Part 5 out of 5
of thinking, too--at night. It's nobody's job but mine. Laddie
would rather have it that way, I know. And, by a bullet. He's a
gallant old soldier. And that is the way for him to go. Now, for
the Lord's sake, let's talk about something else! A man or woman
is a fool to care that way about any mere dog. I--"
"But Lad isn't a 'mere' dog," contradicted the Mistress, stooping
to pet the collie's classic head as it lay across her foot.
The sound of his name pierced the sleep mists and brought the dog
to wakefulness. He raised his head inquiringly toward the
Mistress, and his plumed tail began to thump the floor. The
Mistress patted him again; and spoke a word or two. Lad prepared
to drowse once more. Then, to his dulled ears came the padding of
little bare feet on the grass. And he glanced up again, this time
in eager interest.
Across the lawn from the orchard came trotting a child; carrying
a basket of peaches toward the kitchen. The youngster wore but a
single garment, a shapeless calico dress that fell scarcely to
her knees. She was Sonya, the seven-year-old daughter of one of
the Place's extra workmen, a Slav named Ruloff who lived in the
mile-distant village, across the lake.
Ruloff, following the custom of his peasant ancestors, put his
whole family to work, from the time its members were old enough
to toddle. And he urged them against the vice of laziness by
means of an ever-ready fist, or a still readier toe or a harness
strap--whichever of the trio of energy producers chanced to be
handiest. In coming over to the Place, for a month's labor,
during the harvest season, he brought along every day his
youngest and most fragile offspring, Sonya. Under her father's
directions and under his more drastic modes of encouragement, the
little girl was of much help to him in his doily toil.
Twice, the Master had caught him punishing her for undue slowness
in carrying out some duty too heavy for her frail strength. On
both times he had stopped the brutal treatment. On the second, he
had told Ruloff he would not only discharge him, but assist his
departure from the Place with a taste of boot-toe medicine, if
ever the Slav should lay a hand on the child again during his
period of employment there. The Place's English superintendent
had promised like treatment to the man, should he catch him ill
Wherefore, Ruloff had perforce curbed his parental urgings toward
violence;--at least during the hours when he and the child were
on the Place.
Sonya was an engaging little thing; and the Mistress had made a
pet of her. So had the Master. But the youngster's warmest friend
was old Sunnybank Lad.
From the first day of Sonya's advent in his life, Lad had
constituted himself her adorer and constant companion.
Always his big heart had gone out to children; as to everything
weak and defenseless. Not always had his treatment at the hands
of children encouraged this feeling of loving chivalry and
devotion. But Sonya was an exception. Whenever she could steal a
minute of time, away from her father's glum eyes and nagging
voice and ready fist, she would seek out Lad.
She was as gentle with the grand old dog as other children had
been rough. She loved to cuddle down close beside him, her arms
around his shaggy neck; and croon queer little high-voiced songs
to him; her thin cheek against his head. She used to save out
fragments from her own sparse lunch to give to him. She was
inordinately proud to walk at his side during Lad's rare rambles
around the Place. Child and dog made a pretty picture of utter
To nobody save the Mistress and the Master had Laddie ever given
his heart so completely as to this baby.
Hurried though she was, today, Sonya set down her basket of
peaches and, with a shy glance of appeal at the two humans,
reached across the veranda edge to stroke Lad's head and to
accept in delight his proffered paw. Then, guiltily, she caught
up her basket and sped on to the kitchen.
Lad, slowly and with difficulty, got to his feet and followed
her. A minute later the Mistress watched them making their way to
the orchard, side by side; the child slackening her eager steps
in order to keep pace with the aged dog.
"I wish we could arrange to take her away from that brute of a
father of hers, and keep her here," said the Mistress. "It's
horrible to think of such a helpless wisp of a baby being beaten
and made to work, day and night. And then she and Laddie love
each other so. They--"
"What can we do?" asked the Master, hopelessly. "I've spoken to
the village authorities about it. But it seems the law can't
interfere; unless brutal cruelty can be proved or unless the
parents are unfit to bring up the child."
"Brutal cruelty?" echoed the Mistress. "What could be more brutal
than the way he beats her? Why, last week there was a bruise on
her arm as big--"
"What can we prove? He has a legal right to punish her. If we got
them up in court, he'd frighten her into swearing she hurt her
arm on a fence picket and that he never harms her. No, there's no
sort of cure for the rotten state of affairs."
But the Master was mistaken. There was a very good cure indeed
for it. And that cure was being applied at the moment he denied
Sonya had disappeared from view over the crest of the lawn: Down
into the orchard she went, Lad at her side; to where Ruloff was
waiting for her to lug another full basket back to the house.
"Move!" he ordered, as she drew near. "Don't crawl! Move, or I'll
make you move."
This threat he voiced very bravely indeed. He was well out of
sight of the house. The superintendent and the two other men were
working on the far side of the hill. It seemed an eminently safe
time to exercise his parental authority. And, hand uplifted, he
took a threatening step toward the little girl.
Sonya cowered back in mortal dread. There was no mistaking the
import of Ruloff's tone or gesture. Lad read it as clearly as did
the child. As Sonya shrank away from the menace, a furry shoulder
was pressed reassuringly against her side. Lad's cold muzzle was
thrust for the merest instant into her trembling hand.
Then, as Ruloff advanced, Lad took one majestic step forward; his
great body shielding the girl; his dark eyes sternly on the
man's; his lips drawing back from his blunted yellow fangs. Deep
in his throat a growl was born.
Ruloff checked himself; looking doubtfully at the shaggy brute.
And at the same moment the superintendent appeared over the ridge
of the hill, on his way to the orchard. The Slav picked up a
filled basket and shoved it at Sonya.
"Jump!" he ordered. "Keep moving. Be back here in one minute!"
With a sigh of enormous relief and a pat of furtive gratitude to
Lad, the child set forth on her errand. Yet, even at risk of a
sharper rebuke, she accommodated her pace to Lad's stately slow
Hitherto she had loved the dog for no special reason except that
her heart somehow went out to him. But now she had a practical
cause for her devotion. Lad had stood between her and a fist
blow. He had risked, she knew not what, to defy her all-terrible
father and to protect her from punishment.
As soon as she was out of Ruloff's sight, she set down her
basket, and flung both puny arms about the dog's neck in an agony
Her squeeze almost strangled the weak old collie. But there was
love in it. And because of that, he reveled in the hurt.
"You won't let him thump me!" she whispered in the dog's ear.
"You won't let him. I'd never be afraid of him, if you were
there. Oh, Laddie, you're so darling!"
Lad, highly pleased, licked her wizened little face and, sitting
down, insisted on shaking hands with her. He realized he had done
something quite wonderful and had made this little chum of his
proud of him. Wherefore, he was proud of himself; and felt young
and gay again;--until his next strenuous effort to walk fast.
All night, in her sleep, in the stiflingly hot loft of her
father's hovel, which served her and the five other Ruloff
children as a dormitory, Sonya was faintly aware of that bright
memory. Her first waking thought was of the shaggy shoulder
pressed so protectingly against her side; and of the reassuring
thrust of Lad's muzzle into her cupped palm. It all seemed as
vividly real as though she could still feel the friendly contact.
On the next morning, Ruloff alone of all the village's population
went to work. For it was Labor Day.
Ruloff did not believe in holidays,--either for himself or for
his family. And while wages were so high. he was not minded to
throw away a full day's earnings, just for the sake of honoring a
holiday ordained in a country for which he felt no fondness or
other interest. So, with Sonya tagging after him, he made his way
to the Place, as usual.
Now, on Labor Day, of that year, was held the annual outdoor
dog-show at Hawthorne. Lad, of course, was far too old to be
taken to a show. And this was one of the compensations of old
age. For Laddie detested dog shows. But, abnormally sensitive by
nature, this sensitiveness had grown upon him with failing
strength and added years. Thus, when he saw Bruce and Bob and
Jean bathed and groomed and made ready for the show, he was sad
at heart. For here was one more thing in which he no longer had
And so he lay down in his cave, under the piano, his head between
his absurdly small white forepaws; and hearkened sadly to the
preparations for departure.
Bruce ("Sunnybank Goldsmith") was perhaps the most beautiful
collie of his generation. Groomed for a show, he made most other
dogs look plebeian and shabby. That day, one may say in passing,
he was destined to go through the collie classes, to Winners,
with a rush; and then to win the award and cup for "Best Dog Of
Any Breed In The Show."
Bruce's son and daughter--Bobby and Jean were to win in their
respective collie classes as Best Puppy and Best Novice. It was
to be a day of triumph for the Sunnybank Kennels. Yet, somehow,
it was to be a day to which the Mistress and the Master never
enjoyed looking back.
Into the car the three dogs were put. The Mistress and the Master
and the Place's superintended got aboard, and the trip to
Laddie had come out from his cave to see the show-goers off. The
Mistress, looking back, had a last glimpse of him, standing in
the front doorway; staring wistfully after the car. She waved her
hand to him in farewell. Lad wagged his plumed tail, once, in
reply, to the salute. Then, heavily, he turned back again into
"Dear old Laddie!" sighed the Mistress. "He used to hate to go to
shows. And now he hates being left behind. It seems so cruel to
leave him. And yet--"
"Oh the maids will take good care of him!" consoled the Master.
"They spoil him, whenever they get a chance. And we'll be back
before five o'clock. We can't be forever looking out for his
"We won't be 'forever' doing that," prophesied the Mistress,
Left alone the old dog paced slowly back to his cave. The day was
hot. His massive coat was a burden. Life was growing more of a
problem than of old it had been. Also, from time to time, lately,
his heart did queer things that annoyed Lad. At some sudden
motion or undue exertion it had a new way of throbbing and of
hammering against his ribs so violently as to make him pant.
Lad did not understand this. And, as with most things he did not
understand, it vexed him. This morning, for example,--the heat of
the day and the fatigue of his ramble down through the rose
garden to the lake and back, had set it to thumping painfully. He
was glad to lie at peace in his beloved cave, in the cool
music-room; and sleep away the hours until his deities should
return from that miserable dog-show. He slept.
And so an hour wore on; and then another and another.
At the show, the Mistress developed one of her sick headaches.
She said nothing of it. But the Master saw the black shadows
grow, under her eyes; and the color go out of her face; and he
noted the little pain-lines around her mouth. So, as soon as the
collie judging was over, he made her get into the car; and he
drove her home, meaning to return to Hawthorne in time for the
afternoon judging of specials and of variety classes.
Meanwhile, as the morning passed, Lad was roused from his fitful
old-age slumber by the sound of crying. Into his dreams seeped
the distressing sound. He woke; listened; got up painfully and
started toward the front door.
Halfway to the door, his brain cleared sufficiently for him to
recognize the voice that had awakened him. And his leisurely walk
merged into a run.
Ruloff and Sonya had been working all morning in the peach
orchard. To the child's chagrin, Lad was nowhere in sight. Every
time she passed the house she loitered as long as she dared, in
hope of getting a glimpse of him.
"I wonder where Laddie is," she ventured, once, as her father was
filling a basket for her to carry.
"The dogs have gone to a silly show," grunted Ruloff, piling the
basket. "The superintendent told me, yesterday. To waste a whole
day with dogs! Pouf! No wonder the world is poor! Here, the
basket is full. Jump!"
Sonya picked up the heavy load--twice as big as usual were the
baskets given her to carry, now that the interfering Master and
the superintendent were not here to forbid--and started
laboriously for the house.
Her back ached with weariness. Yet, in the absence of her
protectors, she dared not complain or even to allow herself the
luxury of walking slowly. So, up the hill, she toiled; at top
speed. Ruloff had finished filling another basket, and he
prepared to follow her. This completed the morning's work. His
lunch-pail awaited him at the barn. With nobody to keep tabs on
him, he resolved to steal an extra hour of time, in honor of
Labor Day--at his employer's expense.
Sonya pattered up the rise and around to the corner of the house.
There, feeling her father's eye on her, as he followed; she tried
to hasten her staggering steps. As a result, she stumbled against
the concrete walk. Her bare feet went from under her.
Down she fell, asprawl; the peaches flying in fifty directions.
She had cut her knee, painfully, against the concrete edge. This,
and the knowledge that Ruloff would most assuredly punish her
clumsiness, made her break out in shrill weeping.
Among the cascaded peaches she lay, crying her eyes out. Up the
hill toward her scrambled Ruloff; basket on shoulder; yelling
abuse better fitted for the ears of a balky mule than for those
of a hurt child.
"Get up!" he bawled. "Get up, you worthless little cow! If you've
spoiled any of those peaches or broke my basket, I'll cut the
flesh off your bones."
Sonya redoubled her wailing. For, she recognized a bumpy
substance beneath her as the crushed basket. And these baskets
belonged to Ruloff; not to the Place.
For the accidental breaking of far less worthwhile things, at
home, she and her brothers and sisters had often been thrashed
most unmercifully: Her lamentations soared to high heaven. And
her father's running feet sounded like the tramp of Doom.
There is perhaps no other terror so awful as that of an ill
treated child at the approach of punishment. A man or woman,
menaced by danger from law or from private foe, can either fight
it out or run away from it. But there is no hiding place for a
child from a brute parent. The punishment is as inevitable and as
fearsome as from the hand of God.
No; there is no other terror so awful. And, one likes to think,
there is no other punishment in the next world so severe as that
meted out to the torturers of little children. For this hope's
basis there is the solemn warning voiced by the All-pitying
Friend of children;--a threat which, apparently, was unfamiliar
Down upon the weepingly prostrate Sonya bore the man. As he came
toward her, he ripped off the leathern belt he wore. And he
brandished it by the hole-punch end; the brass buckle singing
ominously about his head. Then, out from the house and across the
wide veranda flashed a giant tawny shape.
With the fierce speed of his youngest days, Lad cleared the porch
and reached the crying child. In the same instant he beheld the
advancing Ruloff; and the wise old brain read the situation at a
Stopping only to lick the tear-streaked little face, Lad bounded
in front of Sonya and faced the father. The collie's feeble old
body was tense; his eyes blazed with indignant fury. His hackles
bristled. The yellowed and useless teeth glinted from beneath
back-writhed lips. For all his age, Lad was a terrible and
terrifying figure as he stood guard over the helpless waif.
Ruloff hesitated an instant, taken aback by the apparition. Sonya
ceased shrieking. Lad was here to protect her. Over her
frightened soul came that former queer sense of safety. She got
up, tremblingly, and pressed close to the furry giant who had
come to her rescue. She glared defiantly up at Ruloff.
Perhaps it was this glare; perhaps it was the knowledge that Lad
was very old and the sight of his worn-down teeth; perhaps it was
the need of maintaining his hold of fear over the rebellious
child. At all events, Ruloff swung aloft the belt once more and
strode toward the two; balancing himself for a kick at the
thundrously growling dog.
The kick did not land. For, even as Sonya cried out in new
terror, Lad launched himself at the Slav.
All unprepared for the clash, and being an utter coward at
heart--if he had a heart--the father reeled back, under the
impact. Losing his balance, he tumbled prone to earth.
By the time his back struck ground, Lad was upon him; ravening
uselessly at the swarthy throat.
But, yelling with fright, Ruloff fended him off; and twisted and
writhed out of reach; bunching his feet under him and, in a
second, staggering up and racing for the shelter of the nearest
Up the low-stretching branches the man swarmed, until he was well
out of reach. Then, pausing in his climb, he shook his fist down
at the collie, who was circling the tree in a vain attempt to
find some way of climbing it.
Chattering, mouthing, gibbering like a monkey, Ruloff shook an
impotent fist at the dog that had treed him; and squalled insults
at him and at the hysterically delighted child.
Sonya rushed up to Lad, flinging her arms around him and trying
to kiss him. At her embrace, the collie's tension relaxed. He
turned his back on the jabbering Ruloff, and looked pantingly up
into the child's excited face.
Then, whimpering a little under his breath, he licked her cheek;
and made shift to wag his plumed tail in reassurance. After
which, having routed the enemy and done what he could to comfort
the rescued, Laddie moved heavily over to the veranda.
For some reason he was finding it hard to breathe. And his heart
was doing amazing things against his ribs. He was very tired
--very drowsy. He wanted to finish his interrupted nap. But it
was a long way into the house. And a spot on the veranda, under
the wide hammock, promised coolness. Thither he went; walking
more and more slowly.
At the hammock, he looked back: Ruloff was shinnying down from
the tree; on the far side. All the fight, all the angry zest for
torturing, seemed to have gone out of the man. Without so much as
glancing toward Sonya or the dog, he made his way, in a wide
detour, toward the barn and lunch.
Sonya ran up on the veranda after Lad. As he laid himself heavily
down, under the hammock, she sat on the floor beside him; taking
his head in her lap, stroking its silken fur and beginning to
sing to him in that high-pitched crooning little voice of hers.
Laddie loved this. And he loved the soft caress of her hand. It
soothed him to sleep.
It was good to sleep. He had just undergone more vehement
exertion and excitement than had been his for many a long month.
And he had earned his rest. It was sweet to doze like
this--petted and sung to.
It was not well to exercise body and emotions as he had just
done. Lad realized that, now;--now that it was all over and he
could rest. Rest! Yes, it was good to rest,--to be smoothed and
crooned at. It was thus the Mistress had stroked and crooned to
him, so many thousand times. And always Lad had loved it.
It was well to be at home and to be sinking so pleasantly to
sleep; here at the Place he had guarded since before he could
remember--the Place where he and the Mistress and the Master had
had such splendid times; where he and his long-dead mate, Lady,
had romped; where he had played with and trained his fiery little
son, Wolf; and where every inch of the dear land was alive with
wonderful memories to him.
He had had a full, happy, rich life. And now, in its twilight,
rest was as grateful as action once had been.
The morning air was warm and it was heavy with flower and field,
scents; and with the breath of the forests where so often Lad had
led the tearing run of the collie pack and in whose snowy depths
he once had fought for his life against Wolf and the huge
crossbreed, Rex. That was ever so long ago.
The Mistress and the Master were coming home. Lad knew that. He
could not have told how he knew it. In earlier years, he had
known their car was bringing them home to him, while it was still
a mile or more distant from the Place;--had known and had
cantered forth to meet it.
He was too tired, just now, to do that. At least, until he had
slept for a moment or two. Always, until now, the Mistress and
the Master had been first, with Lad. Now, for some odd reason,
sleep was first.
And he slept;--deeply, wearily.
Presently, as he slept, he sighed and then quivered a little.
After that, he lay still. The great heart, very quietly, had
Into the driveway, from the main road, a furlong above, rolled
the homecoming car. At sight of it, Sonya started up. She was not
certain how the car's occupants would take her preempting of the
veranda in their absence. Letting Lad's head gently down to the
floor, she slipped away.
To the barn she went, ignorant that her father had not returned
to the orchard. She wanted to get herself into a more courageous
frame of mind before meeting Ruloff. By experience she judged he
would make her pay, and pay dear, for the fright the collie had
Into the barn she ran, shutting fast its side door behind her.
Then, midway across the dusky hay-strewn space, she came to a
gasping stop. Ruloff had risen from a box on the corner, had set
down his lunch pail, moved between her and the door and yanked
off his brass-buckled belt.
The child was trapped. Here there was no earthly chance for
escape. Here, too, thanks to the closed door, Laddie could not
cone to her aid. In palsied dread, she stood shaking and sobbing;
as the man walked silently toward her.
Ruloff's flat face widened in a grin of anticipation. He had a
big score to pay. And he was there to pay it. The fear of the dog
was still upon him; and the shame that this child, the cause of
all his humiliation, should have seen him run yelling up a tree.
It would take a mighty good flogging to square that.
Sonya cried out, in mortal terror, at his first step. Then- -
probably only in her hysterical imagination, though afterward she
vowed it had actually happened--came rescue.
Distinctly, against her quivering side, she felt the pressure of
a warm furry bulk. Into her paralyzed hand a reassuring cold
muzzle was thrust. And, over her, came a sense of wonderful
safety from all harm. Facing her father with a high-pitched loud
laugh of genuine courage, she shrilled:
"You don't dare touch me! You don't dare lay one finger on me!"
And she meant it. Her look and every inflection of the defiant
high voice proved she meant it; proved it to the dumfounded
Ruloff, in a way that sent funny little shivers down his spine.
The man came to a shambling halt; aghast at the transfigured
little wisp of humanity who confronted him in such gay
"Why don't I dare?" he blustered, lifting the brass-buckled
"You don't dare to!" she laughed, wildly. "You don't dare,
because you know he'll kill you, This time he won't just knock
you down. He'll KILL you! He'll never let you hit me again. I
know it. He's HERE! You don't dare touch me! You won't ever dare
touch me! He--"
She choked, in her shout of weird exultation. The man, ridden by
his racial superstition, stared open-mouthed at the tiny demon
who screeched defiance at him.
And, there, in the dim shadows of the barn, his overwrought fancy
seemed to make out a grim formless Thing, close at the child's
side; crouching in silent menace.
The heat of the day--the shock of seeing Lad appear from nowhere
and stand thus, by the veranda, a few minutes earlier--these and
the once-timid Sonya's confident belief in Lad's presence,--all
wrought on the stupid, easily-thrilled mind of the Slav.
"The werewolf!" he babbled; throwing down the belt, and bolting
out into the friendly sunlight.
"The werewolf! I--I saw it! I--at least--God of Russia, what DID
I see? What did SHE see?"
Over a magnificent lifeless body on the veranda bent the two who
had loved Lad best and whom he had served so worshipfully for
sixteen years. The Mistress's face was wet with tears she did not
try to check. In the Master's throat was a lump that made speech
painful. For the tenth time he leaned down and laid his fingers
above the still heart of the dog; seeking vainly for sign of
"No use!" he said, thickly, harking back by instinct to a half-
remembered phrase. "The engine has broken down."
"No," quoted the sobbing Mistress, wiser than he. "'The engineer
has left it.'"