The Dog Who Came to Stay: A Memoir, p.13Hal Borland
I mentioned it to Charley. Charley said, “No. Pat doesn’t run deer. Last winter, up after rabbits, I jumped a deer and I tried to put Pat on the track, just to see. He wasn’t interested at all, wouldn’t even trail it. No, he’s chasing rabbits. Lots of them around, this year.”
I wasn’t convinced. Then, one morning, Pat himself answered the question. He went down to see Suzy, and half an hour later I heard him in the lower pasture. He was barking his “something cornered” signal. And another dog was barking too, a dog with a shrill, high-pitched voice. I took the .22 rifle and hurried down to see what was going on.
I came in sight of Pat just in time to see the end of the fight. Pat and Suzy had a woodchuck cornered. Suzy was dancing and barking and diverting the chuck’s attention. Pat closed in and finished the job. Then he picked up the dead chuck and headed for the fence row. Suzy bounced beside him, yapping triumphantly.
I turned and came back home.
The next day they caught another woodchuck down there. Before the week was out Albert reported that they were busy in that patch of his alfalfa that had been overrun by chucks the year before.
I came home and told Barbara. “Let’s see,” she said. “Suzy’s a pup. Mike was a pup. Do you suppose Pat just has to have another dog to look after and train? Or does he just need a playmate and hunting companion?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “But if Suzy wasn’t spayed—”
“But she is spayed. I doubt that sex is the answer. Anyway, Pat must be old enough to be Suzy’s grandfather.”
“Some day,” I said, “I must explain some of the facts of life. Dog life. Fritz, the collie I had when I was a boy, fathered a litter of pups when he was fourteen years old. The mother was a setter less than two years old. … But, as you say, Suzy is spayed.”
Pat and Suzy worked on the woodchucks in the alfalfa field for three weeks. I don’t know how many they cleaned out of there, and Albert said he lost count. Suzy, who apparently never learned to trail rabbits, despite Pat’s lessons, learned about woodchucks. She was light-footed as a fox and fast as a whippet. One morning on my way to the village I saw the two of them there in the alfalfa, and stopped to watch. They were working the field about twenty yards apart. Suddenly Pat stopped, sniffed, stiffened. Suzy came to attention, watching him. Pat barked twice. A woodchuck scrambled toward a den. Suzy streaked toward it from one side and Pat from the other, cutting off escape. The chuck was cornered. Both dogs closed in, barking, and the woodchuck couldn’t watch them both at the same time. Suzy found the first opening, closed in and made the kill.
I drove on, thinking that every move Suzy made was a move I had seen Pat make. Pat was a good teacher, and Suzy was an apt pupil.
By mid-June they had cleaned out the alfalfa patch and Pat had turned his attention to the home pasture again. Some mornings he brought Suzy up to hunt with him, and some mornings he hunted alone. His particular quarry was a big old grandfather chuck who lived in the fence row across the pasture back of the house and who sometimes came out to sun himself on a low ledge of rock that we had named the Resting Rock because we often sat there when we walked in the pastures. He was a cagey old boy and seemed to offer a special challenge to Pat. I sometimes thought that he taunted Pat by sitting there on the rock till the very last minute, watching Pat make his stealthy approach, then darting to his den just one jump ahead of Pat. It could have been a game, though I doubt that even canny old woodchucks ever play such games.
Pat was out there one morning, looking for Gramp, as we called the big chuck, when a strange yellow dog appeared from the brush up on the mountain. Pat barked a few times, then went closer. They nosed each other, and I saw Pat begin to strut. The other dog acted coy, dancing away, then waiting for Pat to approach again. I thought, Uh-oh! and I went outside and called to Pat. He was reluctant to come. I went part way across the pasture, ordering him, and finally he came toward me. The other dog followed. Just as I had suspected, she was a bitch. A nondescript little yellow bitch with so many strains mingled in her that I couldn’t even guess at her ancestry. And dirty and scrubby looking. But a bitch.
I took Pat by the collar and led him home. The yellow bitch followed. I put Pat in the house and closed the doors, and I went out and told the strange dog to be on her way. She backed off and whined, and I picked up a stick and tossed it at her. She turned and ran. Things had been thrown at her before. I chased her out to the road, tossed gravel at her, and she trotted up the road, looking back from time to time. I stood and watched till she was out of sight. Then I came in, telling myself that was that.
Pat wanted out. I told him to go lie down. He whined, begging, and I chased him up to my study and closed the door. He whined a little while longer, then quieted down. I told Barbara what had happened and warned her not to let Pat outdoors. We kept him in all morning. I took him out on a leash after lunch, then brought him inside again. And somehow forgot to hook the screen door.
Pat lay down, accusing me of cruel and unusual punishment. I said, “You stay home today. Understand?” He glared at me.
I came back to work. Half an hour later I heard the screen door slam. I went downstairs. No Pat. I looked out. No Pat. I went out to the road, and there he was, trotting up the road, tail high and every step intensely masculine.
Well, I thought, let him go and get it over with. He’ll be back for supper. But, I thought, I do wish you had better taste in women, Pat. That little yellow bitch!
Suppertime came, and no Pat. Dusk, and no Pat. Dark, and he still hadn’t come home. Barbara asked, “Hadn’t you better go look for him?”
“No. He’ll be back in the morning. He’ll have his spree and come crawling home, full of apology.”
“I wonder,” she said.
She was right. Morning came, and no Pat.
I waited till ten o’clock, then got in the car and cruised up the road. He was nowhere in sight. I stopped at Charley’s. Charley was at the cow barn. I greeted him and he said, “Looking for Pat?”
Charley jerked his head toward the river. “He’s down there, in a patch of brush. With that yellow cur-dog. Been there all night.”
“Raising a rumpus?”
“Quite a rumpus,” Charley said. “I was going to call you.”
“Who does she belong to?” I asked.
“Never saw her before.”
“I’ll go down and get him.”
Charley laughed wryly. “I tried to, myself. At two o’clock this morning. Couldn’t get near him. Chased them out of there and came back to bed, and in half an hour they were at it again, yowling and yipping. I almost got out the shotgun.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Well—” He sighed. “Go see if you can get him to come.”
I went. I hadn’t any trouble finding them. They were in a patch of alders not far from the riverbank. Pat heard me coming and broke away and backed into the brush. I called to him, then ordered him. The yellow bitch scuttled away. Pat turned and followed her. I followed the two of them, ordering Pat to come. He didn’t come, but finally he stood and waited while I went up to him. I snapped the leash on his collar and started back to the car. He came along without a struggle, until the yellow bitch began to whine. Then Pat lunged at the leash, did his best to get free. I held on and finally he gave up. But he whimpered his complaints and his entreaties all the way back to the car. The yellow bitch followed halfway, then turned and went back to the alders.
Charley said, “So you got him. Better tie him up for a few days, I guess … What’s got into you, Pat?”
Pat glowered at him. When I had spread the old blanket on the seat and urged Pat to get in, he struggled at the leash again, tried to bolt. I wore him down, got him in the car, closed the windows and drove home. Out of the car, he whined and begged, finally stood on his hind legs, put his forepaws on me and pleaded. It was no use. I got a rope, tied it to his collar and tethered him in the yard. He sat down, disconsolate, and I came in th
Five minutes later he began to howl, the most mournful howl you ever heard. I went out to him, and he begged again to be let loose. I said, “Not a chance. Settle down and get over it.” And I came back inside. Pat began whining and slowly built up to the howls again. Barbara, at her typewriter, said, “Now I know where Mike learned it! Isn’t there anything we can do to stop him?”
I went outside and scolded and threatened him with a whipping. He cowered and lay down and looked away, as much as saying, “Go ahead. Beat me. Either let me go or beat me to death!” And I said, “Melodrama won’t get you anything. Shut up and stop this nonsense!” I came back indoors.
More whining. Then silence. I thought I had finally won. Then I looked out. Pat was gone.
I went outdoors again. He had chewed the rope in two. Pat, who could be tethered with a string!
I picked up the leash, got in the car and drove up the road. I caught up with him, just below Charley’s place. He heard me coming, though, and left the road, looking back only once. Then he scuttled across the field toward the alder brush beside the river.
I parked in Charley’s barnyard again. Charley saw me and asked, “What happened?” I said, “He chewed the rope,” and I went down to the riverbank, angry and determined.
It took me half an hour to catch him that time, and when I had him on the leash he tried to grab the leash in his teeth and bite it in two. I slapped him across the muzzle, finally discouraged that idea, and hauled him back to the car and took him home. That time I got out the chain we had used on Mike. I chained him up.
He whined and howled and struggled with the chain all that afternoon. Life wasn’t worth living around here. I wore out a weekday edition of The New York Times trying to slap some sense into him, and still he howled and struggled at the chain.
Suppertime and I put his food out for him. He wouldn’t eat. Barbara suggested that maybe a walk would help. I said I doubted it, but I was willing to try anything. I took the leather leash, snapped it on his collar and started out, walking down the road. He balked. He didn’t want to go that way. We had a bit of a set-to, and he finally sulked along behind me for fifty yards or so. Then he jerked back, almost pulled free. I grabbed the leash with both hands, and he took a step toward me, got a bit of slack, caught the leash between his teeth and cut it cleanly in two. Then he spun and dashed up the road.
I got out the car and went after him again. That time he and the yellow bitch ran up the river as soon as they saw me coming. I chased them half a mile before I even made Pat slow up and listen. It was almost dark before I got the lead chain on him—I had taken the chain that time, not trusting either hemp or leather.
Charley was waiting for me at the car. “I just called the dog warden,” he said. “He’ll come and get her first thing in the morning. That should put a stop to it.” He looked at Pat. “Lord, I never saw such a notional dog! Pat, you are the dangdest determined dog I ever knew!”
I had to wrestle him into the car, but I got him home safely. I took him to his house, put him inside and closed and latched the door. I dragged myself to the house, tired out. “For a dime,” I said to Barbara, “I’d tell the dog warden to take Pat, too.”
“It’s been a rough day,” she said. “You’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep. I suppose Pat has his rights, too. Wasn’t it Dryden who said, ‘Love endures no tie’? Well, Pat certainly proved that today!”
“Pat,” I pointed out, “doesn’t know Dryden from Deuteronomy. And as for love, did you see that scrofulous little yellow bitch?”
“Only from a distance. But I’ve seen men make utter fools of themselves over very peculiar-looking little, uh, girls. Haven’t you?”
I was in no mood for argument or persiflage. I took a shower and she made me a sandwich and poured a glass of milk. I began to feel somewhat better, could almost believe Barbara when she said Pat probably would be all over it by morning.
We came up to the bedroom. I opened the window, and I heard Pat whining. Just as they had that morning, the whines built up to howls, long, drawn-out howls that had the melancholy of all time in them. I shouted to him to be quiet.
He was quiet just long enough for me to get stretched out in bed. Then the whining began again, slowly building up to heartrending cries. I started to get up. Barbara said, “Let him cry. He’ll get tired after while. I can take it if you can.”
Ten minutes and the howls subsided. I began to drift off to sleep. Then the whining began again. I tensed, waiting for the whines to become howls. They did. And eventually they subsided again.
That went on for an hour. The crying would cease and I would think at last he was going to quiet down for the night. I would yawn and settle down and begin to drowse, and if Pat didn’t actually begin to whine within five minutes I roused knowing he would. He did. Over, and over, and over.
Finally Barbara asked, “Are you awake?”
“Of course I’m awake!”
“I just thought, maybe he’s hungry. He didn’t eat his supper.”
“You think he’s howling for food?”
“He could be, couldn’t he?”
“Sometimes when I can’t sleep I get warm milk and crackers.” I didn’t answer.
“I’ll warm some milk if you want to take it out to him.” I still didn’t answer. “Are you asleep?”
“No! Pat doesn’t want warm milk!” “Then I’ll take it out to him.” She got out of bed. I sighed, got up, shuffled into slippers, put on a robe. And took the warm milk out to Pat’s house. I opened the door a crack, and had to brace myself—Pat lunged at it, almost knocked me down. Finally, blocking the entrance with my own body, I shoved the pan of milk inside and slammed and latched the door. There was a bang and a clatter and I knew the milk was all over the floor. Pat was no more interested in milk than I was in—well, in the Einstein theory, at that moment. I heard him kicking the empty pan around, and I went back to the house. He was crying before I got inside.
That was a night. Along about three o’clock in the morning I thought he was going to tear his house apart. I was sure I heard splintering timbers and the bang of a battering-ram. And then, for some reason, silence. I drowsily thought he had either broken his way out or killed himself, and I didn’t care which. I went to sleep.
I slept till almost seven o’clock. When I got up I remembered the night and went to the window and looked out. Pat’s house was still there, seemingly intact.
I dressed and went downstairs. I set the coffee to cook. Then I went outdoors, out to Pat’s house, to see if he was still alive.
Pat wasn’t there. The door was open, the latch broken. He had flung himself at it until it simply gave way. But that was minor damage. The inside was a wreck. I hadn’t been wrong when I thought I heard timbers splintering. He had torn up the boards that framed his bed, literally splintered them. With his teeth. He had torn strips off the two-by-fours that framed the house. He had frantically ripped at the door frame. This awed me. But the frenzy in him was shown by a minor thing. I had stowed half a roll of roofing paper in a corner of the house. He had attacked that roll, torn every foot of it to bits. The whole floor was littered with straw and torn scraps of roofing paper. A tornado couldn’t have done much more to the place. The only thing he had missed was the windows. Why he didn’t leap at the glass panes and break his way out simply, was a deep mystery.
I came back to the house, told Barbara what I had found, had a cup of coffee, and got in the car and drove up to Charley’s.
“Get some sleep?” I asked him.
“Till about three-thirty. What happened?”
I told him. He shook his head, unbelieving. Then he said, “But I guess it’s all over now. Dave was here just a little while ago. He got that yellow bitch and took her away.”
“Pat?” I asked.
“He’s down in the brush, was a little while ago. He wouldn’t come to me, and Dave didn’t try to catch him.”
I went down to
I put him in the car and brought him home. I fed him, and he ate a little, lay down for ten minutes, then ate again. I chained him in the side yard. He slept all morning, exhausted. I fed him again, then cleaned up his house, built a new box for his bed, burned the wreckage, the old straw and the torn-up roofing paper. I put new straw in, and I repaired the latch. Then I took him out there and put him to bed and locked the door.
He was quiet all afternoon. That evening I let him out and fed him again. I came in the house just for a minute, and when I went outside he was gone, his meal half eaten. I waited half an hour and he didn’t come back. Then I went up to Charley’s again. Yes, Charley said, he saw Pat cut across the lower pasture, down to the alder brush, about half an hour ago. And even while we stood there talking, Pat began to howl, down there in the brush.
I went down and got him.
He cried off and on all that night. The next morning he was tractable enough, though he looked at me as though I had beaten him with a club. I fed him, keeping him on the chain, and then I gave him a bath, for he was disreputably dirty. Then I brought him in the house. He lay on his rug, licking himself and refusing to look at either Barbara or me. We were the enemy, the cruel, cruel jailors. He hadn’t a kind look for either of us.
I let him out at noon, and he started up the road. I followed him in the car, caught up with him just below Charley’s place, and ordered him in the car. He got in, glaring but submissive. Back home again, he lay and glowered at us. When I let him out for supper he ate, then started up the road again. And again I brought him home. That night he howled only half a dozen times.
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