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Albert Payson Terhune

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
The rickety and rackety train was droning along over the desert miles—miles split and sprinkled by cheerless semi-arid foothills. At dusk it had shrieked and groaned its way over a divide and slid clatteringly down the far side amid a screech of brakes. Out into the desert-like plain with the scatter of less dead foothills it had emerged in early evening. Now, as midnight drew on, the desert ground—with its strewing of exquisite wild flowers here and there among the sick sage brush and crippled Joshua trees—took a less desolate aspect; though it was too dark a night for the few waking passengers to note this. The Dos Hermanos River lay a few miles ahead—many more miles on the hither side of the Dos Hermanos mountain range. The half-fertile land of the river valley was merging with the encroach of the desert. Fraser Colt got to his feet in the rank-atmosphered smoking section of the way-train’s one Pullman; hooked a fat finger at the porter to find if his berth had been made up; then loafed through to the baggage car for a last inspection of his collie pup, before turning in. Now it is a creditable thing for a man to assure himself of his dog’s comfort for the night. Often it bespeaks more or less heart. But, in the case of Fraser Colt it did nothing of the sort; nor was it creditable to anything but his interest in his dog’s money value. As to heart, Fraser Colt had one;—a serviceable and well-appointed heart. It pumped blood through his plump body. Apart from that function, it did no work at all. Or if it beat tenderly toward any living thing, that living thing was Fraser Colt alone. Into the ill-lit baggage car he made his way. There were not less than ten occupants of the car. Two of them were normal humans. The third was Fraser Colt. The remaining seven were dogs. This was by no means the only westbound train, of long or short run, to carry dogs, that night. For at eleven o’clock on the morrow the annual show of the Dos Hermanos Kennel Club was to open. Exhibitors, for two hundred miles, were bringing the best in their kennels to it. Seven crates were lined up, along the walls of the baggage car, when Colt slouched in. The baggageman was drowsing in his tiptilted greasy chair. In a far corner sat an oldish kennelman who had just taken from a crate a police dog, which he was grooming. Because the night was stiflingly hot, the car’s side door was rolled halfway open to let in a sluice of dust-filled cooler air. Fraser Colt went over to a crate, unlocked and opened its slatted door and snapped his fingers. At the summons—indeed, as soon as the door was opened wide enough for him to wriggle through—a dog danced out onto the dirty floor. Then, for an instant, the newly released prisoner halted and glanced up at the man who had let him out. The wavery light revealed him as a well-grown collie pup, about eight months old. Golden-tawny was his heavy coat and snowy were his ruff and frill and paws. He had about him the indefinable air that distinguishes a great dog from a merely good dog—even as a beautiful woman is distinguished from a merely pretty woman. His deepset dark eyes had the true “look of eagles,” young as he was. His head and fore-face were chiseled in strong classic lines. His small ears had the perfect tulip dip to them, without which no show-collie can hope to excel. But, though three show-collies out of five need to have their ears weighted or otherwise treated, to attain this correct bend of the tips, here was a pup whose ear-carriage was as natural as it was perfect. You will visit many a fairly good dogshow, before you find an eight-month pup—or grown collie, for that matter—with the points and classic beauty and indefinable air of greatness possessed by the youngster that was now returning Fraser Colt’s appraising gaze.