Luck had come at last to the Ferris farm. Link’s cash went into improvements on the place, instead of going into the deteriorating of his inner man. And he worked the better. A sulky man is ever prone to be an inefficient man. And Link no longer sulked.
All this-combined with a wholesale boom in local agriculture, and especially in truck gardening–had wrought wonders in Link’s farm and in Link’s bank account. Within three years of Ferris’s meeting with Chum the place’s last mortgage was wiped out and a score of needed repairs and improvements were installed. Also the
man had a small but steadily growing sum to his credit in a Paterson savings bank.
Life on the farm was mighty pleasant, nowadays. Work was hard, of course, but it was bringing results that made it more than worth while. Ferris and his dog were living on the fat of the land. And they were happy.
Then came the interruption that had been inevitable from the very first.
A taciturn and eternally dead-broke man, in a rural region, need not fear intrusion on his privacy. Convivial folk make detours round him, as if he were a mud puddle. Thriftier and more respectable neighbors eye him askance or eye him not at all.
But when a meed of permanent success comes to such a man he need no longer be lonely unless he so wills. Which is not cynicism, but common sense. The convivial element will still fight shy of him. But he is welcomed into the circle of the respectable.
So it was with Link Ferris. Of old he had been known as a shiftless and harddrinking mountaineer with a sour farm that was plastered with mortgages. Now, he had cleared off his mortgages and had cleaned up his farm; and he and his home exuded an increasing prosperity.
People, meeting him in the nearby village of Hampton or at church, began to treat him with a consideration that the long-aloof farmer found bewildering.
Yet he liked it rather than not; being at heart a gregarious soul. And with gruff friendliness he met the advances of well-to-do neighbors who in old days had scarce favored him with a nod.
The gradual change from the isolated life of former years did not make any sort of a hit with Chum. The collie had been well content to wander through the day’s work at his master’s heels; to bring in the sheep and the cattle from pasture; to guard the farm from intruders–human or otherwise.
In the evenings it had been sweet to lounge at Link’s feet, on the little white porch, in the summer dusk; or to lie in drowsy content in front of the glowing kitchen stove on icy nights when the gale screeched through the naked boughs of the dooryard trees and the snow scratched hungrily at the window panes.
Now, the dog’s sensitive brain was aware of a subtle alteration. He did not object very much to the occasional visits at the house of other farmers and townsfolk during the erstwhile quiet evenings, although he had been happier in the years of peaceful seclusion.
But he grieved at his master’s increasingly frequent absences from home. Nowadays, once or twice a week, Link was wont to dress himself in his best as soon as the day’s work was done, and fare forth to Hampton for the evening.
Sometimes he let Chum go with him in these outings. Oftener of late he had said, as he started out:
“Not to-night, Chummie. Stay here.”
Obediently the big dog would lay himself down with a sigh on the porch edge; his head between his white little forepaws; his sorrowful brown eyes following the progress of his master down the lane to the highroad.
But he grieved, as only a sensitive highbred dog can grieve–a dog who asks nothing better of life than permission to live and to die at the side of the man he has chosen as his god; to follow that god out into rain or chill; to starve with him, if need be; to suffer at his hands–in short, to do or to be anything except to be separated from him.
Link Ferris had gotten into the habit of leaving Chum alone at home, oftener and oftener of late, as his own evening absences from the farm grew more and more frequent.
He left Chum at home because She did not like dogs.
“She” was Dorcas Chatham, the daughter of Hampton’s postmaster and general storekeeper.
Old Man Chatham in former days would have welcomed Cal Whitson, the official village souse, to his home as readily as he would have admitted the ne’er-do-well Link Ferris to that sanctuary. But of late he had noted the growing improvement in Link’s fortunes, as evidenced by his larger store trade, his invariable cash payments and the frequent money orders which went in his name to the Paterson savings bank.
Wherefore, when Dorcas met Link at a church sociable and again on a straw ride and asked him to come and see her some time, her sire made no objection. Indeed he welcomed the bashful caller with something like an approach to cordiality.
Dorcas was a calm-eyed, efficient damsel, more than a little pretty, and with much repose of manner. Link Ferris, from the first, eyed her with a certain awe. When a mystic growing attraction was added to this and when it in turn merged into love, the sense of awe was not lost. Rather it was strengthened.
In all his thirty-one lean and lonely years Link had never before fallen in love. At the age when most youths are sighing over some wonder girl, he had been too busy fighting off bankruptcy and starvation to have time or thought for such things.
Wherefore, when love at last smote him it smote him hard. And it found him woefully unprepared for the battle.
He knew nothing of women. He did not know, for example, what the average youth finds out in his teens–that grave eyes and silent aloofness and lofty self-will and icy pietism in a maiden do not always signify that she is a saint and that she must be worshiped as such. Ferris had no one to tell him that far oftener these signs point merely to stupid narrowness and to lack of ideas.
Dorcas was clever at housework. She was quietly self-assured. She was good to look upon. She was not like any of the few girls Link had met. Wherefore he built for her a sacred shrine in his innermost heart; and he knelt before her image there.
If Ferris found her different from the other Hampton girls, Dorcas found him equally different from the local swains she knew. She recognized his hidden strength. The maternal element in her nature sympathized with his loneliness and with the marks it had left upon his soul.
For the rest–he was neither a village cut-up like Con Skerly, nor a solemn mass of conceit like Royal Crews; nor patronizing like young Lawyer Wetherell; nor vaguely repulsive like old Cap’n Baldy Todd, who came furtively a-courting her. Link was different. And she liked him. She liked him more and more.
Once her parents took Dorcas and her five-year-old sister, Olive, on a Sunday afternoon ramble, which led eventually to the Ferris farm. Link welcomed the chance callers gladly, and showed them over the place. Dorcas’s housewifely eye rejoiced in the well-kept house, even while she frowned inwardly at its thousand signs of bachelor inefficiency. The stock and the crops, too, spoke of solid industry.
But she shrank back in sudden revolt as a huge tawny collie came bounding toward her from the fold where he had just marshaled the sheep for the night. The dog was beautiful. And he meant her no harm. He even tried shyly to make friends with the tall and grave-eyed guest. Dorcas saw all that. Yet she shrank from him with instinctive fear–in spite of it.
As a child she had been bitten–and bitten badly–by a nondescript mongrel that had been chased into the Chatham backyard by a crowd of stone-throwing boys, and which she had sought to oust with a stick from its hiding place under the steps. Since then Dorcas had had an unconquerable fear and dislike of dogs. The feeling was unconquerable because she had made no effort to conquer it. She had henceforth judged all dogs by the one whose teeth marks had left a lifelong scar on her white forearm.
She had the good breeding not to let Ferris see her distaste for his pet that he was just then exhibiting so proudly to the guests. Her shrinking was imperceptible, even to a lover’s solicitous eye. But Chum noted it. And with a collie’s odd sixth sense he knew this intruder did not like him.
Not that her aversion troubled Chum at all; but it puzzled him. People as a rule were effusively eager to make friends with Chum. And–being ultraconservative, like the best type of collie–he found their handling and other attentions annoying. He had taken a liking to Dorcas, at sight. But since she did not return this liking Chum was well content to keep away from her.
He was the more content, because five-year-old Olive had flung herself, with loud squeals of rapture, bodily on the dog; and had clasped her fat little arms adoringly round his massive furry throat in an ecstasy of delight.
Chum had never before been brought into such close contact with a child. And Link watched with some slight perturbation the baby’s onslaught. But in a moment Ferris’s mind was at rest.
At first touch of the baby’s fingers the collie had become once and for all Olive’s slave. He fairly reveled in the discomfortingly tight caress. The tug of the little hands in his sensitive neck fur was bliss to him. Wiggling all over with happiness he sought to lick the chubby face pressed so tight against his ruff. From that instant Chum had a divided allegiance. His human god was Ferris. But this fluffy pink-and-white youngster was a mighty close second in his list of deities.
Dorcas looked on, trembling with fear; as her little sister romped with the adoring dog. And she heaved a sigh of relief when at last they were clear of the farm without mishap to the baby. For Olive had been dearer to Dorcas, from birth, than anyone or anything else on earth. To the baby sister alone Dorcas ceased to be the grave-eyed and self-assured Lady of Quality, and became a meek and worshiping devotee.
When Link Ferris at last mustered courage to ask Dorcas Chatham to marry him his form of proposal would have been ruled out of any novel or play. It consisted chiefly of a mouthful of half-swallowed, half-exploded words, spoken all in one panic breath, to the accompaniment of a mortal fear that shook him to the marrow.
Any other words, thus mouthed and gargled, would have required a full college of languages to translate them. But the speech was along a line perfectly familiar to every woman since Eve. And Dorcas understood. She would have understood had Link voiced his proposal in the Choctaw dialect instead of a slurringly mumbled travesty on English.
The man’s stark earnestness of entreaty sent a queer flutter to the very depths of her calm soul. But the flutter failed to reach or to titillate the steady eyes. Nor did it creep into the level and self-possessed voice, as Dorcas made quiet answer:
“Yes. I like you better than any other man I know. And I’ll marry you, if you’re perfectly sure you care for me that way.”
No, it was not the sort of reply Juliet made to the same question. It is more than doubtful that Cleopatra answered thus, when Antony offered to throw away the world for her sake. But it was a wholly correct and self-respecting response. And Dorcas had been rehearsing it for nearly a week.
Moreover, words are of use, merely as they affect their hearers. And all the passion poetry of men and of angels could not have thrilled Link Ferris as did Dorcas’s correct and demure assent to his frenziedly gabbled plea. It went through the lovesick man’s brain and heart like the breath of God.
And thus the couple became engaged.
With only a slight diminishing of his earlier fear did Link seek out Old Man Chatham to obtain his consent to the match. Dizzy with joy and relief he listened to that village worthy’s ungracious assent also secretly rehearsed for some days.
For the best part of a month thereafter Link Ferris floated through a universe of roseate lights and soft music.
Then came the jar of awakening.
It was one Saturday evening, a week or so before the date set for the wedding. Dorcas broached a theme which had been much in her mind since the beginning of the engagement. She approached it very tactfully indeed, leading up to it in true feminine fashion by means of a cunningly devised series of levels which would have been the despair of a mining engineer. Having paved the way she remarked carelessly:
“John Iglehart was at the store to-day, father says. He’s crazy about that big collie of yours.”
Instantly Link was full of glad interest. It had been a sorrow to him that Dorcas did not like dogs. She had explained her dislike–purely on general principles–early in their acquaintance, and had told him of its origin. Link was certain she would come to love Chum, on intimate acquaintance. In the interim he did not seek to force her liking by bringing the collie to the Chatham house when he called.
Link did not believe in crossing a bridge until he came to it. There would be plenty of time for Dorcas to make friends with Chum in the long and happy days to come. Yet, now, he rejoiced that she herself should have been the first to broach the subject.
“Father says John is wild about Chum,” went on the girl unconcernedly; adding, “By the way, John asked father to tell you he’d be glad to pay you $100 for the dog. It’s a splendid offer, isn’t it! Think of all the things we can get for the house with $100, Link! Why, it seems almost providential, doesn’t it? Father says John is in earnest about it too. He–”
“In earnest, hey!” snapped Ferris, finding his voice after an instant of utter amazement. “In EARNEST! Well, that’s real grand of him, ain’t it! I’d be in earnest, too, if I was to bid ten cents for the best farm in Passaic County. But the feller who owned the farm wouldn’t be in earnest. He’d be taking it as a fine joke. Like I do, when Johnny Iglehart has the nerve to offer $100 for a dog that wouldn’t be worth a cent less’n $600–even if he was for sale. Why, that collie of mine–”
“If he is worth $600,” suggested Dorcas icily, “you’d better not lose any time before you find someone who will pay that for him. He’s no use to us. And $600 is too much money to carry on four legs. He–”
“No use to us?” echoed Link. “Why, Chum’s worth the pay of a hired man to me, besides all the fondness I’ve got for him! He handles the sheep, and he–”
“So you’ve told me,” interposed Dorcas with no show of interest. “I remember the first few times you came to see me you didn’t talk of anything else, hardly, except that dog. Everybody says the same thing. It’s a joke all through Hampton, the silly way you’re forever singing his praises.”
“Why shouldn’t I?” demanded Link sturdily. “There’s not a dandier, better pal anywhere, than what Chum’s been to me. He–”
“Yes, yes,” assented Dorcas, “I know. I don’t doubt it. But, after all, he’s only a dog, you know. And if you can get a good price for him, as you say, then the only thing to do is to sell him. In hard times like these–”
“Times ain’t hard,” denied Link tersely. “And Chum ain’t for sale. That’s all there is to it.”
If one of her father’s sleek cart horses had suddenly walked out of its stall with a shouted demand that it be allowed to do the driving, henceforth, and that its owners do the hauling, Dorcas Chatham could not have been much more surprised than at this unlooked-for speech from her humble suitor.
Up to now, Link Ferris had treated the girl as though he were unworthy to breathe the same air as herself. He had been pathetically eager to concede any and every mooted point to her, with a servile abasement which had roused her contempt, even while it had gratified her sense of power.
She had approached with tact the sub ject of Chum’s disposal. But she had done so with a view to the saving of Link’s feelings, not with the faintest idea that her love-bemused slave could venture to oppose her. She knew his fondness for the dog and she had not wished to bring matters to an issue, if tact would serve as well.
To punish her serf and to crush rebellion once and for all, as well as to be avenged for her wasted diplomacy, Dorcas cast aside her kindlier intent and drove straight to the point. Her calm temper was ruffled, and she spoke with a new heat:
“There is something you and I may as well settle, here and now, Link,” she said. “It will save bickerings and misunderstandings, later on. I’ve told you how I hate dogs. They are savage and treacherous and–”
“Chum ain’t!” declared Link stoutly.
“Why, that dog–”
“I hate dogs,” she went on, “and I’m horribly afraid of them. I won’t live in the same house with one. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, Link, but you’ll have to get rid of that great brown brute before you marry me. That is positive. So please let’s say no more about it.”
The man was staring at her with under jaw ajar. Her sharp air of finality grated on his every nerve. Her ultimatum concerning Chum left him dumfounded. But he forced himself to rally to the defense.
This glorious sweetheart of his did not understand dogs. He had hoped to teach her later to like and appreciate them. But apparently she must be taught at once that Chum could not be sold and that the collie must remain an honored member of the Ferris household. Marshaling his facts and his words, he said :
“I never told you about the time I was coming back home one night from the tavern here at Hampton, after I’d just cashed my pay check from the Pat’son market. I’ve never blabbed much about it, because I was drunk. Yes, it was back in them days. Just after I’d got Chum. A couple of fellers had got me drunk. And they set on me in a lonesome patch of the road by the lake; and they had me down and was taking the money away from me, when Chum sailed into them and druv them off. He had follered me, without me knowing. In the scrimmage I got tumbled headfirst into the lake. I was too drunk to get out, and my head was stuck in the mud, ‘way under water. I’d ‘a’ drowned if Chum hadn’t of pulled me out with his teeth in the shoulder of my coat. And that’s the dog you’re wanting me to sell?”
“You aren’t likely to need such help again, I hope,” countered the girl loftily, “now that you have stopped drinking and made a man of yourself. So Chum won’t be needed for–”
“I stopped drinking,” answered Link, “because I got to seeing how much more of a beast I was than the fine clean dog that was living with me. He made me feel ‘shamed of myself. And he was such good comp’ny round the house that I didn’t get lonesome enough to sneak down to the tavern all the time. It wasn’t me that ‘made a man of myself.’ It was Chum made a man of me. Maybe that sounds foolish to you. But –”
“It does,” said Dorcas serenely. “Very foolish indeed. You don’t seem to realize that a dog is only an animal. If you can get a nice home for the collie–such as John Iglehart will give him–”
“Iglehart!” raged Link, momentarily losing hold over himself. “If that mangy, wall-eyed slob comes slinking round my farm again, making friends with Chum, I’ll sick the dog onto him; and have him run Iglehart all the way to his own shack! He’s–! There! I didn’t mean to cut loose like that!” he broke off at Dorcas’s shudder of dismay. “Only it riles me something terrible to have him trying to get Chum away from me.”
“There is no occasion to go losing your temper and shouting,” reproved the girl. “Nothing is to be gained that way. Besides, that isn’t the point. The point is this, since you force me to say it: You must get rid of that dog. And you must do it before you marry me. I won’t set foot in your house until your dog is gone–and gone for good. I am sorry to speak so, but it had to be said.”
She paused to give her slave a chance to wilt. But Link only sat, blank-faced, staring at her. His mind was in a muddle. All his narrow world was upside down. He couldn’t make his brain grasp in full the situation.
All he could visualize for the instant was a shadowy mental image of Chum’s expectant face; the tulip ears pricked forward, expectant; the jaws “laughing”; the deepset brown eyes abrim with gay affection and deathless loyalty for the man who was now asked to get rid of him. It didn’t make sense. Half under his breath Link Ferris began to talk–or rather to ramble.
“There was one of the books over to the lib’ry,” he heard himself meandering on, “with a queer story in it. I got to reading it through, one night last winter. It was about a feller named ‘Fed’rigo.’ A wop of some kind, I guess. He got so hard up he didn’t have anything left but a pet falcon. Whatever a falcon may be. Whatever it was, it must’a been good to eat. But he set a heap of store by it. Him and it was chums. Same as me and Chum are. Then along come a lady he was in love with. And she stopped to his house for dinner. There wasn’t anything in the house fit for her to eat. So he fed her the falcon. Killed the pet that was his chum, so’s he could feed the dame he was stuck on. I thought, when I read it, that that feller was more kinds of a swine than I’d have time to tell you. But he wasn’t any worse’n I’d be if I was to–”
“I’m sorry you care so little for me,” intervened Dorcas, her voice very sweet and very cold, and her slender nose whitening a little at the corners of the nostrils. “Of course if you prefer a miserable dog to me, there’s nothing more to be said. I–”
“No!” almost yelled the miserable man. “You’ve got me all wrong, dearie. Honest, you have. Can’t you understand? Your little finger means a heap more to me than ev’rything else there is–except the rest of you–”
“And your dog,” she supplemented.
“No!” he denied fiercely. “You got no right to say that! But Chum’s served me faithful. And I can’t kick him out like he was a–”
“Now you are getting angry again!” she accused, pale and furious. “I don’t care to be howled at. The case stands like this: You must choose whether to get rid of that dog or to lose me. Take your choice. If–”
“I read in a story book about a feller that had a thing like that put up to him,” said poor Link, unable to believe she was in earnest. “His girl said: ‘You gotta choose between me and tobacco.’ And he said: ‘I’ll choose tobacco. Not that I value tobacco so all-fired much,’ he says, ‘but because a girl, who’d make a man take such a choice, ain’t worth giving up tobacco for.’ You see, dearie, it’s this way –”
“You’ll have that dog out of your house and out of your possession, inside of twenty-four hours,” she decreed, the white anger of a grave-eyed woman making her cold voice vibrate, “or you will drop my acquaintance. That is final. And it’s definite. The engagement is over–until I hear that your dog is killed or given away or sold. Good night!”
She left the room in vindictive haste. So overwhelmingly angry was she that she closed the door softly behind her, instead of slamming it. Through all his swirl of misery Link had sense enough to note this final symptom and wonder bitterly at it.
On his way out of the house he was hailed by a highpitched baby voice from somewhere above him. Olive had crawled out of bed, and in her white flannel pajamas she was leaning over the upper balustrade.
“Link!” she called down to the wretched man at the front door. “When you and Dorcas gets married together, I’m comin’ to live wiv you! Then I can play wiv Chummie all I want to!”
Link bolted out to the street in the midst of her announcement. And, so occupied was he in trying to swallow a lump in his own throat, he failed to hear the sound of stifled sobbing from behind a locked door somewhere in the upper reaches of the house.
As the night wore on, the sleepless girl sought to comfort herself in the thought that Link had not definitely refused her terms. A night’s reflection and an attitude of unbending aloofness on her own part might well bring him to a surrender.
Perhaps it was something in Link Ferris’s dejected gait, as he turned into his own lane that night, perhaps it was the instinct which tells a collie when a loved human is unhappy–but Chum was at once aware of his master’s woe. The dog, at first sound of Link’s approaching steps, bounded from his vigil place on the porch and frisked joyously through the darkness to meet him. He sent forth a trumpeting bark of welcome as he ran.
Then–fifty feet from the oncoming man–the big collie halted and stood for an instant with ears cocked and eyes troubled. After which he resumed his advance; but at a solemn trot and with downcast mien. As he reached Link, the collie whined softly under his breath, gazing wistfully up into Ferris’s face and then thrusting his cold nose lovingly into one of the man’s loose-hanging hands.
Link had winced visibly at sound of the jubilantly welcoming bark. Now, noting the sudden change in the collie’s demeanor, he stooped and caught the silken head between his hands. The gesture was rough, almost painful. Yet Chum knew it was a caress. And his drooping plume of a tail began to wag in response.
“Oh, CHUM!” exclaimed the man with something akin to a groan. “You know all about it, don’t you, old friend? You know I’m the miser’blest man in North Jersey. You know it without me having to say a word. And you’re doing your level best to comfort me. Just like you always do. You never get cranky; and you never say I gotta choose betwixt this and that; and you never get sore at me. You’re just my chum. And you’re fool enough to think I’m all right. Yet she says I gotta get rid of you!”
The dog pressed closer to him, still whining softly and licking the roughly caressing hands.
“What’m I going to do, Chummie?” demanded Link brokenly. “What’m I going to do about it? I s’pose any other feller’d call me a fool–like she thinks I am and tell me to sell you. If you was some dogs, that’d be all right. But not with YOU, Chum. Not with you. You’d mope and grieve for me, and you’d be wond’ring why I’d deserted you after all these years. And you’d get to pining and maybe go sick. And the feller that bought you wouldn’t understand. And most likely he’d whale you for not being more chipper-like. And you haven’t ever been hit. I’d–I’d a blame’ sight sooner shoot you, than to let anyone else have you, to abuse you and let you be unhappy for me, Chum. A blame’ sight rather.”
Side by side they moved on into the darkened house. There, with the dog curled at his feet, Link Ferris lay broad awake until sunrise.
Early the next afternoon Dorcas decided she stood in need of brisk, outdoor exercise. Olive came running down the path after her, eagerly demanding to be taken along. Dorcas with much sternness bade her go back. She wanted to be alone, unless–But she refused to admit to herself that there was any “unless.”
Olive, grievously disappointed, stood on the steps, watching her big sister set off up the road. She saw Dorcas take the righthand turn at the fork. The baby’s face cleared. Now she knew in which direction Dorcas was going. That fork led to the Glen. And the Glen was a favorite Sunday afternoon ramble for Link and Chum. Olive knew that, because she and Dorcas more than once had walked thither to meet them.
Olive was pleasantly forgetful of her parents’ positive command that she refrain from walking alone on the motor-infested Sunday roads. She set off at a fast jog trot over the nearby hill, on whose other side ran the Glen road.
Link Ferris, with Chum at his heels, was tramping moodily toward the Glen. As he turned into the road he paused in his sullen walk. There, strolling unconcernedly, some yards in front of him, was a tall girl in white. Her back was toward him. Yet he would have recognized her at a hundred times the distance. Chum knew her, too, for he wagged his tail and started at a faster trot to overtake her.
“Back!” called Link.
Purposely he spoke as low as possible. But the dog heard and obeyed. The girl, too, started a little, and made as if to turn. Just then ensued a wild crackling in the thick roadside bushes which lined the hillside from highway to crest. And a white-clad little bunch of humanity came galloping jubilantly out into the road, midway between Dorcas and Link.
At the road edge Olive’s stubby toe caught in a noose of blackberry vine. As the youngster was running full tilt, her own impetus sent her rolling over and over into the center of the dusty turnpike.
Before she could get to her feet or even stop rolling, a touring car came round the bend, ten yards away–a car that was traveling at a speed of something like forty-five miles an hour, and whose four occupants were singing at the top of their lungs.
Link Ferris had scarce time to tense his muscles for a futile spring–Dorcas’s scream of helpless terror was still unborn–when the car was upon the prostrate child.
And in the same fraction of a second a furry catapult launched itself across the wide road at a speed that made it look like tawny blur.
Chum’s mad leap carried him to the baby just as the car’s fender hung above her. A slashing grip of his teeth in the shoulder of her white dress and a lightning heave of his mighty neck and shoulders–and the little form was hurtling through the air and into the weed-filled wayside ditch.
In practically the same instant Chum’s body whizzed into the air again. But this time by no impetus of its own. The high-powered car’s fender had struck it fair, and had tossed it into the ditch as though the dog had been a heap of rags.
There–huddled and lifeless–sprawled the beautiful collie. The car put on an extra spurt of speed and disappeared round the next turn.
Olive was on her feet before Dorcas’s flying steps could reach her. Unhurt but vastly indignant, the baby opened her mouth to make way for a series of howls. Then, her eye falling on the inert dog, she ran over to Chum and began to cry out to him to come to life again.
“No use of that, kid!” interposed Link, kneeling beside the collie he loved and smoothing the soiled and rumpled fur. “It’s easier to drop out of life than what it is to come back to it again. Well,” he went on harshly, turning to the weeping Dorcas, “the question has answered itself, you see. No need now to tell me to get rid of him. He’s saved me the bother. Like he was always saving me bother. That being Chum’s way.”
Something in his throat impeded his fierce speech. And he bent over the dog again, his rough hands smoothing the pitifully still body with loving tenderness. Dorcas, weeping hysterically, fell on her knees beside Chum and put her arms about the huddled shape. She seemed to be trying to say something, her lips close to one of the furry little ears.
“No use!” broke in Ferris, his voice as grating as a file’s. “He can’t hear you now. No good to tell him you hate dogs; or that you’re glad you’ve saw the last of him. Even if he was alive, he wouldn’t understand that. He’d never been spoke to that way.”
“Don’t! Oh, don’t!” sobbed the girl. “Oh, I’m so–”
“If you’re crying for Chum,” went on the grating voice, “there’s no need to. He was only just a dog. He didn’t know any better but to get his life smashed out’n him, so somebody else could go on living. All he asked was to be with me and work for me and love me. After you said he couldn’t keep on doing that, there ain’t any good in your crying for him. It must be nice–if you’ll only stop crying long enough to think of it–to know he’s out of your way. And I’M out of it too!” he went on in a gust of fury. “S’pose you two just toddle on, now, and leave me to take him home. I got the right to that, anyhow.”
He stooped to pick up the dog; and he winked with much rapidity to hold back an annoying mist which came between him and Chum. His mouth corners, too, were twitching in a way that shamed him. He had a babyish yearning to bury his face in his dead friend’s fur, and cry.
“DON’T!” Dorcas was wailing. “Oh, you can’t punish me any worse than I’m–”
Her sob-broken voice scaled high and swelled out into a cry of stark astonishment. Slowly Chum was lifting his splendid head and blinking stupidly about him!
The fender had smitten the collie just below the shoulder, in a mass of fur-armored muscles. In falling into the wayside ditch his skull had come into sharp contact with a rock. Knocked senseless by the concussion, he had lain as dead, for the best part of five minutes. After which he had come slowly to his senses–bewildered, bruised and sore, but otherwise no worse for the accident.
He came to himself to find a weeping woman clutching him stranglingly round the neck, while she tried to kiss his dust-smeared head.
Chum did not care at all for this treatment, especially from a comparative stranger. But he saw his adored master looking so idiotically happy–over that or something else–that the dog forbore to protest.
“If you really wanted him put out of the way so bad–” began Link, when he could trust himself to speak.
He got no further. Dorcas Chatham turned on him in genuine savageness. The big eyes were no longer grave and patronizing. The air of aloofness had fallen from the girl like a discarded garment.
“Link!” she blazed. “Link Ferris! If you ever dare speak about getting rid of–of MY dog,–I’ll–I’ll never speak to you again, as long as–as long as we’re married!”
- THE END