I'm not sure of the copyright status of this short story, but I did find a copy online.
As always, the caveatif it can't legally stay, I remove it. I hope it can remain, though, since I am not aware of it being in print anywhere.
|Read the story as it first appeared
in the December 18, 1938 "Saturday Evening Post":
The dog had met the boy by the school gate for five years. Now she couldn't understand that times were changed and she wasn't supposed to be there any more. But the boy knew.
So when he opened the door of the cottage, he spoke before he entered.
"Mother," he said, "Lassie's come home again."
He waited a moment, as if in hope of something. But the man and woman inside the cottage did not speak.
"Come in, Lassie," the boy said.
He held open the door, the tricolor collie walked in obediently. Going head down, as a collie will when it knows something is wrong, it went to the rug and lay down before the hearth, a black-white-and-gold aristocrat. The man, sitting on a low stool by the fireside, kept his eyes turned away. The woman went to the sink and busied herself there.
"She were waiting at school for me, just like always," the boy went on. He spoke fast, as if racing against time. "She must ha' got away again. I thought, happen this time, we might just"
"No!" the woman exploded.
The boy's carelessness dropped. His voice rose in pleading.
"But this time, mother! Just this time. We could hide her, They wouldn't never know.
"Dogs, dogs, dogs!" the woman cried. The words poured from her as if the boy's pleading had been a signal gun for her own anger. "I'm sick o' hearing about tykes round this house. Well, she's sold and gone and done with, so the quicker she's taken back the better. Now get her back quick, or first thing ye know we'll have Hynes round here again. Mr. Hynes!"
Her voice sharpened in imitation of the Cockney accent of the south: "'Hi know you Yorkshiremen and yer come-'ome dogs. Training yer dogs to come 'ome so's yer can sell 'em hover and hover again.'
"Well, she's sold, so ye can take her out o' my house and home to them as bought her!"
The boy's bottom lip crept out stubbornly, and there was silence in the cottage. Then the dog lifted its head and nudged the man's hand, as a dog will when asking for patting. But the man drew away and stared, silently, into the fire.
The boy tried again, with the ceaseless guile of a child, his voice coaxing.
"Look, feyther, she wants thee to bid her welcome. Aye, she's that glad to be home. Happen they don't tak' good care on her up there? Look, her coat's a bit poorly, don't ye think? A bit o' linseed strained through her drinking waterthat's what I'd gi' her."
Still looking in the fire, the man nodded. But the woman, as if perceiving the boy's new attack, sniffed.
"Aye, tha wouldn't be a Carraclough if tha didn't know more about tykes nor breaking eggs wi' a stick. Nor a Yorkshireman. My goodness, it seems to me sometimes that chaps in this village thinks more on their tykes nor they do o' their own flesh and blood. They'll sit by their firesides and let their own bairns starve so long as t' dog gets fed."
The man stirred, suddenly, but the boy cut in quickly.
"But she does look thin. Look, trulythey're not feeding her right. Just look!"
"Aye," the woman chattered. "I wouldn't put it past Hynes to steal t' best part o' t' dog meat for himself. And Lassie always was a strong eater."
"She's fair thin now," the boy said.
Almost unwillingly the man and woman looked at the dog for the first time.
"My gum, she is off a bit," the woman said. Then she caught herself. "Ma goodness, I suppose I'll have to fix her a bit o' summat. She can do wi' it. But soon as she's fed, back she goes. And never another dog I'll have in my house. Never another. Cooking and nursing for 'em, and as much trouble to bring up as a bairn!"
So, grumbling and chattering as a village woman will, she moved about, warming a pan of food for the dog. The man and boy watched the collie eat. When it was done, the boy took from the mantelpiece a folded cloth and a brush, and began prettying the collie's coat. The man watched for several minutes, and then could stand it no longer.
"Here," he said.
He took the cloth and brush from the boy and began working expertly on the dog, rubbing the rich, deep coat, then brushing the snowy whiteness of the full ruff and the apron, bringing out the heavy leggings on the forelegs. He lost himself in his work, and the boy sat on the rug, watching contentedly. The woman stood it as long as she could.
"Now will ye please tak' that tyke out o' here?"
The man flared in anger.
"Well, ye wouldn't have me tak' her back looking like a mucky Monday wash, wouldta?"
He bent again, and began fluffing out the collie's petticoats.
"Joe!" the woman pleaded. "Will ye tak' her out o' here? Hynes'll be nosing round afore ye know it. And I won't have that man in my house. Wearing his hat inside, and going on like he's the duke himselfhim and his leggings!"
"All right, lass."
"And this time, Joe, tak' young Joe wi' ye."
"Well, let's get the business done and over with. It's him that Lassie runs away for. She comes for young Joe. So if he went wi' thee, and told her to stay, happen she'd be content and not run away no more, and then we'd have a little peace and quiet in the home-though heaven knows there's not much hope o' that these days, things being like they are." The woman's voice trailed away, as if she would soon cry in weariness.
The man rose. "Come, Joe," he said. "Get thy cap."
* * * * *
The Duke of Rudling walked along the gravel paths of his place with his granddaughter, Philippa. Philippa was a bright and knowing young woman, allegedly the only member of the duke's family he could address in unspotted language. For it was also alleged that the duke was the most irascible, vile-tempered old man in the three Ridings of Yorkshire.
"Country going to pot!" the duke roared, stabbing at the walk with his great blackthorn stick. "When I was a young man! Hah! Women today not as pretty. Horses today not as fast. As for dogsye don't see dogs today like"
Just then the duke and Philippa came round a clump of rhododendrons and saw a man, a boy, and a dog.
"Ah,"said the duke, in admiration. And then his brow knotted. "Damme Carraclough! What're ye doing with my dog?"
He shouted it quite as if the others were in the next county, for it was also the opinion of the Duke of Rudling that people were not nearly so keen of hearing as they used to be when he was a young man.
"It's Lassie," Carraclough said. "She's runned away again and I brought her back."
Carraclough lifted his cap, and poked the boy to do the same, not in any servile gesture, but to show that they were as well brought up as the next.
"Damme, ran away again!" the duke roared. "And I told that utter nincompoop Hynes towhere is he? Hynes! Hynes! Damme, Hynes, what're ye hiding for?"
"Coming, your lordship!" sounded a voice, far away behind the shrubberies. And soon Hynes appeared, a sharp-faced man in check coat, riding breeches, and the cloth leggings that grooms wear.
"Take this dog," roared the duke, "and pen her up! And, damme, if she breaks out again, I'll I'll"
The duke waved his great stick threateningly, and then, without so much as a thank you or kiss the back of my hand to Joe Carraclough, he went stamping and muttering away.
"I'll pen 'er up," Hynes muttered, when the duke was gone. "And if she ever gets awye agyne, I'll"
He made as if to grab the dog, but Joe Carraclough's hobnailed boot trod heavily on Hynes' foot.
"I brought my lad wi' me to bid her stay, so we'll pen her up this time Eighsorry! I didn't see I were on thy foot. Come, Joe, lad."
They walked down the crunching gravel path, along by the neat kennel buildings. When Lassie was behind the closed door, she raced into the high wire run where she could see them as they went. She pressed close against the wire, waiting.
The boy stood close, too, his fingers through the meshes touching the dog's nose.
"Go on, lad," his father ordered. "Bid her stay!"
The boy looked around, as if for help that he did not find. He swallowed, and then spoke, low and quickly.
"Stay here, Lassie, and don't come home no more," he said. "And don't come to school for me no more. Because I don't want to see ye no more. 'Cause tha's a bad dog, and we don't love thee no more, and we don't want thee. So stay there forever and leave us be, and don't never come home no more."
Then he turned, and because it was hard to see the path plainly, he stumbled. But his father, who was holding his head very high as they walked away from Hynes, shook him savagely, and snapped roughly: "Look where tha's going!"
Then the boy trotted beside his father. He was thinking that he'd never be able to understand why grownups sometimes were so bad-tempered with you just when you needed them most.
* * * * *
After that, there were days and days that passed, and the dog did not come to the school gate any more. So then it was not like old times. There were so many things that were not like old times.
The boy was thinking that as he came wearily up the path and opened the cottage door and heard his father's voice, tense with anger: "...walk my feet off. If tha thinks I like"
Then they heard his opening of the door and the voice stopped and the cottage was silent.
That's how it was now, the boy thought. They stopped talking in front of you. And this, somehow, was too much for him to bear.
He closed the door, ran out into the night, and onto the moor, that great flat expanse of land where all the people of that village walked in lonesomeness when life and its troubles seemed past bearing.
A long while later, his father's voice cut through the darkness.
"What's tha doing out here, Joe lad?"
They went on together, aimlessly, each following his own thoughts. And they both thought about the dog that had been sold.
"Tha maun't think we're hard on thee, Joe," the man said at last"It's just that a chap's got to be honest. There's that to it. Sometimes, when a chap doesn't have much, he clings right hard to what he's got. And honest is honest, and there's no two ways about it.
"Why, look, Joe. Seventeen year I worked in that Clarabelle Pit till she shut down, and a good collier too. Seventeen year! And butties I've had by the dozen, and never a man of 'em can ever say that Joe Carraclough kept what wasn't his, nor spoke what wasn't true. Not a man in this Riding can call a Carraclough dishonest.
"And when ye've sold a man summat, and ye've taken his brass, and ye've spent itwell, then done's done. That's all. And ye've got to stand by that."
"But Lassie was"
"Now, Joe! Ye can't alter it, ever. It's doneand happen it's for t' best. No two ways, Joe, she were getting hard to feed. Why, ye wouldn't want Lassie to be going around getting peaked and pined, like some chaps round here keep their tykes. And if ye're fond of her, then just think on it that now she's got lots to eat, and a private kennel, and a good run to herself, and living like a varritable princess, she is. Ain't that best for her?"
"We wouldn't pine her. We've always got lots to eat."
The man blew out of his breath, angrily. "Eigh, Joe, nowt pleases thee. Well then, tha might as well have it. Tha'll never see Lassie no more. She run home once too often, so the duke's taken her wi' him up to his place in Scotland, and there she'll stay. So it's goodbye and good luck to her, and she'll never come home no more, she won't. Now, I weren't off to tell thee, but there it is, so put it in thy pipe and smoke it, and let's never say a word about it no more-especially in front of thy mother."
The boy stumbled on in the darkness. Then the man halted.
"We ought to be getting back, lad. We left thy mother alone."
He turned the boy about, and then went on, but as if he were talkin to himself.
"Tha sees, Joe, women's not like men. They have to stay home and manage best they can, and just spend the time in wishing. And when things don't go right, well, they have to take it out in talk and give a man hell. But it don't mean nowt, really, so tha shouldn't mind when thy mother talks hard.
"Ye just got to learn to be patient and let 'em talk, and just let it go up t' chimney wi' th' smoke."
Then they were quiet, until, over the rise, they saw the lights of the village. Then the boy spoke: "How far away is Scotland, feyther?"
"Nay, lad, it's a long, long road."
"But how far, feyther?"
"I don't know-but it's a longer road than thee or me'll ever walk. Now, lad. Don't fret no more, and try to be a man-and don't plague thy mother no more, wilta?"
* * * * *
Joe Carraclough was right. It is a long road, as they say in the North, from Yorkshire to Scotland. Much too far for a man to walk-or a boy. And though the boy often thought of it, he remembered his father's words on the moor, and he put the thought behind him.
But there is another way of looking at it; and that's the distance from Scotland to Yorkshire. And that is just as far as from Yorkshire to Scotland, A matter of about four hundred miles, it would be, from the Duke of Rudling's place far up in the Highlands down to the village of Holdersby. That would be for a man, who could go fairly straight.
To an animal, how much farther would it be? For a dog can study no maps, read no signposts, ask no directions. It could only go blindly, by instinct, knowing that it must keep on to the south, to the south. It would wander and err, quest and quarter, run into firths and Iochs that would send it sidetracking and back-tracking before it could go again on its waysouth.
A thousand miles, it would be, going that waya thousand miles over strange terrain.
There would be moors to cross, and burns to swim. And then those great, long Iochs that stretch almost from one side of that dour land to another would bar the way and send a dog questing a hundred miles before it could find a crossing that would allow it to go south.
And, too, there would be rivers to cross, wide rivers like the Forth and the Clyde, the Tweed and the Tyne, where one must go miles to find bridges. And the bridges would be in towns. And in the towns there would be officials-like the one in Lanarkshire. In all his life he had never let a captured dog get away-except one. That one was a gaunt, snarling collie that whirled on him right in the pound itself, and fought and twisted loose to race away down the city streetgoing south.
But there are also kind people, too; ones knowing and understanding in the ways of dogs. There was an old couple in Durham who found a dog lying exhausted in a ditch one nightlying there with its head to the south. They took that dog into their cottage and warmed it and fed it and nursed it. And because it seemed an understanding, wise dog, they kept it in their home, hoping it would learn to be content. But, as it grew stronger, every afternoon toward four o'clock it would go to the door and whine, and then begin pacing back and forth between the door and the window, back and forth as the animals do in their cages at the zoo.
They tried every wile and every kindness to make it bide with them, but finally, when the dog began to refuse food, the old people knew what they must do. Because they understood dogs, they opened the door one afternoon and they watched a collie go, not down the road to the right, or to the left, but straight across a field toward the south; going steadily at a trot, as if it knew it still had a long, long road to travel.
Ah, a thousand miles of tor and brae, of shire and moor, of path and road and plowland, of river and stream and burn and brook and beck, of snow and rain and fog and sun, is a long way, even for a human being. But it would seem too farmuch, much too farfor any dog to travel blindly and win through,
And yetand yetwho shall say why, when so many weeks had passed that hope against hope was dying, a boy coming out of school, out of the cloakroom that always smelled of damp wool drying, across the concrete play yard with the black, waxed slides, should turn his eyes to a spot by the school gate from force of five years of habit, and see there a dog? Not a dog, this one, that lifted glad ears above a proud, slim head with its black-and-gold mask; but a dog that lay weakly, trying to lift a head that would no longer lift, trying to wag a tail that was torn and blotched and matted with dirt and burs, and managing to do nothing much except to whine in a weak, happy, crying way as a boy on his knees threw arms about it, and hands touched it that had not touched it for many a day.
Then who shall picture the urgency of a boy, running, awkwardly, with a great dog in his arms, running through the village, past the empty mill, past the Labor Exchange, where the men looked up from their deep ponderings on life and the dole? Or who shall describe the high tones of a voicea boy's voice, calling as he runs up a path: "Mother! Oh, mother! Lassie's come home! Lassie's come home!"
Nor does anyone who ever owned a dog need to be told the sounds a man makes as he bends over a dog that has been his for many years; nor how a woman moves quickly, preparing foodwhich might be the family's condensed milk stirred into warm water; nor how the jowl of a dog is lifted so that raw egg and brandy, bought with precious pence, should be spooned in; nor how bleeding pads are bandaged, tenderly.
That was one day. There was another day when the woman in the cottage sighed with pleasure, for a dog lifted itself to its feet for the first time to stand over a bowl of oatmeal, putting its head down and lapping again and again while its pinched flanks quivered,
And there was another day when the boy realized that, even now, the dog was not to be his again. So the cottage rang again with protests and cries, and a woman shrilling: "Is there never to be no more peace in my house and home?" Long after he was in bed that night the boy heard the rise and fall of the woman's voice, and the steady, reiterative tone of the man's. It went on long after he was asleep.
In the morning the man spoke, not looking at the boy, saying the words as if he had long rehearsed them.
"Thy mother and me have decided upon it that Lassie shall stay here till she's better. Anyhow, nobody could nurse her better than us. But the day that t' duke comes back, then back she goes, too, For she belongs to him, and that's honest, too. Now tha has her for a while, so be content."
* * * * *
In childhood, "for a while" is such a great stretch of days when seen from one end. It is a terribly short time seen from the other.
The boy knew how short it was that morning as he went to school and saw a motorcar driven by a young woman. And in the car was a graythatched, terrible old man, who waved a cane and shouted: "Hi! Hi, there! Damme, lad! You there! Hi!"
it was no use running, for the car could go faster than you, and soon it was beside you and the man was saying: "Damme, Philippa, will you make this smelly thing stand still a moment? Hi, lad!"
"You're What's-'is-Name's lad, aren't you?"
"Ma feyther's Joe Carraclough."
"I know. I know. Is he home now?"
"No, sir. He's away to Allerby. A mate spoke for him at the pit and he's gone to see if there's a chance."
"When'll he be back?"
"I don't know. I think about tea."
"Eh, yes. Well, yes. I'll drop round about fivish to see that father of yours. Something important."
It was hard to pretend to listen to lessons. There was only waiting for noon. Then the boy ran home.
"Mother! T' duke is back and he's coming to take Lassie away."
"Eigh, drat my buttons. Never no peace in this house. Is tha sure?"
"Aye. He stopped me. He said tell feyther he'll be round at five. Can't we hide her? Oh, mother!"
"Nay, thy feyther"
"Won't you beg him? Please, please. Beg feyther to"
"Young Joe, now it's no use. So stop thy teasing! Thy feyther'll not lie. That much I'll give him. Come good, come bad, he'll not lie."
"But just this once, mother. Please beg him, just this once. Just one lie wouldn't hurt him. I'll make it up to him. I will. When I'm growed up, I'll get a job. I'll make money. I'll buy him thingsand you, too. I'll buy you both anything you want if you'll only"
For the first time in his trouble the boy became a child, and the mother, looking over, saw the tears that ran openly down his contorted face. She turned her face to the fire, and there was a pause. Then she spoke.
"Joe, tha mustn't," she said softly. "Tha must learn never to want nothing in life like that. It don't do, lad. Tha mustn't want things bad, like tha wants Lassie."
The boy shook his clenched fists in impatience.
"It ain't that, mother. Ye don't understand. Don't ye seeit ain't me that wants her. It's her that wants us! That's what made her come all them miles. It's her that wants us, so terrible bad!"
The woman turned and stared. It was as if, in that moment, she were seeing this child, this boy, this son of her own, for the first time in many years. She turned her head down toward the table. It was surrender.
"Come and eat, then," she said. "I'll talk to him. I will that, all right. I feel sure he won't lie. But I'll talk to him, all right. I'll talk to Mr. Joe Carraclough. I will indeed!"
* * * * *
At five that afternoon, the Duke of Rudling, fuming and muttering, got out of a car at a cottage gate to find a boy barring his way. This was a boy who stood, stubbornly, saying fiercely: "Away wi' thee! Thy tyke's net here!"
"Damme, Philippa, th' lad's touched," the duke said. "He is. He's touched."
Scowling and thumping his stick, the old duke advanced until the boy gave way, backing down the path out of the reach of the waving blackthorn stick.
"Thy tyke's net here," the boy protested.
"What's he saying?" the girl asked.
"Says my dog isn't here. Damme, you going deaf? I'm supposed to be deaf, and I hear him plainly enough. Now, ma lad, what tyke o' mine's net here?"
As he turned to the boy, the duke spoke in broadest Yorkshire, as he did always to the people of the cottagesa habit which the Duchess of Rudling, and many more members of the duke's family, deplored.
"Coom, coom, ma lad. Whet tyke's net here?"
"No tyke o' thine. Us hasn't got it." The words began running faster and faster as the boy backed away from the fearful old man who advanced. "No tyke could have done it. No tyke can come all them miles. It isn't Lassie. It's another one that looks like her. It isn't Lassie!"
"Why, bless ma heart and sowl," the duke puffed. "Where's thy father, ma lad?"
The door behind the boy opened, and a woman's voice spoke.
"If it's Joe Carraclough ye want, he's out in the shedand been there shut up half the afternoon."
"What's this lad talking abouta dog of mine being here?"
"Nay," the woman snapped quickly. "He didn't say a tyke o' thine was here. He said it wasn't here."
"Well, what dog o' mine isn't here, then?"
The woman swallowed, and looked about as if for help. The duke stood, peering from under his jutting eyebrows. Her answer, truth or lie, was never spoken, for then they heard the rattle of a door opening, and a man making a pursing sound with his lips, as he will when he wants a dog to follow, and then Joe Carraclough's voice said: "This is t' only tyke us has here. Does it look like any dog that belongs to thee?"
With his mouth opening to cry one last protest, the boy turned. And his mouth stayed open. For there he saw his father, Joe Carraclough, the collie fancier, standing with a dog at his heelsa dog that sat at his left heel patiently, as any well-trained dog should doas Lassie used to do. But this dog was not Lassie. In fact, it was ridiculous to think of it at the same moment as you thought of Lassie.
For where Lassie's skull was aristocratic and slim, this dog's head was clumsy and rough. Where Lassie's ears stood in twin-lapped symmetry, this dog had one ear draggling and the other standing up Alsatian fashion in a way to give any collie breeder the cold shivers. Where Lassie's coat was rich tawny gold, this dog's coat had ugly patches of black; and where Lassie's apron was a billowing stretch of snow-white, this dog had puddles of off-color blue-merle mixture. Besides, Lassie had four white paws, and this one had one paw white, two dirty-brown, and one almost black.
That is the dog they all looked at as Joe Carraclough stood there, having told no lie, having only asked a question. They all stood, waiting the duke's verdict.
But the duke said nothing. He only walked forward, slowly, as if he were seeing a dream. He bent beside the collie, looking with eyes that were as knowing about dogs as any Yorkshireman alive. And those eyes did not waste themselves upon twisted ears, or blotched marking, or rough head. Instead they were looking at a paw that the duke lifted, looking at the underside of the paw, staring intently at five black pads, crossed and recrossed with the scars where thorns had lacerated, and stones had torn.
For a long time the duke stared, and when he got up he did not speak in Yorkshire accents anymore. He spoke as a gentleman should, and he said: "Joe Carraclough. I never owned this dog. 'Pon my soul, she's never belonged to me. Never!"
Then he turned and went stumping down the path, thumping his cane and saying: "Bless my soul. Four hundred miles! Damme, wouldn't ha' believed it. Dammefive hundred miles!"
He was at the gate when his granddaughter whispered to him fiercely.
"Of course," he cried. "Mind your own business. Exactly what I came for. Talking about dogs made me forget. Carraclough! Carraclough! What're ye hiding for?"
"I'm still here, sir."
"Ah, there you are. You working?"
"Eigh, now. Working," Joe said. That's the best he could manage.
"Yes, working, working!" The duke fumed.
"Well, now" Joe began.
Then Mrs. Carraclough came to his rescue, as a good housewife in Yorkshire will.
"Why, Joe's got three or four things that he's been considering," she said, with proper display of pride. "But he hasn't quite said yes or no to any of them yet."
"Then say no, quick," the old man puffed. "Had to sack Hynes. Didn't know a dog from a drunken filly. Should ha' known all along no Londoner could handle dogs fit for Yorkshire taste. How much, Carraclough?"
"Well, now," Joe began.
"Seven pounds a week, and worth every penny," Mrs. Carraclough chipped in. "One o' them other offers may come up to eight," she lied, expertly. For there's always a certain amount of lying to be done in life, and when a woman's married to a man who has made a lifelong cult of being honest, then she's got to learn to do the lying for two.
"Five," roared the dukewho, after all, was a Yorkshireman, and couldn't help being a bit sharp about things that pertained to money.
"Six," said Mrs. Carraclough.
"Five pound ten," bargained the duke, cannily.
"Done," said Mrs. Carraclough, who would have settled for three pounds in the first place. "But, o' course, us gets the cottage too."
"All right," puffed the duke. "Five pounds ten and the cottage. Begin Monday. But-on one condition. Carraclough, you can live on my land, but I won't have that thick-skulled, screw-lugged, gay-tailed eyesore of a misshapen mongrel on my property. Now never let me see her again. You'll get rid of her?"
He waited, and Joe fumbled for words. But it was the boy who answered, happily, gaily: "Oh, no, sir. She'll be waiting at school for me most o' the time. And, anyway, in a day or so we'll have her fixed up and coped up so's ye'd never, never recognize her."
"I don't doubt that," puffed the duke, as he went to the car. "I don't doubt ye could do just exactly that."
A long time afterward, the girl said: "Don't sit there like a lion on the Nelson column. I thought you were supposed to be a hard man."
"Fiddlesticks, m'dear, I'm a ruthless realist. For five years I've sworn I'd have that dog by hook or crook, and now, egad, at last I've got her."
"Pooh! You had to buy the man before you could get his dog."
"Well, perhaps that's not the worst part of the bargain."