'It is impossible,' she said, 'to get round that way either.'
One grows so accustomed in this world to everything going smoothly, that the idea of actual danger had not yet come home to her. From where she stood in the middle of the cove, the sea looked so distant that the fact that it had closed the only ways of getting out was at the moment merely annoying. She felt much the same as she would have felt if she had arrived at a station to catch a train and had been told that the train was not running.
She therefore seated herself on a rock, and contemplated the ocean. Wilton walked up and down. Neither showed any disposition to exercise that gift of speech which places Man in a class of his own, above the ox, the ass, the common wart-hog, and the rest of the lower animals. It was only when a wave swished over the base of her rock that Mary broke the silence.
'The tide is coming in' she faltered.
She looked at the sea with such altered feelings that it seemed a different sea altogether.
There was plenty of it to look at. It filled the entire mouth of the little bay, swirling up the sand and lashing among the rocks in a fashion which made one thought stand out above all the others in her mind—the recollection that she could not swim.
Wilton bowed coldly.
'Mr Wilton, the tide. It's coming IN.'
Wilton glanced superciliously at the sea.
'So,' he said, 'I perceive.'
'But what shall we do?'
Wilton shrugged his shoulders. He was feeling at war with Nature and Humanity combined. The wind had shifted a few points to the east, and was exploring his anatomy with the skill of a qualified surgeon.
'We shall drown,' cried Miss Campbell. 'We shall drown. We shall drown. We shall drown.'
All Wilton's resentment left him. Until he heard that pitiful wail his only thoughts had been for himself.
'Mary!' he said, with a wealth of tenderness in his voice.
She came to him as a little child comes to its mother, and he put his arm around her.
It is in moments of peril, when the chill breath of fear blows upon our souls, clearing them of pettiness, that we find ourselves.
She looked about her wildly.
'Could we climb the cliffs?'
'I doubt it.'
'If we called for help—'
'We could do that.'
They raised their voices, but the only answer was the crashing of the waves and the cry of the sea-birds. The water was swirling at their feet, and they drew back to the shelter of the cliffs. There they stood in silence, watching.
'Mary,' said Wilton in a low voice, 'tell me one thing.'
'Have you forgiven me?'
'Forgiven you! How can you ask at a moment like this? I love you with all my heart and soul.'
He kissed her, and a strange look of peace came over his face.
'I am happy.'
A fleck of foam touched her face, and she shivered.
'It was worth it,' he said quietly. 'If all misunderstandings are cleared away and nothing can come between us again, it is a small price to pay—unpleasant as it will be when it comes.'
'Perhaps—perhaps it will not be very unpleasant. They say that drowning is an easy death.'
'I didn't mean drowning, dearest. I meant a cold in the head.'
'A cold in the head!'
He nodded gravely.
'I don't see how it can be avoided. You know how chilly it gets these late summer nights. It will be a long time before we can get away.'
She laughed a shrill, unnatural laugh.
'You are talking like this to keep my courage up. You know in your heart that there is no hope for us. Nothing can save us now. The water will come creeping—creeping—'
'Let it creep! It can't get past that rock there.'
'What do you mean?'
'It can't. The tide doesn't come up any farther. I know, because I was caught here last week.'
For a moment she looked at him without speaking. Then she uttered a cry in which relief, surprise, and indignation were so nicely blended that it would have been impossible to say which predominated.
He was eyeing the approaching waters with an indulgent smile.
'Why didn't you tell me?' she cried.
'I did tell you.'
'You know what I mean. Why did you let me go on thinking we were in danger, when—'
'We were in danger. We shall probably get pneumonia.'
'There! You're sneezing already.'
'I am not sneezing. That was an exclamation of disgust.'
'It sounded like a sneeze. It must have been, for you've every reason to sneeze, but why you should utter exclamations of disgust I cannot imagine.'
'I'm disgusted with you—with your meanness. You deliberately tricked me into saying—'
She was silent.
'What you said was that you loved me with all your heart and soul. You can't get away from that, and it's good enough for me.'
'Well, it's not true any longer.'
'Yes, it is,' said Wilton, comfortably; 'bless it.'
'It is not. I'm going right away now, and I shall never speak to you again.'
She moved away from him, and prepared to sit down.
'There's a jelly-fish just where you're going to sit,' said Wilton.
'I don't care.'
'It will. I speak from experience, as one on whom you have sat so often.'
'I'm not amused.'
'Have patience. I can be funnier than that.'
'Please don't talk to me.'
She seated herself with her back to him. Dignity demanded reprisals, so he seated himself with his back to her; and the futile ocean raged towards them, and the wind grew chillier every minute.
Time passed. Darkness fell. The little bay became a black cavern, dotted here and there with white, where the breeze whipped the surface of the water.
Wilton sighed. It was lonely sitting there all by himself. How much jollier it would have been if—
A hand touched his shoulder, and a voice spoke—meekly.
'Jack, dear, it—it's awfully cold. Don't you think if we were to—snuggle up—'
He reached out and folded her in an embrace which would have aroused the professional enthusiasm of Hackenschmidt and drawn guttural congratulations from Zbysco. She creaked, but did not crack, beneath the strain.
'That's much nicer,' she said, softly. 'Jack, I don't think the tide's started even to think of going down yet.'
'I hope not,' said Wilton.
I. He Meets a Shy Gentleman
Looking back, I always consider that my career as a dog proper really started when I was bought for the sum of half a crown by the Shy Man. That event marked the end of my puppyhood. The knowledge that I was worth actual cash to somebody filled me with a sense of new responsibilities. It sobered me. Besides, it was only after that half-crown changed hands that I went out into the great world; and, however interesting life may be in an East End public-house, it is only when you go out into the world that you really broaden your mind and begin to see things.
Within its limitations, my life had been singularly full and vivid. I was born, as I say, in a public-house in the East End, and, however lacking a public-house may be in refinement and the true culture, it certainly provides plenty of excitement. Before I was six weeks old I had upset three policemen by getting between their legs when they came round to the side-door, thinking they had heard suspicious noises; and I can still recall the interesting sensation of being chased seventeen times round the yard with a broom-handle after a well-planned and completely successful raid on the larder. These and other happenings of a like nature soothed for the moment but could not cure the restlessness which has always been so marked a trait in my character. I have always been restless, unable to settle down in one place and anxious to get on to the next thing. This may be due to a gipsy strain in my ancestry—one of my uncles travelled with a circus—or it may be the Artistic Temperament, acquired from a grandfather who, before dying of a surfeit of paste in the property-room of the Bristol Coliseum, which he was visiting in the course of a professional tour, had an established reputation on the music-hall stage as one of Professor Pond's Performing Poodles.
I owe the fullness and variety of my life to this restlessness of mine, for I have repeatedly left comfortable homes in order to follow some perfect stranger who looked as if he were on his way to somewhere interesting. Sometimes I think I must have cat blood in me.
The Shy Man came into our yard one afternoon in April, while I was sleeping with mother in the sun on an old sweater which we had borrowed from Fred, one of the barmen. I heard mother growl, but I didn't take any notice. Mother is what they call a good watch-dog, and she growls at everybody except master. At first, when she used to do it, I would get up and bark my head off, but not now. Life's too short to bark at everybody who comes into our yard. It is behind the public-house, and they keep empty bottles and things there, so people are always coming and going.
Besides, I was tired. I had had a very busy morning, helping the men bring in a lot of cases of beer, and running into the saloon to talk to Fred and generally looking after things. So I was just dozing off again, when I heard a voice say, 'Well, he's ugly enough!' Then I knew that they were talking about me.
I have never disguised it from myself, and nobody has ever disguised it from me, that I am not a handsome dog. Even mother never thought me beautiful. She was no Gladys Cooper herself, but she never hesitated to criticize my appearance. In fact, I have yet to meet anyone who did. The first thing strangers say about me is, 'What an ugly dog!'
I don't know what I am. I have a bulldog kind of a face, but the rest of me is terrier. I have a long tail which sticks straight up in the air. My hair is wiry. My eyes are brown. I am jet black, with a white chest. I once overheard Fred saying that I was a Gorgonzola cheese-hound, and I have generally found Fred reliable in his statements.
When I found that I was under discussion, I opened my eyes. Master was standing there, looking down at me, and by his side the man who had just said I was ugly enough. The man was a thin man, about the age of a barman and smaller than a policeman. He had patched brown shoes and black trousers.
'But he's got a sweet nature,' said master.
This was true, luckily for me. Mother always said, 'A dog without influence or private means, if he is to make his way in the world, must have either good looks or amiability.' But, according to her, I overdid it. 'A dog,' she used to say, 'can have a good heart, without chumming with every Tom, Dick, and Harry he meets. Your behaviour is sometimes quite un-doglike.' Mother prided herself on being a one-man dog. She kept herself to herself, and wouldn't kiss anybody except master—not even Fred.
Now, I'm a mixer. I can't help it. It's my nature. I like men. I like the taste of their boots, the smell of their legs, and the sound of their voices. It may be weak of me, but a man has only to speak to me and a sort of thrill goes right down my spine and sets my tail wagging.
I wagged it now. The man looked at me rather distantly. He didn't pat me. I suspected—what I afterwards found to be the case—that he was shy, so I jumped up at him to put him at his ease. Mother growled again. I felt that she did not approve.
'Why, he's took quite a fancy to you already,' said master.
The man didn't say a word. He seemed to be brooding on something. He was one of those silent men. He reminded me of Joe, the old dog down the street at the grocer's shop, who lies at the door all day, blinking and not speaking to anybody.
Master began to talk about me. It surprised me, the way he praised me. I hadn't a suspicion he admired me so much. From what he said you would have thought I had won prizes and ribbons at the Crystal Palace. But the man didn't seem to be impressed. He kept on saying nothing.
When master had finished telling him what a wonderful dog I was till I blushed, the man spoke.
'Less of it,' he said. 'Half a crown is my bid, and if he was an angel from on high you couldn't get another ha'penny out of me. What about it?'
A thrill went down my spine and out at my tail, for of course I saw now what was happening. The man wanted to buy me and take me away. I looked at master hopefully.
'He's more like a son to me than a dog,' said master, sort of wistful.
'It's his face that makes you feel that way,' said the man, unsympathetically. 'If you had a son that's just how he would look. Half a crown is my offer, and I'm in a hurry.'
'All right,' said master, with a sigh, 'though it's giving him away, a valuable dog like that. Where's your half-crown?'
The man got a bit of rope and tied it round my neck.
I could hear mother barking advice and telling me to be a credit to the family, but I was too excited to listen.
'Good-bye, mother,' I said. 'Good-bye, master. Good-bye, Fred. Good-bye everybody. I'm off to see life. The Shy Man has bought me for half a crown. Wow!'
I kept running round in circles and shouting, till the man gave me a kick and told me to stop it.
So I did.
I don't know where we went, but it was a long way. I had never been off our street before in my life and I didn't know the whole world was half as big as that. We walked on and on, and the man jerked at my rope whenever I wanted to stop and look at anything. He wouldn't even let me pass the time of the day with dogs we met.
When we had gone about a hundred miles and were just going to turn in at a dark doorway, a policeman suddenly stopped the man. I could feel by the way the man pulled at my rope and tried to hurry on that he didn't want to speak to the policeman. The more I saw of the man the more I saw how shy he was.
'Hi!' said the policeman, and we had to stop.
'I've got a message for you, old pal,' said the policeman. 'It's from the Board of Health. They told me to tell you you needed a change of air. See?'
'All right!' said the man.
'And take it as soon as you like. Else you'll find you'll get it given you. See?'
I looked at the man with a good deal of respect. He was evidently someone very important, if they worried so about his health.
'I'm going down to the country tonight,' said the man.
The policeman seemed pleased.
'That's a bit of luck for the country,' he said. 'Don't go changing your mind.'
And we walked on, and went in at the dark doorway, and climbed about a million stairs and went into a room that smelt of rats. The man sat down and swore a little, and I sat and looked at him.
Presently I couldn't keep it in any longer.
'Do we live here?' I said. 'Is it true we're going to the country? Wasn't that policeman a good sort? Don't you like policemen? I knew lots of policemen at the public-house. Are there any other dogs here? What is there for dinner? What's in that cupboard? When are you going to take me out for another run? May I go out and see if I can find a cat?'
'Stop that yelping,' he said.
'When we go to the country, where shall we live? Are you going to be a caretaker at a house? Fred's father is a caretaker at a big house in Kent. I've heard Fred talk about it. You didn't meet Fred when you came to the public-house, did you? You would like Fred. I like Fred. Mother likes Fred. We all like Fred.'
I was going on to tell him a lot more about Fred, who had always been one of my warmest friends, when he suddenly got hold of a stick and walloped me with it.
'You keep quiet when you're told,' he said.
He really was the shyest man I had ever met. It seemed to hurt him to be spoken to. However, he was the boss, and I had to humour him, so I didn't say any more.
We went down to the country that night, just as the man had told the policeman we would. I was all worked up, for I had heard so much about the country from Fred that I had always wanted to go there. Fred used to go off on a motor-bicycle sometimes to spend the night with his father in Kent, and once he brought back a squirrel with him, which I thought was for me to eat, but mother said no. 'The first thing a dog has to learn,' mother used often to say, 'is that the whole world wasn't created for him to eat.'
It was quite dark when we got to the country, but the man seemed to know where to go. He pulled at my rope, and we began to walk along a road with no people in it at all. We walked on and on, but it was all so new to me that I forgot how tired I was. I could feel my mind broadening with every step I took.
Every now and then we would pass a very big house, which looked as if it was empty, but I knew that there was a caretaker inside, because of Fred's father. These big houses belong to very rich people, but they don't want to live in them till the summer, so they put in caretakers, and the caretakers have a dog to keep off burglars. I wondered if that was what I had been brought here for.
'Are you going to be a caretaker?' I asked the man.
'Shut up,' he said.
So I shut up.
After we had been walking a long time, we came to a cottage. A man came out. My man seemed to know him, for he called him Bill. I was quite surprised to see the man was not at all shy with Bill. They seemed very friendly.
'Is that him?' said Bill, looking at me.
'Bought him this afternoon,' said the man.
'Well,' said Bill, 'he's ugly enough. He looks fierce. If you want a dog, he's the sort of dog you want. But what do you want one for? It seems to me it's a lot of trouble to take, when there's no need of any trouble at all. Why not do what I've always wanted to do? What's wrong with just fixing the dog, same as it's always done, and walking in and helping yourself?'
'I'll tell you what's wrong,' said the man. 'To start with, you can't get at the dog to fix him except by day, when they let him out. At night he's shut up inside the house. And suppose you do fix him during the day what happens then? Either the bloke gets another before night, or else he sits up all night with a gun. It isn't like as if these blokes was ordinary blokes. They're down here to look after the house. That's their job, and they don't take any chances.'
It was the longest speech I had ever heard the man make, and it seemed to impress Bill. He was quite humble.
'I didn't think of that,' he said. 'We'd best start in to train this tyke at once.'
Mother often used to say, when I went on about wanting to go out into the world and see life, 'You'll be sorry when you do. The world isn't all bones and liver.' And I hadn't been living with the man and Bill in their cottage long before I found out how right she was.
It was the man's shyness that made all the trouble. It seemed as if he hated to be taken notice of.
It started on my very first night at the cottage. I had fallen asleep in the kitchen, tired out after all the excitement of the day and the long walks I had had, when something woke me with a start. It was somebody scratching at the window, trying to get in.
Well, I ask you, I ask any dog, what would you have done in my place? Ever since I was old enough to listen, mother had told me over and over again what I must do in a case like this. It is the A B C of a dog's education. 'If you are in a room and you hear anyone trying to get in,' mother used to say, 'bark. It may be someone who has business there, or it may not. Bark first, and inquire afterwards. Dogs were made to be heard and not seen.'
I lifted my head and yelled, I have a good, deep voice, due to a hound strain in my pedigree, and at the public-house, when there was a full moon, I have often had people leaning out of the windows and saying things all down the street. I took a deep breath and let it go.
'Man!' I shouted. 'Bill! Man! Come quick! Here's a burglar getting in!'
Then somebody struck a light, and it was the man himself. He had come in through the window.
He picked up a stick, and he walloped me. I couldn't understand it. I couldn't see where I had done the wrong thing. But he was the boss, so there was nothing to be said.
If you'll believe me, that same thing happened every night. Every single night! And sometimes twice or three times before morning. And every time I would bark my loudest and the man would strike a light and wallop me. The thing was baffling. I couldn't possibly have mistaken what mother had said to me. She said it too often for that. Bark! Bark! Bark! It was the main plank of her whole system of education. And yet, here I was, getting walloped every night for doing it.
I thought it out till my head ached, and finally I got it right. I began to see that mother's outlook was narrow. No doubt, living with a man like master at the public-house, a man without a trace of shyness in his composition, barking was all right. But circumstances alter cases. I belonged to a man who was a mass of nerves, who got the jumps if you spoke to him. What I had to do was to forget the training I had had from mother, sound as it no doubt was as a general thing, and to adapt myself to the needs of the particular man who had happened to buy me. I had tried mother's way, and all it had brought me was walloping, so now I would think for myself.
So next night, when I heard the window go, I lay there without a word, though it went against all my better feelings. I didn't even growl. Someone came in and moved about in the dark, with a lantern, but, though I smelt that it was the man, I didn't ask him a single question. And presently the man lit a light and came over to me and gave me a pat, which was a thing he had never done before.
'Good dog!' he said. 'Now you can have this.'
And he let me lick out the saucepan in which the dinner had been cooked.
After that, we got on fine. Whenever I heard anyone at the window I just kept curled up and took no notice, and every time I got a bone or something good. It was easy, once you had got the hang of things.'
It was about a week after that the man took me out one morning, and we walked a long way till we turned in at some big gates and went along a very smooth road till we came to a great house, standing all by itself in the middle of a whole lot of country. There was a big lawn in front of it, and all round there were fields and trees, and at the back a great wood.
The man rang a bell, and the door opened, and an old man came out.
'Well?' he said, not very cordially.
'I thought you might want to buy a good watch-dog,' said the man.
'Well, that's queer, your saying that,' said the caretaker. 'It's a coincidence. That's exactly what I do want to buy. I was just thinking of going along and trying to get one. My old dog picked up something this morning that he oughtn't to have, and he's dead, poor feller.'
'Poor feller,' said the man. 'Found an old bone with phosphorus on it, I guess.'
'What do you want for this one?'
'Is he a good watch-dog?'
'He's a grand watch-dog.'
'He looks fierce enough.'
So the caretaker gave the man his five shillings, and the man went off and left me.
At first the newness of everything and the unaccustomed smells and getting to know the caretaker, who was a nice old man, prevented my missing the man, but as the day went on and I began to realize that he had gone and would never come back, I got very depressed. I pattered all over the house, whining. It was a most interesting house, bigger than I thought a house could possibly be, but it couldn't cheer me up. You may think it strange that I should pine for the man, after all the wallopings he had given me, and it is odd, when you come to think of it. But dogs are dogs, and they are built like that. By the time it was evening I was thoroughly miserable. I found a shoe and an old clothes-brush in one of the rooms, but could eat nothing. I just sat and moped.
It's a funny thing, but it seems as if it always happened that just when you are feeling most miserable, something nice happens. As I sat there, there came from outside the sound of a motor-bicycle, and somebody shouted.
It was dear old Fred, my old pal Fred, the best old boy that ever stepped. I recognized his voice in a second, and I was scratching at the door before the old man had time to get up out of his chair.
Well, well, well! That was a pleasant surprise! I ran five times round the lawn without stopping, and then I came back and jumped up at him.
'What are you doing down here, Fred?' I said. 'Is this caretaker your father? Have you seen the rabbits in the wood? How long are you going to stop? How's mother? I like the country. Have you come all the way from the public-house? I'm living here now. Your father gave five shillings for me. That's twice as much as I was worth when I saw you last.'
'Why, it's young Nigger!' That was what they called me at the saloon. 'What are you doing here? Where did you get this dog, father?'
'A man sold him to me this morning. Poor old Bob got poisoned. This one ought to be just as good a watch-dog. He barks loud enough.'
'He should be. His mother is the best watch-dog in London. This cheese-hound used to belong to the boss. Funny him getting down here.'
We went into the house and had supper. And after supper we sat and talked. Fred was only down for the night, he said, because the boss wanted him back next day.
'And I'd sooner have my job, than yours, dad,' he said. 'Of all the lonely places! I wonder you aren't scared of burglars.'
'I've my shot-gun, and there's the dog. I might be scared if it wasn't for him, but he kind of gives me confidence. Old Bob was the same. Dogs are a comfort in the country.'
'Get many tramps here?'
'I've only seen one in two months, and that's the feller who sold me the dog here.'
As they were talking about the man, I asked Fred if he knew him. They might have met at the public-house, when the man was buying me from the boss.
'You would like him,' I said. 'I wish you could have met.'
They both looked at me.
'What's he growling at?' asked Fred. 'Think he heard something?'
The old man laughed.
'He wasn't growling. He was talking in his sleep. You're nervous, Fred. It comes of living in the city.'
'Well, I am. I like this place in the daytime, but it gives me the pip at night. It's so quiet. How you can stand it here all the time, I can't understand. Two nights of it would have me seeing things.'
His father laughed.
'If you feel like that, Fred, you had better take the gun to bed with you. I shall be quite happy without it.'
'I will,' said Fred. 'I'll take six if you've got them.'
And after that they went upstairs. I had a basket in the hall, which had belonged to Bob, the dog who had got poisoned. It was a comfortable basket, but I was so excited at having met Fred again that I couldn't sleep. Besides, there was a smell of mice somewhere, and I had to move around, trying to place it.
I was just sniffing at a place in the wall, when I heard a scratching noise. At first I thought it was the mice working in a different place, but, when I listened, I found that the sound came from the window. Somebody was doing something to it from outside.
If it had been mother, she would have lifted the roof off right there, and so should I, if it hadn't been for what the man had taught me. I didn't think it possible that this could be the man come back, for he had gone away and said nothing about ever seeing me again. But I didn't bark. I stopped where I was and listened. And presently the window came open, and somebody began to climb in.
I gave a good sniff, and I knew it was the man.
I was so delighted that for a moment I nearly forgot myself and shouted with joy, but I remembered in time how shy he was, and stopped myself. But I ran to him and jumped up quite quietly, and he told me to lie down. I was disappointed that he didn't seem more pleased to see me. I lay down.
It was very dark, but he had brought a lantern with him, and I could see him moving about the room, picking things up and putting them in a bag which he had brought with him. Every now and then he would stop and listen, and then he would start moving round again. He was very quick about it, but very quiet. It was plain that he didn't want Fred or his father to come down and find him.
I kept thinking about this peculiarity of his while I watched him. I suppose, being chummy myself, I find it hard to understand that everybody else in the world isn't chummy too. Of course, my experience at the public-house had taught me that men are just as different from each other as dogs. If I chewed master's shoe, for instance, he used to kick me; but if I chewed Fred's, Fred would tickle me under the ear. And, similarly, some men are shy and some men are mixers. I quite appreciated that, but I couldn't help feeling that the man carried shyness to a point where it became morbid. And he didn't give himself a chance to cure himself of it. That was the point. Imagine a man hating to meet people so much that he never visited their houses till the middle of the night, when they were in bed and asleep. It was silly. Shyness has always been something so outside my nature that I suppose I have never really been able to look at it sympathetically. I have always held the view that you can get over it if you make an effort. The trouble with the man was that he wouldn't make an effort. He went out of his way to avoid meeting people.
I was fond of the man. He was the sort of person you never get to know very well, but we had been together for quite a while, and I wouldn't have been a dog if I hadn't got attached to him.
As I sat and watched him creep about the room, it suddenly came to me that here was a chance of doing him a real good turn in spite of himself. Fred was upstairs, and Fred, as I knew by experience, was the easiest man to get along with in the world. Nobody could be shy with Fred. I felt that if only I could bring him and the man together, they would get along splendidly, and it would teach the man not to be silly and avoid people. It would help to give him the confidence which he needed. I had seen him with Bill, and I knew that he could be perfectly natural and easy when he liked.
It was true that the man might object at first, but after a while he would see that I had acted simply for his good, and would be grateful.
The difficulty was, how to get Fred down without scaring the man. I knew that if I shouted he wouldn't wait, but would be out of the window and away before Fred could get there. What I had to do was to go to Fred's room, explain the whole situation quietly to him, and ask him to come down and make himself pleasant.
The man was far too busy to pay any attention to me. He was kneeling in a corner with his back to me, putting something in his bag. I seized the opportunity to steal softly from the room.
Fred's door was shut, and I could hear him snoring. I scratched gently, and then harder, till I heard the snores stop. He got out of bed and opened the door.
'Don't make a noise,' I whispered. 'Come on downstairs. I want you to meet a friend of mine.'
At first he was quite peevish.
'What's the idea,' he said, 'coming and spoiling a man's beauty-sleep? Get out.'
He actually started to go back into the room.
'No, honestly, Fred,' I said, 'I'm not fooling you. There is a man downstairs. He got in through the window. I want you to meet him. He's very shy, and I think it will do him good to have a chat with you.'
'What are you whining about?' Fred began, and then he broke off suddenly and listened. We could both hear the man's footsteps as he moved about.
Fred jumped back into the room. He came out, carrying something. He didn't say any more but started to go downstairs, very quiet, and I went after him.
There was the man, still putting things in his bag. I was just going to introduce Fred, when Fred, the silly ass, gave a great yell.
I could have bitten him.
'What did you want to do that for, you chump?' I said 'I told you he was shy. Now you've scared him.'
He certainly had. The man was out of the window quicker than you would have believed possible. He just flew out. I called after him that it was only Fred and me, but at that moment a gun went off with a tremendous bang, so he couldn't have heard me.
I was pretty sick about it. The whole thing had gone wrong. Fred seemed to have lost his head entirely. He was behaving like a perfect ass. Naturally the man had been frightened with him carrying on in that way. I jumped out of the window to see if I could find the man and explain, but he was gone. Fred jumped out after me, and nearly squashed me.
It was pitch dark out there. I couldn't see a thing. But I knew the man could not have gone far, or I should have heard him. I started to sniff round on the chance of picking up his trail. It wasn't long before I struck it.
Fred's father had come down now, and they were running about. The old man had a light. I followed the trail, and it ended at a large cedar-tree, not far from the house. I stood underneath it and looked up, but of course I could not see anything.
'Are you up there?' I shouted. 'There's nothing to be scared at. It was only Fred. He's an old pal of mine. He works at the place where you bought me. His gun went off by accident. He won't hurt you.'
There wasn't a sound. I began to think I must have made a mistake.
'He's got away,' I heard Fred say to his father, and just as he said it I caught a faint sound of someone moving in the branches above me.
'No he hasn't!' I shouted. 'He's up this tree.'
'I believe the dog's found him, dad!'
'Yes, he's up here. Come along and meet him.'
Fred came to the foot of the tree.
'You up there,' he said, 'come along down.'
Not a sound from the tree.
'It's all right,' I explained, 'he is up there, but he's very shy. Ask him again.'
'All right,' said Fred. 'Stay there if you want to. But I'm going to shoot off this gun into the branches just for fun.'
And then the man started to come down. As soon as he touched the ground I jumped up at him.
'This is fine!' I said 'Here's my friend Fred. You'll like him.'
But it wasn't any good. They didn't get along together at all. They hardly spoke. The man went into the house, and Fred went after him, carrying his gun. And when they got into the house it was just the same. The man sat in one chair, and Fred sat in another, and after a long time some men came in a motor-car, and the man went away with them. He didn't say good-bye to me.
When he had gone, Fred and his father made a great fuss of me. I couldn't understand it. Men are so odd. The man wasn't a bit pleased that I had brought him and Fred together, but Fred seemed as if he couldn't do enough for me for having introduced him to the man. However, Fred's father produced some cold ham—my favourite dish—and gave me quite a lot of it, so I stopped worrying over the thing. As mother used to say, 'Don't bother your head about what doesn't concern you. The only thing a dog need concern himself with is the bill-of-fare. Eat your bun, and don't make yourself busy about other people's affairs.' Mother's was in some ways a narrow outlook, but she had a great fund of sterling common sense.
II. He Moves in Society
It was one of those things which are really nobody's fault. It was not the chauffeur's fault, and it was not mine. I was having a friendly turn-up with a pal of mine on the side-walk; he ran across the road; I ran after him; and the car came round the corner and hit me. It must have been going pretty slow, or I should have been killed. As it was, I just had the breath knocked out of me. You know how you feel when the butcher catches you just as you are edging out of the shop with a bit of meat. It was like that.
I wasn't taking much interest in things for awhile, but when I did I found that I was the centre of a group of three—the chauffeur, a small boy, and the small boy's nurse.
The small boy was very well-dressed, and looked delicate. He was crying.
'Poor doggie,' he said, 'poor doggie.'
'It wasn't my fault, Master Peter,' said the chauffeur respectfully. 'He run out into the road before I seen him.'
'That's right,' I put in, for I didn't want to get the man into trouble.
'Oh, he's not dead,' said the small boy. 'He barked.'
'He growled,' said the nurse. 'Come away, Master Peter. He might bite you.'
Women are trying sometimes. It is almost as if they deliberately misunderstood.
'I won't come away. I'm going to take him home with me and send for the doctor to come and see him. He's going to be my dog.'
This sounded all right. Goodness knows I am no snob, and can rough it when required, but I do like comfort when it comes my way, and it seemed to me that this was where I got it. And I liked the boy. He was the right sort.
The nurse, a very unpleasant woman, had to make objections.
'Master Peter! You can't take him home, a great, rough, fierce, common dog! What would your mother say?'
'I'm going to take him home,' repeated the child, with a determination which I heartily admired, 'and he's going to be my dog. I shall call him Fido.'
There's always a catch in these good things. Fido is a name I particularly detest. All dogs do. There was a dog called that that I knew once, and he used to get awfully sick when we shouted it out after him in the street. No doubt there have been respectable dogs called Fido, but to my mind it is a name like Aubrey or Clarence. You may be able to live it down, but you start handicapped. However, one must take the rough with the smooth, and I was prepared to yield the point.
'If you wait, Master Peter, your father will buy you a beautiful, lovely dog....'
'I don't want a beautiful, lovely dog. I want this dog.'
The slur did not wound me. I have no illusions about my looks. Mine is an honest, but not a beautiful, face.
'It's no use talking,' said the chauffeur, grinning. 'He means to have him. Shove him in, and let's be getting back, or they'll be thinking His Nibs has been kidnapped.'
So I was carried to the car. I could have walked, but I had an idea that I had better not. I had made my hit as a crippled dog, and a crippled dog I intended to remain till things got more settled down.
The chauffeur started the car off again. What with the shock I had had and the luxury of riding in a motor-car, I was a little distrait, and I could not say how far we went. But it must have been miles and miles, for it seemed a long time afterwards that we stopped at the biggest house I have ever seen. There were smooth lawns and flower-beds, and men in overalls, and fountains and trees, and, away to the right, kennels with about a million dogs in them, all pushing their noses through the bars and shouting. They all wanted to know who I was and what prizes I had won, and then I realized that I was moving in high society.
I let the small boy pick me up and carry me into the house, though it was all he could do, poor kid, for I was some weight. He staggered up the steps and along a great hall, and then let me flop on the carpet of the most beautiful room you ever saw. The carpet was a yard thick.
There was a woman sitting in a chair, and as soon as she saw me she gave a shriek.
'I told Master Peter you would not be pleased, m'lady,' said the nurse, who seemed to have taken a positive dislike to me, 'but he would bring the nasty brute home.'
'He's not a nasty brute, mother. He's my dog, and his name's Fido. John ran over him in the car, and I brought him home to live with us. I love him.'
This seemed to make an impression. Peter's mother looked as if she were weakening.
'But, Peter, dear, I don't know what your father will say. He's so particular about dogs. All his dogs are prize-winners, pedigree dogs. This is such a mongrel.'
'A nasty, rough, ugly, common dog, m'lady,' said the nurse, sticking her oar in in an absolutely uncalled-for way.
Just then a man came into the room.
'What on earth?' he said, catching sight of me.
'It's a dog Peter has brought home. He says he wants to keep him.'
'I'm going to keep him,' corrected Peter firmly.
I do like a child that knows his own mind. I was getting fonder of Peter every minute. I reached up and licked his hand.
'See! He knows he's my dog, don't you, Fido? He licked me.'
'But, Peter, he looks so fierce.' This, unfortunately, is true. I do look fierce. It is rather a misfortune for a perfectly peaceful dog. 'I'm sure it's not safe your having him.'
'He's my dog, and his name's Fido. I am going to tell cook to give him a bone.'
His mother looked at his father, who gave rather a nasty laugh.
'My dear Helen,' he said, 'ever since Peter was born, ten years ago, he has not asked for a single thing, to the best of my recollection, which he has not got. Let us be consistent. I don't approve of this caricature of a dog, but if Peter wants him, I suppose he must have him.'
'Very well. But the first sign of viciousness he shows, he shall be shot. He makes me nervous.'
So they left it at that, and I went off with Peter to get my bone.
After lunch, he took me to the kennels to introduce me to the other dogs. I had to go, but I knew it would not be pleasant, and it wasn't. Any dog will tell you what these prize-ribbon dogs are like. Their heads are so swelled they have to go into their kennels backwards.
It was just as I had expected. There were mastiffs, terriers, poodles, spaniels, bulldogs, sheepdogs, and every other kind of dog you can imagine, all prize-winners at a hundred shows, and every single dog in the place just shoved his head back and laughed himself sick. I never felt so small in my life, and I was glad when it was over and Peter took me off to the stables.
I was just feeling that I never wanted to see another dog in my life, when a terrier ran out, shouting. As soon as he saw me, he came up inquiringly, walking very stiff-legged, as terriers do when they see a stranger.
'Well,' I said, 'and what particular sort of a prize-winner are you? Tell me all about the ribbons they gave you at the Crystal Palace, and let's get it over.'
He laughed in a way that did me good.
'Guess again!' he said. 'Did you take me for one of the nuts in the kennels? My name's Jack, and I belong to one of the grooms.'
'What!' I cried. 'You aren't Champion Bowlegs Royal or anything of that sort! I'm glad to meet you.'
So we rubbed noses as friendly as you please. It was a treat meeting one of one's own sort. I had had enough of those high-toned dogs who look at you as if you were something the garbage-man had forgotten to take away.
'So you've been talking to the swells, have you?' said Jack.
'He would take me,' I said, pointing to Peter.
'Oh, you're his latest, are you? Then you're all right—while it lasts.'
'How do you mean, while it lasts?'
'Well, I'll tell you what happened to me. Young Peter took a great fancy to me once. Couldn't do enough for me for a while. Then he got tired of me, and out I went. You see, the trouble is that while he's a perfectly good kid, he has always had everything he wanted since he was born, and he gets tired of things pretty easy. It was a toy railway that finished me. Directly he got that, I might not have been on the earth. It was lucky for me that Dick, my present old man, happened to want a dog to keep down the rats, or goodness knows what might not have happened to me. They aren't keen on dogs here unless they've pulled down enough blue ribbons to sink a ship, and mongrels like you and me—no offence—don't last long. I expect you noticed that the grown-ups didn't exactly cheer when you arrived?'
'They weren't chummy.'
'Well take it from me, your only chance is to make them chummy. If you do something to please them, they might let you stay on, even though Peter was tired of you.'
'What sort of thing?'
'That's for you to think out. I couldn't find one. I might tell you to save Peter from drowning. You don't need a pedigree to do that. But you can't drag the kid to the lake and push him in. That's the trouble. A dog gets so few opportunities. But, take it from me, if you don't do something within two weeks to make yourself solid with the adults, you can make your will. In two weeks Peter will have forgotten all about you. It's not his fault. It's the way he has been brought up. His father has all the money on earth, and Peter's the only child. You can't blame him. All I say is, look out for yourself. Well, I'm glad to have met you. Drop in again when you can. I can give you some good ratting, and I have a bone or two put away. So long.'
* * * * *
It worried me badly what Jack had said. I couldn't get it out of my mind. If it hadn't been for that, I should have had a great time, for Peter certainly made a lot of fuss of me. He treated me as if I were the only friend he had.
And, in a way, I was. When you are the only son of a man who has all the money in the world, it seems that you aren't allowed to be like an ordinary kid. They coop you up, as if you were something precious that would be contaminated by contact with other children. In all the time that I was at the house I never met another child. Peter had everything in the world, except someone of his own age to go round with; and that made him different from any of the kids I had known.
He liked talking to me. I was the only person round who really understood him. He would talk by the hour and I would listen with my tongue hanging out and nod now and then.
It was worth listening to, what he used to tell me. He told me the most surprising things. I didn't know, for instance, that there were any Red Indians in England but he said there was a chief named Big Cloud who lived in the rhododendron bushes by the lake. I never found him, though I went carefully through them one day. He also said that there were pirates on the island in the lake. I never saw them either.
What he liked telling me about best was the city of gold and precious stones which you came to if you walked far enough through the woods at the back of the stables. He was always meaning to go off there some day, and, from the way he described it, I didn't blame him. It was certainly a pretty good city. It was just right for dogs, too, he said, having bones and liver and sweet cakes there and everything else a dog could want. It used to make my mouth water to listen to him.
We were never apart. I was with him all day, and I slept on the mat in his room at night. But all the time I couldn't get out of my mind what Jack had said. I nearly did once, for it seemed to me that I was so necessary to Peter that nothing could separate us; but just as I was feeling safe his father gave him a toy aeroplane, which flew when you wound it up. The day he got it, I might not have been on the earth. I trailed along, but he hadn't a word to say to me.
Well, something went wrong with the aeroplane the second day, and it wouldn't fly, and then I was in solid again; but I had done some hard thinking and I knew just where I stood. I was the newest toy, that's what I was, and something newer might come along at any moment, and then it would be the finish for me. The only thing for me was to do something to impress the adults, just as Jack had said.
Goodness knows I tried. But everything I did turned out wrong. There seemed to be a fate about it. One morning, for example, I was trotting round the house early, and I met a fellow I could have sworn was a burglar. He wasn't one of the family, and he wasn't one of the servants, and he was hanging round the house in a most suspicious way. I chased him up a tree, and it wasn't till the family came down to breakfast, two hours later, that I found that he was a guest who had arrived overnight, and had come out early to enjoy the freshness of the morning and the sun shining on the lake, he being that sort of man. That didn't help me much.
Next, I got in wrong with the boss, Peter's father. I don't know why. I met him out in the park with another man, both carrying bundles of sticks and looking very serious and earnest. Just as I reached him, the boss lifted one of the sticks and hit a small white ball with it. He had never seemed to want to play with me before, and I took it as a great compliment. I raced after the ball, which he had hit quite a long way, picked it up in my mouth, and brought it back to him. I laid it at his feet, and smiled up at him.
'Hit it again,' I said.
He wasn't pleased at all. He said all sorts of things and tried to kick me, and that night, when he thought I was not listening, I heard him telling his wife that I was a pest and would have to be got rid of. That made me think.
And then I put the lid on it. With the best intentions in the world I got myself into such a mess that I thought the end had come.
It happened one afternoon in the drawing-room. There were visitors that day—women; and women seem fatal to me. I was in the background, trying not to be seen, for, though I had been brought in by Peter, the family never liked my coming into the drawing-room. I was hoping for a piece of cake and not paying much attention to the conversation, which was all about somebody called Toto, whom I had not met. Peter's mother said Toto was a sweet little darling, he was; and one of the visitors said Toto had not been at all himself that day and she was quite worried. And a good lot more about how all that Toto would ever take for dinner was a little white meat of chicken, chopped up fine. It was not very interesting, and I had allowed my attention to wander.
And just then, peeping round the corner of my chair to see if there were any signs of cake, what should I see but a great beastly brute of a rat. It was standing right beside the visitor, drinking milk out of a saucer, if you please!
I may have my faults, but procrastination in the presence of rats is not one of them. I didn't hesitate for a second. Here was my chance. If there is one thing women hate, it is a rat. Mother always used to say, 'If you want to succeed in life, please the women. They are the real bosses. The men don't count.' By eliminating this rodent I should earn the gratitude and esteem of Peter's mother, and, if I did that, it did not matter what Peter's father thought of me.
The rat hadn't a chance to get away. I was right on to him. I got hold of his neck, gave him a couple of shakes, and chucked him across the room. Then I ran across to finish him off.
Just as I reached him, he sat up and barked at me. I was never so taken aback in my life. I pulled up short and stared at him.
'I'm sure I beg your pardon, sir,' I said apologetically. 'I thought you were a rat.'
And then everything broke loose. Somebody got me by the collar, somebody else hit me on the head with a parasol, and somebody else kicked me in the ribs. Everybody talked and shouted at the same time.
'Poor darling Toto!' cried the visitor, snatching up the little animal. 'Did the great savage brute try to murder you!'
'So absolutely unprovoked!'
'He just flew at the poor little thing!'
It was no good my trying to explain. Any dog in my place would have made the same mistake. The creature was a toy-dog of one of those extraordinary breeds—a prize-winner and champion, and so on, of course, and worth his weight in gold. I would have done better to bite the visitor than Toto. That much I gathered from the general run of the conversation, and then, having discovered that the door was shut, I edged under the sofa. I was embarrassed.
'That settles it!' said Peter's mother. 'The dog is not safe. He must be shot.'
Peter gave a yell at this, but for once he didn't swing the voting an inch.
'Be quiet, Peter,' said his mother. 'It is not safe for you to have such a dog. He may be mad.'
Women are very unreasonable.
Toto, of course, wouldn't say a word to explain how the mistake arose. He was sitting on the visitor's lap, shrieking about what he would have done to me if they hadn't separated us.
Somebody felt cautiously under the sofa. I recognized the shoes of Weeks, the butler. I suppose they had rung for him to come and take me, and I could see that he wasn't half liking it. I was sorry for Weeks, who was a friend of mine, so I licked his hand, and that seemed to cheer him up a whole lot.
'I have him now, madam,' I heard him say.
'Take him to the stables and tie him up, Weeks, and tell one of the men to bring his gun and shoot him. He is not safe.'
A few minutes later I was in an empty stall, tied up to the manger.
It was all over. It had been pleasant while it lasted, but I had reached the end of my tether now. I don't think I was frightened, but a sense of pathos stole over me. I had meant so well. It seemed as if good intentions went for nothing in this world. I had tried so hard to please everybody, and this was the result—tied up in a dark stable, waiting for the end.
The shadows lengthened in the stable-yard, and still nobody came. I began to wonder if they had forgotten me, and presently, in spite of myself, a faint hope began to spring up inside me that this might mean that I was not to be shot after all. Perhaps Toto at the eleventh hour had explained everything.
And then footsteps sounded outside, and the hope died away. I shut my eyes.
Somebody put his arms round my neck, and my nose touched a warm cheek. I opened my eyes. It was not the man with the gun come to shoot me. It was Peter. He was breathing very hard, and he had been crying.
'Quiet!' he whispered.
He began to untie the rope.
'You must keep quite quiet, or they will hear us, and then we shall be stopped. I'm going to take you into the woods, and we'll walk and walk until we come to the city I told you about that's all gold and diamonds, and we'll live there for the rest of our lives, and no one will be able to hurt us. But you must keep very quiet.'
He went to the stable-gate and looked out. Then he gave a little whistle to me to come after him. And we started out to find the city.
The woods were a long way away, down a hill of long grass and across a stream; and we went very carefully, keeping in the shadows and running across the open spaces. And every now and then we would stop and look back, but there was nobody to be seen. The sun was setting, and everything was very cool and quiet.
Presently we came to the stream and crossed it by a little wooden bridge, and then we were in the woods, where nobody could see us.
I had never been in the woods before, and everything was very new and exciting to me. There were squirrels and rabbits and birds, more than I had ever seen in my life, and little things that buzzed and flew and tickled my ears. I wanted to rush about and look at everything, but Peter called to me, and I came to heel. He knew where we were going, and I didn't, so I let him lead.
We went very slowly. The wood got thicker and thicker the farther we got into it. There were bushes that were difficult to push through, and long branches, covered with thorns, that reached out at you and tore at you when you tried to get away. And soon it was quite dark, so dark that I could see nothing, not even Peter, though he was so close. We went slower and slower, and the darkness was full of queer noises. From time to time Peter would stop, and I would run to him and put my nose in his hand. At first he patted me, but after a while he did not pat me any more, but just gave me his hand to lick, as if it was too much for him to lift it. I think he was getting very tired. He was quite a small boy and not strong, and we had walked a long way.
It seemed to be getting darker and darker. I could hear the sound of Peter's footsteps, and they seemed to drag as he forced his way through the bushes. And then, quite suddenly, he sat down without any warning, and when I ran up I heard him crying.
I suppose there are lots of dogs who would have known exactly the right thing to do, but I could not think of anything except to put my nose against his cheek and whine. He put his arm round my neck, and for a long time we stayed like that, saying nothing. It seemed to comfort him, for after a time he stopped crying.
I did not bother him by asking about the wonderful city where we were going, for he was so tired. But I could not help wondering if we were near it. There was not a sign of any city, nothing but darkness and odd noises and the wind singing in the trees. Curious little animals, such as I had never smelt before, came creeping out of the bushes to look at us. I would have chased them, but Peter's arm was round my neck and I could not leave him. But when something that smelt like a rabbit came so near that I could have reached out a paw and touched it, I turned my head and snapped; and then they all scurried back into the bushes and there were no more noises.
There was a long silence. Then Peter gave a great gulp.
'I'm not frightened,' he said. 'I'm not!'
I shoved my head closer against his chest. There was another silence for a long time.
'I'm going to pretend we have been captured by brigands,' said Peter at last. 'Are you listening? There were three of them, great big men with beards, and they crept up behind me and snatched me up and took me out here to their lair. This is their lair. One was called Dick, the others' names were Ted and Alfred. They took hold of me and brought me all the way through the wood till we got here, and then they went off, meaning to come back soon. And while they were away, you missed me and tracked me through the woods till you found me here. And then the brigands came back, and they didn't know you were here, and you kept quite quiet till Dick was quite near, and then you jumped out and bit him and he ran away. And then you bit Ted and you bit Alfred, and they ran away too. And so we were left all alone, and I was quite safe because you were here to look after me. And then—And then—'
His voice died away, and the arm that was round my neck went limp, and I could hear by his breathing that he was asleep. His head was resting on my back, but I didn't move. I wriggled a little closer to make him as comfortable as I could, and then I went to sleep myself.
I didn't sleep very well I had funny dreams all the time, thinking these little animals were creeping up close enough out of the bushes for me to get a snap at them without disturbing Peter.
If I woke once, I woke a dozen times, but there was never anything there. The wind sang in the trees and the bushes rustled, and far away in the distance the frogs were calling.
And then I woke once more with the feeling that this time something really was coming through the bushes. I lifted my head as far as I could, and listened. For a little while nothing happened, and then, straight in front of me, I saw lights. And there was a sound of trampling in the undergrowth.
It was no time to think about not waking Peter. This was something definite, something that had to be attended to quick. I was up with a jump, yelling. Peter rolled off my back and woke up, and he sat there listening, while I stood with my front paws on him and shouted at the men. I was bristling all over. I didn't know who they were or what they wanted, but the way I looked at it was that anything could happen in those woods at that time of night, and, if anybody was coming along to start something, he had got to reckon with me.
Somebody called, 'Peter! Are you there, Peter?'
There was a crashing in the bushes, the lights came nearer and nearer, and then somebody said 'Here he is!' and there was a lot of shouting. I stood where I was, ready to spring if necessary, for I was taking no chances.
'Who are you?' I shouted. 'What do you want?' A light flashed in my eyes.
'Why, it's that dog!'
Somebody came into the light, and I saw it was the boss. He was looking very anxious and scared, and he scooped Peter up off the ground and hugged him tight.
Peter was only half awake. He looked up at the boss drowsily, and began to talk about brigands, and Dick and Ted and Alfred, the same as he had said to me. There wasn't a sound till he had finished. Then the boss spoke.
'Kidnappers! I thought as much. And the dog drove them away!'
For the first time in our acquaintance he actually patted me.
'Good old man!' he said.
'He's my dog,' said Peter sleepily, 'and he isn't to be shot.'
'He certainly isn't, my boy,' said the boss. 'From now on he's the honoured guest. He shall wear a gold collar and order what he wants for dinner. And now let's be getting home. It's time you were in bed.'
* * * * *
Mother used to say, 'If you're a good dog, you will be happy. If you're not, you won't,' but it seems to me that in this world it is all a matter of luck. When I did everything I could to please people, they wanted to shoot me; and when I did nothing except run away, they brought me back and treated me better than the most valuable prize-winner in the kennels. It was puzzling at first, but one day I heard the boss talking to a friend who had come down from the city.
The friend looked at me and said, 'What an ugly mongrel! Why on earth do you have him about? I thought you were so particular about your dogs?'
And the boss replied, 'He may be a mongrel, but he can have anything he wants in this house. Didn't you hear how he saved Peter from being kidnapped?'
And out it all came about the brigands.
'The kid called them brigands,' said the boss. 'I suppose that's how it would strike a child of that age. But he kept mentioning the name Dick, and that put the police on the scent. It seems there's a kidnapper well known to the police all over the country as Dick the Snatcher. It was almost certainly that scoundrel and his gang. How they spirited the child away, goodness knows, but they managed it, and the dog tracked them and scared them off. We found him and Peter together in the woods. It was a narrow escape, and we have to thank this animal here for it.'
What could I say? It was no more use trying to put them right than it had been when I mistook Toto for a rat. Peter had gone to sleep that night pretending about the brigands to pass the time, and when he awoke he still believed in them. He was that sort of child. There was nothing that I could do about it.
Round the corner, as the boss was speaking, I saw the kennel-man coming with a plate in his hand. It smelt fine, and he was headed straight for me.
He put the plate down before me. It was liver, which I love.
'Yes,' went on the boss, 'if it hadn't been for him, Peter would have been kidnapped and scared half to death, and I should be poorer, I suppose, by whatever the scoundrels had chosen to hold me up for.'
I am an honest dog, and hate to obtain credit under false pretences, but—liver is liver. I let it go at that.
Katie had never been more surprised in her life than when the serious young man with the brown eyes and the Charles Dana Gibson profile spirited her away from his friend and Genevieve. Till that moment she had looked on herself as playing a sort of 'villager and retainer' part to the brown-eyed young man's hero and Genevieve's heroine. She knew she was not pretty, though somebody (unidentified) had once said that she had nice eyes; whereas Genevieve was notoriously a beauty, incessantly pestered, so report had it, by musical comedy managers to go on the stage.
Genevieve was tall and blonde, a destroyer of masculine peace of mind. She said 'harf' and 'rahther', and might easily have been taken for an English duchess instead of a cloak-model at Macey's. You would have said, in short, that, in the matter of personable young men, Genevieve would have swept the board. Yet, here was this one deliberately selecting her, Katie, for his companion. It was almost a miracle.
He had managed it with the utmost dexterity at the merry-go-round. With winning politeness he had assisted Genevieve on her wooden steed, and then, as the machinery began to work, had grasped Katie's arm and led her at a rapid walk out into the sunlight. Katie's last glimpse of Genevieve had been the sight of her amazed and offended face as it whizzed round the corner, while the steam melodeon drowned protests with a spirited plunge into 'Alexander's Ragtime Band'.
Katie felt shy. This young man was a perfect stranger. It was true she had had a formal introduction to him, but only from Genevieve, who had scraped acquaintance with him exactly two minutes previously. It had happened on the ferry-boat on the way to Palisades Park. Genevieve's bright eye, roving among the throng on the lower deck, had singled out this young man and his companion as suitable cavaliers for the expedition. The young man pleased her, and his friend, with the broken nose and the face like a good-natured bulldog, was obviously suitable for Katie.
Etiquette is not rigid on New York ferry-boats. Without fuss or delay she proceeded to make their acquaintance—to Katie's concern, for she could never get used to Genevieve's short way with strangers. The quiet life she had led had made her almost prudish, and there were times when Genevieve's conduct shocked her. Of course, she knew there was no harm in Genevieve. As the latter herself had once put it, 'The feller that tries to get gay with me is going to get a call-down that'll make him holler for his winter overcoat.' But all the same she could not approve. And the net result of her disapproval was to make her shy and silent as she walked by this young man's side.
The young man seemed to divine her thoughts.
'Say, I'm on the level,' he observed. 'You want to get that. Right on the square. See?'
'Oh, yes,' said Katie, relieved but yet embarrassed. It was awkward to have one's thoughts read like this.
'You ain't like your friend. Don't think I don't see that.'
'Genevieve's a sweet girl,' said Katie, loyally.
'A darned sight too sweet. Somebody ought to tell her mother.'
'Why did you speak to her if you did not like her?'
'Wanted to get to know you,' said the young man simply.
They walked on in silence. Katie's heart was beating with a rapidity that forbade speech. Nothing like this very direct young man had ever happened to her before. She had grown so accustomed to regarding herself as something too insignificant and unattractive for the notice of the lordly male that she was overwhelmed. She had a vague feeling that there was a mistake somewhere. It surely could not be she who was proving so alluring to this fairy prince. The novelty of the situation frightened her.
'Come here often?' asked her companion.
'I've never been here before.'
'Often go to Coney?'
'I've never been.'
He regarded her with astonishment.
'You've never been to Coney Island! Why, you don't know what this sort of thing is till you've taken in Coney. This place isn't on the map with Coney. Do you mean to say you've never seen Luna Park, or Dreamland, or Steeplechase, or the diving ducks? Haven't you had a look at the Mardi Gras stunts? Why, Coney during Mardi Gras is the greatest thing on earth. It's a knockout. Just about a million boys and girls having the best time that ever was. Say, I guess you don't go out much, do you?'
'If it's not a rude question, what do you do? I been trying to place you all along. Now I reckon your friend works in a store, don't she?'
'Yes. She's a cloak-model. She has a lovely figure, hasn't she?'
'Didn't notice it. I guess so, if she's what you say. It's what they pay her for, ain't it? Do you work in a store, too?'
'Not exactly. I keep a little shop.'
'All by yourself?'
'I do all the work now. It was my father's shop, but he's dead. It began by being my grandfather's. He started it. But he's so old now that, of course, he can't work any longer, so I look after things.'
'Say, you're a wonder! What sort of a shop?'
'It's only a little second-hand bookshop. There really isn't much to do.'
'Where is it?'
'Sixth Avenue. Near Washington Square.'
'That's your name, then?'
'Anything besides Bennett?'
'My name's Kate.'
The young man nodded.
'I'd make a pretty good district attorney,' he said, disarming possible resentment at this cross-examination. 'I guess you're wondering if I'm ever going to stop asking you questions. Well, what would you like to do?'
'Don't you think we ought to go back and find your friend and Genevieve? They will be wondering where we are.'
'Let 'em,' said the young man briefly. 'I've had all I want of Jenny.'
'I can't understand why you don't like her.'
'I like you. Shall we have some ice-cream, or would you rather go on the Scenic Railway?'
Katie decided on the more peaceful pleasure. They resumed their walk, socially licking two cones. Out of the corner of her eyes Katie cast swift glances at her friend's face. He was a very grave young man. There was something important as well as handsome about him. Once, as they made their way through the crowds, she saw a couple of boys look almost reverently at him. She wondered who he could be, but was too shy to inquire. She had got over her nervousness to a great extent, but there were still limits to what she felt herself equal to saying. It did not strike her that it was only fair that she should ask a few questions in return for those which he had put. She had always repressed herself, and she did so now. She was content to be with him without finding out his name and history.
He supplied the former just before he finally consented to let her go.
They were standing looking over the river. The sun had spent its force, and it was cool and pleasant in the breeze which was coming up the Hudson. Katie was conscious of a vague feeling that was almost melancholy. It had been a lovely afternoon, and she was sorry that it was over.
The young man shuffled his feet on the loose stones.
'I'm mighty glad I met you,' he said. 'Say, I'm coming to see you. On Sixth Avenue. Don't mind, do you?'
He did not wait for a reply.
'Brady's my name. Ted Brady, Glencoe Athletic Club,' he paused. 'I'm on the level,' he added, and paused again. 'I like you a whole lot. There's your friend, Genevieve. Better go after her, hadn't you? Good-bye.' And he was gone, walking swiftly through the crowd about the bandstand.
Katie went back to Genevieve, and Genevieve was simply horrid. Cold and haughty, a beautiful iceberg of dudgeon, she refused to speak a single word during the whole long journey back to Sixth Avenue. And Katie, whose tender heart would at other times have been tortured by this hostility, leant back in her seat, and was happy. Her mind was far away from Genevieve's frozen gloom, living over again the wonderful happenings of the afternoon.
Yes, it had been a wonderful afternoon, but trouble was waiting for her in Sixth Avenue. Trouble was never absent for very long from Katie's unselfish life. Arriving at the little bookshop, she found Mr Murdoch, the glazier, preparing for departure. Mr Murdoch came in on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to play draughts with her grandfather, who was paralysed from the waist, and unable to leave the house except when Katie took him for his outing in Washington Square each morning in his bath-chair.
Mr Murdoch welcomed Katie with joy.
'I was wondering whenever you would come back, Katie. I'm afraid the old man's a little upset.'
'Not ill. Upset. And it was my fault, too. Thinking he'd be interested, I read him a piece from the paper where I seen about these English Suffragettes, and he just went up in the air. I guess he'll be all right now you've come back. I was a fool to read it, I reckon. I kind of forgot for the moment.'
'Please don't worry yourself about it, Mr Murdoch. He'll be all right soon. I'll go to him.'
In the inner room the old man was sitting. His face was flushed, and he gesticulated from time to time.
'I won't have it,' he cried as Katie entered. 'I tell you I won't have it. If Parliament can't do anything, I'll send Parliament about its business.'
'Here I am, grandpapa,' said Katie quickly. 'I've had the greatest time. It was lovely up there. I—'
'I tell you it's got to stop. I've spoken about it before. I won't have it.'
'I expect they're doing their best. It's your being so far away that makes it hard for them. But I do think you might write them a very sharp letter.'
'I will. I will. Get out the paper. Are you ready?' He stopped, and looked piteously at Katie. 'I don't know what to say. I don't know how to begin.'
Katie scribbled a few lines.
'How would this do? "His Majesty informs his Government that he is greatly surprised and indignant that no notice has been taken of his previous communications. If this goes on, he will be reluctantly compelled to put the matter in other hands."'
She read it glibly as she had written it. The formula had been a favourite one of her late father, when roused to fall upon offending patrons of the bookshop.
The old man beamed. His resentment was gone. He was soothed and happy.
'That'll wake 'em up,' he said. 'I won't have these goings on while I'm king, and if they don't like it, they know what to do. You're a good girl, Katie.'
'I beat Lord Murdoch five games to nothing,' he said.
It was now nearly two years since the morning when old Matthew Bennett had announced to an audience consisting of Katie and a smoky blue cat, which had wandered in from Washington Square to take pot-luck, that he was the King of England.
This was a long time for any one delusion of the old man's to last. Usually they came and went with a rapidity which made it hard for Katie, for all her tact, to keep abreast of them. She was not likely to forget the time when he went to bed President Roosevelt and woke up the Prophet Elijah. It was the only occasion in all the years they had passed together when she had felt like giving way and indulging in the fit of hysterics which most girls of her age would have had as a matter of course.
She had handled that crisis, and she handled the present one with equal smoothness. When her grandfather made his announcement, which he did rather as one stating a generally recognized fact than as if the information were in any way sensational, she neither screamed nor swooned, nor did she rush to the neighbours for advice. She merely gave the old man his breakfast, not forgetting to set aside a suitable portion for the smoky cat, and then went round to notify Mr Murdoch of what had happened.
Mr Murdoch, excellent man, received the news without any fuss or excitement at all, and promised to look in on Schwartz, the stout saloon-keeper, who was Mr Bennett's companion and antagonist at draughts on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and, as he expressed it, put him wise.
Life ran comfortably in the new groove. Old Mr Bennett continued to play draughts and pore over his second-hand classics. Every morning he took his outing in Washington Square where, from his invalid's chair, he surveyed somnolent Italians and roller-skating children with his old air of kindly approval. Katie, whom circumstances had taught to be thankful for small mercies, was perfectly happy in the shadow of the throne. She liked her work; she liked looking after her grandfather; and now that Ted Brady had come into her life, she really began to look on herself as an exceptionally lucky girl, a spoilt favourite of Fortune.
For Ted Brady had called, as he said he would, and from the very first he had made plain in his grave, direct way the objects of his visits. There was no subtlety about Ted, no finesse. He was as frank as a music-hall love song.
On his first visit, having handed Katie a large bunch of roses with the stolidity of a messenger boy handing over a parcel, he had proceeded, by way of establishing his bona fides, to tell her all about himself. He supplied the facts in no settled order, just as they happened to occur to him in the long silences with which his speech was punctuated. Small facts jostled large facts. He spoke of his morals and his fox-terrier in the same breath.
'I'm on the level. Ask anyone who knows me. They'll tell you that. Say, I got the cutest little dog you ever seen. Do you like dogs? I've never been a fellow that's got himself mixed up with girls. I don't like 'em as a general thing. A fellow's got too much to do keeping himself in training, if his club expects him to do things. I belong to the Glencoe Athletic. I ran the hundred yards dash in evens last sports there was. They expect me to do it at the Glencoe, so I've never got myself mixed up with girls. Till I seen you that afternoon I reckon I'd hardly looked at a girl, honest. They didn't seem to kind of make any hit with me. And then I seen you, and I says to myself, "That's the one." It sort of came over me in a flash. I fell for you directly I seen you. And I'm on the level. Don't forget that.'
And more in the same strain, leaning on the counter and looking into Katie's eyes with a devotion that added emphasis to his measured speech.
Next day he came again, and kissed her respectfully but firmly, making a sort of shuffling dive across the counter. Breaking away, he fumbled in his pocket and produced a ring, which he proceeded to place on her finger with the serious air which accompanied all his actions.
'That looks pretty good to me,' he said, as he stepped back and eyed it.
It struck Katie, when he had gone, how differently different men did things. Genevieve had often related stories of men who had proposed to her, and according to Genevieve, they always got excited and emotional, and sometimes cried. Ted Brady had fitted her with the ring more like a glover's assistant than anything else, and he had hardly spoken a word from beginning to end. He had seemed to take her acquiescence for granted. And yet there had been nothing flat or disappointing about the proceedings. She had been thrilled throughout. It is to be supposed that Mr Brady had the force of character which does not require the aid of speech.
It was not till she took the news of her engagement to old Mr Bennett that it was borne in upon Katie that Fate did not intend to be so wholly benevolent to her as she supposed.
That her grandfather could offer any opposition had not occurred to her as a possibility. She took his approval for granted. Never, as long as she could remember, had he been anything but kind to her. And the only possible objections to marriage from a grandfather's point of view—badness of character, insufficient means, or inferiority of social position—were in this case gloriously absent.
She could not see how anyone, however hypercritical, could find a flaw in Ted. His character was spotless. He was comfortably off. And so far from being in any way inferior socially, it was he who condescended. For Ted, she had discovered from conversation with Mr Murdoch, the glazier, was no ordinary young man. He was a celebrity. So much so that for a moment, when told the news of the engagement, Mr Murdoch, startled out of his usual tact, had exhibited frank surprise that the great Ted Brady should not have aimed higher.
'You're sure you've got the name right, Katie?' he had said. 'It's really Ted Brady? No mistake about the first name? Well-built, good-looking young chap with brown eyes? Well, this beats me. Not,' he went on hurriedly, 'that any young fellow mightn't think himself lucky to get a wife like you, Katie, but Ted Brady! Why, there isn't a girl in this part of the town, or in Harlem or the Bronx, for that matter, who wouldn't give her eyes to be in your place. Why, Ted Brady is the big noise. He's the star of the Glencoe.'
'He told me he belonged to the Glencoe Athletic.'
'Don't you believe it. It belongs to him. Why, the way that boy runs and jumps is the real limit. There's only Billy Burton, of the Irish-American, that can touch him. You've certainly got the pick of the bunch, Katie.'
He stared at her admiringly, as if for the first time realizing her true worth. For Mr Murdoch was a great patron of sport.
With these facts in her possession Katie had approached the interview with her grandfather with a good deal of confidence.
The old man listened to her recital of Mr Brady's qualities in silence. Then he shook his head.
'It can't be, Katie. I couldn't have it.'
'You're forgetting, my dear.'
'Who ever heard of such a thing? The grand-daughter of the King of England marrying a commoner! It wouldn't do at all.'
Consternation, surprise, and misery kept Katie dumb. She had learned in a hard school to be prepared for sudden blows from the hand of fate, but this one was so entirely unforeseen that it found her unprepared, and she was crushed by it. She knew her grandfather's obstinacy too well to argue against the decision.
'Oh, no, not at all,' he repeated. 'Oh, no, it wouldn't do.'
Katie said nothing; she was beyond speech. She stood there wide-eyed and silent among the ruins of her little air-castle. The old man patted her hand affectionately. He was pleased at her docility. It was the right attitude, becoming in one of her high rank.
'I am very sorry, my dear, but—oh, no! oh, no! oh, no—' His voice trailed away into an unintelligible mutter. He was a very old man, and he was not always able to concentrate his thoughts on a subject for any length of time.
So little did Ted Brady realize at first the true complexity of the situation that he was inclined, when he heard of the news, to treat the crisis in the jaunty, dashing, love-laughs-at-locksmith fashion so popular with young men of spirit when thwarted in their loves by the interference of parents and guardians.
It took Katie some time to convince him that, just because he had the licence in his pocket, he could not snatch her up on his saddle-bow and carry her off to the nearest clergyman after the manner of young Lochinvar.
In the first flush of his resentment at restraint he saw no reason why he should differentiate between old Mr Bennett and the conventional banns-forbidding father of the novelettes with which he was accustomed to sweeten his hours of idleness. To him, till Katie explained the intricacies of the position, Mr Bennett was simply the proud millionaire who would not hear of his daughter marrying the artist.
'But, Ted, dear, you don't understand,' Katie said. 'We simply couldn't do that. There's no one but me to look after him, poor old man. How could I run away like that and get married? What would become of him?'
'You wouldn't be away long,' urged Mr Brady, a man of many parts, but not a rapid thinker. 'The minister would have us fixed up inside of half an hour. Then we'd look in at Mouquin's for a steak and fried, just to make a sort of wedding breakfast. And then back we'd come, hand-in-hand, and say, "Well, here we are. Now what?"'
'He would never forgive me.'
'That,' said Ted judicially, 'would be up to him.'
'It would kill him. Don't you see, we know that it's all nonsense, this idea of his; but he really thinks he is the king, and he's so old that the shock of my disobeying him would be too much. Honest, Ted, dear, I couldn't.'
Gloom unutterable darkened Ted Brady's always serious countenance. The difficulties of the situation were beginning to come home to him.
'Maybe if I went and saw him—' he suggested at last.
'You could,' said Katie doubtfully.
Ted tightened his belt with an air of determination, and bit resolutely on the chewing-gum which was his inseparable companion.
'I will,' he said.
'You'll be nice to him, Ted?'
He nodded. He was the man of action, not words.
It was perhaps ten minutes before he came out of the inner room in which Mr Bennett passed his days. When he did, there was no light of jubilation on his face. His brow was darker than ever.
Katie looked at him anxiously. He returned the look with a sombre shake of the head.
'Nothing doing,' he said shortly. He paused. 'Unless,' he added, 'you count it anything that he's made me an earl.'
In the next two weeks several brains busied themselves with the situation. Genevieve, reconciled to Katie after a decent interval of wounded dignity, said she supposed there was a way out, if one could only think of it, but it certainly got past her. The only approach to a plan of action was suggested by the broken-nosed individual who had been Ted's companion that day at Palisades Park, a gentleman of some eminence in the boxing world, who rejoiced in the name of the Tennessee Bear-Cat.
What they ought to do, in the Bear-Cat's opinion, was to get the old man out into Washington Square one morning. He of Tennessee would then sasshay up in a flip manner and make a break. Ted, waiting close by, would resent his insolence. There would be words, followed by blows.
'See what I mean?' pursued the Bear-Cat. 'There's you and me mixing it. I'll square the cop on the beat to leave us be; he's a friend of mine. Pretty soon you land me one on the plexus, and I take th' count. Then there's you hauling me up by th' collar to the old gentleman, and me saying I quits and apologizing. See what I mean?'
The whole, presumably, to conclude with warm expressions of gratitude and esteem from Mr Bennett, and an instant withdrawal of the veto.
Ted himself approved of the scheme. He said it was a cracker-jaw, and he wondered how one so notoriously ivory-skulled as the other could have had such an idea. The Bear-Cat said modestly that he had 'em sometimes. And it is probable that all would have been well, had it not been necessary to tell the plan to Katie, who was horrified at the very idea, spoke warmly of the danger to her grandfather's nervous system, and said she did not think the Bear-Cat could be a nice friend for Ted. And matters relapsed into their old state of hopelessness.
And then, one day, Katie forced herself to tell Ted that she thought it would be better if they did not see each other for a time. She said that these meetings were only a source of pain to both of them. It would really be better if he did not come round for—well, quite some time.
It had not been easy for her to say it. The decision was the outcome of many wakeful nights. She had asked herself the question whether it was fair for her to keep Ted chained to her in this hopeless fashion, when, left to himself and away from her, he might so easily find some other girl to make him happy.
So Ted went, reluctantly, and the little shop on Sixth Avenue knew him no more. And Katie spent her time looking after old Mr Bennett (who had completely forgotten the affair by now, and sometimes wondered why Katie was not so cheerful as she had been), and—for, though unselfish, she was human—hating those unknown girls whom in her mind's eye she could see clustering round Ted, smiling at him, making much of him, and driving the bare recollection of her out of his mind.
The summer passed. July came and went, making New York an oven. August followed, and one wondered why one had complained of July's tepid advances.
It was on the evening of September the eleventh that Katie, having closed the little shop, sat in the dusk on the steps, as many thousands of her fellow-townsmen and townswomen were doing, turning her face to the first breeze which New York had known for two months. The hot spell had broken abruptly that afternoon, and the city was drinking in the coolness as a flower drinks water.