, that old woman. There was in
her nature none of the simple credulity that characterized his parents.
She was worldly wise, like himself.

He avoided her, therefore, his face turned over his shoulder, afraid she
would see and call him. He went out on the front porch, down the steps,
and, gun under his arm, sauntered round the house to the kennel. Old
Frank came to meet him as far as the chain would allow. Frank thought he
was going to be turned loose now--his eyes showed it. There was a log of
wood beside the kennel, and the boy sat down on it. Frank nestled close
to him, tail dragging across the ground.

Suddenly the boy was all attention, and Frank had pricked his ears.
Steve Earle had come from the pasture, gone up the back steps, and into
the room with the boy's mother. Through the open window just above the
kennel he could hear them talking in a confidential sort of way, as
grown folks talk when they think no one is listening.

"Where's the boy?" asked Earle.

"I don't know, Steve--he went out just now."

She was silent a while, then she spoke, with a little laugh that didn't
sound like a laugh:

"Steve--it's pitiful, pitiful!"

"It's drastic, Mother--but it's the best way."

"But, Steve--suppose it doesn't work?"

It was his father who was silent now.

"Then that will be pretty tough, Mother," he said at last.

They talked some more--meaningless grown folks' talk that didn't get
anywhere. It didn't seem to bear even remotely on the essential question
in hand, which was whether or not Frank was to be whipped. They weren't
even interested enough in the matter to speak of it. They just
talked--that was all. They didn't care anything about him and Frank, or
what became of them. They thought more of roosters than of anything
else. They were all against him and Frank and the gun. All right--he and
Frank and the gun would look out for themselves!

Once more his mind filled with visions of a wild life, in which escape
and vengeance were mingled in proper and satisfying proportions. In the
woods beyond the pasture was a cave, which he and Frank could reach
before dark. Then they would ring the farm bell and raise a great
hullabaloo, but he and Frank, safe within the dark cavern, would live
their own lives.

The more he thought of it, the more enticing it became, and his eyes
filled with a caveman's fire. The entrance to the cave was pretty dark
and "snaky"; maybe he would compromise and not go in. But the woods
round about were thick, and there were plenty of hiding places.

He left Frank, and, heart pounding, went round the side of the house,
looking up at the familiar windows high overhead. There came over him a
scorn of the civilized existence these people led, and he wondered that
he had endured it so long. He went quietly up the back steps, peeped
into the kitchen, then entered softly.

Old Aunt Cindy was in the dining room, which was separated from the
kitchen by a passageway. He could hear the rattle of dishes in there as
she set the table for supper. Well, there would be one seat empty this
night, and maybe through a good many nights to come. He got up on a
chair in front of the cupboard and filled his pockets with biscuits.

All excited, he came out of the house, hurried to the kennel, and turned
Frank loose. Frank had caught the contagion. Frank knew there was
something _sub rosa_ about what was going on, and his eyes were glowing.
Likely they would shine like a cat's eyes in the dark cave at night--and
maybe there would be other wild eyes shining in the recesses that led
off here and there and dripped with water!

He hesitated a moment, trying to think of some other spot where they
might run, some spot less suggestive of shining eyes. And while he
hesitated there came steps on the front porch, and around the house,
pipe in mouth, his father sauntered, as fathers have a way of
sauntering, just at the wrong time.

"What're you doing there, Tommy?" he demanded.

The cave and the wild life vanished like a bubble that has burst.

"Pete ate my crumbs, Papa!" he cried.

For a moment his father hesitated, looking down into his eyes as if he
were perplexed and worried and did not know what to do. Then once more
he chained Frank up.

"You mustn't turn him loose again," he said sternly.

"I tol' him to kill Pete! I tol' him to!"

"And he did it?"

The eyes which the boy raised to the man's face were full of fight. He
had said it, and he was going to stick to it. It was no longer only a
matter of saving the gun; it was a question of principle now.

But his father did not press the question. With just a queer look into
the boy's defiant eyes, he turned away and walked across the yard toward
the garage, head bowed. Tommy watched him. No doubt his father thought
he would follow. He had always liked to hang about the garage, he and
Frank, and watch his father tinker with the car. It had been one of the
high lights of their daily life. But now old Frank was chained up--and
as for him, he didn't care anything about automobiles.

Frank had sat down on his haunches, in his fine old eyes, as he watched
his master's retiring form, that disconsolate look of a dog whose
feelings are deeply wounded. A moment Tommy regarded his offended
friend. No use to think of turning him loose again with his father
within hearing. Tommy hardened his heart. All right--so be it--he had
done his part. Things would just have to take their course. Gun under
arm, face set and grim, he walked round the house, and left old Frank to
his fate.

There was a side porch around here, where his mother sometimes sat in
the mornings, but which was deserted the rest of the day. On the step he
took his seat, a solitary little figure, his gun between his knees. Here
he would stay until the beating was over, here where he could not see
it, and could not hear it--very plainly.

He was full to the brim of rebellious thoughts. He wished Pete were
alive so he could shoot him again. He thought of boys he knew whose
parents let them alone, and he envied them their lot in life. Maybe he
would go and live with some of them, go where he would be appreciated.
He would take Frank with him, of course; that went without saying: life
would be a void without Frank.

Yonder was the apple orchard, with the gold of the setting sun glancing
through the tree trunks, and yonder in it was the brush pile where, on
that memorable morning, he and Frank had "almost" caught a rabbit.
Beyond were the woods where another afternoon never to be forgotten
Frank had jumped a red fox bent on mischief, who, his father said, would
have got some chickens that very night if Frank hadn't chased him far
into the distant hills.

Then there was the time down in the creek bottoms when he had sat down
on a log, and Frank had rushed toward him, leaped the log, and jerked
the life out of a big copperhead moccasin coiled just behind him in the
grass. And not very long ago, at the country store up the road, when a
big boy had tried to bully him, Frank had come to his side and growled,
and the boy had backed off, his face white. Frank had always stuck to
him.

His face grew solemn, a lump rose in his throat. He could not sit here
any longer with Frank chained up around yonder waiting a beating. He got
up and started once more around the house. He was just in time to see
his father cross the yard and stop in front of a bush.

He stood where he was, watching with alarmed eyes. When his father
turned he had a switch in his hand. At sight of it the blood rushed to
the boy's face, and every nerve tingled. He had doubted it a little bit
up to this time; now there was no doubt left. His father was going to
whip Frank.

Once at Tom Belcher's store he had seen a man whip a dog. The dog had
writhed rather comically on the ground, and his cries had filled the
air. He himself had stood on the store porch and watched the
performance in a detached, judicial frame of mind. It had been a
spectacle, and nothing more; but this was vastly different. That had
been an old hound, and this was Frank.

That was a big switch his father had cut, and his father was very
strong. It would hurt, hurt even through Frank's long hair, hurt
terribly. Frank would writhe on the ground, Frank's cries would fill the
air. He watched his father's face as Earle came toward him. It was
serious and grim, so serious that it almost hurt. Maybe his father
didn't want to whip Frank; maybe he was doing it because he thought, in
his ignorance and simplicity, that he ought to; maybe his father hated
to do it.

He thought of retreating once more to the side porch where he could not
see, of hurrying beyond it to the orchard and there crying, perhaps. But
he could not do that. Breathing fast, he followed his father, led by the
fascination of horror. Anybody looking at him, unless it was his mother,
would have thought he was going out of curiosity, to see the thing well
done. But there was a humming sound in his ears; the lump was choking
him cruelly; the whole yard was swimming round, and everything looked
strange.

As they drew near the kennel, Frank rose quickly to his feet, his tail
tapping the taut chain, his eyes eager and glowing as he looked from one
friend to another. Frank thought they had come to turn him loose and
give him his supper in his tin plate on the back steps. Then he saw, and
his ears drooped--saw the look on their faces, saw the switch, and he
sank down on his stomach and laid his big head humbly between his paws
at his master's feet.

"Don't!" shrieked the boy. "Papa, Papa, don't!"

In the midst of the whirling yard and barns and things, his father had
turned and looked down at him with strange burning eyes.

"I can't let him kill chickens, son."

It all happened in a flash. He hadn't intended doing any such thing. His
last resolve, even as he came around the house, had been to stick to his
spoken word. But now passionately he threw the air rifle away from him,
and stood looking up at his father with dilated eyes and heaving, sturdy
chest.

"Take the old gun!" he cried. "I don't want it! I killed Pete--F'ank
never done it. I shot him through the head!"

His father had stooped down now, and he was in strong arms. His cheek
was pressed against his father's cheek, and over a broad shoulder,
through a haze of tears, he looked miserably into the red glow of the
setting sun.

"I tol' F'ank to kill him," he sobbed brokenly, "an' he wouldn't. I
drove--drove him off, an' he kept comin' back. I killed him--I shot him
through the head!"

The arms tightened about him, the cheek pressed closer to his cheek.

"That's all right, old man," said his father. "I understand."

Gradually the sobs ceased, for he fought them down like a little man.
And when at last Earle rose, Tommy looked up clear-eyed into his
father's face, as he used to look before he ate of his forbidden fruit.
Then his father went to the gun, picked it up, and came back to him.

"It's yours," he said gently.

For the second time that day Tommy could hardly believe his ears; his
eyes were uncomprehending, for he had never expected to own the gun
again.

"You've earned it," said Earle, with a smile.

Then, within the house, swung lustily by old Aunt Cindy's strong wrist,
the supper bell rang. At the top of the kitchen steps the mother waited
with happy face. And up these steps, the sinking sun shining upon them,
went father and boy and dog together.



III

THE BOLTER


One January afternoon there got off the train at a straggling little
Southern town a massive man past middle age, with a craggy face and
deep-set eyes, and the looks and manner of one with power and wealth.
His name was William Burton, manufacturer of the famous Burton ploughs,
and he could have bought this town out, lock, stock, and barrel, and the
county in which the town sat, and a very considerable portion of the
state itself. What he had come to buy, though, was a dog.

During the trip down, in his stateroom, instead of examining financial
reports or reading the latest magazines, old Burton had studied, with
the aid of his spectacles and of Ferris, his professional dog handler,
the pedigree of a young pointer that lived in this town. He had noted
how at recurrent intervals in the family tree occurred the word
Champion. Already, in the years since he entered, as a hobby, the
field-trial game, he had bought, at the recommendation of handlers, some
hundreds of bird dogs. All of them had been disappointments. Now he had
taken the matter into his own hands. Usually when he took charge of a
thing, that thing succeeded.

A lazy Negro at the dreary railroad station showed him and Ferris the
way to Jim Arnold's place--a neat, modest cottage on the edge of the
town from whose back yard, as they approached, came a challenging bark.
A telegram had preceded them, and Jim Arnold himself, veteran bird-dog
trainer, owner of the young pointer, came out to meet them, hobbling
painfully on a stick.

Ferris could have explained the hobble and the stick. It's the kind of
thing you see now and then among field-trial men. Earlier in the season,
while running in a field trial the very dog who had brought the visitors
here, his horse had fallen, crushing Arnold's knee. Jim Arnold could
never ride a horse again. Consequently, Jim Arnold could never again run
a dog in a National Championship race.

With the crippled man came his daughter Jessie, a slim, dark-eyed girl,
pretty in a serious sort of way. Burton was hardly conscious of her, but
Ferris respectfully raised his hat. Dog men knew Jessie Arnold because
she sometimes rode with her father and helped him handle. She had been
with him when his knee was crushed, and had held his head in her lap
till the doctor came.

After the briefest of greetings the three men, followed by the girl,
went around to the rear yard. Here, in a lot enclosed by a high wire
fence, wagging his tail like any other dog, was the National
Championship hope.

Great dogs, like great men, do not always look the part. This one did.
He was a big white fellow, his ears and a portion of his head liver
brown. His head was nobly carved, his back long and straight, his legs
rangy, clean-cut, his tail thin, like a lance; he was all a pointer of
the highest breeding ought to be. But to the man who knows dogs there
was in his eyes something wild, headstrong, untamed, the kind of thing
you see in the eyes of young aviators.

"Let him out, Jess," said Arnold.

The girl opened the gate and he sprang out. He ran eagerly around the
yard, inspecting the familiar premises to see if there had been any
other dog there recently. Every motion showed unbounded power, as if the
yard, and even the town itself, were too small for him. Not until Arnold
called him twice, and severely, did he come to them. But he had no
attention to bestow upon his distinguished visitor. His eyes sought
first his master's face, then the face of the girl. There they rested a
moment in adoration. Then he reared gently up against her, ears thrown
back, upraised eyes affectionately searching her face.

Old Burton had been looking on with impassive countenance. But from the
moment his eyes rested on this dog he wanted him. His hunch told him
that here was a champion, and he went by hunches. He looked at Ferris,
quickly, significantly. Ferris nodded in a way which indicated that he
would like to speak in private. Millionaire and handler withdrew a few
steps from father and daughter and dog.

"I don't like that look in his eyes!" whispered Ferris vehemently.

"I do!" said old Burton.

In Arnold's little over-furnished parlour the business was transacted.
But neither the young pointer out there, nor the girl who remained with
him, were to know anything about it. So far as the dog was concerned,
man, his master and god, moves in mysterious ways. As for the girl, it
was her father who requested that the trade be kept a secret from her.

"She sets a lot of store by Drake," he explained. "She picked him out
from the litter when he was a pup. She's fed him and raised him. People
are always comin' to see him. She thinks that's the reason you
come--just to look at him."

Burton glanced at the crippled trainer with slightly hardened eyes. He
resented this intrusion of the human element into a deal, particularly
when that human element was a girl. It has a way of breaking things up.
However, for a while, things went smoothly, though the conversation was
carried on in lowered tones. Three thousand was the price agreed upon.
It was a good price for Arnold to get if the dog did not win the
championship. It was a poor price if he did.

For to own a national champion means a steady income from his puppies.
It brings fame to the owner and to the trainer. He has trained one
champion--maybe he can train another. Men send him their dogs; his price
goes up, like that of the teacher who had turned out a prima donna. To
own and train a national champion may put a man like Arnold on the map.

And now he was gambling with the chance. His face showed the strain he
was under. However, it was he who set the price. But when Burton,
thinking the matter closed, got out his check book, again the crippled
trainer introduced the element of mystery.

"One minute, sir," he said. "There's something I ought to tell you. I'm
sellin' Drake because I can't afford to take chances on his winnin'. But
I want him to win, sir, just the same as if he was goin' to be mine."

"Well?" said Burton.

"There's one thing goin' to stand in his way. After this year I think
he'll settle down. But right now, I'll be honest with you, Drake's a
bolter. You know what a bolter is, I guess. He's a dog that won't keep
in the course, that will run away. Drake's one of 'em. When you turn him
loose in the field he forgets there's such things as human bein's on
this planet. Don't I know him? I won the Southern Championship with him.
I managed to keep up and hold him in. But I come mighty nigh ridin' a
horse to death. Here's the price I paid myself, sir," and he tenderly
felt his warped and shattered knee, "paid it the last five minutes of
the race."

Burton was silent. Arnold went on:

"There's two people in the world Drake will listen to: One's me an' the
other's Jessie. I can't run him, I'm stove up. Jess is expectin' to run
him. If she does, he may win. If she don't, he won't win. I tell you, I
know. I know that dog inside and out. Nobody but me or the girl can stop
him when he gets started. He'll hunt where he darn pleases, or he'll
strike a bee line for the next state. You know what that means, Mr.
Burton. If you don't, Ferris does. The judges will rule him out."

But old Burton wanted that big young pointer though there were a _score_
of wild devils in him. He wanted him worse than ever now he had heard.
He had been a bolter himself when young--had run away from home. He
liked bolters. But, also, he wanted to win the championship.

"Let the girl run him, then," he said. "Suits me. I'll pay her, and pay
her well. If the dog wins, she'll get the stake."

Arnold flushed. "She'll run the dog, sir; but not for you. I mean, she
won't run him if she knows it's for you. She's a high-strung girl--and
proud; she mustn't know a thing about this deal. She must think she's
runnin' her dog an' mine."

"Then you mean to deceive her in the matter?" demanded Burton.

Again Arnold flushed. "Sometimes, Mr. Burton, a man has to do a thing he
don't like to do. I'll have to deceive the girl until after the trial.
It ain't easy. I lay awake all night last night, after I got your
telegram. It's this way, sir. I have to tell you in order for you to
understand: If I can tell the bank positively that I'll have three
thousand dollars in a month, I can renew a note I've got to renew--or
lose the place here. That's the reason I'm sellin' Drake. But if I tell
Jess now that I have sold him, even if she consents to run, the life
won't be in her to handle him. It'll take it all out of her, sir. She'll
be ashamed in the midst of all them people. She's a high-strung girl.

"And that brings me to the matter of the check you started to write," he
went on. "I don't want that check now. Ever since I was laid up Jess has
tended to things for me. You know how women are when they take charge.
If that check's in the house she's liable to find it. If I deposit it,
in a little town like this, people will find it out, and somebody'll
blab to her. You send it to me after the trial, when I'm ready to
explain to the girl without ruinin' your prospect of winnin', an'
Drake's. That's my condition."

As he went up the street toward the station, Burton heard from behind
the cottage the challenging bark of the championship hope--his dog now.

"Ferris," he said, "I believe we've got the champion this time. I think
I'll attend that trial myself."

For more than a generation, the National Championship, bird-dog classic
of America, had been run near Breton Junction where, two weeks later,
Burton got off the train and was met by Ferris.

"Your dog's here, sir," was Ferris's whispered greeting. "Wilder looking
than ever. The girl's here, too. Jim Arnold couldn't come. Laid up with
his knee."

Burton looked around. He had reached a spot where for a few weeks every
winter the bird dog is undisputed king. Down the sunlit village streets
pointers and setters were out with their handlers. They came from every
section of the country, from Canada, from England. Each dog represented
in himself the survival of the fittest. There was not one who had not
gained a victory in some trial. Now they were to try for the greatest
victory of all.

Many were already champions with majestic names--champions of the South,
the prairies, the Pacific coast. Some, younger and more eager than
others, strained at their leashes, and looked about alertly at the
passing show. Others, reserved veterans, gazed into space with the
dignified abstraction of those who have travelled far and seen the
world and tasted the vanity of all things under the sun.

On the way to the boarding-house where Ferris had engaged a place for
him, Burton came face to face with his dog. He was pulling hard at the
leash, held by the girl. She nodded and smiled quickly, wistfully, at
these men who had been to her father's house to see her father's dog.
But she did not stop or speak; for so strong was the pull of the big
pointer that she was hurried along as if a high wind were blowing her
from behind.

Old Burton stopped and looked back at them. His dog was the finest
fellow of the bunch. He would take that dog back with him, National
Champion tacked to his name. He would keep him in his own kennels, show
him to his friends, run him again next year, own him in name as well as
in fact.

As for the girl, it would be a big disappointment to her when she
learned the truth. But she was young. Young people get over things
quickly. Besides, it was her father's arrangement, not his. He wasn't
responsible.

But when at supper in the boarding-house he saw her at the other end of
the table, he was a bit sorry. This was rather too forcible a reminder
of the bargain. He noticed that the girl was browned with Southern suns,
but that she was pretty and looked thoroughbred. Also, she was very
quiet, and her manners were nice.

She was present again at the meeting of handlers and owners and club
officials, who packed the parlours and hall after supper. She was to be
the first woman who ever ran a dog in a National Championship race, he
heard somebody say. It occurred to him that she must be pretty brave,
for she didn't seem to be the pushing kind.

The order in which dogs are to run is decided by lot. He had hoped Drake
would be drawn for the first week. But in the lottery Drake came on
Friday. "Arnold's Drake," he heard the official read: "Owner, Jim
Arnold; handler, Jessie Arnold--handling for her father."

"Will you stay over, sir?" whispered Ferris.

Burton nodded.

All day long, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, in morning and afternoon
heats of three hours each, dogs were run in braces on the plantation of
Steve Earle, who was, like his father before him, one of the judges.
Gruelling heats they were that tested every nerve and fibre, run under
the eyes of judges who saw every move.

As for Burton, he went out to the testing ground but once. He was not
used to hard horseback riding, and he wanted to be fresh on Friday. But
once every day, either in the morning or the afternoon, he saw the girl
set out on her pony. She was learning the course, getting ready for her
own race.

Most of the time when she wasn't riding the course, she spent with the
dog, exercising him, all alone, on the streets of the town. Once when
Burton went out to the barn lot to look at him, where he waited, chained
to his kennel, the girl came, also. He watched her as she stooped before
the eager dog, and stroked his head.

"Tired of waiting, old man?" she asked.

Again he reared up against her and looked into her face.

"Do you--er--think he will bolt?" asked Burton as they went back toward
the house.

She stopped and looked him straight in the eyes; her own were brown,
frank, high-spirited, like a boy's.

"No!" she said bravely. "I can handle him."

"She's over-confident, sir," declared Ferris when the two reached
Burton's room. "She don't know what she's up against. She's nothing but
a kid. That dog was born a bolter, and he will die a bolter."

On Thursday morning the girl spoke to Burton as they came out of the
dining room. She was going to take Drake out to the edge of town for a
practise run, she said. Would he care to go along? He had seemed to be
so interested in Drake.

He had Ferris hire a car. One of the women of the house went with them.
In the edge of the town Jessie took the dog out and, Burton and Ferris
following, led him into a field. Here she snapped the leash.

"Go!" she cried.

He needed no such command. Like a white meteor he sped across the field
and dashed into the woods. She called him, but he did not turn. Again
and again the shrill command of her little nickel-plated whistle echoed
in fields and woods. At last, in the direction he had taken, she started
running swiftly. Behind her hurried the two men, Burton breathing hard.

"This will never do!" gasped Ferris.

"Leave it to her!" commanded Burton.

At last, on top of a ridge, half a mile away, he reappeared. Three times
shriller and shriller she blew, and now he came galloping toward them.

"Come in!" she commanded.

He came to her, and she caught him quickly by the collar.

"I told you I could handle him!" she said proudly.

But her eyes were dilated. She was quiet on the ride home. She was
silent at the table.

Ferris joined his boss when the latter went to his room. Ferris stopped
with the postmaster down the street, as he had stopped for twenty years
when he was handling other men's dogs.

Ferris was depressed. That showing, he said, was terrible. If he bolted
to-day, what would he do to-morrow, with another dog to spur him on and
the crowd to excite him. They ought to do something--warn her, advise
her.

Burton smoked away. "Suppose we just leave it to the girl, Ferris," he
said quietly.

She was gone when next morning he came down to breakfast. She had left
with the wagon that hauled her dog to the place of trial, the other
diners said. Not once during the night or the morning had she let him
out of her sight.

The crowd, all mounted, had gathered at the beginning of the course when
Burton and Ferris rode up that brilliant winter morning. And a little to
one side, standing beside a wagon in which were two dog's crates, one
containing Arnold's Drake, the other Count Redstone, his brace mate,
stood the girl.

At her side a wiry Texas pony waited patiently. In a scabbard on the
saddle was strapped a twenty-gauge shotgun.

The girl looked small, slight, and brown in her riding suit. Underneath
a roughrider hat Burton glimpsed her face as she looked off across the
fields that marked the beginning of the course. Though brave and
composed, it showed the strain she was under. In that crate nearest her,
as she thought, was the hope of her crippled father.

Burton noticed that she did not glance up at the people about her, or
speak to them. Her eyes were fixed on those sunlit straw fields, so soon
to be her battleground. He liked her silence. From the beginning she had
played the game--had asked no odds because she was a woman. He thought
of his own youngest daughter. Suppose she were standing there, as that
girl stood!

When the three judges rode up, she herself lifted the big pointer out
of the crate. Once more he reared up on her, once more her hand stroked
his head. Then, at a command of the judges, she was leading him into the
field, her pony following; at her side walked the handler of Count
Redstone, and in front of him, the Count strained at his leash.

"Are you ready?" asked the senior judge.

Count Redstone's handler, a bronzed, gray-haired veteran, said "Ready!"
as he had said it a hundred times. The girl merely looked up at the
judge and nodded.

"Let go!" ordered the judge.

Burton saw the dogs dash away. The girl, like an athlete, sprang into
her saddle. Both handlers galloped after their dogs. Behind followed the
judges, then, after an interval, the field, among them old Burton, his
heart beating fast. The fight was on--but it was more than a fight
between dogs. It was a conflict between a girl's will and the wild
heritage in a dog's nature.

The dogs have to be kept within a course some half-a-mile wide and many
miles long. If a dog gets out of the course and is lost for a length of
time--that varies according to the conception of the judges, but is
usually confined to half an hour--that dog is ruled out. This much
Burton knew. The question was whether the girl by her whistle and the
wave of her handkerchief to right and left could keep the dog within
the course. The test is, which dog will find the most birds in that
course and handle them with the greatest speed and dash.

At first the girl succeeded in handling her dog, though she had to ride
hard to do so. Far ahead of the judges she kept, a slim figure against
the hills. Now and then came the shrill of her whistle and the wave of
her handkerchief. Then it began to be rumoured among the field that she
had lost him. But not for long. On top of a hill she appeared, her right
arm thrown up high. Judges, then the field, galloped toward her. The
upraised hand meant her dog had scored--had found birds.

Burton, spurring up his horse, kept up with the crowd. There, in the
midst of a straw field, head up, tail straight out, stood the pointer.
The girl had dismounted, taken the little gun out of the scabbard, and
was advancing, slim, straight, flushed of cheek, toward him.

"Flush your birds!" ordered the senior judge.

The birds rose with a whirr; the little gun barked; the pointer dropped
to his haunches; it was perfect work.

"Go on, old man!" she ordered.

Then she was running back to her pony, which Ferris was holding for her.
Again Burton saw in her face the strain she was under. How precious was
every moment with a wild dog like this! She rammed the little gun in the
scabbard, sprang into the saddle, hardly seeming to touch the stirrups,
and was off.

Again Drake scored, then Count Redstone. Nearly an hour had flitted
away. Then Burton, loitering among the rearmost of the field, heard
rumours that something was wrong, and, anxiously spurring up his mount,
came upon a body of horsemen gathered in a patch of woods.

Out yonder in a cotton field, he could see the three judges gathered on
their horses like consulting generals on a battlefield. They had called
time, the men explained to Burton, until Jessie Arnold could find her
dog. A short distance from the judges Count Redstone was sitting on his
haunches, panting, and beside him stood his handler, dismounted. This
was giving Count Redstone a chance to rest, and the handler was taking
full advantage of it.

Some of the men, the group explained to Burton, were scouting for the
girl, among them Ferris. They were riding about the fields and woods
outside the course, looking for her dog. The rest of them had better
stay here; the judges would not allow too many helpers. The girl had
ridden up yonder creek bottom, the last they saw of her. She was going
like mad, they said.

But she was using her brains, they added. There are two kinds of
bolters--those who run away for the sheer love of running, and those who
from hilltops pick out the country that looks like containing birds,
and make for that country of their own sweet will. Arnold's Drake
belonged to the latter class. The girl was looking for him in the
"birdy" spots. But heaven only knew how far he had taken it into his
head to go! Old Burton got out his handkerchief and mopped his face.
Five minutes passed, then ten--and still Arnold's Drake was lost, and
out yonder the judges waited.

Then across the field toward the group in the woods came the girl. Off
to the side of these woods were extensive fields of broom straw that lay
outside the course. But they looked "birdy," those fields, and the girl
was making for them.

As she swept past, Burton glimpsed her face. It was tense with anxiety,
but the little mouth was set in a straight line. Her pony was flecked
with foam; his eyes were wild; and Burton heard his hoarse panting and
the pounding of his hoofs.

Careless of tree limbs, the girl swept through the woods. It came over
Burton that, in this way, and, in trying to keep up with this very dog,
her father had broken his knee. He wheeled his own horse about and tried
to follow. But she had disappeared in her mad search; even the sound of
her pony's hoofs had died away. Burton drew up his horse, and looked at
his watch. Fifteen minutes had passed, and still the judges waited.
Again Burton mopped his face with his handkerchief.

He had been an object of admiration among the men, and now they
gathered about him. The faces of them all showed with what sympathy they
were watching Jess Arnold's gallant fight. Again Burton looked at his
watch. Twenty minutes--and the judges still waited out yonder, and Count
Redstone rested.

"Can't we do something?" demanded Burton.

Not a thing, they said. Leaving out the fact that the judges would not
permit many scouters, it wasn't good for a crowd to ride over the
fields. The dog would see them, from a distant hill, perhaps, think he
was going right, and keep on. It was all over, anyway, one man ventured:
Arnold's Drake was out of the race. It was a pity, too. But for the
bolting he was a great dog. They began to talk of this race as of
something that might have been.

Then a man cried out excitedly, "Yonder she comes now! She's got him,
too! That girl don't give up--she don't know how!"

Burton saw her galloping toward them, and with her the wild dog.

"Is time up?" she panted, reining in her pony.

"Five minutes!" said Burton.

"He was on birds!" she gasped. "But he was off the course. Five minutes,
you say?"

She threw herself from the saddle. A man caught the reins of her
panting, foam-flecked pony, and she was down on the ground beside the
dog, while the others gathered about her. She had made the dog lie down.
She was stroking him.

"You devil!" Burton heard her gasp. "You darling! You beauty! You
wonder! Oh, I love you, but you don't love me--me or Dad!"

She was oblivious now of the men about her. The slim hand was stroking
the head, the long back, quietly, smoothly. "Steady!" she was pleading.
"Steady, old man. Look at me!" She had caught his head and raised his
eyes to hers. "Can't you see? Oh, you beauty--can't you see? See what it
means! Now, now--be quiet--just a minute--quiet--quiet--steady--steady!"

The frantic panting was growing less; but still the wild fire blazed in
the amber-brown eyes. Once he started to rise, but she pushed him gently
back. Again she lifted his head, and looked at him long, pleadingly.

"Can't you see?" she said. "Can't you see?"

And now there came a change, visible to Burton, and to them all. The
panting stopped altogether, the dog choked and swallowed. The pricked,
eager ears fell back gently against the long thoroughbred head. The
wildness faded out of the eyes that stared into the girl's face, and in
them came the light of love, the dawn of understanding.

"You see now, don't you?" she said quietly.

She rose to her feet. He did not move, but lay there looking up at her
humbly, wonderingly. She stood above him a moment and still he did not
move.

"Time's up!" said one of the men tensely.

She nodded to show she had heard. It was as if she might break the
spell if she spoke. The man led the pony to her. With no haste, now, she
got into the saddle.

"Heel!" she commanded.

The pointer rose and looked up at her.

"Heel!" she repeated.

When she rode out of the woods, across the sunlit fields toward the
judges, at her pony's heels trotted the pointer, obedient now, as if he
had left behind him, in that patch of woods, his wild heritage.

No man or woman who saw the work of Arnold's Drake the rest of that
morning can ever forget it. Fast as ever, yet he kept the course. Bold,
independent, aggressive, yet at every shrill whistle he turned, and
according to the wave of her handkerchief went to right or left.

Ten coveys of birds, in the hour and a half that remained to him, he
found. From terrific speed men saw him flash ten times into the
statuesque immobility of a point. They forgot even so steady and
painstaking a fellow as Count Redstone. It was the pointer who captured
their imaginations.

On Saturday night, while the crowd was at supper, the decision of the
judges, who always stopped at Freedom Hill, was telephoned in. And the
decision showed them to be dog men, not martinets--men who can overlook
a grievous fault in the face of a magnificent accomplishment and a
future full of promise.

A veteran reporter took the message, then stood in the dining-room door
a moment, his eyes twinkling at the faces turned his way.

"Champion," he said, and paused a moment, "Champion, Arnold's Drake."

But when the girl declared she must telegraph her father, old Burton
pushed through the crowd about her.

"I'll attend to that," he said.

He saw the quick friendliness in her upraised eyes. Had he not shown
faith throughout in her dog?

Out in the hall he spoke to the men: "Telephone Ferris," he said. "He's
stopping with the postmaster. Tell him to come at once."

In his own room he got out his stationery and pen and wrote, quickly, in
a bold hand that dashed across the sheet. But the excitement of it must
have told on him, for he dated the letter two days back, on Thursday.

When the door opened he looked up. There was Ferris, his face jubilant.
Behind Ferris was the girl. At sight of her old Burton did a funny
thing. He put his hand over the letter he had been writing.

"I just wanted to be sure," she said--"Dad, you know."

"I'll attend to that," he said impatiently.

After she was gone he hastily addressed the letter.

"Close the door, Ferris," he said. "You know the postmaster well, don't
you? You've known him for years. Well, tell him he won't get into any
trouble over this. Tell him it's often done. Tell him if he does get
into trouble, I'll make it all right. Tell him he'll be glad he got into
it. Tell him to stamp this letter two days back--January 27th--and mail
it to-night. Send a telegram signed 'Jessie' to old Arnold, saying his
dog--his dog, mind you--is National Champion. Hurry now!"

Late the next afternoon a crippled dog handler tore open a letter. It
had come on the same train with his daughter and with the National
Champion, who now lay before the fire. As his master opened the letter
this champion looked up, and tapped the floor with his tail.

Beside her father stood Jessie, amazed at what she saw in the letter.


                                         Thursday morning, January 27.
     DEAR SIR:

     I have just seen your dog work out in a preliminary test. He's a
     far worse bolter than even you had led me to believe. According to
     your representation, your daughter could handle him. I find her
     absolutely incapable of doing so. Under the circumstances I feel
     justified in cancelling our agreement. Yours truly,

                                                 WILLIAM BURTON.


"The old quitter!" cried Arnold, his eyes blazing. "God knows I'm glad
to get my dog. Three thousand couldn't get him now. But who would have
thought----"

And eyes still blazing with anger and joy and excitement, he told the
girl at his side the bargain they had made, right in this room.

For a moment she was silent, with staring eyes; then she cried out:

"Dad--Dad--he wrote the letter that night--after Drake was made
champion. I know--I saw him doing it. He tried to hide it.... I know!"

On the train that very night, in the stateroom, Ferris spoke to his
boss.

"I know a man, sir, who owns a dog I believe will win next year."

In the deep-set eyes came a twinkle that lit them up like tiny
electrics.

"Has the man a broken leg and a daughter?"

"No, sir."

"Then buy the dog, Ferris."



IV

OLD FRANK SEES IT THROUGH


It was with grave misgiving that old Frank, Irish setter, followed
little Tommy Earle out of the precincts of the big shaded yard and into
the hot field of rustling corn, twice as tall as they. That this morning
of all mornings the boy belonged back there in the yard he knew well
enough, but all his efforts to keep him there had failed. He had tried
to divert his mind. He had loitered behind. He had glanced back
wistfully at the big white house, hoping in the absence of the boy's
father and mother to attract the attention of old Aunt Cindy the cook to
the fact that Tommy was running away.

But old Aunt Cindy was nowhere to be seen. There was no one to catch his
signals of distress. There was no one to see Tommy enter the corn. And
no one knew what he knew--that strangers were camped down there in his
master's woods. As for him, he had smelled them the night before after
everybody was asleep. He had barked a while in their general direction,
then gone down there to investigate. They had not seen him, for he had
kept out of sight. There had been two men and a woman sitting by a
small fire, an old car in the background. He had not liked their looks.

And that wasn't all. Not long ago he had seen one of the men, half
hidden in the cornfield, looking toward the house. The man had stood
there while Steve Earle, the boy's father, drove off in the car. He had
stood there while Marian Earle, the boy's mother, went off across the
orchard in another direction with a basket of fruit for a neighbour. He
had stood there until Frank, left alone with the boy, had started toward
the cornfield, tail erect, eyes fierce. Then the man had turned
hurriedly and entered the woods.

But the man was still down there. So were those other people. Frank's
nose told him that. Therefore his eyes were deep with trouble and he
followed close at the boy's heels. Tommy's objective he knew well
enough. A few days before Steve Earle had brought them both through this
very corn, into the woods, to the creek. The father had pointed out to
the boy the silvery fish darting here and there in a deep-shaded pool.
It had made a great impression. Tommy was going to see those fish now.
That Frank knew.

And he sympathized with the impulse, so far as that was concerned. Under
ordinary circumstances, he was not averse to looking at fish himself.
But now, with every step the boy took his anxiety increased. For it was
beside the pool that the strangers were camped. And it was straight in
their direction that little Tommy in his ignorance was headed.

The morning sun blazed down through the thin obstacle of the tall corn.
It flashed on the white-and-striped shirt and trousers and on the
turn-down straw hat with the blue-ribbon band. In the deep-furrowed rows
dust puffed up from under the hurrying little sandalled feet. Intent on
seeing those darting silvery fish in that deep-shaded pool, Tommy did
not once turn to look into the troubled eyes close behind him.

Within sight of the woods Frank made his last attempt. He stopped and
sat down firmly on his haunches. Then the boy turned, his face flushed
under the white hat.

"Come on, F'ank!" he said impatiently.

A gust of dry summer wind swept across the field and rattled the blades
of corn and tossed up the silvery side of the leaves in the forest.

The boy grew angry. "Come on, F'ank!" he cried.

Panting hard, saliva dripping into the dust of the corn row, Frank sat
where he was and looked everywhere but at the boy in the dignity of his
determination.

"Sit there, then!" said Tommy. "I'm goin'!"

He went; and Frank went, too; for obedience, even against his judgment,
is the penalty a dog has to pay who loves a boy--and will die for him if
need be.

In contrast with the bright glare of the cornfield it was dark in the
woods, like passing from out of doors into the cool, shaded living room
back home. Here and there shafts of sunlight pierced the dense foliage
and touched leaves and tree trunks with silver spots. Down the
heavy-wooded slope the boy went, but more cautiously now. Suddenly he
stopped breathless, Frank beside him with pricked ears. At the same time
the two men, both at work on the car down there by the pool, both burly
and flushed of face, glanced quickly around.

A moment they stared; then they began to talk, low, excitedly. The woman
came around from the other side of the car. She was young, slim, strong;
she was in a crimson shirtwaist and on her cheeks were spots of red.
She, too, glanced at boy and dog, then joined the talk of the men. "No!
No!" she cried. They brushed her aside; she ran quickly back to them;
they brushed her aside again. Finally one of them pushed her into the
car, pulled the shabby curtains down, and got in himself. The other man
came forward, a smirking smile on his heavy red face.

Close to the boy stood Frank, his challenging eyes fastened on that
smirking face. But Tommy, looking up with that eagerness to trust common
to all young things from children to puppies, answered the man's
questions in his clear boy's voice. Many times before, at Tom Belcher's
store, at the Hunt Club, at country fairs, strangers had stopped thus
to talk to him, had asked him who he was, where he lived, if his dog
would bite. Many times before such strangers had smiled down into his
upturned face.

"We got lots of things in the car," the man was saying, "apples,
peaches, circus things. We been to a circus. Did you see the lady?"

"I did!" said Tommy, breathless, his eyes big.

"Well, you come along with me. The lady wants to show you them circus
things."

Just a moment Tommy hesitated. He looked up wistfully into the smiling
face and into the narrowed eyes that somehow frightened him. Then he
glanced toward the car and smiled in ecstasy. That rolled-up tent
strapped on behind was striped red-and-white like tents at the fair:
merry-go-round tents, tents with shawled women who held your hand and
told you what was going to happen. The woods became suddenly alive with
romance, luring him to see. He hesitated no longer. He went with the
man, one hand on his hat brim as if the wind were blowing. Close behind,
panting, followed old Frank.

The car flecked with spots of light looked big here in the woods like a
strayed elephant. The other man, on the front seat, his hand on the
wheel, glanced over his shoulder as they approached. In his wide-brimmed
hat he looked like the man who stands in front of tents and shouts for
people to come in and see. Half concealed by the curtains and by
bundles, the woman, her face strangely white except for red spots, sat
on the back seat. Valises and suitcases with gaudy things sticking out
of them were strapped here and there to the car. Tommy stopped and
stared in wonderment at this travelling splendour. Close beside him
stood old Frank, fierce-eyed, wise, suffering.

"Get in, son," said the man at the wheel, his voice gruff and husky.
"We're goin' to take you to your ma. You ain't got no business down here
in the woods alone. Quick now--no fooling!"

But Tommy drew back.

"Is--is F'ank goin'?"

"Sure. Let the dog in, Bill."

The red-faced man slammed the door on boy and dog and clambered heavily
into the front seat. The lumbering car lurched and swayed along the
unused wood road. It was stifling hot in here with the curtains down,
but old Frank, wedged in between bundles and suitcases, was panting with
more than heat. And Tommy, into whose face he looked with flattened ears
and eyes solemn with devotion, was suddenly pale.

Just ahead, the big road came into sight, shining in the sun. The car
stopped. The woman against whose knees boy and dog were pressed in the
crowded space was breathing fast. The crimson, sleazy shirtwaist rose
and fell. Her face, in spite of the red spots, was pasty, as if she
might faint. The men looked up and down the road, nodded grimly at each
other, and the car started with a jerk. The scream of Tommy broke the
terrible silence.

"That ain't the way! That ain't----!"

The red-faced man whirled around, caught the boy by the back of the neck
and pressed the other hand over his mouth. And old Frank, rearing up in
the crowded confusion, buried his shining fangs deep in that hand and
wrist. The other man sprang out of the car, jerked the door open, and
caught him by both hind legs.

"Don't stick him, Bill!" he gasped. "They'll find his body. Let him go
home!"

Snarling, writhing, fighting, Frank was dragged out and hurled into the
road. A savage kick sent him tumbling backward; the man sprang once more
into the front seat. The car darted away, Frank after it, barking
hoarsely in his rage and horror, his mouth flecked with bloody foam, the
road flying dizzily underneath him.

All that blazing August day he followed the car--followed though at the
next patch of woods it stopped and a man jumped out with a shotgun. He
was a hunting dog; he knew what that meant. Like a big red fox caught
prowling about after daylight, he sprang into the bushes and disappeared
from sight. After that he did not show himself again. Where he could, he
stayed in the woods, running parallel to the road like a swift, silent
outrider. At open places he lagged shrewdly behind; by short cuts
through fields, by spurts of speed at the next patch of woods, he
caught up again. It was an old trick and a simple one; he had played it
often before; but never, as now, with such gnawing anxiety, such
bewilderment and rage in his heart.

Once, lumbering old rattletrap though it was, the car left him far
behind. Then as he raced frantically along the dusty road under the
fierce sun that beat down on his heavy red coat, his eyes were like a
mad dog's eyes. But from the top of a long hill over which it had
disappeared he glimpsed it again in the distance--glimpsed it just as it
turned clumsily out of the highway and pointed its nose toward the
distant mountains.

After this it was easy. A mongrel cur might have kept up, much less a
seasoned thoroughbred. Up and down hill ahead of him the car swayed and
wallowed laboriously in an unused, gully-washed road. There was constant
shade in which to stop and pant, there were frequent streams in which to
lie for a moment, half submerged, and cool his boiling blood. Noon
passed without any halt. The sultry afternoon wore slowly away. Still
the big setter, his silver-studded collar tinkling slightly like tiny
shining castanets, galloped after that disreputable car as if he
belonged to it and had been left carelessly behind.

It never entered his head to turn back. Life was a simple thing to him.
There were no pros and cons in his philosophy. Yet he watched every turn
of that car, always on the alert, always ready to spring aside into the
bushes if it stopped. That man had meant murder; to show himself meant
death. He was a chauvinist, but he was no fool. The boy needed him
alive, not dead.

But the first sight of the boy was almost too much for him. The car had
turned out of the road at last. It bumped a while through woods,
stopped, and he sank down behind a bush. The sun had just set. Yonder
through a gap in the trees rose the dome of a heavy-wooded mountain.
Above it a vast pink and white evening cloud boiled motionless into the
sky. Beyond this mountain rolled the solid blue undulations of whole
ranges. For miles they had not passed a house. The breathless heat of a
wilderness hung over this place.

The men, stiff, dusty, hot, got out. The heavy man's hand was bandaged.
Then the woman got out; then the boy. A great trembling desire seized
the dog to rush forward, to let the boy know he was here. Every muscle
quivered; he choked and swallowed; he looked off as if to avoid
temptation. But one of the men pulled a shotgun out of the car and the
dog bowed his head between his paws in a sort of shame. That was the
symbol of his helplessness. That was what stood between his fangs and
those men's throats.

He watched them strip the car of its baggage. They unstrapped the tent
and dragged it off to the depths of a thicket beyond. Valises,
telescopes, all the cheap pageantry of their trade, went the same way.
They were staking everything on the prize that had walked into their
hands that morning, coming like a little prince from that big white
house that sat amidst its trees on the hill surrounded by broad fields
rich with corn and tobacco and cotton.

At last the man who had driven the car picked up the gun. The woman, one
arm full of bundles, took the boy by the hand. He drew back, looking up
at her and holding to his hat. She spoke to him low and huskily, her
face white. Then, as he perforce went with her, Frank heard him crying
in the woods, heard the convulsive catches of his voice, saw the
twinkle, through the trees, of white socks above reluctant, sandalled
feet.

Eyes sullen and fierce, he rose and followed. Down the hill, where a
creek gurgled, the man with the gun turned. He was hard-jawed,
pale-eyed. The boy and woman stopped.

"Shut up!" he said.

The crying stopped; the convulsive sobs went on.

"Shut up!"

A few steps the dog rushed forward, hair risen all the way down his
back. Then he sank down on the ground. For the woman had dropped the
bundles and was on her knees before the boy, her arm about his heaving
shoulders. Frank saw the whiteness of her face as she looked up at the
man above her. Her voice rang through the woods, husky and shrill, but
suppressed.

"He can't help it, Joe!"

The crying had stopped now. But the sturdy little chest was still rising
and falling as the boy stood looking up with quivering face at the man.
The woman picked up her bundles, rose, and took his hand once more.
Still holding to his hat he went with her, in silence now, taking two
little trotting steps to one of hers.

They spent the night in the woods, out of hearing of any chance
passer-by along the road. Carefully hidden in the underbrush old Frank
watched them. Only once did he leave them. Then he went to the car,
found a big chunk of side-meat wrapped in a paper under the back seat,
made his meal off his enemies, and came guardedly back, licking his
chops. They were gone again before day. The rising sun found the car
toiling upward into the echoing depths of the mountains. Just around the
last bend in the road followed old Frank.

Sometimes he trotted, sometimes he broke into a gallop. Sometimes he
stopped to drink at streams that came slipping down green walls of rock,
crossed the road like snakes, and dived into the foliage below. His
tongue hung out; he was gaunt, dust-covered, weary-eyed. The few
mountaineers he passed looked at him with narrow suspicion, then back up
the winding road where that curtained car had disappeared. With just a
glance up into their faces, he galloped by.

But when another car, long, black, shining, like the one at home, swung
suddenly around the bed just ahead, he stopped short. The weariness left
his eyes, the stiffness went out of his muscles, his heart gave a great
bound. Four sportsmen, such as he and his master associated with, bobbed
comfortably up and down in the capacious seats of that approaching car.
Their fishing rods were strapped to the side. He saw the shine of the
sun on their ruddy faces, the twinkle in their eyes as they stopped.

"What's up, old man?" they asked.

Maybe he got a bit rattled. Anyway, he failed. He ran up the road in the
direction of that other car, wheeled, and ran back. He jumped up on the
step with his front paws, he looked up with pleading eyes from one face
to another.

"Those folks left him behind," they said.

They assured him that it was a shame to treat a good old scout that way,
but he could catch up if he kept plugging. They said if the road were
not too narrow they would turn round, give him a lift and his people a
piece of their minds. They threw him something to eat, they wished him
good luck, and left him standing in the road, looking after them with
disconsolate eyes.

After he had eaten the food and taken up his solitary pursuit, he heard
in the road far below the sound of their car. Even their voices floated
up to him between the narrow walls of the echoing gorge.

"I tell you," said one, "it was an S O S! We ought to have followed him.
Something queer about that car."

But they were gone for all that, like the friends who, whether we be man
or woman or dog, daily pass us by, willing to help if they only
understood.


It was dusk when he caught up. The car had reached the flattened top of
the lofty range it had been climbing all day. From behind a bush he
watched it turn out of the road. Like some mammoth beast astray it
bumped and swayed across a desolate field of broomstraw with borders
that plunged abruptly off into space. In the middle of the field grew a
black thicket of stunted pines, huddled densely together up here under
the sky. On the side of the thicket away from the road the car stopped,
and Frank crept into the pines and lay down. The men got out, then the
woman, then the boy.

He saw Tommy looking all about in bewilderment at this roof of the world
on which, a lonely little figure, he stood close to the woman. Again the
longing seized the dog to rush forward, to let the boy know he, too, was
here. But there were the men close by; and in the car was the gun. Again
he bowed his head between his paws; and his eyes in the faint glow from
the light that still lingered in the sky were deep with loneliness and
trouble.

Suddenly the man who had driven the car turned. He glanced at the woman
and the boy, then toward the road. He took his pipe out of his mouth.

"Here, you get back in that car, kid!" he said.

This time Tommy stood his ground sturdily, but his upturned face was
white in the dusk, and he held tight to the skirt of the woman.

"Did you hear me?"

"He's dead tired, Joe!" snapped the woman.

The man took a sudden threatening step forward. In the thicket Frank
rose quivering to his feet. But with a quick movement the woman had
pushed the boy behind her. "Don't you touch him, Joe!" she flashed. A
moment she stood facing him, slim, defiant in the dusk. Then she took
the boy's hand and they went back to the car.

Suddenly Frank rose on his front legs, ears thrown back, eyes glowing
wildly. It seemed to him that the boy had looked straight into the
bushes where he lay. Certainly for a moment he had pulled back on the
woman's hand. Then he went on with her and they got into the car. But
Frank still sat on his haunches, panting and choking and panting again.

At last he crept along the edge of the thicket and lay there close to
the car. He was still panting. That glimpse full into the boy's face had
almost undone him. He was hungry for food, and hungry for human
companionship. He wanted to go to the car, to rear up on the side to
scratch at the curtains. But yonder, a hundred feet away, back and forth
before a fire they had built, moved the men. And against the box they
had taken from the car leaned the gun.

Within the car he heard the voice of the woman, low, confidential,
assuring, and his ears flattened with gratitude and trust. The man
wouldn't hurt him, she was telling the boy. Sometimes he talked to
everybody that way. He was an old grouch, that's what he was. She
whispered something.

"To-morrow?" the boy asked eagerly.

"Hush! Sure. That's it--to-morrow!"

"Did F'ank go home, Nita?"

"Sure he went home."

"I saw a dog in the bushes!"

The woman laughed. "You're seeing things, old scout. What about some
supper?"

She got out of the car and went quickly to the fire the men had built.
Without a word to them she gathered up something to eat and came quickly
back. Even in the darkness Frank could see the light in her eyes.

The boy must have gone to sleep soon after that. The moon, big, weird,
solemn, rose slowly over yonder parallel range of mountains. The men at
the fire talked low and mumbling between long intervals. Presently the
heavy man rose, skirted the thicket, and stumbled off across the field
toward the road. The smell of him polluted the air no more. Then the
woman came quietly out of the car and joined the other man at the fire.

"Where's he gone?" she asked.

"To get the lay of the land."

She sat down opposite him, her knees drawn up, her chin in her hand.

"Joe?"

"Well?"

"The kid's got me, Joe!"

He said nothing and she talked on, her voice low. Still he said nothing.
Then she went over to him, sat down beside him, took his hand in hers.
"Let's take him home!" she pleaded, her voice rising. "Let's make a
clean breast of it. Let's begin all over again. Let's be straight.
They'll give us a chance--I know they will. They're like the kid--white.
I know they are. Let's turn round right now. I promised him we'd take
him home to-morrow. I couldn't help it! Joe, Joe, I'd rather be dead
than go on!"

She rose when he rose, clinging to him. He threw her off, she ran to
him, and he threw her off again, his face distorted in the moonlight.
"I'm tired of this sob stuff!" he cried. "We're in this thing and we're
goin' to see it through!"

"You'll wake him!" she gasped.

"Let him wake! The daddy'll come across or I'll wring the brat's neck!"

"Oh!" she screamed.

She stared at him with white face, full of horror and fear and loathing.
She turned and stumbled toward the car, the curtains closed upon her.
Far in the night Frank heard her sobbing to herself.

His eyes were green with hatred as he followed the car the next day. A
few crumbs of bread from the deserted camping place, a taste of potted
meat from a can he held fiercely between his paws while he licked the
inside, had made his meagre breakfast. There were times that day when,
if the men had looked behind, they must have seen him. There were times
when he would not have cared if they had. Close around the bends, within
sight sometimes where the road straightened, he trotted or loped wearily
along, tongue lolling out, collar loose on his neck. So another day wore
away and mid-afternoon came. Then the car stopped, and from force of
habit, as it were, he turned aside for the last time into the bushes.

Suddenly his panting ceased, he raised his head, and pricked his ears.
From the valley below had come the smell of human habitations mingled
with the faint tinkle of a cowbell and the sound of a hammer. Eyes
bright in an instant, he watched the man climb stiffly out of the car
ahead. The other and bulkier man clambered from between the curtains of
the rear where he had ridden all that day. They talked for a while low
and guardedly. They glanced suspiciously up and down the rough road they
had been following, then down a shaded road that led pleasantly to the
valley below.

"There ain't an inch of gas left," said the man who had driven the car.
"It's the last chance for fifty miles."

"Have you looked in the can?" asked the heavy man, his face worried.

"You saw me empty it last night, didn't you?" sneered the other.

He pulled a big can out of the car, then he parted the curtains.

"See here, kid, you want to keep damn quiet--hear?"

No sound came from within.

"Did you hear me?"

The voice sounded muffled in a sort of sob.

"Yes, sir!"

"All right. Remember! I'm comin' back."

He fastened the curtains together. He muttered directions to his uneasy
companion. "You drive up to them bushes and wait." He put in his hip
pocket something that flashed brilliantly, even pleasantly, in the sun,
he put on his coat, picked up the can, and started down the shaded road.
And old Frank, fierce eyes shrewd, hair risen all the way down his gaunt
back, rose guardedly, crept through the bushes, came out in the road
behind and followed.

Old Frank had been a companion of men all his days. He had hunted with
them, shared their food and fire, looked up with steady, open eyes into
their faces. He had never had a human enemy before. But now he stalked
this man as his ancestors had stalked big game--muscles tense, head low
between gaunt shoulder blades, eyes hard and bloodshot. When the man
turned he would rush forward and spring at his throat.

But the man hurried on, and looked neither to the right nor left, nor
behind him. Thus they came suddenly out of a wilderness into a village
that straggled up the sides of mountains. There were glimpses of white
cottages clinging to abrupt hillsides, or rambling steps leading to
green summer lawns, or swings in the shade, or white-clad, romping
children--children like Tommy Earle.

Yonder down the street glass knobs of telephone poles glistened in the
sun. At the end of the street rose the white columns of a long building
with a big, black, dust-covered car in front. Women in white, children
with nurses, sallow mountain folk, were abroad in the first coolness of
the afternoon. It was the busy season, when the heat of cities drives
people to the fresh air of the mountains and a hundred such villages
spring into life and laughter.

Through this holiday crowd went the red-faced, dusty man. Twenty paces
behind followed the gaunt Irish setter. People stopped in the street to
look back at him. Children pulled on their nurses' hands, thrilling to
make friends with such a big dog, then pulled back, distrustful of the
look in his eyes. Man, then dog, passed the drug store where behind
plate-glass windows cool-dressed men and women sat at slender tables.
Next to the drug store was a brick garage with a gasolene meter in
front. About the entrance loitered a group of men watching. One was
bigger than the rest and wore a wide-brimmed hat.

Through this group pushed the man with the ten-gallon can. Close behind
now followed the gaunt Irish setter. It happened quickly, like one of
those mountain tragedies that brood over such places, remnants of feuds
that hang on to the skirts of civilization. Two muffled pistol shots
broke the peace and security of the village and brought men running to
the garage. For the man with the ten-gallon can had turned at last, and
Frank had sprung straight at his throat.

From the confusion of crowding men came the hoarse shout,

"Turn me loose! Let me kill that dog! Can't you see? He's mad as hell!"

"I've got the dog all right!" cried the big man in the broad-brimmed
hat. "If he's mad I'll 'tend to him!"

Plunging, barking, begging to be turned loose, old Frank was dragged
backward across the cement floor. In the door of a glass-enclosed office
the big man, holding tight to his collar, turned.

"Here--you--Sam!" he panted. "Run to the hotel. Tell Mr. Earle--the
gentleman that just came with his wife--we got a man down here and a red
Irish setter. Quick! Catch him before he leaves!"

Then they were in the office, and the door was shut. The big man had
sunk breathless into a chair still holding to the dog's collar. He was
quiet now. But the blood that dripped slowly on the floor was no redder
than his eyes. The door opened and he plunged forward. But it was a
stranger--a young man with a star on his coat.

"Sam got 'em, Sheriff," he said, "they're comin' now. Must I bring the
man in here?"

"No. Keep him out there. This fellow's still seein' red."

"Hit?"

"Ear. That's all."

"Well, he left his mark on that devil, all right!"

The young man went out. Still the sheriff held the dog's collar. Still
through the glass windows the crowd stared in. But suddenly it parted
and then Frank saw them.

"Hold on!" panted the sheriff. "No use to tear the house down. They'll
be in here in a minute!"

The door opened, they were in the office, the sheriff had turned him
loose. He was jumping up against his tall master, long ears thrown back,
upraised eyes aglow, heart pounding against his lean ribs. But it was
the look in his young mistress's eyes that brought him down to the floor
before her in sudden recollection that went straight to his heart, that
set him all atremble with choking eagerness.

"Take us to him, Frank!" she gasped, her hands clenched tight against
her breast.

He led them--master and mistress and strange officers, neighbours from
back home, old Squire Kirby, Bob Kelley, John Davis--led them out of the
town, up the shaded road across which slanting sunbeams gently sifted.
He led them to that car he had followed secretly through the days and
watched without sleep through the nights. Only his master's low-voiced
command held him back with them.

"Steady, Frank! Steady, old man!"

But they must have made some noise, quiet as they tried to be. For
before they reached the car the heavy man scrambled out, stared for a
moment in stupid bewilderment, then threw both hands high up over his
head.

"Don't shoot!" he pleaded hoarsely, his heavy face aquiver. "We ain't
done the kid no harm!"

Then it was that Frank broke away and rushed at last to that curtained
car. With shining eyes he sprang into the front, over the seat, into the
rear. Tommy's arms were about his neck, Tommy was crying over and over
to the woman, all out of breath:

"It's F'ank, Nita! He didn't go home. I saw him in the bushes!"

"It's your mother, too," she said. "Come after you." She tried to smile.
"I told you it would be to-day--didn't I?" She snatched him to her and
kissed him fiercely. She opened the door. "Good-bye, old scout," she
whispered. Then she turned to Frank. "Go!" she panted and her lips
trembled. "Go!"

Outside the car Frank stood by, quivering with pride while the boy
passed from the mother's high up into the father's arms. He saw the
light in their faces, the flash of the sun on the boy's curls, the
smiles of the men who looked on. Then the shadow of terrible days and
nights fell across his happiness and for the second time that day he saw
red. For the woman had stepped out of the car, and the big sheriff had
caught her by the arm.

The dog glanced up, bewildered, into the faces about him. But none of
them had seen. He ran to the woman; he took his stand beside her,
looking up at the sheriff with fierce, pleading eyes. But the sheriff
still held her arm, and the dog growled, partly in anger, partly in
trouble. Then Tommy saw, too. He wriggled loose from his father; he
came running to their help.

"Let go of her!" he screamed, and caught the woman's skirt with both
hands, "Papa, make him let her go!"

But it was his mistress who understood, who came to them with shining
face and caught the woman by both hands. He knew it was all right now,
even when the woman sank down on the car step and sobbed brokenly, her
face buried in her hands. For the sheriff had stepped back, and his
mistress was at her side, an arm about her shoulder.

"No, Sheriff," she said, looking up at him, and the sun sparkled in her
eyes.

"We won't say anything about this, gentlemen," Earle said quietly to the
men.

That night Frank lay in the crowded lobby of the hotel, ears pricked
toward the wide-screened dining-room door. He had already had his
supper, out in the rear courtyard near the kitchen where many dishes
rattled.

"Two porterhouse steaks--raw," Steve Earle had said.

"And a big dish of ice cream," Marian Earle had added with a smile, for
old Frank was an epicure in his way.

And now the sheriff was telling the crowd about him.

"He followed that car for two hundred miles. That was nothin'--been
huntin' all his life. But he kept out of sight--that's the thing! They
never saw him, and he never left them. That's what put us on the trail.
That's the reason the boy's eatin' supper with his father and mother in
there instead of bein' out in the woods with them brutes."

He puffed at his cigar.

"Some men fishing in the mountains passed him. He tried to flag 'em.
Yes, sir--that's what he tried to do. But they didn't catch on. Might
have, but didn't. Next day they read in the papers about a boy and Irish
setter being lost. Then they caught on and telephoned Mr. Earle."

"The woman that came in with the mother and went upstairs with her,"
asked a man, "who's she?"

The big sheriff took the cigar out of his mouth and looked at the
questioner with narrow, disapproving eyes.

"She didn't have a thing to do with it, sir!" he declared.

From the dining room came the sound of chairs pushed back, and Frank
rose to his feet. He met them at the door, he stood beside the boy while
the people gathered around, he went upstairs with them, the boy holding
tight to his heavy red mane.

"That old Joe!" Tommy was saying breathlessly, as they went down the
carpeted hall. "He can't get us any more. The sheriff he locked him up
in a jail. He can't get Nita, either. Mama's goin' to take care of her.
Mama says so!"

He was still talking, his eyes big, when they went into a brightly
lighted room where a little bed set beside a big one. He was still
talking while his mother undressed him. Then before he got into bed a
spasm of virtuous reaction seized him. He and F'ank were never going to
leave the yard any more, he declared. They never were going to get in
any more automobiles with people!

"No," smiled Earle from his great height down at the little figure in
borrowed pyjamas, "I guess you're cured, old man!"

The rug beside Tommy's bed was very soft, and Frank was very tired. But
sometime in the silent darkness of that night he barked hoarsely in the
agony of a dream. For they were on top of a mountain, and a weird moon
had risen, and a woman had screamed.



V

AN ACT OF GOD


There must have been something prophetic in Mac's fear of thunder when
he was a puppy. For, though all puppies are afraid of it, and most grown
dogs for that matter, still, Mac's fear, according to Tom Jennings, his
master, was more than that of the ordinary dog. That is, until the blow
came. After that it was different with Mac.

Maybe he thought, having smitten him once, that lightning would smite
him no more. Maybe some change had taken place in his nature which we
humans cannot analyze or understand. Let this be as it may, the fact is
that Mac, after his second year, feared thunder no more.

In law a stroke of lightning is known as an Act of God. If such is the
case, it seems strange that this stroke should have fallen on Sunday
night and in a God-fearing and God-serving household. As a matter of
fact, Tom Jennings, his wife and three children had just driven home
from church at Breton Junction and Tom, assisted by Frank, his boy of
sixteen, had put up the horses. Then, as the cloud was an unusually
threatening one, they all gathered in the parlour.

It was the ordinary parlour of country people who are self-respecting
but neither well-to-do nor educated. There was a fancy organ, a flowered
carpet; there were gaudy vases and solemn-looking enlarged crayon
portraits. Near a stiffly curtained window was a sort of family altar--a
table on which lay a family Bible. This Bible, a ponderous embossed
volume with brass guards and clasps, reposed on a blue-velvet table
cover that almost reached the floor. On the cover was worked a cross and
a crown with the legend: "He Must Bear a Cross Who Would Wear a Crown."

When, the storm having burst on this household, Mac scratched at the
door, Tom Jennings himself, a tall, raw-boned, sunburnt man, rose and
let him in with some good-humoured remark. Mac was a young setter, with
white, silken, curly coat and black, silken, curly ears. He looked
self-consciously into the faces of the family, who were smiling at his
fears; then, with a queer expression on his face, as if he, too, knew it
was funny, he went to the family altar, pushed aside the embossed velvet
cover, and lay down under the table. The children laughed, Tom Jennings
and Frank, a lanky, handsome, serious-faced lad smiled. Mac always did
this in a thunderstorm.

Just before the blow came, they heard him, as if he were still
reflecting humorously upon his fears, tap the floor with his tail.
Immediately there was the shiver of broken glass, a crash, a child's
suppressed scream, and for a moment, as the lamp went out, blackness.
But only for a moment; for next, above the shining brass trimmings of
the Bible, there glowed for several vivid seconds blue-and-white flames
like a halo.

There was no very clear recollection of what happened afterward. Having
assured himself that wife and children were safe, Tom Jennings, followed
by the boy Frank, ran out into the yard by the side door which they left
open, and looked at the roof of the house. If any fire had started it
had been drowned at once by deluges of rain. When father and son
returned, Mrs. Jennings had lit another lamp. Here they all were, with
white faces. Only Mac was gone.

For the better part of three days they searched for him, in the attic,
in the cellar, in the barns and outhouses, in the woods near by. On the
afternoon of the third day, Jennings stooped down and peered underneath
the corn crib. It was set low to the ground, and two sides were boarded
up. On the unboarded side weeds had grown. It was quite dark underneath.

At first he could not be sure what that dim suggestion of white he made
out could be. Then he pushed aside the weeds and peered more closely,
his eyes the while growing more accustomed to the dark. Finally he
straightened up and called loudly:

"Here he is, folks!"

They all came running, Mrs. Jennings leaving her supper to burn if need
be, Frank dropping his ax at the woodpile. When they reached him, Tom
Jennings was stooping down and pleading:

"Come, Mac! Come, old man! We are all here."

But the white figure did not stir.

At last Frank wormed his long, adolescent body underneath the sleepers
of the crib, caught hold of the front paws, and pulled the setter gently
forth. They examined him all over, but at first they could find no sign
of injury. It was Frank who saw and understood. Frank had always had a
way of knowing what was the matter with animals.

"He's blind," said the youth.

Some of the neighbours, when they heard, said Jennings ought to put him
out of his misery. But no such thought ever entered the head of any
member of the Jennings family. They built him a kennel underneath the
bedroom window. They taught him where to find his plate of food on the
kitchen steps. Soon he learned to find his way about the yard.

At first he ran into things--into the corner of the house, into the
woodpile, or into the chicken coops. He never whimpered when he did so,
but looked humbled and ashamed. At last he located each object,
calculated respective distances, and before the summer was over he
avoided obstacles as if he had had eyes.

You would not have known he was blind but for the fact that when he drew
near the steps or near a door--he learned to open screen doors with his
paws--he would raise his front foot, and feel about like a blind man
with a stick.

One day at dinner Jennings spoke to his family. "I don't want any of you
children ever to leave anything about the yard that he can stumble over.
Mother, whenever you move a chicken coop, call him and show him where it
is, hear?"

They all agreed.

Then Mac began to follow his master to the field and to Tom Belcher's
store up the road. Neighbours grinned and said they had often heard of a
blind man led by a dog, but never before of a blind dog led by a man.
They never said this, though, in Tom Jennings's presence.

As summer waned and hunting season approached, Tom Jennings, a great
hunter, bought a pointer to take the place of Mac in the field, and in
order that there might be no jealousy and no quarrelling, he bought a
female.

It was hard to have to leave Mac at home on the first day of the
winter's hunting. Though Tom had tried to keep the matter of his going a
secret, the blind dog had sensed the preparations. He had smelled the
oiling of boots. He had heard the click of shells dropped into
hunting-coat pockets. And at the end, the frantic barkings of the
pointer, whom Tom had tried in vain to keep silent, told him as plainly
as a shout. Mac tried to follow and they had to chain him up.

In the middle of the afternoon Mrs. Jennings turned him loose. He stayed
close to her skirts for a while, following her in and out of the kitchen
and about the yard. But as the time drew near for the return of the
hunters, he began to sniff the air in every direction, his nose held
high.

At last he smelled them coming across the fields and made his way
eagerly through the yard and toward them. And now it was, as he saw the
blind dog coming, that a happy thought struck Tom Jennings. Instead of
coming to the house he waited at the edge of the yard; and when Mac
reached him, he took out of his hunting coat a quail and handed it to
the dog.

"Take it to the missus," he said.

Straight to the kitchen wing and up the steps the dog went, happy and
proud. Mrs. Jennings opened the door, face beaming. The children all ran
out to see. And though it consumed time Tom remained where he was and
handed the blind dog bird after bird. After that, this procedure came to
be a regular part of Tom Jennings's hunts.

Soon Mac learned to rear gently up on the kitchen table and place the
birds on the top. Each bird he placed near the preceding one, rooting
them gently with his nose into a conical pile. "Mac's pile" it came to
be called by the children, returning from school and hurrying into the
kitchen. And while they talked to him and bragged about what a nice
regular pile he had made, he would stand with wagging tail, his
sightless eyes raised to their faces as if he saw.

Another summer passed, a summer of other thunderstorms, of which he was
afraid no more. Another bird season rolled around. And then, one day, he
begged so hard with his unseeing eyes that Tom let him go. After that
Tom always let him go. For a wonderful thing had happened. Blind Mac was
no longer useless! He could hunt birds!

First he seemed to be backstanding Nell, the pointer; that is, when she
set, he advanced slightly in front of Tom and set, too. But since he
could not see, it was plain that it was the birds themselves he was
setting and not Nell. Then, a little later in the same day, and while
Nell was nowhere in sight, he suddenly trotted ahead and came to a
beautiful stand. All excited, Tom advanced, and a covey of birds rose.
The gun barked twice and two birds tumbled. "Fetch, Mac!" cried Tom. And
straight to the dead birds the unerring nose took him, and he retrieved
them both, trembling with joy.

From this time he was an object of charity no more. Had Tom Jennings
not been a man of tender heart, but only a hunter out after meat, he
still would have taken Mac along. Just as in people when one sense is
destroyed others grow more than normally keen, so with Mac. Never,
declared Tom, could a dog smell birds so far; never did bird dog have a
nose that told him so exactly where they were.

Fortunately, the route over which Tom hunted lay in extensive river
bottoms, cultivated in corn. There were few fences and Mac soon learned
where they were. There were no woods, and only an occasional thicket
that Mac could circle with a fair degree of safety. The pointer did all
the wide ranging.

Now and then Mac fell into a ditch or creek. It was always pitiful to
Tom Jennings to see this. But each time the blind dog found his way out
and went on undaunted, head high, tail wagging as if with a perpetual
and inward joy.

"I've seen some blind folks," said Tom once to his wife, "that looked
happier than folks with eyes. Mac looks happier to me than dogs that can
see. It's funny."

So the years passed, and blind Mac came to be a familiar figure, and the
children grew, and Tom Jennings worked hard on his farm to give them an
education.

First Frank, the lad, outgrew the country schools, just as he outgrew
his clothes. He was a hardworking, serious-minded, intelligent boy.
Then the girls, both bright, reached the next to the last grade in the
country school. And Tom Jennings and Martha Jennings his wife determined
that each of them should have a college education. So Tom worked very
hard and Martha saved very closely. And the fall day came when Frank
left home to go to college in Greenville; then another day, the fall
following, when the girls left, also. Thus Martha and Tom and Mac were
left alone on the farm.

"You know," said Tom once (he was a simple, religious man), "I sometimes
think it's a strange thing, Mother, that that poor dog should have been
struck while he was takin' shelter under the Word of God. I know he
ain't nothin' but a dog, but I reckon God made him. I don't see why God
struck him."

"Maybe there was purpose in it, Tom," said his wife.

Then hard luck came to Tom Jennings just at the time when the bills for
the children's second matriculation were due. First, the river rose and
drowned some of his cattle and ruined a good deal of corn that had not
been gathered. He worked hard, even desperately, to save what he could
and not let the children know. Then Tom himself was taken with a queer
feeling in the chest, a feeling of tightness and dull pain and shortness
of breath. Martha pleaded with him a long time to consult a doctor in
Greenville before he consented to do so.

The doctor listened with a stethoscope placed on the farmer's chest.
"Sit down, Jennings," he said at last. "Jennings, your heart leaks.
You've overstrained it. You must never do any more hard manual work."

"But, Doctor----" Tom began.

"No buts about it. You are too good a man to drop off. You must go slow.
You mustn't even walk fast. You must never run, and you must not lift
heavy weights. Why don't you sell your farm and move to town?"

"But the children, Doctor. I'm trying to give 'em a better chance than I
had or their mother."

"That's all right, Jennings. But we have to trim our sails to meet life
as it is. Your heart leaks, man! You've done what you could for your
children. They'll just have to shift for themselves."

Tom Jennings drove slowly home. Martha, not knowing the purpose of his
visit to town that day, had gone to see Mrs. Taylor, a neighbour. Even
Mac was not in the yard to welcome him. He put up his horse, then sat
down on the back steps to do the hardest thinking he had ever done.

At first it seemed to him like providence that just recently Tom Belcher
had offered to buy the farm. In fact, he was calling him up every day
about it. He could sell it to-morrow and then he could move to
Greenville. The children were paying part of their expenses. But without
his help, two of them at least would have to leave college. What was
more, they would have to go to work to help him now. The interest from
what he could get for the farm would not keep him going--and farming was
the only thing he knew how to do.

But why shouldn't they help him? He had already done for them more than
any neighbour had done for his children. True, his greatest ambition
would be unrealized. But, as the doctor said, you had to trim your sails
in this life. Why should he carry on a fight when he had been stricken?
God did not expect a crippled man to run a race.

Also, he was frightened for his life. He carried within his body an
enemy that might strike him down at any moment. Then, rather pleasantly,
he forecast his life in town. He had fought hard, and now he could lay
his armour down, and no one would think any the less of him.

And so he sat pondering, thinking first of his children, for whom he had
had such high ambitions, then of himself, who would like to live his
allotted span, when across the pasture he saw blind Mac coming. It was a
hot September afternoon, and he had evidently been to the creek to cool
off and to get away from flies. He came steadily along, and though
nobody was near his tail was gently wagging.

The rear lot gate had been left open so the cattle could go to pasture,
and the dog came through the gate and across the barn lot. This brought
him to the fence that separated the lot from the yard, and before this
fence he stopped and felt about with his foot, tail still wagging. Tom
Jennings did not speak but watched him with queer emotions.

Having located the fence the blind dog backed off, looked up as if
trying to see, started to spring, hesitated, started again, and finally
leaped. His front paws hooked over the top plank, and he pulled himself
up, remained balanced another moment, then jumped into the yard. It was
as neatly done as if he were not blind. Tail still wagging, he came
across the yard.

But Martha had forgotten at last: in the middle of the yard was a
chicken coop she had recently moved there. Tom started to call out a
warning, then for some queer reason did not. Over the unexpected
obstacle the dog stumbled and came near falling. He let out no cry. He
simply went to the coop, felt it, as if to locate it for the future,
then came on toward the house. His head was bowed, though, as if with
that shame he seemed always to feel when because of his affliction he
happened to have an accident. But his tail was still wagging.

"Mac!" It broke from the man.

The blind dog raised his head and whiffed the air. Then he located his
master and came toward him. He laid his head on Tom Jennings's knee, and
Tom Jennings laid his big hard hand on the blind dog's head.

"God struck you!" he said hoarsely, "an' you never give up. God put out
yo' eyes, and still you do your work. An' you're only a dumb brute, an'
I was made in the image of God!"

The rural telephone in the hall suddenly gave his ring, and he rose and
went into the house.

"Yes--I've decided, Tom," he said. "I ain't goin' to sell the farm."

After that there came, perforce, a change in Jennings's method of
farming. Years ago Frank had besought him to diversify his crops, to
study his soil, to take advantage of the information the agricultural
college and the Government were so glad to send.

But to the older Jennings thinking had always been harder than physical
toil. Brought up right after the Civil War in a section left
poverty-stricken, he could just read and write--that was all; for when
he was twelve his service between the plough handles had begun, and
there he had served ever since.

Now, from necessity, he began to think and plan. He asked the
agricultural college for information, and they sent not only pamphlets
but a representative from an experiment station to consult with him and
advise him. He sold a bit of land and bought farm machinery. He built a
tenant house and installed help. And all the time Frank (who did not
know of the leaking heart) also advised him by letters, and when he
came home in the summer, helped wonderfully--both by hard work and by
mental initiative.

No great prosperity followed. But Tom Jennings did a shade better than
he had done before, and the children stayed at college. Not even Martha
knew the extent of what the doctor had told him that day. Only to Mac
did he talk freely.

"When yo' eyes was put out, ol' codger, you whetted yo' nose," he would
say; "and when my muscles lost their engine power I whetted my ol' rusty
brain."

His children all did well at college. Frank finished an academic course
(Tom and Martha saw him graduate), then went off to a medical college.
Mary, the older girl, was studying library work; the younger girl had
come to no conclusion yet. The three of them came home in summer for at
least part of the season, and always came at Christmas. They brought
with them a different atmosphere--the atmosphere of a wider world. But
the girls helped the mother in the kitchen and Frank advised with the
father about the farm. There was no feeling of shame on one side, or of
apology on the other. It was the kind of thing that has happened on
thousands of American farms.

Sometimes at night Tom spoke of his children to Martha: "They are goin'
to pass us by, Mother. They are goin' to amount to more than we have."

And then he would go to the window and raise the sash.

"Old man?" he would say.

And from the kennel would come a tap-tap that told he was heard.

And Tom continued to hunt with Mac, alone now, for Nell had died of
pneumonia. It was a good combination, the man with the damaged heart and
the dog with the sightless eyes. Tom had to go slow; so did Mac.

Gradually Tom worked out a series of signals which the dog understood.
If there were a ditch ahead Tom would blow once very sharp on his
whistle; if the dog was to turn to the right, he would blow twice, to
the left, three times. Sometimes, of course, the signals got crossed,
and Mac tumbled into a ditch or ran into a tree. Then there would be a
choke in Tom's throat. But these things didn't happen often.

It got to be a familiar sight in the community. Men from the Northern
Hunt Club, men who attended the field trials on the Earle plantation,
came to see the blind dog hunt. Never was such a nose, sportsmen said;
never such intelligence and sagacity.

"Shake hands with the gentlemen, Mac," the proud master would say. "They
speak well of you."

And the setter would go from one to the other and raise his paw, his
head held high after the manner of the blind.

There was never a bright fire in the winter that Mac did not share;
never a home-coming of the children that he, as well as Tom, was not at
the station to meet them; never a choice bit on the table after
Thanksgiving and Christmas but that a portion of it was laid aside for
his plate.

And so his days and years passed and Mac grew old--not feeble, but a bit
slow and a little doting, as old setters become. He would lay his head
on Tom's knee and, unless Tom moved or pushed him away, keep it there
for hours. The same was true of Martha; sometimes when she was churning
he would stay until the butter came. It was as if he knew he didn't have
very much longer to abide.

Then Frank Jennings came home, a doctor, with his degree. That was in
the fall, just before bird season. Because of the deficiencies of his
early education he had had to spend the summer making up certain courses
in biology.

He was now a fine, tall, grave young fellow of twenty-eight; even
handsome and distinguished. His ambition, he told his father, was to be
a surgeon in children's deformities. To this end he hoped to get an
appointment as assistant to a certain surgeon, the most famous
children's surgeon in the world.

Frank was a quiet fellow; "hoped" was the word he used, but the father
knew it was more than hope--it was ardent desire. He thought maybe he
had attracted some attention, Frank said, and that his work had reached
the ears of the surgeon. If he could get the appointment he felt that
his future was secure.

"What do you want to be a child's surgeon for?" asked the father. "To
make money?"

Frank looked at him quietly and shook his head, and that was all they
said.

He left soon after that. Tom drove him to the station, the blind dog
sitting in the foot of the buggy.

"Don't you and Mother let your hopes get too high," warned the young
man. "There'll be a hundred applicants besides myself. I'll telegraph
the result."

A few days afterward bird season opened and Tom Jennings and Mac set off
after dinner. There had been three or four days of heavy rains but now
the weather had cleared. It was a silent, gorgeous afternoon, high
colours everywhere, gold in the sky and in the frosty air.

As he walked along Tom was thinking of his boy and of his girls; for if
Mac was growing a bit doting, so, perhaps, was he. Before him old Mac,
head high, circled slowly, with ever-wagging tail. Suddenly, not very
far from the river, he stopped, and his tail stiffened.

"Comin', ol' boy," said Tom.

The birds rose and the gun barked twice. One bird tumbled dead. The
other, only winged, recovered itself and, fluttering across the field,
came down near the bank of the river. Mac brought the dead bird, and Tom
Jennings, stooping first to pat his head, dropped it in his pocket. Then
they went on after the wounded one, which had come down near the river.
Even now Tom was thinking in a mooning sort of way of his children.

The river made a sharp curve inward near the point where the bird had
gone down. Then, forming the remainder of a letter S, it swept out again
and around a curve. Below this curve it tumbled over extensive and
dangerous shoals of rock. The rains had swollen it. And now the roar
from these shoals filled the air.

It was this roar, together with a chance feather that had got into the
whistle, that drowned out the frantic signal Tom Jennings tried to give.
For ahead of him a terrible thing was about to happen. The wounded bird,
frightened at the approach of the dog, rose, fluttered along the ground
toward the river, and stopped near the shore. And old Mac, his nose
telling him exactly what had occurred, was following with wagging tail
and pricked ears--following toward that sharp inward curve of the river,
where the banks had caved in and were very steep, and where the current
below made a sudden swerve, then swept outward again.

Again, after shaking it, Tom tried to blow his whistle; but the feather
had not been dislodged and the roar drowned out the muffled sound.

"Mac!" he yelled. "Mac! Come in!"

But the old fellow must not have heard. For Tom, hurrying along, his
face crimson, saw the bird rise once more and flutter over the
brink--and then, over the same brink, went Mac.

At first, when the man reached the river, he gave a gasp of relief. Mac
was swimming smoothly toward the bird which had floated into an eddy.
Maybe he would recover it there, and would not get caught in the
current.

Only for a moment, though, did the hope last. The bird began to float
more and more swiftly, and old Mac to swim more swiftly. Then the
current caught them, swept them far out and, with ever-increasing speed,
around the curve.

Tom Jennings's heart must have improved during these years of
comparative rest. Certainly he forgot that he had one now. By cutting
across the bottoms he could reach the next inward bulge of the river,
where it tumbled over the shoals. Even as he ran, in the hope that
someone would hear, he shouted:

"Help! Help here! Help!"

But the roar of the shoals filled the air, and the lofty, richly
foliaged trees rose above him as in scorn. Out of breath, he reached the
rocks and looked out over the foaming and tumbling waters. Then he made
Mac out, way out there. He was trying to crawl up on a rock, like a
white seal, and in his mouth he held something.

But only his paws caught hold. Then he slipped. Then he was lost from
sight, and appeared again, and was lost again. And Tom knew--he was
being beaten to death against those rocks.

Below the shoals was a deep pool, with eddies; and here at last Tom,
standing on the shore, saw him right himself and come swimming slowly,
his head almost submerged, toward the shore.

"Mac!" cried the man. "Here I am! Here I am, Mac!"

He came on, and at last, Tom, lying flat on a rock and reaching down,
caught first the back of the neck, then the paws, and pulled him out. As
he did so old Mac gave a little cry and, once out, staggered, fell on
his side.

Then Tom saw that in his mouth he held the bird and that it was the last
bird he would ever retrieve; for it was his own blood, not the bird's,
that oozed from his mouth.

He was sitting with the dog's head in his lap when the boy who worked
around the railroad station at Breton Junction found him.

"Got a telegram for you," he cried. "I went by the house an' there
wasn't anybody at home. I heard you shoot just now and come to find you.
Is the dog hurt much?"

"Run to the house," cried Tom. "Tell one of them men to fetch a wagon
quick. Tell him to put a mattress and spring on it. Quick, son--quick.
Tell 'em they can drive across the fields. Bring 'em yourself."

The lad's face went white. He turned and began to run. The wagon came in
a short time. Old Mac was lifted and placed on the mattress. By the
easiest route they could pick they drove him home. They sent in haste to
Breton Junction for a doctor--not a dog doctor but a people's doctor.
But one of the rocks against which he had been hurled had driven a rib
into old Mac's side. And at eleven o'clock that night, almost at the
hour when the hand of God had smitten him, and in the parlour itself,
blind Mac, at a call of his name by his master, tapped the floor with
his tail for the last time.

It was an hour later that Martha discovered the telegram in the pocket
of her husband's hunting coat, which he had thrown over a chair; and
there in the presence of the body they opened it and read:


     Got the appointment. Love to you and Mother and old Mac.

                                                     (signed) FRANK.


It was Tom Jennings who had the stone put up, where it stands now at the
head of the grave, in the edge of the garden. It was Tom who had the
words put on--with the help of a sympathetic carver who knew old Mac's
story as nearly everybody in the country knew it.


                           TO THE MEMORY OF MAC
                               A SETTER DOG
                      WHO, BLIND FROM AN EARLY AGE,
                      YET DID HIS WORK IN THE WORLD
                         FAITHFULLY AND CHEERFULLY
                    THE WORLD IS BETTER BECAUSE HE LIVED.



VI

COMET


No puppy ever came into the world under more favourable auspices than
Comet. He was descended from a famous line of pointers. Both his father
and mother were champions. Before he opened his eyes and while he was
crawling about over his brothers and sisters, blind as puppies are at
birth, Jim Thompson, Mr. Devant's kennel master, picked him out.

"I believe that's the best 'un in the bunch," he said.

On the day the puppies opened their eyes and first gazed with wonder at
this world into which they had been cast, Jim stooped down and snapped
his fingers. There was a general scampering back to the protection of
the mother by all but one. That was Comet. Even then he toddled toward
the smiling man, in a groggy way, wagging his miniature tail.

At the age of one month he pointed a butterfly that lit in the kennel
yard.

"Come here, Janie," yelled the delighted Thompson who saw it.
"Pointed--the damn little cuss!"

When Jim started taking the growing pups out of the yard and into the
fields to the side of Devant's great Southern winter home, Oak Hill, it
was Comet who strayed farthest from the man's protecting care. While at
sight of a tree stump or a cow or some other monstrous object his
brothers and sisters would scamper back to the man, Comet would venture
toward it, provided it were not too far, to see what it was. If a cow he
would bark, anxious little yelps, to show how brave he was. Then he
would turn and run back--but not until he had first barked.

Over and over Jim, speaking of him to his wife--they looked after Oak
Hill in the summer--would say with conviction:

"He's goin' to make a great dog!"

It looked as if Jim's prophecy would be fulfilled. Comet grew to be
handsomer than his brothers and sisters. When Jim taught them to follow
when he said "Heel!" to drop when he said "Drop!" and to stand stock
still when he said "Ho!" Comet learned more quickly than the others. In
everything he was favoured, even in temperament. Now and then he
quarrelled with his brothers, who grew jealous of him, and sometimes the
quarrel ended in a fight. But the fight over, he never sulked even if he
were beaten, but was a loving brother two minutes afterward.

His height he gained quickly, like tall beanpole boys, and though big,
his bones were shapely, and the muscles began to stand out on his lank,
handsome body. At six months he was a stripling youth, two thirds pup,
one third grown dog. Though he still romped with the others, it was
plain to the practised eye that he was different. Sometimes he lay in
the shade a long time and thoughtfully gazed into the distance, dreaming
as serious-minded youths dream the world over. But all Comet's dreams
were centred in fields of broomstraw where birds lay hid and in the
thrillings his nose told him there.

At six months he set his first covey of quail, and though he was
trembling with the excited joy of one who knows he has found his life's
work, still he remained staunch several minutes. And though when the
birds flushed he chased them, he came quickly and obediently back at
Jim's command.

Everything--size, contour, nose, muscle, intelligence, spirit--pointed
to a great dog. Yes--Comet was one of the favoured of the gods.

One day after the leaves had turned red and brown and the mornings grown
chilly and pungent, a crowd of people, strangers to Comet, came to the
big house at Oak Hill. With them were automobiles, trunks, horses. All
this was tremendously exciting, and with noses pressed against the
chicken wire of their yard Comet and his brothers and sisters watched
these goings-on.

Then out of the house with Thompson came a big man in tweeds, and the
two walked straight to the curious young dogs who were watching them
with shining eyes and wagging tails.

"Well, Thompson," said the big man, "which is the future champion you've
been writing me about?"

"Pick him out yourself, sir," said Thompson.

They talked a long time, planning the future of Comet. His yard training
was over--Thompson was only yard trainer--and he must be sent to a man
experienced in training and handling for field trials. His grade-school
days were past. He must go off to college. He must be prepared for the
thrilling life of the field-trial dog.

"Larsen's the man to bring him out," said the big man in tweeds, who was
George Devant himself. "I saw his dogs work in the Canadian Derbies. I
like his methods."

Thompson spoke hesitatingly, as if he disliked to bring the matter up.

"Mr. Devant--you remember, sir, a long time ago Larsen sued us for old
Ben, saying the dog was his by rights?"

"Yes, Thompson, I remember--now you speak of it."

"Well, you remember the court decided against him, which was the only
thing it could do, for Larsen didn't have any more right to that dog
than the Sultan of Turkey. But, Mr. Devant, I was there. I saw Larsen's
face, sir, when the case went against him."

Devant looked keenly at Thompson.

"Another thing, Mr. Devant," Thompson went on, still hesitatingly.
"Larsen had a chance to get hold of this breed of pointers. He lost out
because he dickered too long and acted cheesy. Now they've turned out to
be famous. Some men never forget a thing like that, sir. Larsen's been
talking these pointers down ever since. At least, that's what folks tell
me. He's staked his reputation on his own breed of dogs. Calls 'em the
Larsen strain."

"Go on," said Devant.

"I know Larsen's a good trainer. But it'll mean a long trip for the
young dog. It'll be hard to keep in touch with him, too. Now there's an
old trainer lives near here, old Wade Swygert. Used to train dogs in
England. He's been out of the game a long time--rheumatism. He wants to
get back in. He's all right now. I know he never made a big name, but
there never was a straighter man than him. He's had bad luck----"

Devant smiled. "Thompson, I admire your loyalty to your friends, but I
don't think much of your judgment. We'll turn some of the other puppies
over to Swygert if he wants them, but Comet must have the best. I'll
write Larsen to-night. To-morrow, crate Comet and send him off."

Just as no dog ever came into the world under more favourable auspices,
so no dog ever had a bigger "send-off" than Comet. Even the ladies in
the house came out to exclaim over him, and Marian Devant, pretty,
eighteen, and a sportswoman, stooped down, caught his head between her
hands, looked into his fine eyes, and wished him "Good luck, old man."
In the living room men laughingly drank toasts to his future, and from
the high-columned front porch Marian Devant waved him good-bye as he was
driven off to the station, a bewildered young dog in a padded crate.

Two days and two nights he travelled. At noon of the third, at a dreary
railroad station in a vast prairie country, he was lifted, crate and
all, off the train. A man, tall, lean, pale-eyed, came down the platform
toward him.

"Some beauty here, Mr. Larsen," said the station agent.

"Yes," drawled Larsen in a meditative, sanctimonious voice. "Pretty to
the eye, but he looks scared--er--timid."

"Of course he's scared!" protested the agent. "So would you be if I was
to put you in some kind of whale of a balloon and ship you off to Mars."

The station agent poked his hand through the slats and stroked the young
dog's head. Comet was grateful, for everything was strange. He had not
whined or complained on the trip--but his heart had pounded fast and he
had been homesick and bewildered.

And everything continued to be strange: the treeless country through
which he was driven, a country of vast swells, like a motionless sea;
the bald house, the group of huge red barns where he was lifted out and
the crate door opened; the dogs, setters and pointers, who crowded about
him when he was turned into the kennel yard.

They eyed him with enmity, these dogs; they walked round and round him
with stiffened tails; but he stood his ground staunchly for a youngster,
returning fierce look for fierce look, growl for growl, until Larsen
called him sharply and chained him to his own kennel.

He wagged his tail, eager for friendship, as the man stooped to do so.
He pushed his nose against the man's knee, but receiving no word of
encouragement, he crawled with dignity into his box. There he lay,
panting with the strangeness of it all, and wondering.

"One of George Devant's pointers," drawled Larsen to his assistant.
"Pretty to look at but--er--timid about the eyes. I never did think much
of that breed."


For days Comet remained chained to the kennel, a stranger in a strange
land. A hundred times at the click of the gate announcing Larsen's
entrance he sprang to his feet and stared hungrily at the man for the
light he was accustomed to see in human eyes. But with just a glance at
him, Larsen always turned one or more of the other dogs loose and rode
off to train them.

This he could not understand. Yet he was not without friends of his own
kind. He alone was chained up; and now and then another young dog
strolled his way with wagging tail and lay down near by, in that strange
bond of sympathy which is not confined to man. At these times Comet's
spirit returned; he would want to play, for he was still half puppy.
Sometimes he picked up a stick, shook it, and his partner caught the
other end. So they tugged and growled in mock ferocity, then lay down
and looked at each other curiously.

Had any attention been paid him by Larsen, Comet would have gotten over
his homesickness. He was no milksop. He was like an overgrown boy off at
college, or in some foreign city, sensitive, not sure of himself or his
place in the order of things. Had Larsen gained his confidence, it would
all have been different. And as for Larsen, he knew that perfectly well.


One brisk sunny afternoon Larsen entered the yard, came straight to him,
and turned him loose. So great was his joy at freedom that he did not
see the shrewd light in the man's eyes. In the exuberance of his spirit
he ran round and round the yard barking into the faces of his friends.
Larsen let him out of the yard, mounted his horse, and commanded him to
heel. He obeyed with wagging tail.

A mile or two down the road Larsen turned into the fields. Across his
saddle was something the young pointer had had no experience with--a
gun. That part of his education Thompson had neglected, or at least
postponed, for he had not expected that Comet would be sent away so
soon. That was where Thompson had made a mistake.

At the command "Hie on!" the young pointer ran eagerly around the horse,
looking up into the man's face to be sure he had heard aright. Something
he saw there made him momentarily droop his ears and tail. Again there
came over him the feeling of strangeness, of homesickness, mingled this
time with dismay. Larsen's eyes were slits of blue glass. His mouth was
set in a thin line.

Had Comet seen a different expression, had he received a single word of
encouragement, there would have been no calamity that day. If he had
trusted the man, he would have withstood the shock his nerves were about
to receive. But he did not trust this pale man with the strange eyes and
the hard-set mouth.

At a second command, though, he galloped swiftly, boldly into the field.
Once he turned for direction and Larsen waved him on. Round and round
the extensive field he circled, forgetting any feeling of strangeness,
every fibre of his being intent on the hunt. Larsen, from his horse,
watched with appraising eyes.

Suddenly to the young dog's nose came the smell, strong, pungent,
compelling, of game birds. He stiffened into an earnest beautiful point.
Heretofore, in the little training he had gone through, Thompson had
come up behind him, flushed the birds and made him drop. And now Larsen,
having quickly dismounted and tied his horse, hurried toward him as
Thompson had done--except that in Larsen's hand was the gun.

The old-fashioned black powder of a generation ago makes a loud
explosion. It sounds like a cannon compared with the modern smokeless
powder used for almost a generation by nearly all hunters. Perhaps it
was merely accident that had caused Larsen before he left the house to
load his pump gun with black-powder shells.

As for Comet, he only knew that the birds rose with a whirr, and that
then, above his head, burst an awful roar, almost splitting his ear
drums, shocking every sensitive nerve, filling him with terror such as
he had never felt before. Even then in the confusion and horror of the
noise he turned to the man, ears ringing, eyes dilated. As for Larsen,
he declared afterward, to others and to himself even, that he noticed
no nervousness in the dog, that he was intent only on getting several
birds for breakfast.

Twice, three times, four times the pump gun bellowed its cannon-like
roar, piercing the ear drums, shattering the nerves. Comet turned. One
more glance backward at a face, pale, exultant. Then the puppy in him
conquered. Tail tucked, he ran away from that blasting noise.

There is this in fear, that once man or dog turns, fear increases.
Witness the panic of armies, of theatre audiences when the cry of fire
is given. Faster and faster from that terror that seemed following him
Comet sped. Miles and miles he ran. Now and then, stumbling over briars,
he yelped. His tail was tucked, his eyes crazy with fear. Seeing a
farmhouse, he made for that. It was noon hour and a group of men
loitered about the yard. With the cry "Mad dog!" one ran into the house
for a gun. When he came out the others told him that the dog was under
the porch, and must only have had a fit. And under the porch, in fact,
was Comet. Pressed against the wall in the comparative darkness, the
magnificent pointer with the quivering soul waited, panting, eyes
gleaming, horror still ringing in his ears.

Here Larsen found him that afternoon. A boy crawled underneath and
dragged him forth. He who had started life favoured of the gods, who
that morning had been full of high spirit and pride, who had circled
his first field like a champion, was a shrinking, cringing creature,
like a homeless cur.

The men laughed at the spectacle he made. To many people a gun-shy dog
is, in his terror, a sight for mirth. Perhaps he is. Certainly he is as
much so as a dog with a can tied to his tail. But some day neither sight
will be funny to any human soul.

As for Larsen, he kept repeating in sanctimonious tones that he had
never been more astonished in his life, though to tell the truth he had
never thought much of this breed of pointers. He was very sorry, he
said, very sorry. But any one, peering at him from the bushes as he rode
home, a dog with tucked tail at his horse's heels, would have seen a
shrewd smile on his face.


And thus it happened that Comet came home in disgrace--a coward expelled
from college, not for some youthful prank, but because he was yellow.
And he knew he was disgraced. He saw it in the face of the big man
Devant, who looked at him in the yard where he had spent his happy
puppyhood, then turned away. He knew it because of what he saw in the
face of Jim Thompson.

In the house was a long plausible letter, explaining how it had
happened. "I did everything I could. I never was as much surprised in my
life. The dog is hopeless."

As for the other inhabitants of the big house, their minds were full of
the events of the season--de-luxe hunting parties, more society events
than hunts; lunches served in the woods by uniformed butlers; launch
rides up the river; arriving and departing guests. Only one of them
except Devant gave the gun-shy dog a thought. Marian Devant visited him
in his disgrace. She stooped before him as she had done on that other
and happier day, and caught his head between her hands. But his eyes did
not meet hers, for in his dim way he knew he was not now what he had
been.

"I don't believe he's yellow--inside!" she declared and looked at
Thompson.

Thompson shook his head. "I tried him with a gun, Miss Marian. Just
showed it to him. He ran into his kennel."

"I'll go get mine. I don't believe he will run again."

But at sight of her small gun it all came back. Again he seemed to hear
the explosion that had shattered his nerves. The terror had entered his
soul. In spite of her pleading he made for his kennel. Even the girl
turned away. And as he lay panting in the shelter of his box he knew
that never again would men look at him as they had looked, nor life be
sweet to him as it had been.

Then came to Oak Hill an old man to see Thompson. He had been on many
seas, had fought in a dozen wars, and had settled at last on a truck
farm near by. Somewhere in a life full of adventure and odd jobs he had
trained dogs and horses. His face was lined, his hair white, his eyes
piercing, blue, and kind. Wade Swygert was his name.

"I'll take him if you're goin' to give him away," he said to Thompson.

Give him away--who had been championship hope!

Marian Devant hurried out. She looked into the visitor's face shrewdly,
appraisingly.

"Can you cure him?" she demanded.

"I doubt it," was the sturdy answer.

"You will try?"

"I'll try."

"Then you can have him. And if there's any expense----"

"Come, Comet," said the old man.

That night, in a neat, humble house, Comet ate supper placed before him
by a stout old woman, who had followed this old man to the ends of the
world. That night he slept before their fire. Next day he followed the
man all about the place. Several days and nights passed this way, then,
while he lay before the fire, old Swygert came in with a gun. At sight
of it Comet sprang to his feet. He tried to rush out of the room, but
the doors were closed. Finally, he crawled under the bed.

Every night after that Swygert got out the gun, until he crawled under
the bed no more. Finally, one day the man fastened the dog to a tree in
the yard, then came out with a gun. A sparrow lit in a tree, and he shot
it. Comet tried to break the rope. All his panic had returned, but the
report had not shattered him as that other did, for the gun was loaded
light.

After that, frequently the old man shot a bird in his sight, loading the
gun more and more heavily, and each time, after the shot, coming to him,
showing him the bird, and speaking to him kindly, gently. But for all
that the terror remained in his heart.

One afternoon Marian Devant, a young man with her, rode over on
horseback. Swygert met her at the gate.

"I don't know," he said, "whether I'm getting anywhere or not."

"I don't believe he's yellow. Not deep down. Do you?"

"No," said Swygert. "Just his ears, I think. They've been jolted beyond
what's common. I don't know how. The spirit is willin', but the ears are
weak. I might deefen him. Punch 'em with a knife----"

"That would be running away!" said the girl.

Swygert looked at her keenly, on his face the approbation of an old man
who has seen much.

That night Mrs. Swygert told him she thought he had better give it up.
It wasn't worth the time and worry. The dog was just yellow.

Swygert pondered a long time. "When I was a kid," he said at last,
"there came up a terrible thunderstorm. It was in South America. I was
water boy for a railroad gang, and the storm drove us in a shack. While
lightnin' was hittin' all around, one of the grown men told me it always
picked out boys with red hair. My hair was red, an' I was little and
ignorant. For years I was skeered of lightnin'. I never have quite got
over it. But no man ever said I was yellow."

Again he was silent for a while. Then he went on: "I don't seem to be
makin' much headway, I admit that. I'm lettin' him run away as far as he
can. Now I've got to shoot an' make him come toward the gun himself,
right while I'm shootin' it."

Next day Comet was tied up and fasted, and the next, until he was gaunt
and famished. Then, on the afternoon of the third day, Mrs. Swygert, at
her husband's direction, placed before him, within reach of his chain,
some raw beefsteak. As he started for it, Swygert shot. He drew back,
panting, then, hunger getting the better of him, started again. Again
Swygert shot.

After that for days Comet "ate to music," as Swygert expressed it.
"Now," he said, "he's got to come toward the gun when he's not even tied
up."

Not far from Swygert's house is a small pond, and on one side the banks
are perpendicular. Toward this pond the old man, with the gun under his
arm and the dog following, went. Here in the silence of the woods, with
just the two of them together, was to be a final test.

On the shelving bank Swygert picked up a stick and tossed it into the
middle of the pond with the command to "fetch." Comet sprang eagerly in
and retrieved it. Twice this was repeated. But the third time, as the
dog approached the shore, Swygert picked up the gun and fired.

Quickly the dog dropped the stick, then turned and swam toward the other
shore. Here, so precipitous were the banks, he could not get a foothold.
He turned once more and struck out diagonally across the pond. Swygert
met him and fired.

Over and over it happened. Each time, after he fired, the old man
stooped down with extended hand and begged him to come on. His face was
grim, and though the day was cool sweat stood out on his brow. "You'll
face the music," he said, "or you'll drown. Better be dead than called
yellow."

The dog was growing weary. His head was barely above water. His efforts
to clamber up the opposite bank were feeble, frantic. Yet, each time as
he drew near the shore Swygert fired.

He was not using light loads now. He was using the regular load of the
bird hunter. Time had passed for temporizing. The sweat was standing out
all over his face. The sternness in his eyes was terrible to see, for
it was the sternness of a man who is suffering.

A dog can swim a long time. The sun dropped over the trees. Still the
firing went on, regularly, like a minute gun.

Just before the sun set an exhausted dog staggered toward an old man,
almost as exhausted as he. The dog had been too near death and was too
faint to care for the gun that was being fired over his head. On and on
he came, toward the man, disregarding the noise of the gun. It would not
hurt him, that he knew at last. He might have many enemies, but the gun,
in the hands of this man, was not one of them. Suddenly old Swygert sank
down and took the dripping dog in his arms.

"Old boy," he said, "old boy."

That night Comet lay before the fire, and looked straight into the eyes
of a man, as he used to look in the old days.

Next season, Larsen, glancing over his sporting papers, was astonished
to see that among promising Derbys the fall trials had called forth was
a pointer named Comet. He would have thought it some other dog than the
one who had disappointed him so by turning out gun-shy, in spite of all
his efforts to prevent, had it not been for the fact that the entry was
booked as Comet; owner, Miss Marian Devant; handler, Wade Swygert.

Next year he was still more astonished to see in the same paper that
Comet, handled by Swygert, had won first place in a Western trial, and
was prominently spoken of as a National Championship possibility. As for
him, he had no young entries to offer, but was staking everything on the
National Championship, where he was to enter Larsen's Peerless II.

It was strange how things fell out--but things have a habit of turning
out strangely in field trials, as well as elsewhere. When Larsen reached
Breton Junction where the National Championship was to be run, there on
the street, straining at the leash held by old Swygert, whom he used to
know, was a seasoned young pointer, with a white body, a brown head, and
a brown saddle spot--the same pointer he had seen two years before turn
tail and run in that terror a dog never quite overcomes.

But the strangest thing of all happened that night at the drawing, when,
according to the slips taken at random from a hat, it was declared that
on the following Wednesday, Comet, the pointer, was to run with Peerless
II.

It gave Larsen a strange thrill, this announcement.

He left the meeting and went straightway to his room. There for a long
time he sat pondering. Next day at a hardware store he bought some black
powder and some shells.

The race was to be run next day, and that night in his room he loaded
half-a-dozen shells. It would have been a study in faces to watch him
as he bent over his work, on his lips a smile. Into the shells he packed
all the powder they could stand, all the powder his trusted gun could
stand, without bursting. It was a load big enough to kill a bear, to
bring down a buffalo. It was a load that would echo and reëcho in the
hills.

On the morning that Larsen walked out in front of the judges and the
field, Peerless II at the leash, old Swygert with Comet at his side, he
glanced around at the "field," or spectators. Among them was a handsome
young woman and with her, to his amazement, George Devant. He could not
help chuckling inside himself as he thought of what would happen that
day, for once a gun-shy dog, always a gun-shy dog--that was _his_
experience.

As for Comet, he faced the strawfields eagerly, confidently, already a
veteran. Long ago fear of the gun had left him, for the most part. There
were times, when at a report above his head, he still trembled and the
shocked nerves in his ear gave a twinge like that of a bad tooth. But
always at the quiet voice of the old man, his god, he grew steady, and
remained staunch.

Some disturbing memory did start within him to-day as he glanced at the
man with the other dog. It seemed to him as if in another and an evil
world he had seen that face. His heart began to pound fast and his tail
drooped for a moment. Within an hour it was all to come back to
him--the terror, the panic, the agony of that far-away time.

He looked up at old Swygert, who was his god, and to whom his soul
belonged, though he was booked as the property of Miss Marian Devant. Of
the arrangements he could know nothing, being a dog. Old Swygert, having
cured him, could not meet the expenses of taking him to field trials.
The girl had come to the old man's assistance, an assistance which he
had accepted only under condition that the dog should be entered as
hers, with himself as handler.

"Are you ready, gentlemen?" the judges asked.

"Ready," said Larsen and old Swygert.

And Comet and Peerless II were speeding away across that field, and
behind them came handlers and judges and spectators, all mounted.

It was a race people still talk about, and for a reason, for strange
things happened that day. At first there was nothing unusual. It was
like any other field trial. Comet found birds and Swygert, his handler,
flushed them and shot. Comet remained steady. Then Peerless II found a
covey and Larsen flushed them and shot. And so for an hour it went.

Then Comet disappeared, and old Swygert, riding hard and looking for
him, went out of sight over a hill. But Comet had not gone far. As a
matter of fact, he was near by, hidden in some high straw, pointing a
covey of birds. One of the spectators spied him, and called the judges'
attention to him. Everybody, including Larsen, rode up to him, but still
Swygert had not come back.

They called him, but the old man was a little deaf. Some of the men rode
to the top of the hill but could not see him. In his zeal, he had got a
considerable distance away. Meanwhile, here was his dog, pointed.

If any one had looked at Larsen's face he would have seen the exultation
there, for now his chance had come--the very chance he had been looking
for. It's a courtesy one handler sometimes extends another who is absent
from the spot, to go in and flush his dog's birds.

"I'll handle this covey for Mr. Swygert," said Larsen to the judges, his
voice smooth and plausible, on his face a smile.

And thus it happened that Comet faced his supreme ordeal without the
steadying voice of his god. He only knew that ahead of him were birds,
and that behind him a man was coming through the straw, and that behind
the man a crowd of people on horseback were watching him. He had become
used to that but when, out of the corner of his eye he saw the face of
the advancing man, his soul began to tremble.

"Call your dog in, Mr. Larsen," directed the judge. "Make him
backstand."

Only a moment was lost while Peerless, a young dog himself, came
running in and at a command from Larsen stopped in his tracks behind
Comet, and pointed. Larsen's dogs always obeyed, quickly, mechanically.
Without ever gaining their confidence, Larsen had a way of turning them
into finished field-trial dogs. They obeyed because they were afraid not
to.

According to the rules the man handling the dog has to shoot as the
birds rise. This is done in order to test the dog's steadiness when a
gun is fired over him. No specification is made as to the size of the
shotgun to be used. Usually, however, small-gauge guns are carried. The
one in Larsen's hands was a twelve-gauge, and consequently large.

All morning he had been using it over his own dog. Nobody had paid any
attention to it, because he shot smokeless powder. But now, as he
advanced, he reached into the left-hand pocket of his hunting coat,
where six shells rattled as he hurried along. Two of these he took out
and rammed into the barrels.

As for Comet, still standing rigid, statuesque, he heard, as has been
said, the brush of steps through the straw, glimpsed a face, and
trembled. But only for a moment. Then he steadied, head high, tail
straight out. The birds rose with a whirr--and then was repeated that
horror of his youth. Above his ears, ears that would always be tender,
broke a great roar. Either because of his excitement, or because of a
sudden wave of revenge, or of a determination to make sure of the dog's
flight, Larsen had pulled both triggers at once. The combined report
shattered through the dog's ear drums, it shivered through his nerves,
he sank in agony into the straw.

Then the old impulse to flee was upon him, and he sprang to his feet,
and looked about wildly. But from somewhere in that crowd behind him
came to his tingling ears a voice--clear, ringing, deep, the voice of a
woman--a woman he knew--pleading as his master used to plead, calling on
him not to run but to stand.

"Steady," it said. "Steady, Comet!"

It called him to himself, it soothed him, it calmed him, and he turned
and looked toward the crowd. With the roar of the shotgun the usual
order observed in field trials was broken up. All rules seemed to have
been suspended. Ordinarily, no one belonging to "the field" is allowed
to speak to a dog. Yet the girl had spoken to him. Ordinarily, the
spectators must remain in the rear of the judges. Yet one of the judges
had himself wheeled his horse about and was galloping off, and Marian
Devant had pushed through the crowd and was riding toward the bewildered
dog.

He stood staunch where he was, though in his ears was still a throbbing
pain, and though all about him was this growing confusion he could not
understand. The man he feared was running across the field yonder, in
the direction taken by the judge. He was blowing his whistle as he ran.
Through the crowd, his face terrible to see, his own master was coming.
Both the old man and the girl had dismounted now and were running toward
him.

"I heard," old Swygert was saying to her. "I heard it! I might 'a'
known! I might 'a' known!"

"He stood," she panted, "like a rock--oh, the brave, beautiful thing!"

"Where is that----" Swygert suddenly checked himself and looked around.

A man in the crowd (they had all gathered about now) laughed.

"He's gone after his dog," he said. "Peerless has run away!"



VII

THE CRISIS IN 25

     He prayeth best who loveth best
       All things, both great and small;
     For the dear God who loveth us
       He made and loveth all.


Something was wrong with little Tommy Earle. Consequently, something was
wrong with the whole Earle plantation. Frank, the Earle dog--a stately
Irish setter, rich in the wisdom and devotion of the nobly bred bird
dog--Frank had sensed it yesterday afternoon. The boy had not come out
of the house until long after dinner. Then he had strolled off forlornly
and in silence toward the garage. His frowsy head had been bowed as if
he were studying his own little shadow at his feet. His wide blue
eyes--they were exactly on a level with the dog's anxiously inquiring
ones--had had in them a suggestion of pain and helplessness, of
dependence on things bigger than himself.

He had made no outcry; Tommy was something of a stoic. In fact, he had
said nothing at all. But that look had gone straight to the dog's
heart. Since hunting season was over he had been self-appointed guardian
of this boy. The two had come to understand one another as boys and dogs
understand. There was no need of words now. Frank understood; something
hurt the boy inside.

The young mother had run out, her face anxious, and had taken Tommy in
out of the sun. He had not seemed to mind going in, and that would have
been enough of itself. Frank had followed them up on the porch; the
screen door had slammed in his face. He had strolled off, tail
depressed; he had lain down in the shade of the front-walk hedge, his
ears pricked toward the big white house with the columned porch. It had
remained ominously silent inside. The boy had not come out again. The
long June afternoon had passed brooding and vacant, as if it were Sunday
and all the people on the plantation had gone to church.

Now another morning was here. But instead of the boy running out to
greet it a man in a car was driving up the heavy shaded avenue of oaks
that led from the big road. Frank met him as he got out of his car,
looked up anxiously into his spectacled face, whiffed the
strange-smelling satchel he carried, escorted him gravely up the steps.
Steve Earle, the boy's father, the dog's master, shook hands with the
man and led him into the house. Again the screen door banged in the
dog's face.

Nose pressed against it, he watched the two men go down the wide cool
hall and turn into the bedroom. He heard the spectacled man talking in
there, then Steve Earle, then Marian Earle, the boy's mother, but not
the boy, prick his ears as he would. He sat down on his haunches,
panting and whining softly to himself. He lay down, head between his
paws, agate-brown eyes deep with worry. Still no sound of the boy. He
got up and fumbled at the screen door with his paw, fumbled sternly, all
concentration on his task.

It was not the first time he had turned the trick. He managed to catch
the lower frame with his claw, and, before the door sprang shut, to
insert his nose. The rest was easy and he went silently down the hall.
He stopped in the bedroom doorway. The boy was the centre of attention:
he was sitting on his mother's lap; the spectacled man, satchel at his
feet, was leaning forward toward him; Steve Earle stood above them,
looking down.

The dog's ears drooped. Usually where the boy was, there was also noise.
But this room was very quiet. The shades had been partly pulled; in
contrast with the brilliant out of doors it looked dim in here, like
late afternoon. The mother was smoothing the boy's hair back from his
forehead. There was something helpless in the head leaned against the
mother's breast and in the dangling, listless feet.

Frank took a tentative step forward. In winter he was welcomed always
to the fire, but in summer they said he brought in flies. Now no one
seemed to notice him, though he was a big fellow and red. He took
another step into the room, his eyes fastened longingly on the boy's
flushed face. Suddenly his long tail began to beat an eager tattoo
against the bureau. The boy's eyes had looked straight into his.

"F'ank?"

The mother glanced round. "I told Frank he mustn't come into the house,
dear."

"Why can't he stay wif me, Mama?"

The voice was complaining, as if Tommy were about to cry, and Tommy
seldom cried. Then he seemed to forget, and usually when he wanted
anything he kept on till he got it. The dog watched closely while Steve
Earle lifted him out of the mother's lap and placed him on the bed. Then
he made his way to the foot of the bed and lay down firmly and with an
air of quiet finality. He would stay here until this strangeness passed
away.

But Earle, following the spectacled man out of the room, stopped in the
doorway.

"Come on, Frank!"

He raised his eyes beseechingly to his master's face, then dropped his
head between his paws, his bushy tail dragging underneath the bed.

"Come on, old man!"

He got slowly to his feet; he looked regretfully at the sturdy little
figure on the bed; he tried to catch the mother's eye--sometimes she
interposed in his behalf. A little sullenly he followed the two men out
of the house.

"That's my advice, Earle," the spectacled man said as he climbed into
his car. "They can take better care of him there. The roads are
good--you can drive slowly. I wouldn't put it off; I would go right
away."

Earle went into the house and the dog strolled through the back yard,
past the cabin of Aunt Cindy the cook to the shaded side of the garage.
Here under the eaves was a ditch the boy had been digging to take off
water. He had worked on it all one rainy morning shortly before, a cool,
gusty morning, the last gasp of spring before the present first hot
spell of summer. Aunt Cindy had discovered him wet to the skin and made
a great fuss about it.

Now the shovel was stuck up where the boy had been forced to leave off
and the little wagon, partly filled with dirt, stood near by, its idle
tongue on the ground. Tail wagging, the dog whiffed the shovel, the
ditch, the wagon. Then he lay down beside the wagon, and looked off over
the hills and bottoms of the plantation quivering in the morning heat.

At the hum of the car out of the garage he sprang up and followed it to
the side of the porch. Earle ran up the steps into the house. When he
presently returned Marian and Aunt Cindy were with him and he carried
the boy in his arms. He laid him gently on the back seat of the car with
his mother. They were going to Greenville, the father said. When they
came back he could sit on the front seat like a man. Aunt Cindy handed
in the valise; just a glimpse the dog got of the little upturned sandals
on the back seat, and Earle had closed the door. The car drove slowly
off down the avenue, the sunlight that pierced the foliage flashing at
intervals on its top. The dog looked up into Aunt Cindy's ample black
face. She shook her head and went back into the house.

He sat down on his haunches, panting, then swallowing, then panting
again. He had never been allowed to follow the car. He watched it turn
into the road; the woods hid it from sight. He got to his feet and
looked round. A curtain upstairs was waving out in the slight breeze,
but from all the windows came no sound. He trotted down the avenue and
stopped, nose pointed in the direction in which the car had gone. He
galloped to the shining road. Up the hill beyond the creek bottoms he
made out the car, crawling slowly. He pricked his ears toward it; his
eyes grew stern; where were they taking that boy? A moment he stood
hesitating, then bounded off after the car.

Miles away he caught up and galloped softly behind, trying to take
advantage of the slight shade it offered. His tongue was hanging out,
dust was caked in his eyes, the sun baked down on his heavy red coat,
the road flew dizzily underneath. He could not stand this pace much
longer on such a day--he could not stand it at all if Earle took a
notion to drive as he usually drove. When the car slowed up at a hill he
ran round it, looking up into his master's face. The car stopped and
Earle leaned over the door, his eyes stern.

"Go back home, sir!"

The dog stood his ground, panting like an engine.

The command was repeated.

Dizzy with heat, he sat down, eyes half closed, fangs showing with the
contraction of his panting, frothing chops, saliva dripping in the road.

Earle turned round, smiling grimly. "What had we best do, Marian?"

"Mama"--it was the boy's voice--"is it F'ank?"

"Yes, dear; you must lie still now."

"Let him go, Mama."

She spoke quickly: "Take him in, Steve."

It was midday when they reached the city. Sitting upright on the seat
beside his master, the dog forgot everything else in the procession of
crowding wagons and cars and people--strange sights to his country eyes.
He lost all sense of direction when, honking, feeling his way, Earle
turned down this street and that, the crowd, the noise, the life ever
increasing. Eyes aglow, the dog looked behind at the boy. Tommy was
trying to sit up. Everything was all right now.

But excitement quickly gave place to apprehension. In front of a long
building set up on a terrace, with white porches running across the
front, Earle lifted the boy out of the car and Marian got out with the
valise. Earle turned half around and under his broad panama hat looked
at the dog with masterful eyes.

"You stay there!"

Head hanging over the door of the car, eyes a little resentful, the dog
watched Earle bear the helpless boy up those steps shining in the sun,
saw a woman in white meet them, take Earle's hat off his head and shade
the boy's face, saw the three disappear through the wide door. People
were passing, wagons clattering, cars honking; but he kept his eyes
fastened on the door. A breath of air brought to his nose from the
building a smell unlike any that rises from woods or fields. Nose
quivering, he noted it carefully, catalogued in it that strange variety
of things his nose told him. He would never forget that smell or its
associations.

Earle came out at last--came out alone. They drove home together. Aunt
Cindy cooked supper for them. Afterward the dog stayed on the front
porch, where Earle smoked one silent pipe after another, then knocked
the ashes out on the banisters and went into the house. The dog heard
him telephoning; heard the names Marian and Tommy; listened till it was
over, then came down the steps and strolled round the house. A thin wisp
of new moon, before it set that night, looked mildly down on him curled
up in a bundle at the foot of a little wagon out by the garage.

Next afternoon before he left Earle chained him to his kennel.

"Guess I better," he apologized.

Aunt Cindy, who had watched the performance, shook her head.

"Dat dawg knows," she declared; "he shorely knows!"

"I should think," said Earle, rising, "the way the boy worries him, he
would be glad of a little peace."

"Well, he like grown folks, Mr. Steve, he love to be bothered by
chillun. Dis place daid widout dat boy. Lorsy, lorsy!"

Earle drove off in the car and the old woman went into the house.
Usually she sang as she waddled about her work--now she was silent. All
afternoon the dog lay, nose pointed toward the distant city. He could
see across the orchard where one day not long before Tommy had picked up
June apples off the ground and put them in a basket, down the hill to
the creek bottoms. He could see the creek itself flashing here and there
through clumps of trees, the creek where Tommy used to throw sticks for
him to fetch. He spent his captivity in dignified resentment.

But he quickly forgot his grievance when at dusk he heard the hum of the
returning car. He ran as far as he could to meet it, his tail slapping
the taut chain. When Earle drove into the yard and turned him loose he
ran to the car, he jumped up on the running board; he stared at the
empty back seat.

"Nothing doing, old man," said Earle gently as he turned away.

So the strange days passed. Every morning he followed Earle about the
plantation; every afternoon he was chained up; every evening he was
given his freedom till next day. Things did not mend. Earle grew more
silent, his conferences with Aunt Cindy briefer, the worry in his gray
eyes deeper. The dog saw it plainer at night than at any other time,
when out on the porch Earle lit his pipe; read it unmistakably in the
flaring up of the match against the man's face out here in the dark.
Then he laid his head on the man's knee and Earle pulled his ear, while
up in the blackness of the big oaks crickets rattled and sawed without
ceasing.

At last one afternoon from in front of his kennel he watched a heavy
thunder cloud gather over the hills and come rumbling toward him. The
sky grew black; the orchard trees, the creek bottoms, the distant hills
took on strange colours, as if autumn had miraculously come. Out of her
cabin hurried Aunt Cindy and toward the garage, her white apron like a
flag of truce flapping against the oncoming storm. He watched her put
the shovel into the little wagon and pull the wagon into the blacksmith
shop. The door creaked loudly as she closed it. Back to her cabin she
hurried, leaning against the wind. Tail tucked, the dog crawled deep
into his kennel and listened to the roar of the storm.

It had passed when Earle drove into the yard and turned him loose. So
had the ditch the boy had dug that rainy morning--washed full of sand
now, and a stick horse that had leaned idle against the lot fence was
blown down prostrate on the ground. Earle didn't want any supper, he
told Aunt Cindy as he went into the house. He did not come out on the
porch that night, and the dog sought his sleeping place beside the
garage. It was meaningless now that the wagon was gone. Restless,
lonely, strangely excited, he came back and guardedly manipulated the
screen door.

He glanced in the living room. Earle in an easy chair was staring at a
shaded lamp while he smoked his pipe. Unobserved, the dog went silently
down the hall. As he neared the bedroom door a quick obsession seized
him that the boy might be in there. Ears pricked, he stepped quickly in
and put his head on the little bed beside the big one. It was empty. He
walked round the room, whiffing this object and that; then he lay down
at the foot of the bed.

Here Earle found him. It would be all right, the man said, looking down
on him from his splendid height. Pretty lonely, wasn't it? He sat down
and unlaced one shoe: he held it in his hand a long time before he
dropped it and unlaced the other. Half undressed, he sat silent, looking
steadily into the dog's eyes. Sometimes when they were together this way
he talked as if to another man. The bed creaked when he climbed in. Out
of doors raindrops from the late storm dripped from the trees. Somewhere
over the hills a hound was baying dismally. Frank curled up and slept.

He was awakened by the violent ringing of the telephone bell out in the
hall. He was on his feet when Earle sprang out of bed and hurried
barefoot to it. Even after the man started talking, the echo of that
alarm bell still sounded in the vacant house, up the broad stairs, into
the empty bedrooms above. Earle came back and got into his clothes, his
hands as he laced his shoes trembling a bit. He hurried out of the house
and jumped into the car. Intent on the slippery road ahead, he did not
see the dog's eyes shining wildly in the glare of his lights as he
rounded the curve at the foot of the avenue.

Ears erect, Frank stood for a moment staring at the vanishing rear
light, then dashed frantically after it. He was in the pride of his
strength and endurance. He was the fastest of all bird dogs, the Irish
setter. Yet that mad car drew almost as swiftly away as if he were
standing still in the road staring idly after it. Every muscle
straining, he followed it, until the light melted into the distance.
Even then, nose to the ground, he rushed the trail of those familiar
wheels. At last, panting and frothing, he stopped. The night was silent.
Even the roar had died away--as if it had never been. He looked
bewilderedly around at the dusky fields, the foggy stars. But he
continued to gallop toward the city.

The fingers of the lighted clock above the hospital door pointed to
eleven as Earle ran up the steps. The night was warm, the front door
open, and he hurried down the dim-lighted corridor. A light shone out of
25, and he stepped quickly in.

It was an open room, with a screened portion projecting out on the
porch. In this portion was the bed. The young doctor standing at the
foot glanced at him with a contraction of the muscles about the corners
of the mouth. From the bed over which she leaned Marian raised to him
eyes that told the story. Opposite Marian the nurse was stroking the
little head and chest.

From between the two women came now and then a plaintive, inarticulate
murmuring, a tired echo, it seemed, of what must have been going on
long before he came. The young doctor stepped quietly to him. The fever
had started rising rapidly an hour before, he explained, and the boy had
grown delirious. It was the crisis--sooner than they expected.

In spite of the pounding of his heart, Steve's low-pitched question
sounded matter-of-fact enough.

"What would you say of him?"

The doctor looked the father narrowly and solemnly in the eyes. "He's a
very ill child, Mr. Earle."

Steve nodded quickly. "Is there anything I can do?"

The doctor shook his head.

Somewhere a bell rang; a nurse's skirts rustled as she passed the door.
Earle sat down, his hat on his knees, staring helplessly.

"F'ank?"

The thin little voice on the bed was shrill and complaining. The women's
heads met above it.

"Mother's here. Mother's here, darling."

"A playmate?" asked the doctor.

Earle shook his head. "No; a dog."

"F'ank?"

Earle got up, went out of the room, down the corridor, out on the porch.
He sank on a bench and buried his face in his hands.

"God!" he whispered, "I can't stand that!"

When he came back, for he could not stay away, Marian met him in the
middle of the room, her flushed face and dilated eyes raised to his.

"Steve--he's growing excited. He's wearing himself out. Go for Frank!"

Earle looked beyond her at the bed. The cheeks were crimson, the eyes
half closed; through the narrowed slits they burned upward like fire.
Earle turned to the doctor.

"What about it?"

"How long will it take, Mr. Earle?"

"Two hours."

"Yes--I should go--right away!"

Earle crossed the room to the nurse sitting beside the bed. "It won't
matter?" he asked. "It won't excite him?"

She shook her head.

He sank on his knees beside the bed, his big arm braced over the heaving
little chest, his eyes drinking in the light in those narrowed unseeing
ones.

The lips were incredibly hot.

"Old scout!" he choked in the little ear.

He did not look at the faces as he hurried out of the room, nor back at
the building when he jumped into his car. He roared through the city,
into the silent country. He glimpsed the stone mileposts flash past. He
glanced now and then at the clock in the front of the car. He had set an
almost impossible time. But he was halfway home at midnight. As he
rounded a sharp curve his lights flashed on something far ahead in the
road--a hog or perhaps a prowling dog. It sprang aside into the bushes.
He passed the spot with a roar.

Behind him Frank leaped back into the road, and stood for a moment
staring after the car. He had gotten a glimpse, a whiff--he had thought
he knew it. But that car was going the wrong way. He must have been
mistaken. Wearily he turned and galloped on toward the city.

He had come many miles. He had many miles yet to go. From sleeping
farmhouses dogs bayed him as he passed, running like a big fox, silent
and swift. The road turned and twisted among hills and small mountains.
Ahead in the sky was a glow unlike the glow of coming day. It grew
brighter with the passing miles. It drew him on. The distance would have
meant little to him, except for the tremendous speed at which he had
been travelling. Now his chest was flecked with foam. His tail, carried
usually so proudly, followed the curve of his haunches. His overstrained
muscles worked mechanically like pistons. His heart pounded his long,
lean red ribs.

Dizzy, almost famished, he came at last to the top of a hill and
stopped, ears erect. Below him stretched rows of twinkling lights that,
all together, made up the glow in the sky. That was the city with the
strange building into which they had carried Tommy Earle!

He could afford to rest, now that he was so near. To the side of the
road grew bushes to which coolness and moisture clung. Sides heaving, he
scraped his back against them, his heavy tail wagging with inward
satisfaction, the glow from those distant lights reflected dimly in his
eyes. Then he sank down on his stomach, panting out loud in the sultry
stillness.

A roar, a blinding glare were upon him before he sprang wildly to his
feet. The wind rushed past as the car flashed by. He glimpsed Earle's
tense face.

Again he dashed after the rear light--again it drew away from him. He
left the road again--just behind the car. Once more it was leaving him.
In his desperation he began to bark as he ran. Above the roar his
frantic, enraged yelps pierced the night. He heard the crunching of
brakes.

"Frank!" cried the man.

The door was flung open. He jumped in and up on the padded seat. The car
swished smoothly and swiftly over black, moist, oily streets, past
interminable lights. Every muscle of the dog began to quiver. He looked
with shining eyes into his master's face, choked, and swallowed.

Suddenly he rose on the seat, feet together. Down the street had come
the smell, unlike any that rises from woods or fields, the smell he
would never forget. It drew closer. The car turned in toward the curb.
Earle spoke quickly. But the dog had leaped over the door of the car
and landed in the middle of the sidewalk. He took the steps three at a
time. Down the dim, silent corridor floated the pungent smell. Earle was
at his side, had caught him by the mane, had opened the door, was
holding him back.

"Steady, old man!" he said. "Steady!"

They hurried together down the shining hall. They turned into a strange
room. Over there, lips parted, his mistress had sprung to her feet.
There were others in here--a man, a woman in white--but he hardly saw
them. For on white sheets, face upturned and crimson, eyes half closed,
lay little Tommy Earle.

The mother was on her knees now, leaning far over the boy. Her face was
flushed like his face. She was smiling down eagerly into the strange,
up-turning eyes. "Look!" she was pleading. "Look at Mother, darling. Be
quiet--listen! Here's Frank--come to see you!"

She caught the dog convulsively to her, so close he could feel the
pounding of her heart. "Help me, Steve!" she panted.

She picked the boy's hand up and placed it on the shaggy head. She
pressed the little fingers together. She slipped her arm under the
pillow and turned the burning face toward the dog. "Now!" she smiled.
"You see him, don't you, dear! Mother told you he would come, didn't
she? Mother told you---- Ah!" she gasped.

Long after the boy had gazed in recognition into the deep, longing eyes
of the dog, then with a wistful little smile up into the mother's face;
long after his eyes had closed in that profound sleep which marks the
breaking up of delirium and fever, Frank sat on his haunches beside the
bed, his patient head on the covers.

He licked the hand of the boy, then glanced up inquiringly into the face
of the mother who sat beside him. She shook her head and he licked it no
more.

Later she whispered to him that he could lie down now, and nodded at the
floor at her feet. He understood, but he did not move.

The muscles of his haunches were cruelly cramped when the nurse snapped
off the light. In the pale light growing luminous and pink and gradually
suffusing the room Tommy Earle opened his eyes. First they looked up
into the happy face of the mother, then at Steve Earle standing at the
foot of the bed, then straight and clear into the faithful eyes of his
friend.

The cramped muscles quivered and jerked, the long tail beat the floor.
He wanted to leap on the bed, to rush round the room. The mother caught
him by the mane. He must be still, she said.

The voice of Tommy Earle when he spoke was as gentle and clear as the
chirp of half-awakened birds out of the window.

"F'ank?" he said.

Steve Earle had to hold the dog now--had to drag him away from the bed.
They brought him a pan of water. They made him lie down. They came
softly in, nurses and internes, and looked at him. He lay beside the
bed, relaxed now, but panting slightly, his eyes still aglow. They said
it was a wonderful thing he had done. And one of them, she was young and
radiant, gazed long and steadily, as if fascinated, into his gentle,
brave eyes, upraised to hers.

"He knows what he's done!" she said.



VIII

THE TRIAL IN TOM BELCHER'S STORE


It was a plain case of affinity between Davy Allen and Old Man
Thornycroft's hound dog Buck. Davy, hurrying home along the country road
one cold winter afternoon, his mind intent on finishing his chores
before dark, looked back after passing Old Man Thornycroft's house to
find Buck trying to follow him--_trying_ to, because the old man, who
hated to see anybody or anything but himself have his way, had chained a
heavy block to him to keep him from doing what nature had intended him
to do--roam the woods and poke his long nose in every briar patch after
rabbits.

At the sight Davy stopped, and the dog came on, dragging behind him in
the road the block of wood fastened by a chain to his collar and trying
at the same time to wag his tail. He was tan-coloured, lean as a rail,
long-eared, a hound every inch; and Davy was a ragged country boy who
lived alone with his mother, and who had an old single-barrel shotgun at
home, and who had in his grave boy's eyes a look, clear and
unmistakable, of woods and fields.

To say it was love at first sight when that hound, dragging his prison
around with him, looked up into the boy's face, and when that ragged boy
who loved the woods and had a gun at home looked down into the hound's
eyes, would hardly be putting it strong enough. It was more than
love--it was perfect understanding, perfect comprehension. "I'm your
dog," said the hound's upraised, melancholy eyes. "I'll jump rabbits and
bring them around for you to shoot. I'll make the frosty hills echo with
music for you. I'll follow you everywhere you go. I'm your dog if you
want me--yours to the end of my days."

And Davy, looking down into those upraised, beseeching eyes, and at that
heavy block of wood, and at the raw place the collar had worn on the
neck, then at Old Man Thornycroft's bleak, unpainted house on the hill,
with the unhomelike yard and the tumble-down fences, felt a great pity,
the pity of the free for the imprisoned, and a great longing to own, not
a dog, but _this_ dog.

"Want to come along?" he grinned.

The hound sat down on his haunches, elevated his long nose, and poured
out to the cold winter sky the passion and longing of his soul. Davy
understood, shook his head, looked once more into the pleading eyes,
then at the bleak house from which this prisoner had dragged himself.

"That ol' devil!" he said. "He ain't fitten to own a dog. Oh, I wish he
was mine!"

A moment he hesitated there in the road, then he turned and hurried
away from temptation.

"He _ain't_ mine," he muttered. "Oh, dammit all!"

But temptation followed him as it has followed many a boy and man. A
little way down the road was a pasture through which by a footpath he
could cut off half a mile of the three miles that lay between him and
home. Poised on top of the high rail fence that bordered the road, he
looked back. The hound was still trying to follow, walking
straddle-legged, head down, all entangled with the taut chain that
dragged the heavy block. The boy watched the frantic efforts, pity and
longing on his face, then he jumped off the fence inside the pasture and
hurried on down the hill, face set straight ahead.

He had entered a pine thicket when he heard behind the frantic, choking
yelps of a dog in dire distress. Knowing what had happened, he ran back.
Within the pasture the hound, only his hind feet touching the ground,
was struggling and pawing at the fence. He had jumped, the block had
caught and was hanging him. Davy rushed to him. Breathing fast, he
unsnapped the chain. The block and chain fell on the other side of the
fence and the dog was free. Shrewdly the boy looked back up the road;
the woods hid the old man's house from view and no one was to be seen.
With a little grin of triumph he turned and broke into a run down the
pasture hill toward the pines, the wind blowing gloriously into his
face, the dog galloping beside him.

Still running, the two came out into the road that led home, and
suddenly Davy stopped short and his face flushed. Yonder around the bend
on his gray mare jogged Squire Kirby toward them, his pipe in his mouth,
his white beard stuck cozily inside the bosom of his big overcoat. There
was no use to run, no use to try to make the dog hide, no use to try to
hide himself--the old man had seen them both. Suppose he knew whose dog
this was! Heart pounding, Davy waited beside the road.

Mr. Kirby drew rein opposite them and looked down with eyes that
twinkled under his bushy white brows. He always stopped to ask the boy
how his mother was and how they were getting along. Davy had been to his
house many a time with eggs and chickens to sell, or with a load of
seasoned oak wood. Many a time he had warmed himself before Mr. Kirby's
fire in the big living room and bedroom combined, and eaten Mrs. Kirby's
fine white cake covered with frosting. Never before had he felt ill at
ease in the presence of the kindly old man.

"That's a genuine hound you got there, son, ain't it?"

"Yes, sir," said Davy.

"Good for rabbits an' 'possums an' coons, eh?"

"He shore is!"

"Well, next big fat 'possum you an' him ketch, you bring that 'possum
'round an' me an' you'll talk business. Maybe we'll strike a bargain.
Got any good sweet potatoes? Well, you bring four or five bushels along
to eat that 'possum with. Haulin' any wood these days? Bring me a load
or two of good, dry oak--pick it out, son, hear? How's your ma? All
right? That's good. Here----"

He reached deep down in a pocket of his enormous faded overcoat, brought
out two red apples, and leaned down out of his saddle which creaked
under the strain of his weight.

"Try one of 'em yourself an' take one of 'em home to your ma. Git up,
Mag!"

He jogged on down the road, and the boy, sobered, walked on. One thing
was certain, though, Mr. Kirby hadn't known whose dog this was. What
difference did it make, anyhow? He hadn't stolen anything. He couldn't
let a dog choke to death before his eyes. What did Old Man Thornycroft
care about a dog, anyhow, the hard-hearted old skinflint!

He remembered the trouble his mother had had when his father died and
Old Man Thornycroft pushed her for a note he had given. He had heard
people talk about it at the time, and he remembered how white his
mother's face had been. Old Man Thornycroft had refused to wait, and his
mother had had to sell five acres of the best land on the little farm
to pay the note. It was after the sale that Mr. Kirby, who lived five
miles away, had ridden over.

"Why didn't you let me know, Mrs. Allen?" he had demanded. "Or Steve
Earle? Either one of us would have loaned you the money--gladly,
gladly!" He had risen from the fire and pulled on the same overcoat he
wore now. It was faded then, and that was two years ago.

It was sunset when Davy reached home to find his mother out in the
clean-swept yard picking up chips in her apron. From the bedroom window
of the little one-storied unpainted house came a bright red glow, and
from the kitchen the smell of cooking meat. His mother straightened up
from her task with a smile when with his new-found partner he entered
the yard.

"Why, Davy," she asked, "where did you get him?"

"He--he just followed me, Ma."

"But whose dog is he?"

"He's mine, Ma--he just took up with me."

"Where, Davy?"

"Oh, way back down the road--in a pasture."

"He must belong to somebody."

"He's just a ol' hound dog, Ma, that's all he is. Lots of hounds don't
belong to nobody--everybody knows that, Ma. Look at him, Ma. Mighty nigh
starved to death. Lemme keep him. We can feed him on scraps. He can
sleep under the house. Me an' him will keep you in rabbits. You won't
have to kill no more chickens. Nobody don't want him but me!"

From her gaunt height she looked down into the boy's eager eyes, then at
the dog beside him. "All right, son," she said. "If he don't belong to
anybody."

That night Davy alternately whistled and talked to the dog beside him as
he husked the corn he had raised with his own hands, and chopped the
wood he had cut and hauled--for since his father's death he had kept
things going. He ate supper in a sort of haze; he hurried out with a tin
plate of scraps; he fed the grateful, hungry dog on the kitchen steps.
He begged some vaseline from his mother and rubbed it on the sore neck.
Then he got two or three empty gunnysacks out of the corncrib, crawled
under the house to a warm place beside the chimney, and spread them out
for a bed. He went into the house whistling; he didn't hear a word of
the chapter his mother read out of the Bible. Before he went to bed in
the shed-room he raised the window.

"You all right, old feller?" he called.

Underneath the house he heard the responsive tap-tap of a tail in the
dry dust. He climbed out of his clothes, leaving them in a pile in the
middle of the floor, tumbled into bed, and pulled the covers high over
him.

"Golly!" he said. "Oh, golly!"

Next day he hunted till sundown. The Christmas holidays were on and
there was no thought of school. He went only now and then, anyway, for
since his father's death there was too much for him to do at home. He
hunted in the opposite direction from Old Man Thornycroft's. It was
three miles away; barriers of woods and bottoms and hills lay between,
and the old man seldom stirred beyond the boundaries of his own farm;
but Davy wanted to be on the safe side.

There were moments, though, when he thought of the old man and wondered
if he had missed the dog and whether he would make any search for him.
There were sober moments, too, when he thought of his mother and Mr.
Kirby and wished he had told them the truth. But then the long-drawn bay
of the hound would come from the bottoms ahead, and he would hurry to
the summons, his face flushed and eager. The music of the dog running,
the sound of the shots, and his own triumphant yells started many an
echo among the silent, frosted hills that day. He came home with enough
meat to last a week--six rabbits. As he hurried into the yard he held
them up for the inspection of his mother, who was feeding the chickens.

"He's the finest rabbit dog ever was, Ma! Oh, golly, he can follow a
trail! I never see anything like it, Ma. I never did! I'll skin 'em an'
clean 'em after supper. You ought to have saw him, Ma! Golly!"

And while he chopped the wood, and milked the cow, and fed the mule, and
skinned the rabbits, he saw other days ahead like this, and whistled and
sang and talked to the hound, who followed close at his heels every step
he took.

Then one afternoon, while he was patching the lot fence, with Buck
sunning himself near the woodpile, came Old Man Thornycroft. Davy
recognized his buggy as it turned the bend in the road. He quickly
dropped his tools, called Buck to him, and got behind the house where he
could see without being seen. The buggy stopped in the road, and the old
man, his hard, pinched face working, his buggy whip in his hand, came
down the walk and called Mrs. Allen out on the porch.

"I just come to tell you," he cried, "that your boy Davy run off with my
dog las' Friday evenin'! There ain't no use to deny it. I know all about
it. I seen him when he passed in front of the house. I found the block I
had chained to the dog beside the road. I heered Squire Jim Kirby
talkin' to some men in Tom Belcher's sto' this very mornin'; just
happened to overhear him as I come in. 'A boy an' a dog,' he says, 'is
the happiest combination in nater.' Then he went on to tell about your
boy an' a tan dog. He had met 'em in the road. Met 'em when? Last Friday
evenin'. Oh, there ain't no use to deny it, Mrs. Allen! Your boy
Davy--he _stole_ my dog!"

"Mr. Thornycroft"--Davy could not see his mother, but he could hear her
voice tremble--"he did _not_ know whose dog it was!"

"He didn't? He didn't?" yelled the old man. "An' him a boy that knows
ever' dog for ten miles around! Right in front of my house, I tell
you--that's where he picked him up--that's where he tolled him off!
Didn't I tell you, woman, I seen him pass? Didn't I tell you I found the
block down the road? Didn't know whose dog it was? Ridiculous,
ridiculous! Call him, ask him, face him with it. Likely he'll lie--but
you'll see his face. Call him, that's all I ask. Call him!"

"Davy!" called Mrs. Allen. "Davy!"

Just a moment the boy hesitated. Then he went around the house. The
hound stuck very close to him, eyes full of terror, tail tucked as he
looked at the old man.

"There he is--_with my dog_!" cried the old man. "You didn't know whose
dog it was, did you, son? Eh? You didn't know, now, did you?"

"Yes!" cried the boy. "I knowed!"

"Hear that, Mrs. Allen? Did he know? What do you say now? He stole my
dog, didn't he? That's what he done, didn't he? Answer me, woman! You
come here!" he yelled, his face livid, and started, whip raised, toward
boy and dog.

There were some smooth white stones the size of hen eggs arranged
around a flower bed in the yard, and Davy stood near these stones--and
now, quick as a flash, he stooped down and picked one up.

"You stop!" he panted, his face very white.

His mother cried out and came running toward him, but Thornycroft had
stopped. No man in his right mind wants to advance on a country boy with
a rock. Goliath tried it once.

"All right!" screamed the old man. "You steal first--then you try to
assault an old man! I didn't come here to raise no row. I just come here
to warn you, Mrs. Allen. I'll have the law on that boy--I'll have the
law on him before another sun sets!"

He turned and hurried toward the buggy. Davy dropped the rock. Mrs.
Allen stood looking at the old miser, who was clambering into his buggy,
with a sort of horror. Then she ran toward the boy.

"Oh, Davy! run after him. Take the dog to him. He's terrible, Davy,
terrible! Run after him--anything--anything!"

But the boy looked up at her with grim mouth and hard eyes.

"I ain't a-goin' to do it, Ma!" he said.

It was after supper that very night that the summons came. Bob Kelley,
rural policeman, brought it.

"Me an' Squire Kirby went to Greenville this mornin'," he said, "to
look up some things about court in the mornin'. This evenin' we run into
Old Man Thornycroft on the street, lookin' for us. He was awful excited.
He had been to Mr. Kirby's house, an' found out Mr. Kirby was in town,
an' followed us. He wanted a warrant swore out right there. Mr. Kirby
tried to argue with him, but it warn't no use. So at last Mr. Kirby
turned to me. 'You go on back, Bob,' he said. 'This'll give me some more
lookin' up to do. Tell my wife I'll just spend the night with Judge
Fowler, an' git back in time for court in Belcher's sto' in the mornin'.
An', Bob, you just stop by Mrs. Allen's--she's guardian of the boy--an'
tell her I say to bring him to Belcher's sto' to-morrow mornin' at nine.
You be there, too, Mr. Thornycroft--an', by the way, bring that block of
wood you been talkin' about.'"

That was all the squire had said, declared the rural policeman. No, he
hadn't sent any other message--just said he would read up on the case.
The rural policeman went out and closed the door behind him. It had been
informal, haphazard, like the life of the community in which they lived.
But, for all that, the law had knocked at the door of the Widow Allen
and left a white-faced mother and a bewildered boy behind.

They tried to resume their usual employments. Mrs. Allen sat down beside
the table, picked up her sewing and put her glasses on, but her hands
trembled when she tried to thread the needle. Davy sat on a
split-bottom chair in the corner, his feet up on the rungs, and tried to
be still; but his heart was pounding fast and there was a lump in his
throat. Presently he got up and went out of doors, to get in some
kindling on the back porch before it snowed, he told his mother. But he
went because he couldn't sit there any longer, because he was about to
explode with rage and grief and fear and bitterness.

He did not go toward the woodpile--what difference did dry kindling make
now? At the side of the house he stooped down and softly called Buck.
The hound came to him, wriggling along under the beams, and he leaned
against the house and lovingly pulled the briar-torn ears. A long time
he stayed there, feeling on his face already the fine mist of snow.
To-morrow the ground would be white; it didn't snow often in that
country; day after to-morrow everybody would hunt rabbits--everybody but
him and Buck.

It was snowing hard when at last he went back into the warm room, so
warm that he pulled off his coat. Once more he tried to sit still in the
split-bottom chair. But there is no rage that consumes like the rage of
a boy. In its presence he is so helpless! If he were a man, thought
Davy, he would go to Old Man Thornycroft's house this night, call him
out, and thrash him in the road. If he were a man, he would curse, he
would do something. He looked wildly about the room, the hopelessness of
it all coming over him in a wave. Then suddenly, because he wasn't a
man, because he couldn't do what he wanted to do, he began to cry, not
as a boy cries, but more as a man cries, in shame and bitterness, his
shoulders shaken by great convulsive sobs, his head buried in his hands,
his fingers running through his tangled mop of hair.

"Davy, Davy!" The sewing and the scissors slipped to the floor. His
mother was down on her knees beside him, one arm about his shoulders,
trying to look into his eyes. "You're my man, Davy! You're the only man,
the only help I've got. You're my life, Davy. Poor boy! Poor child!"

He caught hold of her convulsively, and she pressed his head against her
breast. Then he saw that she was crying, and he grew quiet, and wiped
his eyes with his ragged sleeve.

"I'm all right now, Ma," he said; but he looked at her wildly.

She did not follow him into his little unceiled bedroom. She must have
known that he had reached that age where no woman could help him. It
must be a man now to whom he could pin his faith. And while he lay
awake, tumbling and tossing, along with bitter thoughts of Old Man
Thornycroft came other bitter thoughts of Mr. Kirby, whom, deep down in
his boy's heart, he had worshipped--Mr. Kirby, who had sided with Old
Man Thornycroft and sent a summons with--no message for him. "God!" he
said. "God!" And pulled his hair, down there under the covers; and he
hated the law that would take a dog from him and give it back to that
old man--the law that Mr. Kirby represented.

It was still snowing when next morning he and his mother drove out of
the yard and he turned the head of the reluctant old mule in the
direction of Belcher's store. A bitter wind cut their faces, but it was
not as bitter as the heart of the boy. Only twice on that five-mile ride
did he speak. The first time was when he looked back to find Buck, whom
they had left at home, thinking he would stay under the house on such a
day, following very close behind the buggy.

"Might as well let him come on," said the boy.

The second time was when they came in sight of Belcher's store, dim
yonder through the swirling snow. Then he looked up into his mother's
face.

"Ma," he said grimly, "I ain't no thief!"

She smiled as bravely as she could with her stiffened face and with the
tears so near the surface. She told him that she knew it, and that
everybody knew it. But there was no answering smile on the boy's set
face.

The squire's gray mare, standing huddled up in the midst of other horses
and of buggies under the shed near the store, told that court had
probably already convened. Hands numb, the boy hitched the old mule to
the only rack left under the shed, then made Buck lie down under the
buggy. Heart pounding, he went up on the store porch with his mother and
pushed the door open.

There was a commotion when they entered. The men, standing about the
pot-bellied stove, their overcoats steaming, made way for them. Old Man
Thornycroft looked quickly and triumphantly around. In the rear of the
store the squire rose from a table, in front of which was a cleared
space.

"Pull up a chair nigh the stove for Mrs. Allen, Tom Belcher," he said.
"I'm busy tryin' this chicken-stealin' nigger. When I get through, Mrs.
Allen, if you're ready, I'll call your case."

Davy stood beside his mother while the trial of the Negro proceeded.
Some of the fight had left him now, crowded down here among all these
grown men, and especially in the presence of Mr. Kirby, for it is hard
for a boy to be bitter long. But with growing anxiety he heard the sharp
questions the magistrate asked the Negro; he saw the frown of justice;
he heard the sentence--"sixty days on the gang." And the Negro had
stolen only a chicken--and he had run off with another man's dog.

"The old man's rough this mornin'," Jim Taylor whispered to another man
above him; and he saw the furtive grin on the face of Old Man
Thornycroft, who leaned against the counter, waiting.

His heart jumped into his mouth when after a silence the magistrate
spoke: "Mr. Thornycroft, step forward, sir. Put your hand on the book
here. Now tell us about that dog of yours that was stole."

Looking first at the magistrate, then at the crowd as if to impress them
also, the old man told in a high-pitched, excited voice all the
details--his seeing Davy Allen pass in front of his house last Friday
afternoon, his missing the dog, his finding the block of wood down the
road beside the pasture fence, his overhearing the squire's talk right
here in the store, his calling on Mrs. Allen, the boy's threatening him.

"I tell you," he cried, "that's a dangerous character--that boy!"

"Is that all you've got to say?" asked the squire.

"It's enough, ain't it?" demanded Thornycroft angrily.

The squire nodded and spat into the cuspidor between his feet. "I think
so," he said quietly. "Stand aside. Davy Allen, step forward. Put your
hand on the book here, son. Davy, how old are you?"

The boy gulped. "Thirteen year old, goin' on fo'teen."

"You're old enough, son, to know the nater of the oath you're about to
take. For over two years you've been the main-stay an' support of your
mother. You've had to carry the burdens and responsibilities of a man,
Davy. The testimony you give in this case will be the truth, the whole
truth, an' nothin' but the truth, so help you God. What about it?"

Davy nodded, his face very white.

"All right now. Tell us about it. Talk loud so we can hear--all of us."

The boy's eyes never left Mr. Kirby's while he talked. Something in them
held him, fascinated him, overawed him. Very large and imposing he
looked there behind his little table, with his faded old overcoat on,
and there was no sound in the room but the boy's clear voice.

"An' you come off an' left the dog at first?"

"Yes, sir."

"An' you didn't unfasten the chain from the block till the dog got
caught in the fence?"

"No, sir, I didn't."

"Did you try to get him to follow you then?"

"No, sir, he wanted to."

"Ask him, Mr. Kirby," broke in Thornycroft angrily, "if he tried to
drive him home!"

"I'll ask him whatever seems fit an' right to me, sir," said Mr. Kirby.
"What did you tell your ma, Davy, when you got home?"

"I told her he followed me."

"Did you tell her whose dog he was?"

"No, sir."

"Ain't that what you ought to have done? Ain't it?"

Davy hesitated. "Yes, sir."

There was a slight shuffling movement among the men crowded about.
Somebody cleared his throat. Mr. Kirby resumed:

"This block you been tellin' about--how was it fastened to the dog?"

"There was a chain fastened to the block by a staple. The other end was
fastened to the collar."

"How heavy do you think that block was?"

"About ten pound, I reckon."

"Five," broke in Old Man Thornycroft with a sneer.

Mr. Kirby turned to him. "You fetched it with you, didn't you? I told
you to. It's evidence. Bob Kelley, go out to Mr. Thornycroft's buggy an'
bring that block of wood into court."

The room was silent while the rural policeman was gone. Davy still stood
in the cleared space before Mr. Kirby, his ragged overcoat on, his
tattered hat in his hand, breathing fast, afraid to look at his mother.
Everybody turned when Kelley came in with the block of wood. Everybody
craned their necks to watch while, at the magistrate's order, Kelley
weighed the block of wood on the store scales, which he put on the
magistrate's table.

"Fo'teen punds," said Mr. Kirby. "Take the scales away."

"It had rubbed all the skin off'n the dog's neck," broke in Davy
impulsively. "It was all raw an' bleedin'."

"Aw, that ain't so!" cried Thornycroft.

"Is the dog out there?" asked Mr. Kirby.

"Yes, sir, under the buggy."

"Bob Kelley, you go out an' bring that dog into court."

The rural policeman went out, and came back with the hound, who looked
eagerly up from one face to the other, then, seeing Davy, came to him
and stood against him, still looking around with that expression of
melancholy on his face that a hound dog always wears except when he is
in action.

"Bring the dog here, son!" commanded Mr. Kirby. He examined the raw
place on the neck. "Any of you gentlemen care to take a look?" he asked.

"It was worse'n that," declared Davy, "till I rubbed vase-leen on it."

Old Man Thornycroft pushed forward, face quivering. "What's all this got
to do with that boy stealin' that dog?" he demanded. "That's what I want
to know--what's it got to do?"

"Mr. Thornycroft," said Kirby, "at nine o'clock this mornin' this place
ceased to be Tom Belcher's sto', an' become a court of justice. Some
things are seemly in a court, some not. You stand back there!"

The old man stepped back to the counter, and stood pulling his chin,
his eyes running over the crowd of faces.

"Davy Allen," spoke Mr. Kirby, "you stand back there with your ma. Tom
Belcher, make way for him. And, Tom, s'pose you put another stick of
wood in that stove an' poke up the fire." He took off his glasses, blew
on them, polished them with his handkerchief and readjusted them. Then,
leaning back in his chair, he spoke.

"Gentlemen, from the beginnin' of time, as fur back as records go, a
dog's been the friend, companion, an' protector of man. Folks say he
come from the wolf, but that ain't no reflection on him, seein' that we
come from monkeys ourselves; an' I believe, takin' all things into
account, I'd as soon have a wolf for a ancestor as a monkey, an' a
little ruther.

"Last night in the liberry of my old friend Judge Fowler in Greenville,
I looked up some things about this dog question. I find that there have
been some queer decisions handed down by the courts, showin' that the
law does recognize the fact that a dog is different from other
four-footed critters. For instance, it has been held that a dog has a
right to protect not only his life but his dignity; that where a man
worries a dog beyond what would be reasonable to expect any
self-respectin' critter to stand, that dog has a right to bite that man,
an' that man can't collect any damages--provided the bitin' is done at
the time of the worryin' an' in sudden heat an' passion. That has been
held in the courts, gentlemen. The law that holds for man holds for
dogs.

"Another thing: If the engineer of a railroad train sees a cow or a
horse or a sheep on the track, or a hog, he must stop the train or the
road is liable for any damage done 'em. But if he sees a man walkin'
along the track, he has a right to presume that the man, bein' a critter
of more or less intelligence, will git off, an' he is not called on to
stop under ordinary circumstances. The same thing holds true of a dog.
The engineer has a right to presume that the dog, bein' a critter of
intelligence, will get off the track. Here again the law is the same for
dog an' man.

"_But_--if the engineer has reason to believe that the man's mind is
took up with some object of an engrossin' nater, he is supposed to stop
the train till the man comes to himself an' looks around. The same thing
holds true of a dog. If the engineer has reason to suspect that the
dog's mind is occupied with some engrossin' topic, he must stop the
train. That case has been tested in this very state, where a dog was on
the track settin' a covey of birds in the adjoinin' field. The railroad
was held responsible for the death of that dog, because the engineer
ought to have known by the action of the dog that his mind was on
somethin' else beside railroad trains an' locomotives."

Again the magistrate spat into the cuspidor between his feet. Davy,
still watching him, felt his mother's grip on his arm. Everyone was
listening so closely that the whispered sneering comment of Old Man
Thornycroft to the man next to him was audible, "What's all this got to
do with the case?"

"The p'int I'm gettin' to is this," went on Mr. Kirby, not paying
attention to him: "a dog is not like a cow or a horse or any four-footed
critter. He's a individual, an' so the courts have held him in spirit if
not in actual words. Now this court of mine here in Tom Belcher's sto'
ain't like other courts. I have to do the decidin' myself; I have to
interpret the true spirit of the law without technicalities an' quibbles
such as becloud it in other an' higher courts. An' I hold that since a
dog is _de facto_ an' _de jury_ an individual, he has a right to life,
liberty, an' the pursuit of happiness.

"Therefore, gentlemen, I hold that that hound dog, Buck, had a perfect
right to follow that boy, Davy Allen, there; an' I hold that Davy Allen
was not called on to drive that dog back, or interfere in any way with
that dog followin' him if the dog so chose. You've heard the evidence of
the boy. You know, an' I know, he has spoke the truth this day, an'
there ain't no evidence to the contrary. The boy did not entice the dog.
He even went down the road, leavin' him behind. He run back only when
the dog was in dire need an' chokin' to death. He wasn't called on to
put that block an' chain back on the dog. He couldn't help it if the dog
followed him. He no more stole that dog than I stole him. He's no more
of a thief than I am. I dismiss this case, Mr. Thornycroft, this case
you've brought against Davy Allen. I declare him innocent of the charge
of theft. I set it down right here on the records of this court."

"Davy!" gasped Mrs. Allen. "Davy!"

But, face working, eyes blazing, Old Man Thornycroft started forward,
and the dog, panting, shrank between boy and mother. "Jim Kirby!" cried
the old man, stopping for a moment in the cleared space. "You're
magistrate. What you say goes. But that dog thar--he's mine! He's my
property--mine by law!" He jerked a piece of rope out of his overcoat
pocket and came on toward the cowering dog. "Tom Belcher, Bob Kelley!
Stop that dog! He's mine!"

"Davy!" Mrs. Allen was holding the boy. "Don't--don't say anything.
You're free to go home. Your record's clear. The dog's his!"

"Hold on!" Mr. Kirby had risen from his chair. "You come back here, Mr.
Thornycroft. This court's not adjourned yet. If you don't get back, I'll
stick a fine to you for contempt you'll remember the rest of your days.
You stand where you are, sir! Right there! Don't move till I'm through!"

Quivering, the old man stood where he was. Mr. Kirby sat down, face
flushed, eyes blazing. "Punch up that fire, Tom Belcher," he said. "I
ain't through yet."

The hound came tremblingly back to Davy, looked up in his face, licked
his hand, then sat down at his side opposite his former master, looking
around now and then at the old man, terror in his eyes. In the midst of
a deathly silence the magistrate resumed.

"What I was goin' to say, gentlemen, is this: I'm not only magistrate,
I'm an officer in an organization that you country fellers likely don't
know of, an organization known as the Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals. As such an officer it's my duty to report an' bring
to trial any man who treats a dumb brute in a cruel an' inhuman way. Mr.
Thornycroft, judgin' by the looks of that houn', you ain't give him
enough to eat to keep a cat alive--an' a cat, we all know, don't eat
much, just messes over her vittles. You condemned that po' beast, for no
fault of his own, to the life of a felon. A houn' ain't happy at best,
he's melancholy; an' a houn' that ain't allowed to run free is of all
critters the wretchedest. This houn's neck is rubbed raw. God only knows
what he's suffered in mind an' body. A man that would treat a dog that
way ain't fitten to own one. An' I hereby notify you that, on the
evidence of this boy, an' the evidence before our eyes, I will indict
you for breakin' the law regardin' the treatment of animals; an' I
notify you, furthermore, that as magistrate I'll put the law on you for
that same thing. An' it might be interestin' to you to know, sir, that I
can fine you as much as five hundred dollars, or send you to jail for
one year, or both, if I see fit--an' there ain't no tellin' but what I
will see fit, sir."

He looked sternly at Thornycroft.

"Now I'm goin' to make a proposition that I advise you to jump at like
you never jumped at anything before. If you will give up that houn'
Buck--to me, say, or to anybody I decide will be kind to him--I will let
the matter drop. If you will go home like a peaceable citizen, you won't
hear no more about it from me; but if you don't----"

"Git out of my way!" cried Old Man Thornycroft. "All of you! I'm
goin'--I'm goin'!"

"Hold on!" said Mr. Kirby, when he had got almost to the door. "Do you,
in the presence of these witnesses, turn over this dog to me,
relinquishin' all claims to him, on the conditions named? Answer. Yes or
No?"

There was a moment's silence; then the old man cried out:

"Take the old hound! He ain't wuth the salt in his vittles!"

He jerked the door open.

"Yes, or no?" called Mr. Kirby inexorably.

"Yes!" yelled the old man, and slammed the door behind him.

"One minute, gentlemen," said Mr. Kirby, rising from the table and
gathering his papers and records together. "Just one more thing: If
anybody here has any evidence, or knows of any, tendin' to show that
this boy Davy Allen is not the proper person to turn over a houn' dog
to, I hope he will speak up." He waited a moment. "In the absence of any
objections, an' considerin' the evidence that's been given here this
mornin', I think I'll just let that dog go back the way he come. Thank
you, gentlemen. Court's adjourned!"



IX

THE PURSUIT


Cyclone Bill Simmons, burly, hard, and crimson of face, turned an
overheated runabout out of the blazing highway and into a grove of oaks
where stood the convict camp.

"All right," he said. "Get out."

Tom Abercrombie, face drawn, hands manacled, clambered out of the car.
He was a man of sixty or thereabout, long, lank, wiry, with a white
patriarchal beard and white beetling brows. His cheap suit of black and
his black slouch hat were covered with dust.

"This way," ordered Simmons.

As if he did not hear, the old man glanced about him: at the long,
weather-stained tent, open at both ends and at the sides, and showing
within two rows of untidy bunks; at the smaller tents that formed a
hollow square; at the shed for mules deeper within the grove; at the
small group of Negro convicts--cooks and trusties--who from near the big
tent stared curiously at him.

"This way," repeated Simmons harshly.

The lean cheeks flushed. The old man looked quickly at Simmons, who
during the twenty-mile drive from the county seat had not spoken a word
to him. Then, head bowed, he followed the man toward one of the smaller
tents.

It was plainly the guard tent; it stood at the entrance to the camp,
where a path turned in from the road. In front, under the shade of an
oak, were two or three splint-bottom chairs. And chained to the oak by a
staple driven into the trunk, drowsing in the heat of the summer
mid-afternoon, lay a bloodhound.

He had barely looked up when the car drove in. His heavy black body with
its tan belly and legs was completely relaxed, and he was panting
slightly. His head, which he held up as with an effort, was massive,
leonine, rugged, with chops and dewlaps that hung loosely down, giving
the impression of a detached and judicial attitude toward life. His
expression was grave, thoughtful, melancholy, as if his ancestors,
pondering through the centuries on the frailty of humanity as they saw
it, had set their indelible stamp of gloom and sorrow on his face.
Toward him the burly guard and the tall bearded prisoner made their way.

There are men to whom no dog can be insensible; men with a secret
quality of magnetism or understanding which makes any dog, at their
approach, look up. When Simmons passed the great hound did not stir;
but when Tom Abercrombie came opposite him, he lifted his muzzle,
grizzled with age, and his melancholy, amber-coloured eyes met the
man's.

The old man stopped. It was as if he had found, in all this strangeness,
a friend. He spoke before he thought--half under his breath.

"Old Whiskers," he said gently. "Old Gray Whiskers."

Simmons turned in a flash, his face suddenly more crimson than ever, his
eyes blazing.

"What did you say to that dog?" he yelled.

The old man looked at him steadily but did not reply.

"Now here!" The guard's voice rang out in the grove. "I know you,
Abercrombie, and I know your game, you bloody, long-whiskered,
knife-totin' throat-cutter. You are tryin' to make friends with that
dog!"

He went to a near-by bush, got out his knife, and cut a heavy switch.

"Take this," he commanded. "Oh, you can catch hold of it! Catch it with
both hands. Never mind the bracelets. Take it. Hit that dog. Hit him!"

The dreamlike state in which the old man had been wandering dissolved.
His eyes narrowed to mere slits behind the beetling brows. The cold
steel of the mountaineer, the mountaineer who weighs his words, was in
the slow-drawled reply:

"Wal, now, I reckon I won't."

A moment they faced one another, Simmons' eyes murderous. Some fear of
an investigation if he struck the old man, something daunting, too, that
he saw in the mountaineer's eyes, restrained him.

"Abercrombie," he said, and moistened his lips with his tongue, "I
brought out in that car three boxes of shotgun shells--buckshot--extra
heavy loaded. Get me?"

Such was the initiation of old Tom Abercrombie as a convict. That
afternoon he was entered on the books as a "dangerous" prisoner; that
night he lay on an iron cot, staring up at the roof of a solitary tent,
which, according to law, had to be provided for him. On his ankles were
locked two steel anklets connected by a chain eighteen inches long. This
chain, in turn, was locked to the cot.

Shame lay with him as he stared upward--shame and a terrible loneliness
and dread of the future. At sunset he had watched a long line of
shackled Negroes, followed by guards with shotguns, file into camp.
To-morrow he himself would be one of that gang; and not only to-morrow,
but for two years. Assault and Battery with Intent to Kill--this was the
verdict of the court in Greenville in which he had been tried. And yet
he hadn't intended to kill anybody, he had only meant to remonstrate.

Three young fellows, sitting at a table in a cheap ice-cream parlour--it
had seemed a crystal palace to the old man and to Molly his wife, fresh
from the deepest recesses of the mountains--had made fun of Molly and
her sunbonnet.

When they did that, the mirrors that lined the walls, the enamelled-top
tables, the sunlit street showing through wide-open doors, had all
turned red before his eyes. He had risen from his chair and gone toward
this seat of the scornful. "You fellers," he had warned in a low voice,
"you fellers don't want to say anything like that again."

They had looked at him in sullen astonishment; then they had sprung to
their feet. According to the testimony they gave in court, he had
confronted one of them, an open knife hidden up his sleeve. This was not
true, and he denied it stoutly on the stand. As a matter of fact, he had
not thought of his knife until the three young bruisers, habitués of the
place and of the questionable pool-room in the rear, rushed him all
together, and a dirty-aproned waiter, coming up from behind, hit him a
crack that jarred his skull. Then he had sprung back and drawn his
knife.

The wounds he inflicted were not serious, he had simply held his
assailants off; but the policeman who ran in, followed by a crowd, found
the knife in his hand. The testimony was against him; besides, he did
not make a good witness. No man does who holds something back. And what
old Tom held back was the remark the young men had made.

On that point his lips were stubbornly sealed. He did not even tell his
lawyer. As for Molly, she had not heard. Poor girl, she was a bit deaf,
her sunbonnet came down close over her ears, and she had been eating her
ice cream, oblivious. He did not want her to know, ever. He did not want
the court to hear. What's more, he did not mean that it should hear.

The courts of justice, like the mills of the gods, ought to grind slowly
and grind exceeding small--sifting carefully the evidence, examining
deeply into the character and motives of accuser and accused. But the
gods have eternity at their disposal, and their mills are run by
unerring, self-administering laws, while the courts are sometimes
harassed with a heavy docket that must be got through with and laws are
made and administered by erring mortals. When they are overcrowded,
there is inevitably, now and then, a victim.

Hence old Tom Abercrombie, chained to a cot, staring up at the roof of a
tent, oppressed with a terrible loneliness; thinking of a long double
cabin in a mountain-girded valley, far over the Tennessee line, where he
and Molly had lived forty years; of the cornfields in a creek bottom, of
children and of grandchildren, of widely scattered neighbours and
friends.

Next day he was put to driving four mules hitched to a road scraper.
Chains clanking, he had to climb as best he could into the iron seat.
The humiliation of striped clothes he was spared; that barbarity had
been done away with by law. He wore his black trousers, a blue shirt,
and his broad-brimmed hat. Once on the seat no one passing along the
road could see his shackles, but as if they were heated red-hot these
symbols of shame burned into his flesh.

In the road ahead and in the road behind Negro pickers and shovellers
toiled away, watched over by guards with shotguns. He saw the eyes of
these guards turn constantly toward him. "You want to watch that old
devil," Simmons had warned them. "He's dangerous."

The days that followed were all alike: days of toil that began before
sunrise, continued through blazing middays, and ended after sundown.
Always, before and behind, the gang picked and shovelled, always the
eyes of the guards were turning toward him. Always against the horizon
the mountains, flecked at midday with clouds and shadows, beckoned him
like a mirage.

Sometimes from the top of a hill, under his broad hat, he studied the
lay of the land. In his mind he mapped out the water courses and the
stretches of woodland that led with least open country to the mountains.
Sometimes at night he dreamed of a double cabin in a cool
mountain-girded valley.

"You want to watch him," warned Simmons again and again.

Once Molly came to see him. Simmons himself, at the guard tent,
questioned her roughly, then shrugged his shoulders and let her pass.
Throughout the interview, though, he sat over there by the guard tent,
his eyes always on the two of them; and at his side, but never looking
up at him, lay Sheriff, the bloodhound, panting.

She told him how hard she had tried to get him off; how hard his friends
had tried. They had been to see the solicitor, the sheriff, and finally
the governor himself. "They were all nice to me, Tom," she declared;
"but they say they can't do nothin'. The governor talked to me a long
time in his office. He asked all about us--where we lived, how many
children we had, how it all happened. But he says he was elected to see
the laws carried out, an' can't interfere.

"We done everything we could," she went on, "even the folks that live
'round here an' have seen you workin', po' man, with the gang--even they
tried to help. Squire Kirby an' Mr. Earle, him that lives in that big
white house they call Freedom Hill, up the road whar you been workin',
they headed the petition. They are the richest folks 'round here. They
heered the trial, Tom. They know you was set upon in that low-down
place. Mr. Earle, he went to the capitol with me to see the governor.
Him and the governor are ol' friends. Mr. Earle, he bought my railroad
ticket and paid my board in Greenville. He talked to the governor for
over an hour.... But"--she shook her head--"it never done no good.

"Here's what folks say, though," she whispered quickly. "If you got away
back into Tennessee the law wouldn't follow you. Mr. Earle, he told me
that, just yistiddy, Tom. Squire Kirby he says the same thing. Tom, the
sheriff hisself as good as told me. The governor wouldn't requisition
you, they all's good as said. He wouldn't, either, Tom. I know he
wouldn't."

Then her eyes widened with horror. "Oh, I wasn't goin' to tell you
that!" she gasped. "Don't try to get away. That man over yonder, he'll
kill you, Tom. Folks said he would--said he had killed two. I know he
will, since I've seen him. He's awful, awful!"

She went on protesting, in terror that he would try to do the very thing
she had suggested. She told him about the bloodhound. The newspaper men
said he never lost a trail--that nobody who stayed on the ground had
ever got away from him.

"They know ever'thing, these newspaper men," she went on. "They advised
me right. Tom, two years ain't long. We waited longer than that to get
married. Remember, Tom? We ain't old yet....

"Poor old gal," said Tom.

It was the sight of a dilapidated and deserted blacksmith shop near the
road they were widening, and of some rusted fragments of tools scattered
about here and there, which caused old Tom, as the road-scraper passed
and repassed the spot, to look very closely down into the upturned dirt.
And it was the glimpse of something in that dirt which caused him
suddenly to rein up the four mules and glance quickly in the direction
of the two guards.

It was an afternoon of terrific heat, following a prolonged drought. In
the road ahead the gang of Negro convicts toiled silently, sluggishly,
in the blinding glare. Simmons had driven off in the direction of
Greenville an hour before. The two remaining guards, with shotguns under
their arms, stood in the scant shade of two dust-covered trees.

"Jake," said the old mountaineer calmly to the Negro on the machine
behind him, the Negro who handled the levers, "Jake, there's a bolt
loose some-whar' on this scrape. Reckon I better 'tend to it myself."

Without any apparent hurry, he clambered down from the seat. Quickly,
secretly, he picked out of the upturned earth an object which he thrust
into his shirt. Deliberately, as if encountering obstacles which caused
him trouble, he hammered away at the supposed loose bolt. When at last
he clambered back into the iron seat, heated like the top of a stove,
there was just a slight flush on his lean cheeks and a brightness as of
triumph in his deep-set eyes.

On the way back to camp they passed Tom Belcher's store. Here he asked
permission of one of the guards (they were not all like Simmons) to go
in and buy himself some tobacco. The guard who went in with him saw
nothing suspicious in the fact that, along with the tobacco, the old man
purchased also a package of chewing gum.

That night he did not sleep. By raising up on his elbows in his cot he
could see, in a chair tilted back against an oak tree, the night guard
with a gun across his knees and, farther on, in front of the guard tent,
the outline of the bloodhound asleep. Once, when he thought the guard
nodded, he reached in his shirt. He got out the object he had picked up
in the road and rubbed it against his shackles. The rasp of file on
steel sounded loud in his tent like an alarm. He thought he saw the
guard stir and the bloodhound lift his head. He lay silently down again.
Later he punched a hole in the mattress and stuck the file deep into the
straw.

Next day he thought of Molly and home. As he sat on the road-scraper the
mountains, purple and lofty against the sky, seemed now to be beckoning
him. Once within them, once across the state line, the law would not
follow him. He was satisfied of that from what Molly had told him.

He bided his time until one stormy night when wind and rain drove the
bloodhound within the shelter of the guard tent and, thrashing through
the branches of the oaks and flapping the canvas of the big tent,
drowned out to all ears but his own the rasp of a file on steel. Next
day the continued rain made road work impossible, and as he hobbled back
and forth to feed the mules, chewing gum hid two triangular cuts in his
shackles. Again that night, storm and rain drowned out the sound that
came from the tent where he sat hunched forward on his cot, sawing
patiently and methodically away.

Hours before dawn he slipped out of the rear of his tent and walked
quickly toward the mule sheds, where he stood listening. Then, hat
pulled down low, he hurried through the grove, across a field, and made
for the black rim of the surrounding forest.

He could not have picked a better night had choice been given him. The
rain, falling steadily, was washing his trail. It was the season of full
moon and in spite of storm clouds the night was dimly luminous. He
struck straight for the bottoms and the creek, whose swollen turbulence
sounded above the rain. He plunged into the water, which at the deepest
places came no higher than his waist, and partly by feeling, partly by
sight, now and then stumbling over boulders, now and then having to push
aside thick underbrush, he made his way for something like two miles
up-stream.

Carefully he chose the spot where he left the creek. His eyes, grown
accustomed to the night, picked out a tree that grew out of the ground
at a distance from the bank, then bent over it. He caught hold of the
branches, swung himself up, felt his way like an opossum along the
trunk, swung to another tree, and did not touch ground until he was some
hundred feet from the shore.

An indistinct, dripping dawn that showed low-driving clouds found him,
wet to the skin, like an old fox who has run all night, but confident,
like one who has covered up all trace of a trail, making his steady way
with long mountaineer's stride across tangled bottoms, into stretches of
woodland, over hills that grew ever steeper and higher, through
undergrowth that grew ever denser.

His face was very serious, but not anxious. His nerve was too cool, his
courage too steady for him to feel any impulse to run. His lifelong
experience as a hunter who travels far had taught him to save his
energy. As the light of the gray day grew stronger he distinguished, at
no great distance ahead, it seemed, the outlines of misty mountains. He
recognized the gap where the highway crossed this first ridge into the
recesses of the mountains, beyond the Tennessee line. On the night after
to-morrow, he calculated, he could tramp up on his porch and Molly would
open the door.

Now and then, as twilight advanced, he stopped and listened. One of the
guards, more kindly disposed than Simmons and the other guard, had,
during the hour of lunch one day, told him something about the
bloodhound, Sheriff. The dog, he said, was not a full-bred bloodhound,
his grandfather was a foxhound. Consequently, he ran a man freely, as a
hound runs a fox, barking on the trail.

He was hard to hold in, the guard had gone on to say, so hard that
Simmons never tried to run him to the leash, but turned him loose to
find the track himself. Then Simmons followed as fast as he could. No
trouble to follow him. "You never heard such a voice as he's got in your
life," the guard had added with a grin. "He usually puts a man up a tree
inside two hours, and keeps him there till Simmons comes up. No danger
of the man comin' down, either--not with that dog at the bottom of the
tree."

And so, remembering these things, old Tom stopped now and then to
listen. No sound but the steady dripping of rain from trees--no sound of
pursuit. Miles lay between him and the camp, and still the rain was
washing his trail.

It was on top of a treeless hill that commanded the sights and sounds of
the country for miles about that he stopped once more to listen--and his
white hair stirred on his head, just as the hair of the old fox who has
run all night might rise on his back. From far behind through the
enveloping mists and over intervening hills, so far that at first he
could not be sure, had come the bay of a solitary hound, trailing.

He stood transfixed, his patriarchal beard dripping. Many a creature,
fox and wolf, and man himself, has through the centuries trembled at
that sound. There was a silence during which he collected his wits,
momentarily upset. Then again, faint and far away, like the ringing of a
distant bell, came the sound. Miles between where he swung himself out
of the creek and where he now stood the hound was coming on his trail.
Tom turned like a stag, brushed aside the bushes and began for the first
time to run.

At the top of the next hill, not having heard it while he crashed
through the undergrowth of the bottom, he stopped again, panting. Though
still far away and faint, it was unmistakable now, and there was in the
sound a note of melancholy triumph and joy.

The shrewdness of all hunted animals took hold of the old man's nature.
He ran half a mile, then turned and doubled his track. At a stony spot,
where a trail does not remain long at best, he stopped, swung his arms
and jumped as far as he could to the right. For a quarter of a mile he
continued trotting at right angles to the original trail; then he turned
once more toward the mountains.

He could hear it most of the time, even when he ran. Occasionally, as
the dog crossed a bottom evidently, it was almost inaudible and seemed
far away. Then as he reached a highland, it came clearer and surer,
more resonant, and closer than ever. And now from back there, farther
away than the dog, came a sound that for a moment chilled his blood--the
wild, faint yell of a man urging the hound on.

Unreasoning rage stirred within the old man, flushed his face with hot
blood, made his eyes blaze. Who was he to run from any man? Then quickly
rage cooled and calculation took its place. He must throw that hound off
his trail.

He back-tracked once more. He turned at right angles to his original
trail. He continued for an eighth of a mile, then turned back on his
second track. He crossed the original trail at the point where he had
left it, and kept straight on forming the letter T. Once more, on this
short arm of the T he turned at right angles, this time toward the camp
itself, and retracing his steps formed another T.

Thus he made an intricate pattern of trails, comparable somewhat to the
visible marks made by a fancy skater. The hound, finding tracks running
apparently in every direction, would grow bewildered. He would circle,
of course, but the circles themselves would lead him off on tracks that
turned back on themselves. As an additional puzzle, wherever the old man
doubled, he put his arms about a tree and remained, his body pressed
against the trunk a moment, as if he had climbed it. "His whiskers will
be whiter than they are now," he grinned, "before ever he works all that
out."

Two miles farther on, breathing hard, he sat down on a log, for he must
have some rest. He knew when the oncoming hound, who had worked out the
first and simpler puzzle, struck the second and intricate one. First
deathlike silence--the hound had come to the end of the trail. Probably
he was whiffing the trunks of the trees roundabout, looking up eagerly
into them. As if he had been in one of those trees himself, Tom could
see it all, so well did he know the way of a hound.

Still silence. The dog would be circling now. Followed an eager bay as
he struck one of the misleading trails. He thought he was off! Then
silence again, and after a moment the long-drawn howl of a hound,
frankly perplexed, and the fierce, angry yell of a man far behind. With
fingers that trembled because of the chase he had run, Tom reached in
his pocket and got out a cob pipe. This he filled with tobacco, and
fumbling in an upper pocket of his shirt, found some matches.

For ten minutes he sat on that fallen pine, smoking and listening to the
unseen drama in the bottoms over there beyond the hill, his hopes ever
rising, and with these hopes a gratifying sense of achievement and
triumph. Once or twice the dog bayed uncertainly. Once or twice the man
yelled, it seemed to him with lessened confidence. Once it sounded as
if the hound had sat down on his haunches, raised his muzzle on high,
and poured out to heaven his perplexity. Tom had seen them do that. Then
another silence, as if the chase had died out.

Still Tom sat listening. In his exultation he had forgotten for the time
home and Molly and the horrors he had left. Suddenly he rose, and his
face was drawn and white. He turned and began to run, but even as he did
so he knew that it was all over.

Between him and the farthest outskirts of the pattern he had worked out,
had come one long-drawn, triumphant bay after another. The veteran,
wiser by far than any dog Tom had ever known in all his knowledge of
dogs, had worked the puzzle out, had run in ever-greater circles,
keeping his head, knowing that somewhere, cutting the circumference of a
greater circle, he would find the true and straight trail.

And he was coming, coming fast. He could not be more than a mile behind.
He must be at the top of the hill where Tom had enjoyed his brief
triumph, he must be smelling the very log on which Tom had sat. He had
left the log. The sound burst on the old fugitive now, almost like a
chorus, menacing, terrible, inexorable as fate. All the hills, all the
valleys, were echoing as if a whole pack were running. How much worse
than futile had been his tricks! They had only halted the great
bloodhound long enough for men and shotguns to come up!

From now on he kept straight forward, sometimes walking, sometimes
trotting, sometimes breaking into a run. Now and then he stumbled with
weariness, once he fell face downward. Anybody but a fighter would have
taken to a tree, like an opossum, run at last to shelter.

Out of breath, he came at length to the top of a ridge, and through an
opening in the trees looked across a wooded valley beyond which rose the
lofty undulations of the Tennessee mountains. The clouds had been
growing thin, and now the sun burst through, and flooded those mountains
with light.

"They ain't a-goin' to take me," said the old mountaineer--"not alive!"

Not even the fox waits for hounds to seize him; but, his race over,
turns at bay and dies with his face to his enemies. And now, in the
woods of the extensive bottoms that lay between the ridge and the
mountains, old Tom Abercrombie, his race over, stopped and turned his
face, toward his pursuers.

And as he did so all fear left him. His mind became as clear as the
sparkling sunlight about him. He was no longer a fleeing animal matching
wits with a pursuing one. He was a man standing upright, looking
oncoming fate in the face.

Old Tom did not think of it this way. And yet, perhaps because of some
sense of the fitness of things, he took off his hat and dropped it
beside him. Near at hand a giant sycamore, dead and leafless, rose
loftily above the smaller growth into the sky. Beside this tree he
stood, his white hair and beard dishevelled and glistening in the sun,
his eyes, that had shown a momentary despair when he sprang up from the
log, steady, fierce, undismayed.

If the hound attacked him he would fight--fight with his hands, for he
had no other weapon. If the hound merely bayed him, he would wait until
the guards came up. Their commands he would disregard: he would not even
throw up his hands. He knew what the result would be, he had no
illusions about that: Simmons would kill him.

He did think of Molly. He saw her, all her life tramping back and forth
from the spring to the house, solitary and lonely; he saw the cornfield
in the bottom, where he had ploughed so many springs. He saw the faces
of children and grandchildren, one by one. These things made him choke,
but they had no effect upon his mind: that was made up. Life is good but
it is not worth some things.

All these impressions ran through his mind, swiftly, independent of the
element of time. As a matter of fact, there was not sufficient interval
for connected thought. Ahead of him was an open place in the woods, a
place strewn with flinty stones and arrowheads, with now and then a
black and rounded boulder, rolled there by glaciers that had once moved
over the face of the earth. This open spot, made barren by forces older
than man himself, he had crossed in one last effort to make his trail
difficult for the hound.

His eyes were fastened on it now. The sun, hot and brilliant since the
passing of the storms, blazed down upon it. On the other side the forest
grew dense and high like a wall of green. And now out of this forest,
into the ancient opening, came the hound.

Tom had never felt any grudge against the dog--he was only obeying a law
of his nature, only running a trail. Fascinated, he watched the animal,
oblivious for the moment of the significance of his presence. He had
been running fast in the forest, but now on this flinty and difficult
ground he slackened his pace and came on slowly, like a patient,
methodical fellow who makes sure he's right as he goes along. His nose,
almost touching the ground, never left the trail.

In crossing the opening the old man's foot had turned on a stone; he had
staggered, and placed his hand against one of the black boulders for
support. And now, when the hound came to this spot he stopped; he lifted
his head and whiffed the rock the man had touched with his hand. Next,
he reared up on the boulder and looked at its top. Then he came on, nose
low once more, pendulous ears actually dragging on the ground, tail
erect and now and then wagging stiffly as with joy.

While Tom still watched him he raised his muzzle; and there came from
his throat a deep, musical, bell-like challenge that echoed loudly in
the opening itself and more airily and sweetly between the ridge and the
mountains beyond. In answer, from a mile behind, so Tom calculated, came
a far more terrible sound--the wild, savage yells of two men, one wilder
and more savage than the other.

The old man took a deep breath and his beard was thrust suddenly
forward. But for the dog, those men would be helpless. But for the dog,
he could turn now, and the woods would swallow him up. In a flash an
inspiration was born, a conquering purpose such as must have entered the
mind of prehistoric man. He waited, his eyes on the hound.

A dog is nearsighted at best, and Sheriff was old. When he was a short
two hundred feet from the tree there came to his nose the smell, not of
a trail itself, but of the man who made the trail. He stopped and lifted
his head. A moment he stared. Then he raised his grizzled muzzle to the
sky and poured out to high heaven the announcement that here in the
woods at the end of the trail, standing beside a tree, was a man!

Then he started back, amazed, for this man, instead of climbing the
tree, as all men did when he bayed them, was coming straight toward him.
His hand was outstretched, his eyes were blazing, and there was a smile
on his face. "Old Whiskers!" he was saying. "Hush, now, hush! Hush!" The
man had stooped down, his hand still extended. "Come here!" he
commanded.

The great hound began to tremble. Those terrible eyes were looking deep
into his. They were commanding him, they were pleading, too. He had seen
them before, back there in the camp, and he had not forgotten.

He heard behind him another yell. He tried to look back, but the eyes
held him. "No!" the man cried sternly--then, "Old boy--old Whiskers!" He
began to pant; the bay he would have uttered died in his throat. Another
yell and another, still he did not reply. His tail was tucked now. He
was looking at the man wonderingly, beseechingly. His universe was
changing, was centring in that man before him, that man who understood.

Again the yells, and now, beyond the opening behind, the faint crash of
running footsteps. His hair rose on his back with rage. His world had
turned about. Those were his enemies coming. All the loyalty of his
dog's soul had gone out to this man who understood, all his hatred to
those who never had. He started to turn about. He would meet them in the
opening. He would rush at them.

"No!" cried the man who understood.

When he looked at Tom once more the miracle of ages past had been
repeated; the man saw in the eyes of the dog, trust, humility, undying
devotion. His voice trembled for the first time.

"Old Whiskers," he said gently. "Old Gray Whiskers! Quick now!"

The pursuing guards never knew why the woods ahead of them grew suddenly
silent, why the tree-bay of the bloodhound that had sounded once clear
and unmistakable sounded no more, though as they ran they filled the
morning with their yells. They did not see the great hound go trembling
to the man. They did not see the old man for just a second catch the
massive head between his hands.

They did not see the two turn and disappear, swiftly, silently, into the
undergrowth that grew densely behind the open space and the giant
sycamore tree.

When, all out of breath, they reached the spot from whence had proceeded
the solitary tree-bay, they looked about at vacant woods. Frantically
they searched the undergrowth, shotguns ready, calling to each other in
their excitement. Man and dog had vanished as if they had never been.

But Simmons did not believe in miracles. "The old devil killed the dog!"
he cried. "He had a knife about him. But where's the blood and where's
the body?"

They hurried here and there as they glimpsed red spots, only to find a
leaf killed by the sun and fallen before season, or a bush reddened by
berries.

"We miscalculated the spot," swore Simmons. "It wasn't here it
happened."

And he sat down out of breath and leaned his burly back against the
trunk of a giant sycamore tree.

The sun was dropping over the mountains when the two guards,
empty-handed, got back to camp. The valleys lay in shadow, but far up in
the enormous folds of the Tennessee mountains its last crimson rays
shone on a bearded old man trudging along a narrow road toward the west.

He looked weary and footsore and his clothes were torn by briers. But
his face was alight, as if with anticipation of to-morrow. Now and then
he spoke. And behind him a great, strange-looking, long-eared hound
lifted his head, as if drinking in the sound of his voice.



X

THE LITTLE BOY IN THE BLACKBERRY PATCH


Something strange was going on down there in the woods behind the barn.
Little Tommy Earle was convinced of it as soon as he saw old Frank,
Irish setter, come galloping across the cottonfields from that
direction. For old Frank was excited, that was plain; and old Frank
didn't get excited for nothing.

Accordingly, Tommy dropped his wagon tongue, and watched the old boy
round the barn, jump the lot fence, and run into the yard. His red
silken ears were thrown back, his brown eyes were shining, and he was
looking for somebody to tell his secret to.

"F'ank!" called the boy.

At the call the old fellow's ears flattened and he threw up his head,
then he came running straight to Tommy. There was an eager light in his
eyes that said plain as words, "Come with me and I'll show you
something."

Tommy's heart began to pound. From the kitchen window above his head
came the flop-flop of a churn, accompanied by the wailing song of Aunt
Cindy, the cook. Tommy glanced shrewdly up at this window from whence
proceeded the melancholy refrain. He must not let Aunt Cindy see him
leave the yard. That morning after breakfast his father and mother had
driven off hurriedly in the car, following a telephone message from
Greenville that said Aunt Janet, his mother's sister, was sick in a
hospital. His mother had told him she would be gone several days, and
meanwhile he must do everything Aunt Cindy told him to do and nothing
she did not tell him to do.

But Tommy had no doubt whatever what Aunt Cindy's answer would be if he
asked permission to leave the yard and follow Frank into the woods. She
would put her foot down on it flat, and Aunt Cindy had a big foot.
Better leave right now, while the old woman was in the midst of her
churning and her song.

"All right, F'ank," whispered Tommy.

They went by a circuitous route that placed first the garage, then the
barn, between them and the kitchen window. Then they broke into a run
across the cottonfield and entered the woods, Frank leading. They had
not gone far when Tommy stopped--stopped suddenly. Ahead of him was an
opening where the sun blazed down; and in the midst of this opening was
a creature picking blackberries.

Its face, round and sunburned, was smeared with the red juice, as were
its hands, with which it was reaching for more. It stopped eating when
it discovered Tommy's presence and looked steadily Tommy's way. It was a
boy about Tommy's own size, a boy he had never seen before!

Under a white cloth hat Tommy's eyes narrowed. What right did that boy
have to come on his father's place and pick blackberries? He didn't have
on any hat, either; his hair looked as if it had never been cut; his
clothes were ragged. Ordinarily, Tommy rather admired these things, but
now, taking in the whole appearance of the intruder, he glanced about
quickly at some rocks that lay near-by, rocks the right size to throw.

But evidently the boy didn't want to fight.

"Heh!" he said.

"Heh," said Tommy.

"What's your name?"

"Tommy--what's yours?"

"Joe."

A minute's silence followed this exchange of essential information.
Tommy drew nearer Joe. Joe drew nearer Tommy.

"That your dog?"

"Yes--he's my dog."

"He come down here just now. What's his name?"

"F'ank."

Another silence. Then the boy spoke.

"I seen some fishes down thar in the crick jus' now."

"I've seen 'em--lots of times."

"Say--what about goin' down thar now?"

"I don't care," said Tommy.

An hour later they came out of the woods together and started for the
house, old Frank strolling along pleasantly behind them. Joe's hair was
wet and plastered down over his face like an Indian's; Tommy's was also
wet under the white cloth hat. They had done more than look at fish;
they had gone in with them.

Tommy walked close to Joe: he had learned many thrilling facts, among
them that Joe lived in Greenville and had run away. This he had found
out, not all at once, but in fragments, while they splashed water over
one another, and later while they sat on the shaded bank of the creek.

Somebody had "beat Joe up--see!" Joe had exhibited a welt on his
shoulder and another on his leg in proof of the assertion. It seems that
previous to this Joe had swiped some bananas from the fruit stand of one
Tony, and that, previous to that, Joe had been hungry--"Hung'y as hell"
was Joe's way of putting it--a way that commended itself to Tommy at
once as being extremely picturesque. In fact, even while Joe talked he
kept on saying it over and over in his mind, so fine was the phrase and
so expansive.

There had been a "cop" in the story. Tommy did not know what a cop was
until Joe told him. "Dam ol' cop" was the phrase, to be exact. The cop
had chased him, then Joe had run away. It seemed that he didn't stop
running for a long time. There was also the driver of a motor truck in
the story, Mike by name. Mike drove the truck that carried an oil tank
from the city to a town. Mike had given him a lift; Mike often did that.
When they got out in the country here, Joe had asked Mike to let him
down--he wanted to get some blackberries. Mike had said he would pick
Joe up on the way back.

Such was the thriller Tommy had listened to. It hadn't come easy, this
story, but only after repeated questions. Now and then, while he was
telling it, Joe had looked at Tommy with a wry, wise grin, as if sizing
him up. He was little, and he couldn't talk plainly, but he seemed old
somehow. We live in deeds, not in years, as the poet says.

Joe was still grinning when they came into the back yard. He had held
back a time or two, as if he were afraid of that big house on the hill,
but Tommy had over-persuaded him. There wasn't anybody at home, he had
declared, but there were biscuits and jam in the kitchen.

Halfway between the barn lot and the house they were confronted by Aunt
Cindy. She was an enormous black woman, dressed always in starched
gingham and apron, with a red bandanna handkerchief on her head.

"Whar you been, honey?" she demanded; then sternly: "Whose chile dat you
got wid you?"

Tommy did not reply; in fact, he didn't know; what's more, he didn't
care. It was Joe, that was enough.

She was towering above them now.

"Who yo' ma an' pa, chile?" she demanded of the miniature Marco Polo who
had come home with her charge. "Whar you come from?"

Marco Polo did not reply. He only grinned up at her, an impertinent,
scrappy sort of grin. In a hard school he had learned the virtue of
silence.

"I found him in the woods," volunteered Tommy at last. "He's lost an'
he's goin' to stay wif me."

"Stay wid you, honey?" cried the old woman. "No, honey," she shook her
head. "He ain't gwine stay wid you."

And she meant it, too, every word of it. Society to her was divided into
quality white folks like the Earles, black folks like herself, and poor
white trash like this waif; and between the first class and the third
was there a great gulf fixed.

"We gwine fin' who he ma an' pa is, honey, an' sen' him home," was her
verdict.

"You ain't goin' to send him home!" cried Tommy, his face suddenly
crimson. "He ain't got no home. You ain't goin' to send him anywhere.
He's goin' to stay here wif me. He ain't had anything to eat but
blackberries. He's hungry as"--the phrase was almost out, but he
throttled it--"He's hungry!"

The old woman looked at the waif shrewdly.

"You hongry?" she asked. "Well, one thing's shore--nobody ever come to
Freedom Hill hongry an' went away hongry. You sho' gwine have somethin'
to eat. Den we sen' you home."

She led the way into a kitchen, spacious and cool. She made them wash
their hands while she looked on, shaking her head at the condition of
one pair of them. She set them down to a table and placed before them
biscuits and butter and jam, and cold milk from the refrigerator. But
while she performed this act of hospitality her face showed the
determination she had expressed.

The kitchen opened by a white-panelled passageway into the dining room,
and the dining room into the big front hall. She left the two of them
and went into the hall. They heard her ringing the telephone, and while
they ate her talk came to them.

"Dat you, Mr. Davis? Mr. Davis, dis me. Mr. Davis, dey's a strange chile
here. Tommy say he foun' him in de woods. He won't tell who he ma an' pa
is, or whar he come from. Tommy say he los'. Mr. Steve ain't comin' back
till to-morrow. What I gwine do, Mr. Davis? Call up Mr. Bob Kelley? All
right, suh--yes, suh. Das what I'll do."

Joe looked at Tommy with a grin.

"What's that ol' nigger talkin' about?" he asked.

Tommy's eyes narrowed. Old Aunt Cindy wasn't to be called that even by
such a travelled and honoured gentleman as his present guest.

"Don't call her a nigger," he said. "Hear?"

Joe nodded. There was a touch of wistfulness in his eyes now--there had
been, ever since he entered this mansion stocked with biscuit and jam.

The old woman's voice came to the diners clearly now. She always grew
excited when she talked over the telephone.

"Dat you, Mr. Bob Kelley? Dis Cindy over at Mr. Steve Earle. Mr. Kelley,
dey's a stray chile here. Yes, suh, jus' drap from de clouds. Mr. John
Davis he say you likely git some inquiries about him. Mr. Kelley, I
gwine sen' him over to yo' house by Jake. Yes, suh--dis evenin', right
away."

Tommy slid down from his chair. Joe went on with his biscuits and jam. A
dirty little hand that two bathings had not whitened closed tight around
a slender white glass of cold milk. Tommy ran into the hall.

"You ain't goin' to send him away!" he cried. "He's goin' to stay here
wif me. He's goin' to sleep wif me. Hear, Aunt Cindy?"

Still protesting, he was following her through the hall, out on the
high-columned front porch, and around the house toward the barn.

"Hit won't do, honey," she was saying over and over. "You listen to yo'
mammy now, you 'pen' on her. He ain't de chile for you to play wid. You
can't touch de kittle an' not git smut on you. Yo' ol' mammy know. She
raise you from a baby. Don't pull at my skirts, honey. It don't do no
good. Yo' ol' mammy always is ak de bes' way for you, honey, an' she
always will. Mis' Bob Kelley, she'll be good to him. Mr. Bob Kelley,
he'll fin' out whar de chile belong."

She stopped in the back yard, near the lot.

"Jake!" she called. "Oh, Jake!"

From a cabin beside the garden an elongated darky uncoiled himself out
of a split-bottom chair and sauntered leisurely toward her.

"Jake, hitch up Nelly to de buggy. Dey's a los' chile here. I done spoke
to Mr. Bob Kelley 'bout him, an' I want you to take him over dar."

Then Tommy broke loose; then the future master of Freedom Hill asserted
his authority. He might obey the old woman in such minor matters as
washing his face and putting on a clean nightgown, but here was
something different. He stood before Aunt Cindy and Jake with blazing
eyes and defied them. He forebade Jake to hitch up Nelly.

"He's goin' to stay here, I tell you! He's goin' to stay wif me!"

"Lordy, lordy!" laughed Jake, and fell back three steps, his hand over
his mouth. "Ain't dat boy like he paw!"

"He's goin' to stay wif me! He's goin' to stay wif me!"

And even Aunt Cindy gave in. The spirit of Steve Earle had spoken in
Steve Earle's child.

When they went back into the kitchen an oblivious diner sat at the
kitchen table, bent over a plate, and still mopped up blackberry jam
with buttered biscuit.

That night the full moon, declining over the sheltering eaves of the
mansion, sent its rays into the windows of the big upstairs bedroom.
First they fell on a bed where lay one boy asleep, as he had slept all
his life, on soft mattresses, between white sheets. Then the silver
light crept slowly over the bed, across the floor, where it seemed to
linger a while on a pile of toys--an engine with three passenger cars, a
red hook and ladder whose fiery horses galloped forever, a picture book
open at the place where a man in shaggy skins, with a shaggy umbrella,
stared with bulging eyes at a track in the sand. And last this gentle
light climbed upon another bed and embraced a swarthy little figure
lying on its side, one arm stretched out, one fist closed tight, as if
to keep fast hold on this chance life had thrown his way.

Never before had this child slept on a soft mattress, never before in a
clean nightgown; never before that night had he seen a tiled bathroom
and a white tub where water ran. On one sturdy leg that braced the body
as it lay on the side the moonlight revealed a ridged place, a scar,
purple and hard. But the hard grin was gone now, the face in repose; and
the peering moon, which so silently inspected that room and its inmates,
might have had a hard time deciding, so serene were the two small faces,
which, in the years to come, would be, please God, the gentleman, and
which, God forbid, the ruffian!

The two were up at sunrise. Jennie, the maid, dressed them in clothes
just alike--all except shoes--Joe drew the line there. They ate
breakfast in the dining room, Tommy in his own chair, the visitor
elevated to the proper height by a dictionary. They ate oatmeal and
cream, waffles and syrup. While the dew still sparkled on the lawn and
on the thousands of tiny morning spiderwebs stretched along the hedges,
they went out into the yard, where old Frank came running to meet them
with his morning welcome of wagging tail.

But the grin had come back to the visitor's face now. He was afraid of
Aunt Cindy, of the maid, of Jake, of all grown folks. In vain Tommy
tried to play with him: he did not know how to play--a wagon was a wagon
to him, nothing more; a stick a stick, and not a horse to be ridden.
Tommy gave it up. They walked around inspecting things, like little old
men. Now and then the visitor swore, the oaths coming naturally, like
any other talk. He did not even know he was swearing. Tommy, listening,
grinned now and then, looking at his visitor with comprehending eyes.
The little shrill oaths fascinated him; as for the child who uttered
them, God had never entered his garden in the cool of the evening, and
he didn't know he was naked.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, an old black woman, seeing them saunter
about, followed by old Frank, and noting that they did not play but
talked, shook her wise head.

"I wish Mr. Steve would come," she said. "He teachin' dat chile things
he ought not to know."

He came early in the afternoon. Tommy saw the long shining car turn in
at the end of the avenue and Frank race to meet it. At the boy's cry
that yonder came Papa, Joe turned and started toward the barn.

"Where you goin'?" demanded Tommy.

"He'll beat me up," said Joe.

While the car hummed up the avenue the two stood close together, Tommy's
face earnest as he argued and reassured.

The car stopped near the garage. A tall, clean-shaved man in palm beach
clothes and panama hat came toward them. "Hello, old man," he said and
stooped down and kissed one boy; then straightening up: "Who's this
you've got with you?"

"Joe," said Tommy simply.

He saw the keen look in the gray eyes, the smile that caused the fine
wrinkles to gather about their corners way up there under the panama
hat.

"Well, Joe--where did you drop from?"

Then Aunt Cindy called the master of Freedom Hill aside, and Tommy saw
the old woman talking earnestly up into his face. His father nodded,
then came toward them, smiling.

"All right, boys," he said. "Come up on the porch where it's cool, and
tell me all about it."

But Joe would not tell. He drew away and looked at the man with that
scrappy grin. Silence, secretiveness where grown people were, had been
beaten into his small brain. Out behind the house, the conference
finished, Tommy reassured his guest again and again, sometimes laughing,
sometimes very earnest.

"Oh, he won't hurt you, Joe!"

But Joe's chest was rising and falling. He was afraid of Steve Earle,
afraid of those powerful arms, even of those kind gray eyes.

An hour later Steve Earle called Tommy to him.

"Keep him with you, son," he said. "I'm going to Greenville."

He came back in the afternoon. From the orchard they saw him get out of
the car and go up on the porch. Joe would not come back to the house. He
did consent, though, to venture into the yard, near the barn. They were
sitting on the concrete base of the windmill when from around the house
Tommy saw Mr. John Davis and his wife drive up the avenue and get out
near the porch. They lived across the creek and were neighbours. They
did not have a car, but drove an old white horse named Charlie, who was
always pricking up his ears at you, hoping you would give him an apple.
Mr. Davis had a long beard and Mrs. Davis was stout and wore spectacles.

"You go and see what they want," grinned Joe. "I'll stay here."

In vain Tommy begged him to come, too. They weren't going to hurt him.
They would give him apples. Joe shook his head. He didn't want any
apples.

So Tommy went, Frank following. They were sitting on the porch, talking
to his father. Yes, they were talking about Joe; and Tommy catching the
infection of secrecy from his guest, stopped at the side of the portico
that set high off the ground, where he could hear without being seen,
while old Frank, panting, lay down beside him.

He knew the voices of them all. He often went with his father across the
fields to Mr. Davis's house. It was always a delightful excursion. The
Davises didn't have any cook or maid, but they had a grape arbour whose
vines formed a roof thick as a house, and out in the garden they had a
row of bee gums painted white. They lived alone; they had no children,
which struck Tommy as being strange, like not having a dog or a cow. The
water at their well was very cool, and you drew it with a bucket. While
his father and Mr. Davis talked on the porch, Mrs. Davis would call him
in the kitchen, him and Frank both. She seemed to be forever making a
cake. He would talk to her and tell her all about Frank. He was always
sorry when time came to go home.

Mr. Davis was talking now. He always talked in a mumbling way, because
of his beard that the words got tangled in. They thought the child had
been sent away until they got Steve's message just now. They came right
over. So the boy was still here. Well, he was glad of that.

"I know this much about it, Steve," he went on. "Yesterday afternoon the
driver of a truck stopped by Squire Kirby's house on the big road and
asked the Squire and his wife if they had seen a boy. That's all I
know."

"Well, I know more than that," Steve said. "I've been to Greenville and
found out about him from the people at the settlement house. A fruit
dealer reported him to the police for stealing bananas, and the police
passed the case on to them. The kid lives with a man named Grimsley, in
a shack down by the river, in the gas-tank section. You know what that
neighbourhood is, John.

"The settlement house questioned the neighbours. It seems that the
kid's parents are dead, and that Grimsley is an uncle by marriage. He's
a brute, even for the gas-tank section. The neighbours hear him beating
the little devil--see him doing it! He threatens the kid with policemen
all the time. The result is that the child lives in deadly terror of all
policemen, and will run like a rabbit at the sight of one."

"Oh, poor little thing!" cried Mrs. Davis, and Davis growled something
that was lost in the tangle of his beard.

Tommy heard his father knock the ashes out of his pipe.

"The settlement-house people," he went on, "are taking steps to get
control of the child. They've laid the case before Judge Fowler. You
know what that means, John. If anybody has any trouble with the judge
it'll be Grimsley, the uncle."

"Steve," said Mrs. Davis, "you've seen the child. Is he a nice child?"

"I guess all kids are nice according to their chances," said Earle.
"This one hasn't had any chances."

"The reason I ask," said Mrs. Davis, "is that John and I have
talked--have talked--about adopting one. We--we get lonely
sometimes--for a child."

Tommy was holding Frank by the collar now. He noticed that it was
stifling hot and Frank was panting, that the sunlight on the trees was
growing strange in colour, that the trees themselves stood motionless as
if the leaves were made out of iron that could not stir, and when he
glanced behind him, toward the barn, he saw over the hills a black
cloud.

Then something in the road drew his attention. A man had ridden up on a
horse and was dismounting and coming up the walk. He looked twice before
he could make sure. It was Bob Kelley, rural policeman.

He left his hiding place and went running toward the back yard. There
was no one there, not even Joe. For a moment his heart stood still. Then
he remembered that he and Joe had played in the barn that morning. Maybe
Joe was afraid of the cloud and had gone to the barn. He unlatched the
lot gate, swung it heavily open, and went into the high, wide hall. Joe
was sitting on the ladder that led up into the loft.

"Heh!" said Tommy.

Joe looked at him strangely.

"Guess who's out there now!" cried Tommy, out of breath. "Bob Kelley.
He's comin' up the walk!"

"Who's he?"

"Pleaseman!"

Joe gasped.

"Cop?"

"Yes, cop!" said Tommy, proud that they had such things in the country
as well as in town. "I'll go an' fin' out what he wants. You stay here.
I'll come back an' tell you. Come on, F'ank!"

He did not look back as he ran. He did not stop at the pillar this time.
He went right up on the porch. Policemen didn't come to their house
every day. Kelley had not sat down.

"That's all right, Bob," Earle was saying. "John or I will look after
him till the matter's settled."

Then, said Kelley, he would be going before the storm broke. He went
down the steps and down the walk. There was no sun now.

Mrs. Davis rose. She was a stout, motherly woman. She was dressed up as
if it were Sunday. Mr. Davis rose, too. You could never tell because of
his beard whether he had on a cravat or not.

"I want to see the child, Steve," Mrs. Davis said. Her face was so
earnest it almost frightened Tommy. "Oh, I hope I will love him! I could
not take a child I did not love. I always thought I wanted one that had
been well brought up. I don't know what I would do with the other
kind--but if he loves me----"

Steve turned and saw Tommy looking up at them with wide eyes. Frank had
lain down in the walk.

"Where have you got your friend stuck away, old man?" asked Steve.

"Out at the barn, Papa. He's skeered."

They all went down the steps. Frank rose and followed, with panting
mouth and wagging tail. He was a part of everything they did. This was
his place as well as theirs, and he had his share in all that went on.
As they turned the corner of the house they came face to face with the
black thunder cloud in the west. As if it had seen them, there came from
its depths a distant rumble.

Steve Earle held the lot gate open for Mrs. Davis. It was like holding
the gate of life open to that boy in the barn. They went into the wide,
lofty hall, lined with stalls. The ladder still led into the loft but
there was no one on it.

"Joe!" called Tommy shrilly.

"He's gone up in the loft," said Davis.

Tommy and Mrs. Davis watched the two men climb the ladder. Mrs. Davis
was breathing hard, as if some great test was about to be put to her.
They heard the men walking about in the rustling hay; they heard Steve
Earle calling.

"Joe--Joe--nobody's going to hurt you, son."

Their faces looked worried when they came down. Aunt Cindy had run out
to them now. She had been in the front room, listening between the
curtains to the conversation on the porch. She had not seen the child.

"He's run off!" screamed Tommy suddenly. "Papa, I tol' him the cop had
come."

Aunt Cindy was down on her knees and had caught him to her ample bosom
as she had caught him so many times. He choked down the sobs that had
begun to rise. With terror he saw that the trees that had been standing
so still were now rustling their leaves violently, and that out at the
road a cloud of dust was rising.

Then Frank took charge of things.

He had gone into the barn with them. He had smelled the ladder, the
ground, and come out into the lot. While they were searching he had run
to them, looked up into their faces, run back out, his nose to the
ground, and turned at the entrance to look at them once more, ears
pricked. Frank had known from the first. That empty ladder, that
straw-carpeted hall, that cleanly kept barn lot, had all the time been
telling him something that it didn't tell people. But Frank couldn't
talk, so now he took his stand beside Steve Earle and barked. Steve
turned quickly.

"I get you, Frank!" he said. "Go find him!"

Gratefully Frank looked up at his master. He ran to the lot fence, and
reared up on it, smelling the top of the planks. Then he drew back,
gathered himself, and sprang up on the fence. He remained poised for a
moment, sprang down, and started across the cotton patch, his nose to
the ground.

"You had better stay, Mrs. Davis," said Earle.

"No, I'm going." Her motherly face was set, the wind was whipping her
skirt about her.

Aunt Cindy had run to the house and brought her a raincoat. She was
going, too, declared the black woman. They all hurried around the lot.
In the cottonfield Frank was still waiting.

"Had we better let Tommy go?" asked Davis.

"He stood up for the kid, John," replied Earle. "He's going to be in at
the finish."

Down by the woods Frank was waiting for them now--waiting for these
slow-moving bipeds. "This is the way he went," he said plainer than
words. "Better than if I had seen him, I know." His long silken ears
were blown back by the wind. As they drew nearer they saw the eagerness
of his dark eyes. Earle took Tommy by the hand. On the other side, his
beard blown against him, hurried Mr. John Davis. Behind came the women.

A quarter of a mile in the woods, dark with the approaching storm, Earle
turned a grim face to his neighbour.

"He's making straight for the mill dam, John."

The breath went out of Tommy with terror. That was an awful place, the
mill dam! Above it the water was fifteen feet deep, his father said.
Below, the water tumbled and foamed over rocks that would beat a man's
life out. On top of the dam, raised above the glancing water on stays, a
narrow walkway of single planks was laid. Grown men could cross, not
boys.

Once, when he had gone with his father to the mill and no one was
looking, Tommy had tried to walk out, just a little way. Everything had
turned black. He only knew his father was calling him to look up, not
down. But he could not take his eyes from the rushing water under his
feet. While he was falling, arms had snatched him up. Tommy began to sob
as they hurried.

It was growing darker in the woods. There had been no rain yet, but high
up in the trees was a roaring sound, and now and then leaves and dead
twigs came whirling down into the quieter regions below.

"Can you see Frank?" asked Earle.

"No. Call him, Steve. We may be off the track."

"I'm afraid to do that, John. If it rains hard, as it's apt to do any
minute, he will lose the trail."

"There's nothing else to do!" cried Davis above the wind. "We may be
going wrong!"

Earle stopped. His hat had fallen off and he had not paused to pick it
up. Tommy had never seen his face as it was now.

"Here, John, take the boy," he said. "I'll run for the dam!"

Just then, sharp and clear above the wind, from the dark wooded bottoms
ahead, came a bark--a strange little yelp to be made by so big a dog,
but the kind a bird dog makes when he functions as a hound. Tommy saw a
smile on his father's face.

"The old dog's treed, John!"

Then he started running, Tommy keeping pace.

"Speak to him, Frank!" he called. "Let us hear you talk!"

Again, in answer, through the woods came the shrill, self-conscious
yelp, then silence, then the yelp again.

"You wait here, son," said Earle. "Wait for Mrs. Davis and Aunt Cindy.
Tell 'em to follow the bark. You know the place, don't you? That's the
boy. Come on, John! Speak to us, Frank! Speak to us, old man!"

The two men were looking up into a lofty, tossing tree when Tommy and
the women reached them. Above them the trees thrashed back and forth
bewilderingly, showing the stormy sky, then covering it over, then
showing it again. And there, looking up into the tree also, eyes
shining, tongue hanging out, sides heaving, was old Frank. Once he
reared up on the trunk of the tree as if to make sure again. He whiffed
the bark, his tail wagging. Then he jumped down and looked up once more.

Earle's voice was strangely quiet when he spoke.

"I see him," he said. They all crowded about. "My God--he's way out at
the end of the top limb. If his head swims----" He began to talk loud,
his face still raised. "Joe, listen, old man. We are all your friends
down here. Tommy's here."

Davis had sat down on the ground and was hurriedly pulling off his
shoes. His beard fell down over his shirt and his hands were trembling.

"It won't do, John," spoke Steve Earle, and Tommy, aghast, saw the look
on his father's face. "The limb he's on will never hold you. He might
try to get farther out, and if he does----"

Then, as calmly as she could, Mrs. Davis called to the boy, pleading
with him to come down, telling him that she would be his mother, not
knowing, anxious, excited woman that she was, that the word probably
meant nothing to that child tossing up there in mid-air.

And now for the first time Tommy's straining eyes saw--saw the white
face, the little body pressed against the swaying limb, saw the frantic
arms clinging to the lofty perch, saw the whole tree moving dizzily back
and forth against the stormy sky, as if in the hands of a giant who was
trying to shake that tiny figure down.

The voice of the boy rang out shrill and clear above the tumult of the
wind and the tearing leaves.

"Joe! You hear me, Joe, don't you?" The voice was quiet and sure now,
the nerves of the man that was to be had steadied. Only grammar went all
to pieces; it had been deteriorating these last twenty-four hours. A
boy's grammar is a structure always ready to tumble, like a house of
cards.

"They ain't no cop down here, Joe. We done sent him home. He's gone,
Joe, honest he has. You know me, Joe. I wouldn't tell you no lie!"

Now the figure up there stirred. A small bare foot felt down and
reached uncertainly, as if blown about by the wind, for a lower branch;
a small hand that had clung to a glass of milk now clung to a limb above
his head. Then Tommy saw that his father, with upraised face, was
standing directly under that figure up there in the angry foliage.

"Steady, Joe, old scout!" said Earle.

"Don't talk to him, Papa," pleaded Tommy.

"He's right, Steve," spoke Mrs. Davis.

But once after this Tommy spoke.

"Joe! Try that un on the other side!"

Again they watched the foot feeling about. Again it found the limb. Once
they saw him, like a bear cub, hug the trunk. Once he slid and fragments
of bark came tumbling down. Closer to earth drew the small figure. They
could hear the calloused little bare feet scraping the bark. Then, all
of a sudden, Steve Earle had swung himself up by the lower branches. His
strong arms reached upward and were lowered down to them, and from his
fingers a gasping little figure slid to the ground.

It was still light enough to see the face. The grin with which he had
started out in life to brave an unfriendly world was gone, and in its
place was terror--terror of those awful heights, of that swaying tree,
of night and storm, and now of these faces about him. The sturdy chest
was rising and falling. He looked pitifully small, like a baby.

There came a blinding flash of lightning, and a clap of thunder that
seemed to burst the woods open. In the momentary flash they saw his
white face and dilated eyes.

Mrs. Davis had sunk to her knees, arms outstretched.

"Darling!" she cried. Tommy had heard his mother say it that way. Then
he turned his head in a sort of embarrassment, for Joe had run into Mrs.
Davis's arms, and Joe was sobbing on Mrs. Davis's ample bosom; and no
gentleman, big or small, likes to witness his friend's emotions.

"I guess it's a go, Steve," said John Davis.

"Looks like it, John," replied Steve.

And then the rain that had held back so long came down through the
forest in a deluge.



XI

BLOOD MONEY


"A man," says Poor Richard, "has three friends--an old wife, an old dog,
and money." Now two of these friends Jim Taylor had. He had an old wife
and he had an old dog, but he had no money. And there are times when,
let comfortable moralists say what they please, a man's need for money
overshadows everything else. Such a time had come to Jim Taylor.

It came at one o'clock on a cold, starry March morning. Since sundown he
and the veterinarian from Breton Junction had been working out in the
lot by the light of a lantern. Since sundown Mary, his wife, had hurried
back and forth from the kitchen with pots of hot water.

"Better go to bed now, gal," he had said over and over. But she had not
gone.

Since sundown, also, old Prince, his big white Llewellyn setter, had
hung about within the circle of light cast by the lantern. He had
followed Mary to the kitchen and back, as if she needed a protector. He
had gone with Jim to the well after water. While Jim and the doctor
worked, he had sat gravely on his haunches, looking solemnly on. Now the
veterinarian had driven away, and old Jim, long, lank, a bit stooped,
stood in the middle of the lot, Mary on one side, Prince on the other.
Before him lay his mule, dead.

Now a mule is mortal, and a dead one not uncommon. But on this
particular mule Jim had depended for his cotton crop. And on his cotton
crop he had depended for money to pay off the mortgage on his farm--the
farm that represented his and Mary's belated plunge in life.

Perhaps to say Mary's plunge would be nearer the truth. But for her, Jim
would have remained an easy-going renter all his days, with a bird dog
before the fire and a shotgun over the mantel and fishing poles out
under the shed. His was the lore of field and stream, not of business.
It was Mary who, two years before, had seen in the advancing price of
cotton their chance to own a farm. She had talked him into trying to
make terms with Old Man Thornycroft, his landlord.

"All right, gal," he had said one morning; "here goes."

He had come back with a new light in his gray, twinkling sportsman's
eyes. He had got right down to work. The sound of his hammer as he
patched barn and sheds had taken the place of the sound of his shotgun
in the woods. He had followed the furrow as earnestly as if it were a
wild-turkey track in the swamp, while old Prince, that mighty hunter,
looked on bewildered. He had raised good crops. He had met his first
payments. Then had come the great war and thirty-cent cotton and the
chance to pay out. He had redoubled his efforts. He had borrowed to the
limit on the coming season's prospects. He had bought ample fertilizer,
a new wagon, a new plough. And now the mule, without which all these
things were useless, lay at his feet a mass of worse than useless flesh.

The shivering voice of Mary at his side--he hadn't realized before how
cold it was--roused him from his melancholy contemplation of the
spectacle.

"What're we goin' to do now, Jim?"

"Oh, we'll manage somehow," he declared.

He picked up the lantern, looked down into her face, and his eyes
twinkled momentarily.

"That mule was lazy, anyhow."

But there was no answering twinkle in Mary's eyes as they turned back
toward the house. They left the lot gate open, no need to close it now,
and old Prince followed with subdued mien at their heels; their troubles
were his troubles, and, besides, he had rather liked the mule in a
condescending sort of way.

"How much will a new mule cost?" Mary asked as they went up the steps,
their footfalls sounding loud in the dead silence down there under the
stars.

"Well, two hundred dollars will get one you won't have to prop up
betwixt the traces."

He did not see the sudden eagerness in her face. He pushed the door open
for her.

"Come in, old man," he said to Prince. "You done the best you could."

In the unceiled kitchen he set the lantern down on the table. "Don't you
bother, gal," he said to Mary. "You look all wore out. Go to bed now and
get some sleep. I'll go to Greenville to-morrow and see if I can't
borrow the money."

But next day in town Jim found, as he had been afraid he would find,
that it is not easy for a man known primarily as a hunter and fisherman
to borrow two hundred dollars. He had not even gone to see Thornycroft.
The old man would be glad enough of an opportunity to get the improved
place back; Jim knew that.

But he did call on the banks. They were sorry, cashiers explained
courteously after they had questioned him briefly through barred
windows. But right at this particular time their customers had use for
all the money they could get their hands on, and----

"You think you've got it," he said to Mary that night before the fire,
"till you come out in the street and feel in your pockets. Then you know
you ain't."

"But, Jim--what're you goin' to do now?"

"I'll bait another hook, Mary," he said, trying to conceal the growing
anxiety he felt.

Old Prince went joyfully with him when next morning early he set out on
foot to call on the few farmers he knew who might have money to lend;
Prince always went when Jim was afoot. The sun rose on them when, a mile
up the road, they came in sight of the Northern Hunt Club. It shone
ruddily on the bare oaks and the columned porticos, and the white
stables and kennels in the rear.

Jim never saw the place without a touch of grave reminiscence. Here used
to come old Doctor Tolman from New York, to attend the field trials and
to hunt, and Jim had been his hunting companion. On just such mornings
as this he would join the doctor out here in the road. Before those
stone gate posts that marked the entrance to the grounds they had had
their last talk, eight years ago.

"Don't know when I'll get back, Jim," the doctor had said. "I can't
tramp around as I used to, and my practice gets heavier instead of
easing up. I want to say this, Jim: I've hunted with many a man, but
you're the best sport I ever went into the fields with. I'm going to
send you a pup. Call him 'Prince' if you want to. He's got a pedigree
like a king--goes back to the old country. He's good enough for you, and
you're good enough for him."

That winter, just before the news came of the doctor's death, Prince had
arrived at Breton Junction by express; a roly-poly puppy done up in a
crate and scared to death. Jim had reared him tenderly, taught him while
he was still a pup to retrieve and stand steady in the yard, taken him
into the fields when he was old enough, shown him what was necessary,
and left the rest to instinct. Season after season he had watched the
dog gain in wisdom and steadfastness. Now they understood one another as
only hunting man and hunting dog, who have been intimately associated
for years, can understand. Together they passed the club, old Prince
running contentedly ahead.

They were gone all day. First Jim called on Steve Earle, then on Squire
Kirby. Both lived seven miles away, but they were his best chance. The
Squire and his wife had gone to visit their children and would not be
back till Christmas. Steve Earle had left the day before for New York on
business.

He did not mention his troubles to Steve Earle's wife. He was not the
man to parade his perplexities before a woman. He turned back toward the
section where lived small farmers, like himself. It was dusk when he
returned home, Prince trotting with dejected tail at his heels, for
Prince had seen the troubled look in his master's eyes. One farmer after
another had turned Jim down. The country was poor, for one thing. But
for Kirby and Earle there were no large planters in it; and in this day
of high-priced cotton each small farmer was straining every nerve to
better his own fortunes.

"I'd like to, Jim," they had said, "but----"

"Oh, that's all right," Jim had replied.

He answered Mary's questions cheerfully enough. She had stuck to him
through thick and thin, mostly thin, he reckoned, and he was going to
stick to her. This farm was her gamble, and he was going to see it
through for her. But in the silence of the night, unknown to her, he
fought one of the hardest battles of his life, a battle that kept him
awake and drenched him with perspiration. For he was a hunter, was Jim,
and old Prince was his dog.

He arose with grave face to greet another day. While Mary was in the
kitchen getting breakfast, he rummaged secretly among his queer
assortment of papers--gun catalogues, directions about building a boat,
advertisements of shotgun shells with hunting dogs painted on them. At
last he found it--Prince's pedigree that Doctor Tolman had sent along
with Prince. He folded it carefully, stuck it in his pocket, and
replaced the other papers.

He was going to see some men at the club, he told Mary at breakfast. He
might take a little round. She could look for him when she saw him. She
insisted on putting up a lunch for him. She saw him getting back before
night, she laughed, when he protested. She came out on the porch with
him and patted him on the back when he went down the steps in his
patched old hunting coat, his gun stuck under his arm.

He went up the road in his long, lurching, huntsman's stride. Old Prince
raced ahead, then back to him, barking with joy, leaping into his face
like the athlete he was, his eyes almost fierce with eagerness. On every
side frost-sparkling strawfields, horizoned by pine woods, shimmered in
the sun. The air came fresh like cold spring water. Hundreds of times
before on such mornings he and Prince had set out this way. Hundreds of
times they had come home in the gloaming, Prince trotting behind, Jim's
hunting coat bulging with birds.

But this was to be no such hunt. A mile up the road he called the old
setter to him. Prince came in with drooped ears and upraised, bewildered
eyes. That was what hurt. That was what was going to hurt more and
more--that Prince would never understand.

They turned in between the stone gate posts of the club and up the walk
toward the white columns of the portico. Jim remembered a picture in
Martha's Bible of an old high priest going to an altar with a sheep
following behind. This was his place of sacrifice, and old Prince,
suddenly subdued, was trotting at his heels.

The butler answered his knock at the door. Why, yes, he said in answer
to Jim's question, there was a man upstairs named Gordon. He was a
great dog man; he owned kennels up in Jersey. He just got in last
night--down for the field trials and a few days' shooting before going
to South America. Some big after-the-war business. He would call Mr.
Gordon.

Jim waited anxiously on the porch, twisting his scraggly gray moustache
and biting the ends. Beside him stood old Prince, looking up into his
grave face. At last the man came out, bareheaded--tall, ruddy,
clean-cut, a sportsman every inch. Jim would have spotted him in a crowd
and he would have spotted Jim--soul mates, as it were. The quick glance
he gave old Prince was full of admiration.

"What's his name?"

"Prince."

The man looked down appraisingly at the long, straight line of the back,
the white, wavy, silken hair, that glistened like satin in the sun, the
noble dome of the head with its one lemon-coloured ear, the
intelligence, courage, and high breeding in the upraised, fearless eyes.

"Where did you get him?"

Jim told him.

"Why, I knew Doctor Tolman well. A fine old gentleman. Gordon's my name.
Mr. Taylor, I'm glad to meet you. You know, I like the looks of Prince
here. He is--well, there are not many like him. Did Doctor Tolman leave
any record of his pedigree?"

Jim's hand trembled a bit as he reached in his pocket. It was almost
with regret that he saw the unmistakable pleasure in Gordon's eyes as he
glanced quickly down the record that told why Prince was what he was.

"I tell you what I'll do," said Gordon, handing the paper back, "I'll
get on my hunting things and we'll take a little round--just you and I
and Prince. Won't you come in?"

Jim shook his head. While Gordon was gone he sat down on the stone
steps, his gun between his knees. Yonder lay the sunlit country he and
Prince knew so well. Prince came to him and laid his head on his knee.
He knew when a man was in trouble, did Prince.

All day they hunted through a country of distant prospects, a country
that rolled like the sea, a country brown with broomstraw fields, green
with pine woods, gray with patches of bare winter oaks. Back and forth
ahead, sometimes so far they could hardly make him out, again so close
they could hear the pant of his breath, swept old Prince.

Sometimes they saw him stop short, a mere speck of white against a
distant hill. Again in creek bottoms, in the edges of woods, they found
him, erect, motionless, tail straight out, a living, breathing statue in
white. They advanced side by side; the staccato of their shots rang out
in the amber air; out of whirling coveys birds tumbled. And always here
came old Prince to them, bird in mouth, ears thrown back, fine old eyes
aglow with a sportsman's joy.

Not even Prince himself had ever done more brilliant work. He didn't
know that every covey he found, every bird he retrieved, was setting a
price as it were on his head, dooming him in his old age to exile under
a strange master in a strange land. But Jim knew, watching with sinking
heart the admiration in Gordon's eyes.

They ate Mary's lunch on a log in the woods, sitting side by side in the
democracy of the out of doors. They talked about hunting and dogs. They
took turns tossing biscuit to hungry old Prince, who sat at a distance
like the gentleman he was, and who caught them skillfully, then lay down
to eat them, his tail dragging gratefully across the dead leaves.

At last they rose from the log. Old Prince sprang to his feet, ears
pricked, eyes shining. A wave of Jim's hand and he was off in his
strong, steady gallop to new conquests. Their shots rang out in other
fields and woods. The sun dropped closer to the horizon. The shadows
crept farther out into the fields and deeper into the spirit of Jim
Taylor.

It was early dusk when they stood in front of the stone gate posts of
the club, and Gordon spoke about it at last.

"Are you sure you want to sell him, Taylor?"

Jim swallowed. "That's what I come for, Mr. Gordon."

"Well, I think two hundred and fifty would be a fair price at his age."

"That's fair enough," said Jim.

"All right. Come in and we'll fix it up."

They went up the walk together in silence and around the club to the
kennels. Close to his master's heels trotted old Prince, tired now, eyes
turned longingly down the road toward his home and his fire.

"You can chain him there," said Gordon.

"Here?" asked Jim, for things seemed suddenly to be swimming around.

"Yes--to that kennel. That's it. Now we'll go inside."

Jim knew he was in the wide hall before the fire, that he was shaking
hands with two or three men Gordon introduced him to, that he was
upstairs in Gordon's room, that Gordon had counted out twenty-odd crisp
bills on the table. But all these things were confused and blurred in
his mind. For out there as he turned away old Prince had looked at him
with drooped ears, and pleading eyes that for the first time in their
long relationship did not understand.

Gordon came downstairs with him. He was looking for a telegram calling
him away any hour now, he said. Old Prince would be well taken care of
while he was gone. He had an old groom who was a wizard with dogs. Out
on the porch they shook hands. In the growing darkness Jim trudged,
solitary, home. His problem was solved; Mary's home was saved. But in
front of that kennel Prince would be waiting for him to come back; and
as long as he lived, wherever he went, Prince would still be waiting for
him to come back. It was a faithful friend he had sold, one that would
have died for him. It was blood money that crackled in his pocket. Mary
was cooking supper when he appeared, solitary and gaunt, in the kitchen.
Old Prince was going to see something of the world now, he explained.

"Why, Jim!" she cried. "If you had only told me!"

She came to him and caught him by both shoulders. She looked up
pityingly into his face.

"Poor old Jim--why didn't you tell me?"

"Oh, well, there wasn't any use, Mary. Mr. Gordon knows how to treat a
dog like Prince. I didn't mind much."

So he spoke, boldly, in the kitchen. But as he went about his work in
the yard he missed the silent companionship of Prince at his heels. As
he ate supper, his eyes from force of habit wandered over the table for
scraps of food for Prince. While he sat smoking his pipe before the
bedroom fire he tried resolutely not to look at the empty rug in front
of the hearth. And when later he went out to draw water the yard was
desolate, and the moon risen over the fields looked at him in solemn
reproach.

Next day he rode to Greenville with Tom Jennings, a neighbouring farmer,
and bought a mule. They had passed the club before sunrise, sitting side
by side on the wagon seat in the cold morning air. No sound had come
from those white kennels which he could make out dimly in the back yard
like tombstones. Old Prince was not the kind of dog to whine or howl.

But all that morning while he went from one sales stable to another Jim
knew Prince would be pricking his ears at every footstep around the
club, and scanning every approaching face with hopeful, eager eyes. He
had known some bird dogs who were the property of any hunter who chanced
along with a gun, and others that stuck to one man, and one man alone.
Prince was a one man's dog.

He left town in the afternoon, sitting on a box in the rear of
Jennings's wagon, leading the mule by a halter. Before sunset they came
to the country where he and Prince had hunted a hundred times. On top of
that steep hill, yonder by that dead pine, Prince had held a covey an
hour one stormy day in a gale of wind that threatened to blow him off
his feet.

Into this swift creek, over whose bridge the wagon wheels rumbled,
Prince had plunged one icy morning and retrieved a wounded bird, the
water freezing on him as he stepped dripping out. These things and
others like them, in spite of himself, passed, along with the slowly
passing landscape, through the mind of Jim Taylor while the sun dropped
low over the hills and Tom Jennings talked about what a bargain the mule
was, and the mule pulled back, as mules always do, on the halter.

It was nearly dusk when they came in sight of the club, whose lights
twinkled through the trees, and Jennings spoke up suddenly:

"Hello! Ain't that your wife yonder?"

Jim glanced around. "Looks like her, Tom."

"She just left the club."

"Been to sell eggs, likely."

But when they caught up with her Jim saw that she was in her best black
dress with the black beaded bonnet, and when he helped her in the wagon
he noticed that her face was worried. She did not even seem to observe
the mule; and Jim, as he led his sleek new purchase to the barn, was
wondering what it all meant.

He was still wondering while he finished his lonely work about the yard.
As he stamped up the back steps he saw her through the kitchen window
rise suddenly from a chair. She had changed her dress, but she had not
started the fire or lit the lamp. He must have surprised her.

Oh, she was just tired, she said in reply to his anxious question. She
had been to the club to sell eggs.

"They must have been mighty fine eggs," he said, his eyes twinkling
kindly, "for you to dress up so. You must have toted 'em in your hands,
too, for you forgot your basket."

She sank into a chair, looking up helplessly at him.

"Sit down, Jim," she said. Then she went on: "I never meant to tell you,
Jim. I tried--I tried to buy him back."

"Buy him?"

"Yes, old Prince."

"Why, Mary, I thought I told you--he give me two hundred and fifty
dollars."

"I know. I offered him what he gave."

"You--you done what?"

She smiled a little at the amazement in his face, but her voice trembled
as she made her confession. For ten years she had been saving up on
chickens and eggs, a quarter here, a half-dollar there. In secret she
had dreamed and planned. They would have new furniture, she had thought,
when the house was theirs--new furniture and a parlour. She had meant to
surprise him, not to let him know till it came. She had the furniture
picked out in a catalogue.

"Jim," she concluded, "I've saved up two hundred and fifty-four dollars
and twenty cents!"

His arm was about her shoulders. "Poor gal," he said. "She would have
give it all up for me and Prince. Now, now--don't cry. It's all the
same--you tried."

She wiped her eyes on her apron and looked at him.

"I saw last night how hard hit you was. I never knew till then just how
much store you set on Prince. And I never knew how much I thought of
him, for what you love, I love. I made up my mind then, Jim. After
dinner I went to the club. I had to wait a long time, for he was out
hunting. When he came in I told him I'd give him what he gave you, and
four dollars more. Jim, I thought he understood, he looked so kind. He
made me set down there in the big room. Then, Jim, I told him--told him
how it was with us."

Jim's face grew suddenly stern. "You told him that?"

She nodded.

"And he turned you down?"

"Oh, he was nice enough, as nice as if I was his mother. He came out on
the porch with me; he wanted to send me home. But he said he didn't feel
like selling him--selling old Prince; that it was a bargain between you
and him. Jim, when he turned back, I went round the club house. He was
chained to a kennel. He knew me, Jim. He thought I had come after him!"

She was crying outright now, there beside her cold stove, and wiping her
eyes on her apron.

"Well," said Jim solemnly, "I've hunted with many a man. I never knew
one to be white in the field and black outside before."

They ate a silent supper. They went into the bedroom before the fire.
Above the mantel was a picture of a dog pointing, over the bed another
of a dog retrieving. And in Jim's mind was another of old Prince sitting
off at a distance like the gentleman he was, and a man on the log at his
own side eating Mary's lunch.

"God Almighty!" he said to himself.

Out in the night came the roar of the Florida Limited. It whistled once
long and melodiously, then twice in short staccatos. That meant
passengers for the club or passengers from the club for the train.
Maybe, right now, old Prince was waiting on the station platform in the
glare of the headlight, wondering what it all meant. Maybe by to-morrow
he would be hundreds of miles away.

Jim rose, picked up the bucket, and stepped out into the cold moonlight.
Even on a little trip like this Prince had always come with him. He
could imagine he saw him now, sitting on his haunches out there in the
yard, waiting for the water to be drawn. He had comforted himself with
the thought that Gordon would be kind to Prince, and now----

"A man that would treat a woman like that," he said bitterly, "would
kick a dog!"

He turned back to the house, his head bowed. As he went up the steps he
seemed to hear up the misty moonlit road that led to the club a faint
tinkle like that made by a running dog's collar. He stood listening for
a moment. The ghost of a sound had ceased. He went inside and closed the
door behind him.

Mary sat by the fire above the empty rug, her chin in her hand. He
placed the bucket on the stand and washed his face, smoothing back with
a big wet hand his heavy, iron-gray hair. He sat down and began to
undress in silence. He had taken off one shoe when he heard it
again--the tinkle, unmistakable this time, of a running dog's collar.

"What's that, Jim?" demanded Mary.

But he was already on his feet and halfway down the hall, Mary close
behind him.

"It's him!" he said grimly. "He run away!"

He threw the door open. Big, white, with shining eyes, old Prince was
jumping all over him, jumping up into his face, and into the face of
Mary. They turned back to the fire. He was running round and round the
room, looking at them over the table, his tail beating chair rungs and
bedstead. He was frantic with joy; his eyes were aglow with happiness,
the happiness of a dog that has come home.

"Get my hat, Mary."

"Why, Jim?"

"It was blood money bought him but I've got to take him back."

She pleaded with him. There was her money. Maybe he would take it now.

But Jim's face was set. "He turned you down once, gal. He'll never have
another chance!"

She brought him his hat, her face white.

"Come on, old man," he said, and started for the door.

But Prince hung back, ears drooped, eyes pleading.

"Come on, sir!"

He pretended not to understand. He sat down on his haunches. He lay down
humbly on the floor, head between his paws, tail dragging contritely
across the rag rug. He showed decided symptoms of an intention to crawl
under the bed, and Jim started grimly toward him. Then it was that Mary
saw.

"Hold on, Jim! What's this on him?"

She was down on the floor with the dog. She jerked something off his
collar.

"Light the lamp, Jim!" she cried.

With trembling hands he obeyed. She had risen now, so had Prince. He had
taken refuge behind her skirts, from which point of vantage he was
looking round her up into the face of his master. The light Jim held
over her shoulder showed writing on a piece of paper.

"Jim!" she cried, all out of breath, "Jim! It says: 'Compliments of Mr.
Gordon to Mrs. Taylor. You see, I couldn't sell him to you, but I want
you two to have him. I am leaving in a few minutes. No time for more.
The train is coming."

Jim set the lamp on the table. "Well, well!" he said and sank into a
chair. Before him the fire roared and crackled up the chimney. Prince's
head was on his knee. He saw a man sitting on a log beside him in the
woods. He looked into the man's clear sportsman's eyes.

Far in the north through the stillness of the night he heard the faint,
vanishing whistle of the Limited. He put his hand on Prince's silken
head, and Prince nestled close and sat down on his haunches. Jim's arm
was about the shoulders of Mary, who had knelt down beside him.

"Well, well!" he said again, and the fire grew dim and blurred before
his eyes.



XII

THE CALL OF HOME


Old Frank, Irish setter, crawled out of his clean warm kennel underneath
the back porch; stretched his long, keen muscles till they cracked;
yawned with a fog of frosted breath at the misty winter sun risen over
distant mountains; then trotted around the side of the big white house
called Freedom Hill--the house that was his master's home and his own.

As if a happy thought had struck him, he broke into a sudden burst of
speed. He ran up the front steps three at a bound. He scratched at the
side front doors with the fan-shaped transom above. He waited with ears
pricked and wagging tail, nose to the crack of the door.

For it was always interesting to speculate on who would open the doors
on this particular morning. Maybe it would be the master, Steve Earle,
maybe the mistress, Marian Earle, maybe the boy Tommy--maybe old Aunt
Cindy the cook. If it were the old black woman she would grumble. She
would declare she didn't have time to bother with a dog while her
breakfast waited on the stove. She would remind him that he was only a
dog. But she would let him in, for all that.

He scratched again. He didn't like to be kept expectant; he grew excited
when he had to wait. He had worn a place on the door where he scratched.
Suddenly he turned his head sideways, intently listening, for someone
had opened the living-room door. He began to pant, and his eyes glowed
with gratitude. That step coming down the hall--he would know it
anywhere. He could hardly wait now.

The door opened and he looked up past broad shoulders into kindly gray
eyes. His ears flattened with reverence, even while his eyes shone with
comradeship.

"Come in, old man," said Steve Earle--he always said just that.

Frank stopped before the living-room door, and looked up at his master.
He had to depend on human beings in matters like the opening of doors.
And now he was in the living room, where a fire of oak logs roared up
the chimney. Overwhelming joy seized him that he should be in here. He
ran to Marian Earle and laid his head on her lap, looking up into her
face; then to Tommy Earle, the boy, who caught hold of his heavy red
mane. They were all smiling at him.

He grew embarrassed and poked his head against the shirt bosom of the
boy. He sat down before his mistress and raised his paw to shake hands.
He wanted to show them in some way that he was grateful for all this.
Then he looked around the room and his long silken-red ears drooped.

For this morning was different from other mornings. People were looking
down at him in a different way. Not only that, but Lancaster, his
master's friend who lived in New York and who had driven out
unexpectedly yesterday from Breton Junction, stood before the fire,
overcoat over his arm, satchel at his feet. Then he saw on the table his
collar and chain. And now old Frank knew--knew he was going on a
journey.

But more than that he knew, for his was the wisdom of the seasoned bird
dog. Steve Earle's overcoat hung on the hat rack in the hall. His
favourite gun was over yonder in the corner, the hunting coat draped
over it. Steve Earle was not going.

It was this that made him look with vaguely troubled eyes into the faces
of master and mistress and boy. It was this which filled him with
foreboding.

"I don't believe," Lancaster was smiling down at him, "I don't believe
he's very keen about going, Steve."

"Oh, Frank'll be all right," laughed Earle. "He's a good scout. Just had
a sort of exiled feeling for a moment. He's a countryman like the rest
of us. He doesn't like to leave home. I'm glad for him to go. He'll see
something of the world."

So spoke Steve Earle, the master. But out in the spacious kitchen, hung
with pots and pans, where his mistress and Tommy put his pot of
breakfast before him and watched while he ate--out in the kitchen old
Aunt Cindy, the cook, raised her voice in protest.

"Ain't dey got no dogs up in New York whar dat man come from?" she
demanded. "Why don't he have a dog of his own, den? He rich enough to
buy a dozen. What he want to stop over here an' borry _our_ dog for?
What he gwine to take him to, Miss Marian? Fluridy, you say? Lordy,
lordy, dat a long way to take our dog, a powerful long way!"

"But he's goin' to bring him back, though!" cried Tommy.

"Well, honey, I don't know about dat. You never can tell. Dis here's
Friday, an' Friday a bad luck day. Sometimes folks, an' dogs, too, set
out on Friday, an' never do come back. Lordy, lordy, ain't I see things
like dat happen?"

Marian laughed.

"Don't scare the child, Aunt Cindy."

"I ain't skeerin' the chile, Miss Marian. I mean ev'y word I say, Miss.
Friday a bad day to start anywhere--a powerful bad day!"

And she went on wiping dishes and shaking her turbaned head.

It was winter when Steve Earle and Lancaster lifted Frank, without
protest on his part, into the baggage car at Breton Junction. It was
summer in the strange flat country where after two days and a night of
travel Lancaster lifted him, rejoicing in his freedom, out again. It was
old Frank's staunchness that brought calamity upon him. But that is
going ahead.

There had been three days of great shooting. The exiled feeling had left
him, and he and Lancaster had become comrades. Lancaster was a good shot
and that commanded his respect. Lancaster was a kind man and that
commanded his affection. At the lodge in the pines where they lived were
other men, hunters like Lancaster, and other dogs, bird dogs like
himself, a congenial crowd, sportsmen all.

Sometimes as he lay in the lodge, where if the night was cool a fire was
built, and while he listened to the talk and laughter of the men, he
thought of home--gravely, without repining, as a mature and
self-sufficient man does. Lancaster would take him back, that he knew.
If any doubts assailed him, a look into Lancaster's face and into the
faces of the other men dispelled them. These men were like his
master--men on whom a dog can depend.

On the morning of the fourth day Lancaster took him out alone, with only
a guide. Barking with joy, he leaped up into the face of his friend;
then started out on his swift strong gallop through the level fields of
broomstraw. In his eagerness to find birds he rounded a swamp. A wide,
free ranger, he drew quickly out of sight. In a clearing engirt by pines
he stopped abruptly--stopped just in time. Right before him, his nose
told him, were birds.

He stiffened into an earnest, beautiful point. He would not stir until
Lancaster came up behind him and ordered him on. And Lancaster with the
guide was far behind and on the other side of the swamp.

A fine sight he made in that lonely country, standing, head erect, tail
straight out, sun flashing on his silken red hair. So those two men,
driving in a dilapidated wagon along a sandy road in the edge of the
pines, must have thought. For the driver, a burly, sallow fellow,
pointed him out, pulled on the reins, and the wagon stopped. The two
talked for a while in guarded tones; next they stood up on the wagon
seat and looked all around; then they climbed out and came stealthily
across the field. The burly man held in his hand a rope.

Instinct alarmed the dog, warned him to turn. Professional pride held
him rigid, lest he flush those birds and be disgraced. Pride betrayed
him. A sudden grip cut his hind legs from under him, threw him flat on
his back just as the birds rose with a roar. A thumb and forefinger,
clamped in his mouth, pressed on his nose like a vise. He was squirming
powerfully in the sand, but a knee was on his throat and the sky was
growing black.

Writhing and twisting, he was lifted to the wagon and tied in the bottom
with ropes. Then pine trees were passing swiftly overhead. One man was
lashing the mule. The other was standing up, looking back.

"See anybody?"

"No."

"Reckon he's one of them thousand-dollar dogs, Jim?"

"Reckon so! Look at him!"

All day the wagon wheels ground the sand. All day old Frank, tied in the
bottom of the wagon, sullenly watched those two men in the seat. Once or
twice, at the sound of other wheels approaching along the unfrequented
road, they pulled aside into the woods and waited. At dusk they turned
into a dirty yard. On the porch of an unpainted shack stood a woman,
beyond stretched level fields of broomstraw, then the flat blue line of
forest, and above the forest a dark-red glow.

They unfastened all the ropes but the one about his neck, pulled him out
of the wagon, dragged him off to the log corncrib, shoved him in, untied
the rope, and bolted the door. Then the burly man shoved in a pone of
cornbread and a pan of water.

"You go to town to-morrow, Sam," he said as he rebolted the door. "Just
hang around and listen. See if there's any reward in the paper--big red
Irish setter. His owner might telegraph the paper to-night. Sooner we
make the deal, the better."

Inside the crib the captive stood listening with shrewdly pricked ears
while the mumble of voices died away toward the shack, steps stamped up
on the porch, and the door slammed. Then he went cautiously round his
prison, whiffing the sides, rearing up on the log walls. Across the rear
corner was a pile of boxes. He climbed up on them. They rattled and he
jumped quickly down.

But later, after all sound had ceased in the shack and the lights he had
been watching through a chink in the logs had gone out, he climbed
carefully over behind these boxes. There was space to stand in back
here; the floor was of broad boards. Through the cracks he could see
that the crib was set up off the ground.

He began to scratch the corner board, then to gnaw. All night long at
intervals he sounded like a big rat in a barn. Sometimes he rested,
panting hard, then went back to work.

At the first sound of movement in the shack next morning he leaped back
over the boxes, and when the burly man opened the door to shove in bread
and water he lay in the middle of the floor and looked upon his captor
with sullen dignity.

That night he gnawed, and the next. But the surface of the board
offered little hold for claws or teeth. Industry, patience, a good
cause, do not make boards less hard, nails less maddening. He saw the
third day dawn, he heard steps stumping about in the shack, he saw the
other man ride into the dirty yard, and he sank down panting on his
prison floor, his head between his paws, dismay in his heart.

They brought him his breakfast and there was talk before his prison.

"Two hundred dollars, hell!" said the burly man. "Is that all they're
offering? They'll give a thousand but what they'll git that dog!"

"Well," said the other, "I told Fred to watch the papers, and if the
reward went up to send us one. You goin' to keep him stopped up in
thar?"

"No. I'm goin' to hunt him--over 'bout the swamps where nobody's apt to
see him. Then s'pose questions is asked? We don't read no papers. We
just found a lost dog and took care of him--see?"

"S'pose he sneaks off on a hunt?"

"Don't let him. If he tries to git out of sight, fill him full of shot."

"The whole thing's risky, Jim."

"Well, what is it ain't risky?"

Old Frank had always associated with gentlemen, hunted with sportsmen.
Now he was to find what it means to be threatened, browbeaten, harassed
in his work by inferiors.

On the first hunt, as soon as he got out in the field, he was yelled
at. He turned in bewilderment. The men hunted on mules, their guns
across the pommels of their saddles, and now they were gesticulating
angrily for him to come in. He ran to them, looking up into their faces
with apologetic eyes, for, however scornful he might be of them in his
prison, in the field his professional reputation, his bird-dog honour,
were at stake.

"You hunt close!" ordered the burly man.

After that he tried shrewdly to get away, to manoeuvre out of sight
under pretext of smelling birds. But the burly man called him in, got
down off his mule, cut a big stick, and threatened him. Again, an
enraged yell full of danger made him turn to find both guns pointed
straight at him and the face of the burly man crimson. He came in, tail
tucked, ears thrown back, eyes wild.

"You look here, Jim," said the man called Sam, "you better be satisfied.
They're offering four hundred dollars now, and that looks good to me.
It's been more'n a week. They ain't goin' to raise it any higher."

"They'll give a thousand!" yelled the burly man.

"All right, Jim--I've warned you!"

Day after day they hunted over the same ground, along the border of a
great swamp, where there were no houses, no roads, no cultivated fields.
Day after day they grew watchful, until he was almost afraid to get out
of the shadows cast by the mule. His tail that he had always carried so
proudly began to droop, the gallop that used to carry him swiftly over
fields and hills and woodland gave way to a spiritless trot. Fields and
woods stretched all about him, the sky was overhead; but he was tied to
these ragged men on mules as if by an invisible rope, which to break
meant death.

At intervals during the silent nights he still gnawed at his board
behind the boxes, but he could not hunt all day and stay awake at night.
Sheer weariness of body and spirit made him welcome any rest, even that
of his hard prison floor. And there were times when it seemed that he
had never known any life but the one he was living now.

At first he had expected Lancaster to find him. He had thought of the
men about the fireplace of the lodge. They would not desert him. Then as
time passed he forgot them. Only a small part of his life had they ever
filled. His master and mistress and the boy, his home far away in
another world--more and more these filled his thoughts and his desires.

Thus sometimes after a hunt, as he lay on the few shucks he had
scratched together into a meagre bed, there came to him from the shack
the smell of cooking meat; and he saw a big warm kitchen with a cat
dozing by the stove, and a fat old negro mammy bending over steaming
kettles and sputtering skillets. Then hungry saliva dripped from his
mouth to the floor and he choked and swallowed.

Again, on chilly nights, when he glimpsed through the chinks a glow in
the windows of the shack, there came into his mind a roaring fire of oak
logs and a big living room, with a man and a woman and a little boy
around the fire, and a gun standing in the corner with a hunting coat
draped over it. Then he raised his big head and looked about his prison
with eyes that glowed in the dark. It was at these times that he leaped
over the boxes and began to gnaw fiercely at his board.

But maybe even old Frank's stout spirit would have broken, for hope
deferred makes the heart of a dog, as well as the heart of man, sick;
maybe he would have ceased to gnaw at his board behind the boxes; maybe
he would have yielded to the men at last, submissive in spirit as well
as in act, if he had not seen the train and the woman and the little
boy.

They had taken an unusually long hunt, out of their accustomed course.
He had managed to get some distance ahead, pretending not to hear the
shouts above the wind; the bird shot they had sent after him had only
stung his rump, bringing from him a little involuntary yelp, but not
causing him to turn. The wildness of the day had infected him. A high
wind blowing out of a sunny, cloudless sky ran in waves over the tawny
level fields of broomstraw, and from a body of pines to his right rose
a great shouting roar.

Suddenly out of the south a whistle came screaming melodiously on the
wind. He galloped at an angle to intercept it. Out of the body of pines
a long train shot and rushed past, the sun flashing on its sides, its
roar deadened by the roar in the pines. Just behind it, among leaves and
trash stirred into life and careering madly, along he leaped on the
track.

A glimpse he caught of the brass-railed rear platform, where a woman
rose quickly from a chair, snatched up a boy smaller than Tommy, and
held him high in her arms. The boy waved at him, the woman smiled
brilliantly, and he ran after them, leaping into the air, barking his
hungry soul out.

But the waving woman and the smiling boy whirled away, and in that
desolate country a big Irish setter stood between the rails, and looked
with straining eyes after the vanishing rear of the northbound Florida
Limited, overhung by coils of smoke.

That was what had brought him down here. Those long, flashing rails led
home! He stood oblivious of everything else. He did not hear the shouts,
he did not see the burly man jump off his mule, cut a stick, and hurry
toward him, gun in hand.

He had endured much during those evil days. But what followed was that
which neither man nor dog can ever forgive or forget. At the first blow
he sprang about, mad with rage, but the man held the gun--to spring was
to spring to death. He dropped down at the man's feet and laid his head
over the rail. He did not cry out. But the blows sounded hollow on his
gaunt ribs, they ached sickeningly into his very vitals.

It could have had but one ending. Another blow, and he would have leaped
at the man's throat and to death. But the other man was rushing at them.
"Great God, Jim," he cried, "let up! You want to kill him?" White of
face, he had grabbed the stick, and the two stood facing one another.
From the pines still rose the great shouting roar.

They came home through the dusk, a silent procession: the burly man rode
in front, then the other man, and behind, with drooped head and tail,
trotted old Frank. Now and then in the gathering gloom the men looked
back at him, but not once did he raise his eyes to them.

"I guess I learned him his lesson, Sam."

Sam did not reply.

"I'm gettin' tired of waitin', anyhow."

Still Sam did not reply.

And his silence must have had its effect; for when they reached home the
burly man made the dog come into the shack. The wind had ceased, the
night turned chilly, and they let him lie down before the fire of pine
knots. The woman brought him a pot of hominy; the men felt his ribs as
gently as they could. He shrank from the touch more than from the pain.
Kindness had come too late, even for a dog.

He lay before the hearth, indifferent to all that happened in this
shabby room, for the sight of this fire had made him see another and
kindlier fire, in another and kindlier world. These people did not
notice his growing restlessness, his furtive glances, his panting
breaths, the burning light in his eyes. For steps had come up on the
porch; somebody had knocked at the door; the night of their fortune was
here!

The burly man hurried to answer, shaking the floor. The open door showed
a Negro who handed in a paper. Somebody had sent it from town, he
explained, and was gone. The woman snatched the paper. Heads close
together, the three stood about a smoking kerosene lamp. The woman was
reading in a whiny, excited drawl: "'One thousand dollars reward
for----'"

"I told you so!" burst from the burly man.

"Shut up! Listen!" cried the other.

"'Irish setter,'" she read. "'Answers to name Frank. Notify R. A.
Lancaster'--Oh, here's a lot of streets and numbers--'New York City.'"

"I told you!" the burly man was shouting. "I told you I knew a dog when
I saw one! Look at him, Sam! Look at that head! Look at that dome above
the ears! Look at that hair--like silk! The mould that dog was made in
is broke!"

"One thousand dollars!" gasped the woman. "One thousand dollars!"

When the two men came out with him to his prison the excitement was
still rising. The woman had already gone into another room, and the men
had got out a bottle. Their voices as they bolted his door and propped a
pole against it sounded loud and thick. They stamped up the steps, and
he could hear them laughing and shouting in the shack. Surely they could
not hear him gnawing--gnawing frantically at his board behind the boxes.
They could not hear him jerking at the end of the board, freed at last
from the sleeper below. They could not hear the board give way, throwing
him on his haunches. Surely they could not hear the little bark that
escaped him when the floor opened.

But out in the yard, free at last, he sank suddenly down flat, head
between his paws, very still. The back door of the shack had opened and
the light shone out across the littered yard, up the walls of his
prison, into his very eyes. The burly man had stepped out on the porch.

It was one of those hollow nights when sounds carry far, when a spoken
word is a shout.

"I don't hear nothin', Sam."

The other man staggered out.

"Maybe it was a rat," he said.

He could almost hear them breathing.

"Guess I imagined," said Sam.

"Sure," said the other.

Their figures darkened the doorway. The burly man clapped the other on
the back.

"What I tell you, Sam! One thousand----"

The door closed. The merriment would go on till morning. And old Frank,
muscles limbering as he ran, soreness passing out of his side, was
galloping through the night, toward the railroad--and home.

Morning found him loping easily along the railroad, nose pointed north
like a compass. Now and then he left the track to let a train pass,
looking at it, if it went north, with wistful eyes, then keeping in
sight of it as far as he could. He passed a few small stations with big
water tanks, he crossed long, low trestles over boundless marshes, he
came at dusk to a village.

Hungry, lonely, he approached an unpainted cottage on its outskirts. Two
dogs rushed at him; he faced them and they turned back. He trotted on,
hair risen in an angry tuft down his back. He slept curled up in an
abandoned shed, but not for long. The morning stars lingering low over
the flat horizon kept pace with him, then a sea of mottled pink clouds,
then the huge red face of the rising sun.

At midday he pounced on an animal like a muskrat that tried to cross the
track--a tough thing to kill, a tougher to eat. At dusk he drew near a
farmhouse, where a man was chopping wood. The man picked up a stick,
ordered him away, then went on chopping.

He made no more overtures after this, but many a farmer thought a fox
had been among his chickens. Habits of civilization had given way
perforce to habits of outlawry. Only as he galloped north day after day
his eyes still shone with the eager light of the bird dog's craving for
human companionship and love.

The number of tracks that branched out from the city whose environs he
skirted bewildered him for a minute; then he took the one that pointed
due north. All the days he travelled, part of the nights. Sometimes at
first he had wondered why he did not reach home, at last to travel
always north had become a habit, and he wondered no more.

But the time came when he could not keep on going as fast and as long as
formerly. There were days when he found hardly anything at all to eat.
The endless ties passing under him began to make him dizzy and faint.
His long hair was matted; his ribs showed; his eyes grew haggard. It was
a wonder the young man knew him for what he was.

He had come into the freight yards of a town at nightfall, in a cold,
driving rain, a bedraggled, forlorn figure, a stray dog. A passenger
train had just passed him, stopped at the station ahead, then pulled
out. A light glistened down wet rails into his hungry eyes and blinded
him. Rows of silent dripping box cars hid the man crossing the track at
the street. Frank almost ran into him. Both stopped. The man was
buttoned up to his neck in an overcoat and carried a satchel.

"Hello!" he said.

Frank started to slink back under a box car.

"Come here!" He stooped down and looked into the dog's eyes. "Where did
you drop from?" he said. "You come with me! Let's talk it over."

In a warm, firelit cottage room a young woman ran to meet the man--then
for the first time she saw the dog.

"Why, John!" she cried. "Where did you get him?"

"He got me," laughed the man, "on the way home from the station. He's
starving. Get him something to eat. Then I'll tell you about it."

She glanced at a cradle, whose covers were being suddenly and violently
agitated.

"I'll answer for this old fellow," assured the man. "He's seen better
days. I think I've seen him before."

Out in the bright little kitchen, where they scraped together all the
scraps they could find, he went on:

"Of course I may be mistaken. But at a little station where I sell goods
sometimes, I used to see a big red Irish setter following a tall man and
a little boy. I think they lived out in the country from there. The
kind of folks and the kind of dog you don't forget. If it wasn't so
far--hang it, I believe it's the dog, anyhow! Well, we'll take good care
of him, and next week when I go through I'll find out."

The young woman in a raincoat came out in the back yard and held the
streaming lantern while the man arranged some sacks underneath the porch
and closed and bolted the back gate. He heard them go up the back steps,
heard them moving about in the house. Like a decent old fellow he licked
the rain from his silken coat, smoothed out the matted strands, then
curled up comfortably in his dry bed and slept deep and long.

He stayed with them a week, while strength returned to his muscles, fire
to his eyes, courage to his heart. But as he lay before their hearth at
night he saw always in his mind that other fire--the fire of home. The
stars were still shining that morning when he scrambled over the high
back fence and was gone.

But it was with new life and confidence that he continued his journey.
He slunk no more on the outskirts of towns; he passed boldly through.
Fortune favoured him now; on the second day after he left them he ran
into snow, and rabbits are almost helpless before a swift pounce in the
snow.

The drifts grew deeper as he travelled north. Fields of dead cotton
stalks were varied by fields of withered corn stubble, yellow, broken
rows on white hills. There was an occasional big farmhouse now, a house
with white pillars like his master's, set in a grove of naked oaks. And
at last, following fence rows and hedges, lines of cylindrical cedars
climbed over and over high hills. The look of home was on the face of
nature, the smell of home was in the air.

It was a bitter cold afternoon when the mountains first took shape in
the distance. He could make them out, though the sky was heavily
overcast. Those were the mountains he saw every morning from the back
porch of his home. He barked at them as he ran. He would lie before his
own fire this night.

At dusk sudden hunger assailed him. On a hill was a big farmhouse, the
windows aglow, smoke veering wildly from the chimneys. And on the wind
came the smell of cooking meat. He stopped on an embankment, pricked his
ears, licked his chops. Then he scrambled down the embankment and like a
big fox made his way along a fence row toward that house from whence
came the smell of cooking meat. At the same time flakes of snow began to
drive horizontally across the white fields.

Suddenly from out the yard two stocky cream-coloured dogs rushed at him.
They came with incredible swiftness through the snow, considering their
short bench legs. Frank waited, head up, ears pricked. One was a female;
it was she who came first. He would not fight a female; he even wagged
his tail haughtily. But in a twinkling she was under him and had caught
his hind leg in a crushing, grinding grip. He lunged back, snarling, and
the other dog sprang straight at his throat.

He was down in the snow, he was on his feet again, he was ripping the
short back of the dog at his throat into shreds, his fangs flashing in
the dusk. He was dragging them by sheer strength off toward the
railroad; but he could not tear that grip from his hind leg, nor that
other grip from his throat.

He did not cry out--he was no yelping cur. But it was growing dark, the
air was full of snow, the grip was tightening on his throat, the other
grip had pulled him down at last to his haunches. Then two men came
running toward them, the one white, the other black. The white man
grabbed the dog at his throat, the black man the dog under him. The
white man was pounding the dog's nose with his fist, was cramming snow
down his bloody mouth.

"They'll kill him, Will!" he panted. "Go get some water to throw in
their faces."

The black man disappeared running--came back running, a bucket in each
hand.

And now it was over, and off there the white man held both his dogs by
their collars. They were panting, their wrinkled eyes half closed, their
mouths dripping bloody foam. For many yards around the snow was churned
into little hillocks. And there lay old Frank, panting hard, head up,
eyes shining.

"Pick him up, Will!" said the white man. "His leg's broke."

"Cap'n," said the negro, "I'm afraid of him."

The white man swore, shaking his dogs angrily. That was some man's bird
dog, a fine one, too.

"I believe that's Steve Earle's setter, from Freedom Hill across the
river!" he cried above the wind. "By George, I believe that's just who
it is! We'll go and get the sled!"

But when they hurried back with the sled the wounded dog was gone. They
followed his bloodstained tracks across the field, up the embankment,
and to the railroad. They looked at them between the rails, fast filling
with snow. The white man put his hands to his ears.

"He'll freeze to-night," he said.

In the teeth of the wind, like a three-legged automaton, Frank was
fighting his way doggedly through the night. The wind almost blew him
off the embankments; the swirling waves of snow choked him. Maybe he
would have lain down, maybe it would have happened as the man said, if
it had not been for the spirit within him and for what he saw.

For just before him the superstructure of an iron trestle rose pencilled
in snow against the night. Far below a black river wound serpentine into
the mists. A mile to the left, he knew, was Squire Kirby's. In those
dim bottoms on either side of the trestle he and his master and the
squire had hunted a hundred times. The birds had scattered on those
wooded hills now vibrant with the blast. Out on the trestle he picked
his slow, hesitating way.

Suddenly he cried out sharply. A mighty gust of wind striking him in
mid-air and almost hurling him into the blackness below had caused him
to put down as a brace his wounded hind leg. Gasping, trembling, he lay
down for a minute on the whitened ties, one leg hanging through. Then he
rose and doggedly picked his way on.

On the high embankment at the other side of the trestle he stopped and,
in spite of the blood stiffened under his throat and the water frozen on
his shoulders, he raised his quivering nose. Beyond those misty bottoms,
to the left, over those storm-swept ridges, lay Freedom Hill.

Halfway down the embankment he cried out again. He had slipped in the
snow and fallen on his leg. Under shelter of the embankment he rested
for a moment, panting as if the night were hot. Then lunging, tottering,
falling, rising again, panting, gasping but with never another cry, old
Frank fought his way up the river bottoms, past the farm of John Davis,
across the field in front of Tom Belcher's store, now a dim smudge in
the blackness--dragged himself over the last ridge, dragged himself
home.

Belly deep in drifted snow he stood at the corner of the lot fence and
surveyed the white distance that lay between him and his kennel--more
unattainable to his weakness than a quarter of a continent had been to
his strength. And while he stood there the roaring of the wind in the
great oaks overhead, the cracking of their naked branches, the swirl of
snow against his nose and in his eyes, bewildered him, and suddenly
something deep within him whispered to him to lie down and rest.

But the sudden terror of death lurked in that whisper and, head dragging
in the snow, he staggered across the yard toward his kennel. In here he
would crawl and hide from that fearful thing that had told him to lie
down in the snow and rest. He reached the kennel, he touched it with his
eager nose, he tried to root his way in between the slats which he had
not known were there. Then gasping and helpless he sat down before it.
The door of his kennel was nailed up. The great hulk of the house loomed
dark and silent above it. Maybe his people were gone!

With this new terror in his heart he fought his way around to the side
of the house. Underneath his master's window he raised his head and
tried to bark. But the wind snatched the muffled sound out of his throat
and hurled it away into the darkness. Once more the still small voice
that terrified even while it soothed pleaded with him to lie down and
rest. Maybe he would have listened now, maybe he would have yielded, if
he had not seen through the living-room curtains the sudden flicker of
firelight on the ceiling. They were not gone--they were only asleep.
Tail wagging strangely as if someone in there had spoken to him, he rose
for the last time and struggled toward the front of the house. At the
corner a gust of wind, waiting in ambush, rushed at him and stopped him
where he was. A moment he waited for it to die down, then dragged
himself to the steps, up the steps, his ruined hind leg hitting each one
like a rag tied in a knot and frozen.

By the big front door he sat down and raised to it his suffering eyes. A
hundred times it had opened to his whim; now in his need it barred his
way. Gathering all his remaining strength, he raised his paw--the paw he
shook hands with--and scratched. There was no sound from within.

Once more--it would be the last time, so heavy had his leg become--he
raised his paw and scratched. Then careless of all things, of master and
mistress, of life and death, he sank down before the door and laid his
head on the sill.

He never knew how it happened. He only knew there was a burst of light
in his eyes, and somebody had picked him up. Then faces were bent close
to him; something hot and gagging was being poured down his throat; a
voice--the most commanding voice in all the world--ordered him to
swallow, swallow. And now he saw before him, as he lay on his side, a
roaring fire whose flames licked and twisted among oak logs piled high
into the chimney.

Strange that he had not known that fire all the time; that he had not
known who these people were. But then he had been on a long journey, and
he was tired, very tired. He must tell them he knew now, let them know
he appreciated what they were doing. He always did that even with
strangers, and these--they were his master, his mistress, his Tommy. He
must----

It was Tommy's shrill voice that broke the silence.

"Look, Papa, look, look! He wagged his tail. He wagged his old tail!"

THE END





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Frank of Freedom Hill" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home