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- Bob Son of Battle - 10/48 -
boy as though he were a child. At length he lifted his face and looked up; and, seeing the white, wan countenance of his dear comforter, was struck with tender remorse that he had given way and pained her, who looked so frail and thin herself.
He mastered himself with an effort; and, for the rest of the evening, was his usual cheery self. He teased Maggie into tears; chaffed stolid little Andrew; and bantered Sam'l Todd until that generally impassive man threatened to bash his snout for him.
Yet it was with a great swallowing at his throat that, later, he turned down the slope for home.
James Moore and Parson Leggy accompanied him to the bridge over the Wastrel, and stood a while watching as he disappeared into the summer night.
"Yon's a good lad," said the Master half to himself.
"Yes," the parson replied ; "I always thought there was good in the boy, if only his father'd give him a chance. And look at the way Owd Bob there follows him. There's not another soul outside Kenmuir he'd do that for."
"Ay, sir," said the Master. "Bob knows a mon when he sees one."
"He does," acquiesced the other. "And by the by, James, the talk in the village is that you've settled not to run him for the Cup. Is, that so?"
The Master nodded.
"It is, sir. They're all mad I should, but I mun cross 'em. They say he's reached his prime--and so he has o' his body, but not o' his brain. And a sheep-dog--unlike other dogs--is not at his best till his brain is at its best--and that takes a while developin', same as in a mon, I reck'n."
"Well, well," said the parson, pulling out a favorite phrase, "waiting's winning--waiting's winning."
David slipped up into his room and into bed unseen, he hoped. Alone with the darkness, he allowed himself the rare relief of tears; and at length fell asleep. He awoke to find his father standing at his bedside. The little man held a feeble dip-candle in his hand, which lit his sallow face in crude black and white. In the doorway, dimly outlined, was the great figure of Red Wull.
"Whaur ha' ye been the day?" the little man asked. Then, looking down on the white stained face beneath him, he added hurriedly: "If ye like to lie, I'll believe ye."
David was out of bed and standing up in his night-shirt. He looked at his father contemptuously.
"I ha' bin at Kenmuir. I'll not lie for yo' ur your likes," he said proudly.
The little man shrugged his shoulders.
" 'Tell a lee and stick to it,'is my rule, and. a good one, too, in honest England. I for one 'II no think ony the worse o' ye if yer memory plays yer false."
"D'yo' think I care a kick what yo' think o' me?" the boy asked brutally. "Nay; there's 'nough liars in this fam'ly wi'oot me."
The candle trembled and was still again.
"A lickin' or a lie--tak' yer choice!"
The boy looked scornfully down on his father. Standing on his naked feet, he already towered half a head above the other and was twice the man.
"D'yo' think I'm fear'd o' a thrashin' fra yo'? Goo' gracious me!" he sneered. "Why, I'd as lief let owd Grammer Maddox lick me, for all I care."
A reference to his physical insufficiencies fired the little man as surely as a lighted match powder.
"Ye maun be cauld, standin' there so. Rin ye doon and fetch oor little frien' "--a reference to a certain strap hanging in the kitchen. "I'll see if I can warm ye."
David turned and stumbled down the unlit, narrow stairs. The hard, cold boards struck like death against his naked feet. At his heels followed Red Wull, his hot breath fanning the boy's bare legs.
So into the kitchen and back up the stairs, and Red Wull always following.
"I'll no despair yet o' teachin' ye the fifth commandment, though I kill masel' in doin' it!" cried the little man, seizing the strap from the boy's numb grasp.
When it was over, M'Adam turned, breathless, away. At the threshold of the room he stopped and looked round: a little, dim-lit, devilish figure, framed in the door; while from the blackness behind, Red Wull's eyes gleamed yellow.
Glancing back, the little man caught such an expression on David's face that for once he was fairly afraid. He banged the door and hobbled actively down the stairs.
Chapter VII. THE WHITE WINTER
M'ADAM--in his sober moments at least-- never touched David again; instead, he devoted himself to the more congenial exercise of the whiplash of his tongue. And he was wise; for David, who was already nigh a head the taller of the two, and comely and strong in proportion, could, if he would, have taken his father in the hollow of his hand and crumpled him like a dry leaf. Moreover, with his tongue, at least, the little man enjoyed the noble pleasure of making the boy wince. And so the war was carried on none the less vindictively.
Meanwhile another summer was passing away, and every day brought fresh proofs of the prowess of Owd Bob. Tammas, whose stock of yarns anent Rex son of Rally had after forty years' hard wear begun to pall on the loyal ears of even old Jonas, found no lack of new material now. In the Dalesman's Daughter in Silverdale and in the Border Ram at Grammoch-town, each succeeding market day brought some fresh tale. Men told how the gray dog had outdone Gypsy Jack, the sheep-sneak; how he had cut out a Kenmuir shearling from the very centre of Londesley's pack; and a thousand like stories.
The Gray Dogs of Kenmuir have always been equally heroes and favorites in the Dale-land. And the confidence of the Dalesmen in Owd Bob was now invincible. Sometimes on market days he would execute some unaccotmtable maneuvre, and .. strange shepherd would ask: "What's the gray dog at?" To which the nearest Dalesman would reply: "Nay, I canno tell ye! But he's reet enough. Yon's Owd Bob o' Kenmuir."
Whereon the stranger would prick his ears and watch with close attention.
"Yon's Owd Bob o' Kenmuir, is he?" he would say; for already among the faculty the name was becoming known. And never in such a case did the young dog fail to justify the faith of his supporters.
It came, therefore, as a keen disappointment to every Dalesman, from Herbert Trotter, Secretary of the Trials, to little Billy Thornton, when the Master persisted in his decision not to run the dog for the Cup in the approaching Dale Trials; and that though parson, squire, and even Lady Eleanour essayed to shake his purpose. It was nigh fifty years since Rex son o' Rally had won back the Trophy for the land that gave it birth; it was time, they thought, for a Daleland dog, a Gray Dog of Kenmuir--the terms are practically synonymous--to bring it home again. And Tarnmas, that polished phrase-maker, was only expressing the feelings of every Dalesman in the room when, one night at the Arms, he declared of Owd Bob that "to ha' run was to ha' won." At which M'Adam sniggered audibly and winked at Red Wull. "To ha' run was to ha' one--lickin'; to rin next year'll be to-- Win next year." Tammas interposed dogmatically. "Onless "--with shivering sarcasm
--"you and yer Wullie are thinkin' o' winnin'." The little man rose from his solitary seat at the back of the room and pattered across.
"Wullie and I are thinkin' o' t," he whispered loudly in the old man's ear. "And mair:
what Adam M'Adam and his Red Wull think o' doin', that, ye may remairk, Mr. Thornton, they do. Next year we rin, and next year-- we win. Come, Wullie, we'll leave 'em to chew that"; and he marched out of the room amid the jeers of the assembled topers. When quiet was restored, it was Jim Mason who declared: "One thing certain, win or no, they'll not he far off."
Meanwhile the summer ended abruptly. Hard on the heels of a sweltering autumn the winter came down. In that year the Daleland assumed very early its white cloak. The Silver Mere was soon ice-veiled; the Wastrel rolled sullenly down below Kenmuir, its creeks and quiet places tented with jagged sheets of ice; while the Scaur and Muir Pike raised hoary heads against the frosty blue. It was the season still remembered in the North as the White Winter--the worst, they say, since the famous i8o8.
For days together Jim Mason was stuck with his bags in the Dalesman's Daughter, and there was no communication between the two Dales. On the Mere Marches the snow massed deep and impassable in thick, billowy drifts. In the Devil's Bowl men said it lay piled some score feet deep. And sheep, seeking shelter in the ghylls and protected spots, were buried and lost in their hundreds.
That is the time to test the hearts of shepherds and sheep-dogs, when the wind runs ice-cold across the waste of white, and the low woods on the upland walks shiver black through a veil of snow, and sheep must be found and folded or lost: a trial of head as well as heart, of resource as well as resolution.
In that winter more than one man and many a dog lost his life in the quiet performance of his duty, gliding to death over the slippery snow-shelves, or overwhelmed beneath an avalanche of
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