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- Bob Son of Battle - 6/48 -
Ay, and he'd be sair elsewhere by the time I'd done wi' him--he! he!"
The sneer at David's expense was as characteristic as it was unjust. For though the puppy and the boy were already sworn enemies, yet the lad would have scorned to harm so small a foe. And many a tale did David tell at Kenmuir of Red Wull's viciousness, of his hatred of him (David), and his devotion to his master; how, whether immersed in the pig-bucket or chasing the fleeting rabbit, he would desist at once, and bundle, panting, up at his master's call; how he routed the tomcat and drove him from the kitchen; and how he clambered on to David's bed and pinned him murderously by the nose.
Of late the relations between M'Adam and James Moore had been unusually strained. Though they were neighbors, communications between the two were of the rarest; and it was for the first time for many a long day that, on an afternoon shortly after Red Wull had come into his possession, M'Adam entered the yard of Kenmuir, bent on girding at the master for an alleged trespass at the Stony Bottom.
"WI' yer permission, Mr. Moore,'' said the little man, "I'll wheestle ma dog, " and, turning, he whistled a shrill, peculiar note like the cry of a disturbed peewit.
Straightway there came scurrying desperately up, ears back, head down, tongue out, as if the world depended on his speed, a little tawny beetle of a thing, who placed his forepaws against his master's ankles and looked up into his face; then, catching sight of the strangers, hurriedly he took up his position between them and M'Adam, assuming his natural attitude of grisly defiance. Such a laughable spectacle he made, that martial mite, standing at bay with bristles up and teeth bared, that even James Moore smiled.
"Ma word! Ha' yo' brought his muzzle, man?" cried old Tammas, the humorist; and, turning, climbed all in a heat on to an upturned bucket that stood by. Whereat the puppy, emboldened by his foe's retreat, advanced savagely to the attack, buzzing round the slippery pail like a wasp on a windowpane, in vain attempt to reach the old man.
Tammas stood on the top, hitching his trousers and looking down on his assailant, the picture of mortal fear.
'Elp! Oh, 'elp!" he bawled. "Send for the sogers! fetch the p'lice! For lawk-amussy's sake call him off, man!" Even Sam'l Todd, watching the scene from the cart-shed, was tickled and burst into a loud guffaw, heartily backed by 'Enry and oor Job. While M'Adam remarked: "Ye're fitter for a stage than a stable-bucket, Mr. Thornton."
"How didst coom by him?" asked Tammas, nodding at the puppy.
"Found him," the little man replied, sucking his twig. "Found him in ma stockin' on ma birthday. A present from ma leetle David for his auld dad, I doot."
"So do I," said Tammas, and was seized with sudden spasm of seemingly causeless merriment. For looking up as M'Adam was speaking, he had caught a glimpse of a boy's fair head, peering cautiously round the cow-shed, and, behind, the flutter of short petti.. coats. They disappeared as silently as they had come; and two small figures, just returned from school, glided away and sought shelter in the friendly darkness of a coal-hole.
"Coom awa', Maggie, coom awa'! 'Tis th' owd un, 'isself," whispered a disrespectful voice.
M'Adam looked round suspiciously.
"What's that?" he asked sharply.
At the moment, however, Mrs. Moore put her head out of the kitchen window.
"Coom thy ways in, Mister M'Adam, and tak' a soop o' tea," she called hospitably.
"Thank ye kindly, Mrs. Moore, I will," he answered, politely for him. And this one good thing must be allowed of Adam M'Adam:
that, if there was only one woman of whom he was ever known to speak well, there was also only one, in the whole course of his life, against whom he ever insinuated evil--and that was years afterward, when men said his brain was sapped. Flouts and jeers he had for every man, but a woman, good or bad, was sacred to him. For the sex that had given him his mother and his wife he had that sentiment of tender reverence which, if a man still preserve, he cannot be altogether bad. As he turned into the house he looked back at Red Wull.
"Ay, we may leave him," he said. "That is, gin ye're no afraid, Mr. Thornton?"
Of what happened while the men were within doors, it is enough to tell two things. First, that Owd Bob was no bully. Second, this: In the code of sheep-dog honor there is written a word in stark black letters; and opposite it another word, writ large in the color of blood. The first is "Sheep-murder"; the second, "Death." It is the one crime only to be wiped away in blood; and to accuse of the crime is to offer the one unpardonable insult. Every sheep-dog knows it, and every shepherd.
That afternoon, as the men still talked, the quiet echoes of the farm rung with a furious animal cry, twice repeated: "Shot for sheepmurder"--" Shot for sheep-murder"; followed by a hollow stillness.
The two men finished their colloquy. The matter was concluded peacefully, mainly owing to the pacifying influence of Mrs. Moore. Together the three went out into the yard; Mrs. Moore seizing the opportunity to shyly speak on David's behalf.
"lie's such a good little lad, I do think," she was saying.
"Ye should ken, Mrs. Moore," the little man answered, a thought bitterly; "ye see enough of him."
"Yo' mun be main proud of un, mester," the woman continued, heedless of the sneer: "an' 'im growin' such a gradely lad."
M'Adam shrugged his shoulders.
"I barely ken the lad," he said. "By sight I know him, of course, but barely to speak to. He's but seldom at hame."
"An' hoo proud his mother'd be if she could see him," the woman continued, well aware of his one tender place. "Eh, but she was fond o' him, so she was."
An angry flush stole over the little man's face. Well he understood the implied rebuke; and it hurt him like a knife.
"Ay, ay, Mrs. Moore," he began. Then breaking off, and looking about him-- "Where's ma Wullie?" he cried excitedly. "James Moore!" whipping round on the Master, "ma Wullie's gone--gone, I say!"
Elizabeth Moore turned away indignantly. "I do declar' he tak's more fash after yon little yaller beastie than iver he does after his own flesh," she muttered.
"Wullie, ma we doggie! Wullie, where are ye? James Moore, he's gone--ma Wullie's gone!" cried the little man, running about the yard, searching everywhere.
"Cannot 'a' gotten far," said the Master, reassuringly, looking about him.
"Niver no tellin'," said Sam'l, appearing on the scene, pig-bucket in hand. "I inisdoot yo'll iver see your dog agin, mister." He turned sorrowfully to M'Adam.
That little man, all dishevelled, and with the perspiration standing on his face, came hurrying out of the cow-shed and danced up to the Master.
"It's robbed I am--robbed, I tell ye!" he cried recklessly. "Ma wee Wull's bin stolen while I was ben your hoose, James Moore!"
"Yo' munna say that, ma mon. No robbin' at Kenmuir," the Master answered sternly.
"Then where is he? It's for you to say."
"I've ma own idee, I 'aye," Sam'l announced opportunely, pig-bucket uplifted.
M'Adam turned on him.
"What, man? What is it?"
"I misdoot yo'll iver see your dog agin, mister," Sam'l repeated, as if he was supplying the key to the mystery.
"Noo, Sam'l, if yo' know owt tell it, "ordered his master.
Sam'l grunted sulkily.
"Wheer's oor Bob, then?" he asked.
At that M'Adam turned on the Master.
'Tis that, nae doot. It's yer gray dog, James Moore, yer--dog. I might ha' kent it, "--and he loosed off a volley of foul words.
"Sweerin' will no find him," said the Master coldly. "Noo, Sam'l."
The big man shifted his feet, and looked mournfully at M'Adam.
'Twas 'appen 'aif an hour agone, when I sees oor Bob goin' oot o' yard wi' little yaller tyke in his mouth. In a minnit I looks agin-- and theer! little yaller 'Un was gone, and oor Bob a-sittin' a-lickin' his chops. Gone for-iver, I do reck'n. Ah, yo' may well take on, Tammas Thornton!" For the old man was rolling about the yard, bent double with merriment.
M'Adam turned on the Master with the resignation of despair.
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