IT was Owd Bob. There could be no mistaking. In the wide world there was but one Owd Bob o’ Kenmuir. The silver moon gleamed down on the dark head and rough gray coat, and lit the white escutcheon on his chest.
And in the darkness James Moore was lying with his face pressed downward that he might not see.
Once he raised himself on his arms; his eyes were shut and face uplifted, like a blind man praying. He passed a weary hand across his brow; his head dropped again; and he moaned and moaned like a man in everlasting pain.
Then the darkness lifted a moment, and he stole a furtive glance, like a murderer’s at the gallows-tree, at the scene in front.
It was no dream; clear and cruel in the moonlight the humpbacked boulder; the dead sheep; and that gray figure, beautiful, motionless, damned for all eternity.
The Master turned his face and looked at Andrew, a dumb, pitiful entreaty in his eyes; but in the boy’s white, horror-stricken countenance was no comfort. Then his head lolled down again, and the strong man was whimpering.
“He! he! he! ‘Scuse ma laffin’, Mr. Moore–he! he! he!”
A little man, all wet and shrunk, sat hunching on a mound above them, rocking his shrivelled form to and fro in the agony of his merriment.
“Ye raskil–he! he! Ye rogue–he! he!’ and he shook his fist waggishly at the unconscious gray dog. “I owe ye anither grudge for this–ye’ve anteecipated me “–and he leant. back and shook this way and that in convulsive mirth.
The man below him rose heavily to his feet. and tumbled toward the mocker, his great figure swaying from side to side as though in blind delirium, moaning still as he went. And. there was that on his face which no man can mistake. Boy that he was, Andrew knew it..
“Feyther! feyther! do’ee not!” he pleaded, running after his father and laying impotent. hands on him.
But the strong man shook him off like a fly, and rolled on, swaying and groaning, with that awful expression plain to see in the moonlight.
In front the little man squatted in the rain, bowed double still; and took no thought to flee.
“Come on, James Moore! Come on!” he laughed, malignant joy in his voice; and. something gleamed bright in his right hand, and was hid again. “I’ve bin waitin’ this a weary while noo. Come on!”
Then had there been done something worse than sheep-murder in the dreadful lonesomeness of the Devil’s Bowl upon that night; but of a sudden, there sounded the splash of a man’s foot, falling heavily behind; a hand like a falling tree smote the Master on the shoulder;~ and a voice roared above the noise of the storm:
“Mr. Moore! Look, man! look!”
The Master tried to shake off that detaining grasp; but it pinned him where he was, immovable.
“Look, I tell yo’!” cried that great voice again.
A hand pushed past him and pointed; and. sullenly he turned, ignoring the figure at his. side, and looked.
The wind had dropped suddenly as it had risen; the little man on the mound had ceased to chuckle; Andrew’s sobs were hushed; and in the background the huddled flock edged closer. The world hung balanced on the pinpoint of the moment. Every eye was in the one direction,
With dull, uncomprehending gaze James Moore stared as bidden. There was the gray dog naked in the moonlight, heedless still of any witnesses; there the murdered sheep, lying within and without that distorted shade; and there the humpbacked boulder.
He stared into the shadow, and still stared.
Then he started as though struck. The shadow of the boulder h~d moved!
Motionless, with head shot forward and bulging eyes, he gazed.
Ay, ay, ay; he was sure of it–a huge dim outline as of a lion couchant, in the very thickest of the blackness.
At that he was seized with such a palsy of trembling that he must have fallen but for the strong arm about his waist.
Clearer every moment grew that crouching figure; till at length they plainly could discern the line of arching loins, the crest, thick as a ~stallion’s, the massive, wagging head. No mistake this time. There he lay i the deep..est black, gigantic, revelling in hi horrid debauch–the Black Killer!
And they watched him at his feast. Now he burrowed into the spongy flesh; now turned to lap the dark pool which glittered in the moonlight at his side like claret in a silver cup. Now lifting his head, he snapped irritably at the rain-drops, and the moon caught his wicked, rolling eye and the red shreds of flesh dripping from his jaw. And again, raising his great muzzle as if about to howl, he let the delicious nectar trickle down his throat and ravish his palate.
So he went on, all unsuspicious, wisely nodding in slow-mouthed gluttony. And in the stillness, between the claps of wind, they could hear the smacking of his lips.
While all the time the gray dog stood before him, motionless, as though carved in stone.
At last, as the murderer rolled his great. head from side to side, he saw that still figure. At the sight he leaped back, dismayed. Then with a deep-mouthed roar that shook the waters of the Tarn he was up and across his. victim with fangs bared, his coat standing’ erect in wet, rigid furrows from topknot to tail.
So the two stood, face to face, with perhaps~ a yard of rain-pierced air between them.
The wind hushed its sighing to listen. The moon stared down, white and dumb. Away at the back the sheep edged closer. While save for the everlasting thunder of the rain, there was utter stillness.
An age, it seemed, they waited so. Then a voice, clear yet low and far away, like a bugle in a distant city, broke the silence.
“Eh, Wullie!” it said.
There was no anger in the tones, only an incomparable reproach; the sound of the cracking of a man’s heart.
At the call the great dog leapt round, snarling in hideous passion. He saw the small,’ familiar figure, clear-cut against the tumbling sky; and for the only time in his life Red Wull was afraid.
His blood-foe was forgotten; the dead sheep’ was forgotten; everything was sunk in the agony of that moment. He cowered upon the ground, and a cry like that of a lost sbul was wrung from him; it rose on the still night air and floated, wailing, away; and the white waters of the Tarn thrilled in cold pity; out of the lonely hollow; over the desolate Marches; into the night.
On the mound above stood his master. The little man’s white hair was bared to the night wind; the rain trickled down his face; and his hands were folded behind his back. He stood there, looking down into the dell below him, as a man may stand at the tomb of his lately buried wife. And there was such an expression on his face as I cannot describe.
“Wullie, Wullie, to me!” he cried at length; and his voice sounded weak and far, like a distant memory.
At that, the huge brute came crawling toward him~,,on his belly, whimpering as he came, very pitiful in his distress. He knew his fate as every sheep-dog knows it. That troubled him not. His pain, insufferable, was that this, his friend and father, who had trusted him, should have found him in his sin.
So he crept up to his master’s feet; and the little man never moved.
“Wullie–ma Wullie!” he said very gently. “They’ve aye bin agin me–and noo you! A man’s mither–a man’s wife–a man’s dog! they’re all I’ve iver had; and noo am o’ they three has turned agin me! Indeed I am alone!”
At that the great dog raised himself, and placing his forepaws on his master’s chest tenderly, lest he should hurt him who was already hurt past healing, stood towering above him; while the little man laid his two colds hands on the dog’s shoulders.
So they stood, looking at one another, like a man and his love.
At M’Adam’s word, Owd Bob looked up, and for the first time saw his master.
He seemed in nowise startled, but trotted over to him. There was nothing fearful in his carriage, no haunting blood-guiltness in the true gray eyes which never told a lie, which never, dog-like, failed to look you in the face. Yet his tail was low, and, as he stopped at his master’s feet~ he was quivering. For he, too, knew, and was not unmoved.
For weeks he had tracked the Killer; for weeks he had followed him as he crossed Kenmuir, bound on his bloody errands; yet always had lost him on the Marches. Now, at last, he had r’1n him to ground. Yet his heart went. out to his enemy in his distress.
“I thowt t’had been yo’, lad,” the Master whispered, his hand on the dark head at his knee– “I thowt t’had bin yo’!”
Rooted to the ground, the three watched the scene between M’Adam and his Wull.
In the end the Master was whimpering; Andrew crying; and David turned his back.