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       Penny, p.12

           Hal Borland
 
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  We drove on, and I asked, “Do you want to stop in Barrington and have supper?”

  “Let’s go on home and just—well, be glad we went. We had to know.”

  “We still don’t know. I don’t.”

  “We know that chapter, anyway. Enough. That rounds it out for me. But I do wonder how it will end.”

  We went home, thinking the Penny story was closed, regardless of how it might end for Sybil.

  Two weeks later Sybil called. Barbara took the call, then came back to the living room and said, “Sybil. Penny’s gone.”

  “Again?”

  “Yet. She never did come back. Sybil hasn’t seen her since that morning when she bolted out the door, the day we went up there. Nobody else has seen her, since she had lunch at Marion’s. She simply dropped out of sight.”

  “What does Sybil think?”

  “She doesn’t know what to think.”

  “Was she upset?”

  “No. Hurt, more than anything else.”

  “Well, that was a nice memorial service.”

  Barbara sat silent, looking at the fire. “What do you suppose happened, anyway? Did she hitch a ride with someone going to Florida? Or Arizona? Did she light out and just keep going? Did she get hit by a car or a truck and crawl off into the brush and die?”

  “Not that,” I said. “If Penny got hurt she would demand an ambulance and a nurse and an intern—and get them! And a private room in the hospital.”

  “All right. Have it your way. Suppose you tell me just what is your version of what happened. And when you get through, I’ll tell you my version.”

  So we spent the whole evening telling each other what happened to Penny.

  Thirteen

  Abby, I said, starting my version of the story, was suspiciously friendly that morning. Penny had not even had breakfast when Abby came over to her and said, “We’re going to miss you, darling. We’ll miss you terribly.”

  Penny knew that tone. She sniffed. “I can’t truthfully say I wish I could say as much.”

  Abby smiled, that smirk which was little more than a deepening of her age lines. “Penny, dear, you needn’t try to tell us. We know how you feel. But maybe those friends of yours with that great big estate and all those servants will let you come and visit us once in a while. Then you can tell us more of your tall tales about life among the grandees.”

  Sybil was setting out Penny’s breakfast. “Big-ear Abby,” Penny said under her breath. “You can hear a bit of gossip a mile off, can’t you? How would you like to have one of those big ears chewed off?”

  “Oh, darling! Touchy this morning, aren’t you?” Abby showed her old, worn teeth in a false smile. Then she asked, “They are coming, aren’t they?”

  Penny turned to the dish of canned dog food. She didn’t really like it, but she always ate the morning meal because she never knew what the rest of the day would bring.

  “They’re coming today, aren’t they?” Abby persisted.

  “Oh, go scratch your fleas!” Penny snapped. “What business is it of yours, anyway?”

  Sybil heard them but didn’t understand what they were saying. “Abby,” she ordered, “go away and let Penny alone. You’ve had your breakfast.”

  Abby went back to the other dogs and whispered something at which they all laughed. But they left Penny alone, and when she had finished eating she went to her blanket, licked her face clean and pretended to doze while Sybil took up breakfast for Bob. She called him and he came, dressed for town, smelling of shaving lotion. They ate in the alcove and Penny could hear every word they said. Most of it was unimportant, but Penny caught things like, “They said they would be here around two-thirty.… No, I don’t think they will want to take her. They just want to see her. But if they should want her back … well, she never has really settled down here.… She loves it here, Bob. It’s just that—Yes, I know. She’s a ‘free soul.’ … Well, she is. Are you sure you can’t be back by then? I’d like you to meet them.… I’ll see.”

  Then they had finished breakfast. Penny knew the routine on going-to-town days. He would go upstairs, be gone five minutes, come back with his coat on, say, “Well, I’ll get going,” glance at the dogs, say “Good-bye, dogs.” They would yelp at him, in chorus, Abby leading. The expected response. He would go to the door, open it, turn to kiss Sybil and leave.

  Penny stood up, stretched casually, eased over toward the door. Bob came downstairs, and Abby began to yelp almost before he gave the signal. He laughed and went to the door, unlatched it, turned to kiss Sybil. And Penny made her dash. The door was open a crack. She struck it with her shoulder, pushed, pushed it full open, almost upset Bob and was outside, free.

  There was loud talk and a chorus of barking inside. Bob came out and shouted, “Penny! Come back here, Penny!”

  Penny moved toward the garage, to have room to maneuver. Sybil came out, trying to hide the leash in her hand. “Come, Penny,” she urged, soothing. “Come on, like a good dog. Come, Penny.”

  Penny debated a moment. Some days she let them think they could catch her and kept them cajoling and threatening for half an hour. She decided not to play that game today. If Big-mouth Abby had kept quiet, she might have, but she wasn’t feeling playful now. She wanted to get away from them, all of them. She turned and trotted down the driveway toward the road.

  She was almost at the gateway when she heard Bob’s car coming. She turned aside into the bushes, just in case he decided to stop and try to collar her. But he didn’t stop. Penny went back to the driveway, followed him a moment, then turned and went the opposite direction. There wasn’t much action in that direction. She knew that. But she refused to follow Bob’s car, just on general principles.

  There was one place up the road a few miles where she usually was welcome. She didn’t often go there because they had a cat she didn’t like, one of those big, hairy Persian things that put on airs and tried to make Penny feel like a scrounger. The last time she was there Penny got so fed up with that cat’s insolence that she chased her up a tree. The woman called Penny a very bad-mannered dog and said she wouldn’t be welcome there if she didn’t mend her ways. But maybe she had forgotten by now. No harm just stopping by, to see.

  She trotted up the road, in no hurry at all. The day was young. She wondered how her Connecticut People, as she still called them, were by now. All right, so she had told some fancy stories about life with them on the farm. It had been fun most of the time. She wondered if the cows were still there—vicious, dog-killing bulls, in her stories. And the highway trucks, prehistoric monsters. And the sweeper, a fearful dog-eating dragon. None of the other dogs had ever seen a dog-eating dragon, let alone challenging it, stopping it in its tracks.

  They were due about two-thirty, Sybil had said. They would be on time. They were punctual. He had always put Penny to bed at eight-thirty, got her up at five-thirty, on the dot. Gruff, but pleasant enough if you did things his way. Made quite a fuss if you didn’t. As for Her, she was softhearted, thought Penny was a dear. Most of the time.… Well, she might go back and look them over. Or she might not, depending on what the day brought.

  A big truck came roaring down the road, and she moved over onto the grassy shoulder to be well out of its way. A bird was there, a long-billed flicker working an anthill. When the big truck whooshed past, the rush of air blew the flicker right off the ground. It almost knocked Penny over. The bird fluttered in the air, caught itself and flew away. Penny trotted on, telling herself a brand new story about the prehistoric monster that could blow an eagle into the air with one puff of its breath.

  She came in sight of the house with the big, hairy cat and left the road to take a shortcut. As she crawled through a fence her license tag was snagged in a loop of wire. Brought up short, she braced her legs, hauled back and jammed the tag still tighter. She tossed her head from side to side, braced all four legs and jerked. The brass tag was worn thin at the top, from all her jingling travel. It gave way, ripped loose from the
link to her collar. She was free. And, in a legal sense, she was anonymous, an untagged dog.

  The incident annoyed her, but only briefly. She crossed the field to the house. No one was there, not even the cat. The house was closed and shuttered. But instead of going back to the highway at once she crossed the field back of the house, came to the woodland, put up a rabbit and had a good run. Finally the rabbit ran in at an old stone wall and Penny, after sniffing the wonderful smells—the wall had been haven for many rabbits, a skunk or two, a fox and several raccoons—turned back. Hot from the chase, she wanted a drink. There was a brook near the house with the big, hairy cat. She went back there, drank, rested in the shade. Then she decided to go see Marion.

  It was getting toward noon when she arrived at Marion’s house, a good time to get there. She went to the kitchen door and barked politely. She was always the lady with Marion. Marion answered her bark, invited her in, rubbed her ears, said sweet nothings and told her to go lie down on the big, soft sofa till lunch was ready. And when lunch was ready Marion dished up a special plate for Penny. Not steak, but some kind of stew. Penny ate it, ladylike, not spattering one drop on the floor, and licked her chops and thanked Marion with her eyes. Then she went back to the sofa and went to sleep. She dreamed about her Connecticut People and wakened with a start. It was almost time for them to arrive at Sybil’s. But she didn’t leap down and dash to the door. She yawned and stretched and made it all seem very casual. But when Marion let her out she headed for the shortcut.

  She hadn’t taken the shortcut in months. It led across an old pasture and through a woodland, past a farm with two hounds, one old and grumpy, the other young and rather handsome. The last time she went that way the old hound had threatened to tear her to bits, and both of them had chased her. She had run, but just enough to make them feel important: then she had let them catch up and learn that she was a girl. She didn’t often use her sex to put a dog in his place, but there were occasions when a touch of femininity came in handy.

  As she crossed the field and went through the woodland she wondered if those hounds were still there. The young one, she remembered, had something—well, something that made her remember. She came to the farm and, as before, the hounds came charging out of the dooryard. And as before, she let them chase her a little way, then catch up. The old one was grizzled about the muzzle and stiff in the hocks, but the young one was even better looking than she remembered. He was all apologies. “Haven’t I seen you before?” he asked. One of that kind. But she played his game. He nosed her and rubbed shoulders and danced around, and when she went on he accompanied her. The old hound grumbled, “Wasting your time on a nobody, a little bitch that came out of the woods.” But the young hound called him “an envious old has-been pooch” and strutted like a show dog. The two of them, Penny and the young hound—“Just call me Mack, darling”—went down the lane together.

  Penny forgot all about her people from Connecticut. She pretended that she picked up a rabbit scent and went dashing off across a pasture, just to see if Mack would follow. He did. Then he pretended that he had a fox scent. She followed him. But he outdistanced her so far he had to have his imaginary fox circle back past her to give her a chance to catch him. They rolled in the grass. They nipped each other’s ears. They yelped at each other. They chased each other into an old sheep pasture with a winding road at the foot of the hill. Mack became more and more insistent. Penny dodged and twisted and scrambled down the gravelly hillside. Mack, trying to turn and follow her, lost his footing, rolled into a clump of hardhack and was twenty yards behind when Penny darted through the hedgerow onto the winding blacktop road. She was looking back, watching for Mack, and didn’t hear or see the low white car with red racing stripes.

  Brakes squealed. Tires skidded. A girl screamed, “There’s a dog!” Penny looked up just in time to see the black width of a tire and try to dodge. She didn’t quite make it, but instead of being hit squarely and crushed like a bug under a thumb she got a glancing blow that caved in her ribs and knocked her into the roadside grass. The car came to a stop fifty yards beyond and a blonde girl leaped out, came running back, a young man right behind her. The girl knelt beside Penny, whispered, “Oh, you poor darling,” and began to cry.

  The man asked, “Dead?”

  The girl shook her head. “Very badly hurt, though. See those poor ribs? She’s barely breathing.” Very gently, she picked Penny up in her arms.

  The young man looked at Penny’s collar, shook his head. “No tag. She doesn’t belong to anyone. Just a stray.”

  “I don’t believe it!” the girl exclaimed. “It’s an expensive collar. Besides, she’s a beautiful dog. Somebody loves her. She has a home.”

  “So what do we do now?”

  “Take her to a vet. Or to a hospital. Somewhere where they will take care of her.”

  They carried Penny back to the car and the girl held her in her lap as they drove on. Penny drifted off into her own dreams.

  She had been hurrying back to Sybil’s, to meet her people from Connecticut. Being careful, as she always was, watching and listening for cars and trucks. And suddenly, out of nowhere, this great big fearful monster, a monster that could blow an eagle right out of the air with one breath, appeared and swished its tail at her as it passed. And just like that, with one swish of its tail, she was knocked clear off the road, fearfully hurt.

  Then the ambulance had come, the big white ambulance, and a beautiful young blonde nurse named Gloria and a taciturn young intern named Dr. Fairfield. They put her on the stretcher and the nurse held Penny’s paw and smoothed her forehead with her cool hand. The intern checked her heart with his stethoscope and said, “Plasma. She needs plasma,” and he inserted the needle, connected the tubing, hung the bottle of plasma on the hook. Gloria said Penny’s pulse was fluttery, so the intern gave her an injection.

  Gloria said, “I wish we knew who she is. But there’s not a scrap of identification. What is your name, dear? Can you hear me?”

  Penny tried to rouse from the merciful coma but couldn’t speak.

  “Try hard, darling. Tell me your name.”

  Penny finally managed to whisper, “Penny … royal … prin—”

  “Pennyroyal!” Gloria exclaimed. “Not the Princess Pennyroyal!”

  Penny nodded slightly, but even that movement hurt dreadfully.

  “Dr. Fairfield,” Gloria said to the intern in an awed voice, “this is the Princess Pennyroyal!”

  “Not—not the—Are you sure?”

  “Positive. Haven’t you seen her picture? I have, in Life and Time and Newsweek. And she just told me! Oh, Dr. Fairfield, we must save her!”

  Dr. Fairfield gave Penny two more injections, then told the driver of the ambulance, “Call the hospital and rally all hands. We have Princess Pennyroyal with internal injuries and in an advanced state of shock from a car accident!” There was a series of squawks and squeals from the closed-circuit radio. The driver increased his speed to 60, 70, then 80 miles an hour. His siren screamed. Penny twitched, tried to howl, had to be quieted by Gloria’s gentle, loving hands.

  The nurses and two interns were waiting at the emergency entrance. They slid the stretcher out of the ambulance and in no time they were in the elevator, on the way up to the operating room. Dr. Bornemann and Dr. Smith had been waiting at the elevator. Dr. Bornemann held his stethoscope to her chest, listened intently. Dr. Smith took her pulse, nodded to Dr. Bornemann, who nodded in answer.

  Out of the elevator, into the operating room. Dr. Lovallo was there, in his green suit. “How is her heart?” he asked Dr. Bornemann, still listening to his stethoscope. Dr. Bornemann nodded slowly, gravely. “Shall we operate?” Dr. Lovallo asked.

  Dr. Smith said, “Operate, or she’ll die like a dog.” His voice was gruff with emotion.

  Penny rallied and swam momentarily into consciousness. Lights everywhere, blinding lights overhead. Nurses and doctors around her, in green robes, all with masks over their mouths. “P
lease,” Penny whispered, and everyone in the room was instantly silent. “If I should not survive—” One of the nurses began to sob, quickly stifled it. “If,” Penny went on, “I am unable to respond to your best efforts, please notify my family.”

  “Yes!” said Dr. Smith, bending close. “Yes! What address?”

  “Just—just The Farm. My family on the farm—” Penny’s voice faded away and she lapsed into unconsciousness again.

  The anesthetist glanced at Dr. Lovallo, who nodded. The needle was inserted, the mask adjusted. A few minutes later Dr. Lovallo said, “The scalpel, please,” and began the operation.

  It was a long and difficult operation, but at last all the doctors agreed that everything possible had been done. They sighed and looked solemn, and one of them said, “Now it is out of our hands.” Penny was taken to the recovery room, and from there to the private room.

  It was a big corner room known as the Queen’s Room. There Penny swam up through the mists and was vaguely aware of her surroundings. The room was warm, airy, full of sweet scents. The big windowsill was banked with flowers. Two nurses were there, a floor nurse named Diane and a private nurse named Rose.

  “Well,” Diane said, “we are waking up, are we?”

  And Rose said, “We are very glad to see you, your Highness.”

  Diane brought a glass of cool water, with a sipper. Rose brought a cool, damp washcloth and gently washed her face. Word spread that Penny was awake, and others came: Alma with her gentle smile, Nancy to see that everything possible was done to make her comfortable. Penny had a dreadful headache and there was nothing in her abdomen but a huge, throbbing mass of pain. It hurt to breathe. Diane saw her wince and immediately gave her an injection.

 
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