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The dog who came to stay.., p.14
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       The Dog Who Came to Stay: A Memoir, p.14

           Hal Borland
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  For two days that continued. Once he got all the way back to that patch of alder brush, and he was so surly when I went after him that I wondered if he would bite me. He didn’t, but he made it quite clear that we were no longer friends. Not even acquaintances, for that matter, He was a prisoner, and nothing more.

  After three days of it I said to Barbara, “It begins to look hopeless. I don’t know what to do.”

  “He just doesn’t like it here any more,” she said. “What do you do when a dog gets that way?”

  “Get rid of him. We’ve tried everything.” We had. We had petted, pampered, humored, pleaded, and got no response from him. None. Life wasn’t worth living, certainly not here with us. If I let him out and off the leash, off he went. Back to that patch of brush, where he skulked and howled.

  I went to the phone, called Dave, the dog warden. I told him what had happened. “What do you want to do?” Dave asked. I told him I didn’t know. “Has he turned vicious?” No, I said, though I wasn’t sure that he mightn’t if this went on much longer. And Dave said, “I’ll come up and we’ll see.”

  Dave arrived, in his pickup truck with a stout cage in the back. His little girl, about six years old, was with him. Dave told her to stay in the car. I brought Pat out, on the chain, and Dave looked at him and said, “He’s a nice dog. I wouldn’t put him away for anything.” He held out his hand and Pat sniffed it and looked away. The little girl shouted, “Daddy, can’t I get out and play with the doggy?”

  Dave glanced at Pat, considered for a moment and said, “All right, come on.”

  She got out of the car, ran to Pat. Dave watched, alert. So did I. She rubbed Pat’s ears, then hugged him, and he turned and licked her face once. She laughed, and Pat looked away. I drew a deep sigh of relief. Dave said, “Take the chain off of him.” I loosened the chain. Pat looked around, at all of us, and went out to the road and trotted away, up toward Charley’s.

  I glanced at Dave and he nodded, and I shouted at Pat. He glanced back and hesitated, then went on.

  We caught up with him half a mile up the road and brought him back. Barbara had come out. “What are you going to do?” she asked. “You’re not going to—to destroy him, are you?”

  Dave shook his head. “He’s too nice a dog to destroy.” He thought for a minute, then said, “There’s a farmer over in New York that wants a dog. A nice man. How about if I take him over there?”

  I looked at Barbara. She looked at me, then at Pat. “Pat,” she whispered. He didn’t even look up.

  “How far away is this farmer?” I asked.

  “Forty, fifty miles.” Dave looked at Pat. “He’s a farm dog. He ought to like it there. Nothing wrong with him, really. He just doesn’t like it here, I guess. Not any more. He blames you for what happened, apparently. And he might turn vicious with you.”

  I nodded. That’s the way it looked to me. And there was no use prolonging it. “All right,” I said, “go ahead. Take him away.”

  Dave helped his little girl into the truck. He came back and reached for the lead chain, led Pat to the car, opened the door and urged him in. Pat climbed in, got up on the seat beside the little girl and sat down. Dave tossed the chain to me, glanced at Pat and his little girl, smiled, and started the motor.

  “Send me a bill,” I said.

  Dave grinned and shook his head.

  Barbara called, “Pat! Good-bye, Pat!” Pat didn’t even look around. Barbara turned and hurried to the house.

  Then they were gone.

  I put the chain away in the woodshed, and I went in the back door. Barbara was at the kitchen sink, just standing there with the water running. She had been crying. But she turned to me with a smile and asked, “What do you want for lunch?”

  “Anything,” I said.

  She turned off the water. “She was a cute little girl. Darling! What was her name?”

  “I don’t know. Dave just called her Honey.”

  “Why don’t we just have a salad? I’m not hungry.”

  “I’m not either.”

  And suddenly she burst out, “He wouldn’t even look at me when I said good-bye to him!”

  “He had other things on his mind.”

  “Salad and a sandwich. How about deviled ham?”

  “That’ll be fine.”

  She turned to me. “Well, say something! Talk about him! Say you’re sorry! Say something!”

  “What is there to say? Of course I’m sorry. He was a gentleman, and we knew him for a while, and now he’s gone away. It’s all over with.”

  She opened the refrigerator, stood there, forgetting what she wanted to get. She slowly closed the door. Then she said, “It’s a lousy shame! There should have been something we could do about it!”

  “There wasn’t.”

  She opened the refrigerator door again, got out a head of lettuce. “You’d better phone and tell Charley.”

  I called Charley. He said, “I guess that was the only thing to do. We’ll miss him.” Charley didn’t want to talk about it either.

  I came back to the kitchen. Barbara was making the sandwiches. “At least,” she said, “he didn’t put him in that cage. That would have been awful, to see him go in that cage.”


  REMOVE ONE MEMBER OF the household and the absence is felt everywhere you turn. When I got up the next morning and had set the coffee to cook I automatically went outdoors and started to Pat’s house, only to remember and turn back. When I had eaten breakfast I reached under the dish closet for the box of corn flakes to prepare Pat’s morning snack, then set it down again. In my study, at the typewriter, I would write a page or two, then look up, wonder where Pat was, listen for him downstairs, asking to be let in. And in the evening, when nine o’clock came, I instinctively looked for him to come and say it was his bedtime.

  Barbara missed him as much as I did. The second morning we were in the garden, she thinning carrots, I hoeing German weed out of the sweet corn. She sat back on her heels, pushed the hair out of her eyes with her wrist, and said, “How do you suppose he learned not to step on the plants in the garden?” It was uncanny, the way he could run full tilt across the garden and not step on one plant.

  “For that matter,” I said, “how did he learn the word ‘garden’?” If he started to cross a flower bed, all I had to say was, “Garden, Pat,” and he turned aside.

  Barbara sighed and went back to her thinning.

  That afternoon we went out in the boat. We were anchored upstream, lines out, fishing for perch. Some movement caught my eye. I looked up, saw a kingfisher dive with a little splash. And Barbara jerked around, looked, then caught her breath and shook her head. “I thought I heard him swimming the river,” she said. And when we came home at dusk we both were watching for him, expecting him to be waiting at the dock.

  Charley stopped past. We talked crops and weather, both of us avoiding the subject we wanted to talk about, both refusing to mention it. He drove on.

  Albert was less reticent. I didn’t know why, at first. He hailed me as I was on my way to the village. “Sorry to hear about Pat,” he said. “Hear you had to send him away.”

  I said yes. To a farm over in New York State.

  “Suzy stands and waits every morning and can’t seem to understand why he doesn’t come. She’s lonesome, I guess, with old Teddy gone too.”

  “Teddy? What happened to Teddy?”

  “I had to put him away. Poor old fellow got sick the other night and I called the vet. He said it wasn’t any use doctoring him, old as he was. He was fourteen. That would be eighty-five or ninety in a man, wouldn’t it?”

  “Around ninety, I think.”

  Albert shook his head. Then he said, “You miss them, don’t you?”

  The days became almost a week. Albert started haying. The days were hot, steamy. Suzy came up one morning and sniffed at all the bushes, went to the back steps, whined. When I went out, she looked at me, questioning. Then she went and lay down in the side yard wh
ere Pat used to lie in the sun. She stayed almost an hour, then went back down the road, puzzled and dejected.

  We went fishing again that evening. The perch were biting and we stayed out late. I heard the telephone ringing as we drew up at the dock, but it had stopped before I could get in the house. I went back and secured the boat, put on the cover, fileted the fish. Back in the house, the phone rang again.

  It was Charley. “Out fishing?” he asked. There was a strange note in his voice.

  “Just got back. Was it you who called a little while ago?” “Yes. Want a dog?”

  There was something in his voice, some exultant note, that made me ask, “What’s his name?” Charley laughed. “He’s here!” “No!”

  “Yes! He got here about an hour ago. Thin as a rail and all worn out. I fed him and he’s here in the kitchen asleep right now.”

  “I’ll come up and get him.” “Better leave him here tonight.” “How did he act? Glad to be back?”

  “Tickled to death. A little sheepish, but—Look, if old Pat wants to stay here—well, he’s welcome. We’re going to keep him here in the valley somehow!”

  “Good! I’ll see you in the morning, Charley.” I turned to Barbara. She had guessed, from my end of the conversation, what had happened. “He’s back!” she exclaimed. “He came back!”

  “Not to us,” I reminded her. I felt let down. “To Charley’s, though! Back to the valley!” The more I thought about it, the more I wondered. Where did Pat come from, anyway? Not this time, but originally, when he first came to us. He wasn’t just a tramp dog. He had been raised in a good home, splendidly trained. He had a background. I had begun to forget that, he had become so much a part of our own household. Now I wondered why, when he was taken far off, to that New York farm, and ran away from there—he must have run away; why, I wondered, had he come back here to the valley instead of going back to his original home? If he was lost when he came here, surely he wasn’t lost this time, when he came back. He could just as easily have gone somewhere else, couldn’t he? Back to his original owner. If he could find his way back here, he could as easily have found his way to his earlier home. If not this time, then earlier, when he came here or any time during the past two years.

  I couldn’t find the answer. There didn’t seem to be an answer. Charley had come up with the nearest thing to an answer when he called Pat “a notional dog.” And that aroused a wry thought. Maybe he was all through with us. Maybe he had taken it into his notional head to stay with Charley.

  I mentioned that to Barbara. “Maybe,” she said.

  And I said, “All right, if that’s the way he wants it. Charley as much as said he’d be glad to keep Pat. And we wouldn’t have to make arrangements for him when we have to go away on a trip.” And I said, “I hope he decides to stay up there!”

  She looked at me and smiled. “Oh, I’m sure you do!”

  We called it a day, went to bed.

  I got up the next morning, early as usual, and made the coffee and went into the library to have my first cup and read the daily newspaper. Yesterday’s paper. It comes by mail, and I read it the next morning, having long ago broken myself of the habit of waiting impatiently for news that, if it is really important, can wait till I get to it. I sat there reading and sipping coffee, and about six o’clock I heard a sound on the porch. I looked over my shoulder, out the window.

  There was Pat. Just getting up from his old rug in the corner of the porch. He got up, yawned, stretched, and glanced in the window at me. I exclaimed, “Pat!” and he wagged his tail tentatively.

  I went to the door. He came slowly toward me, limping. He was stiff and sore, and his ribs showed beneath his dusty coat. He looked at me, questioning. I said, “Pat, you tramp!” and I held the door open for him.

  He came inside, hesitant, as though wondering if he dared. I said, “Where have you been?” and he nosed my hand. Then he turned away and went into the living room and lay down on the rug in front of the Franklin stove. I went over and sat down beside him and he licked my hands. I looked at his paws. The pads were sore, worn and cut from travel. He licked them, one by one, then began licking himself clean.

  Barbara heard us. She came to the head of the stairs and called, “Who’s there at this time of day?”

  “Who do you think?” I answered. “The prodigal!”

  “Pat!” she cried, and she came hurrying down the stairs.

  He got up to greet her, possibly reassured by my reception but more likely because he knew she would be more impulsive in her forgiveness than I had been. She exclaimed over him, rubbed his ears, then exclaimed, “Pat, you’re dirty! And you always were such a clean dog! And you are half starved!” She turned to me. “Kill the fatted calf, then give him a bath.”

  I went to the pantry, got a can of dog food. She brought a second can and handed it to me. “You seem to think he’s going to stay,” I said as I opened them.

  “Of course he is!”

  I put the food in his pan at the back steps and came inside to watch from the window. He ate, went across the road for a few minutes, then came to the front door to be let in. He seemed to expect to fit into the old routine. I got a pail and a sponge and took him outside to give him a bath. He submitted with little complaint, as though this were one of the penalties he had come back to face. Then he rolled in the grass and came up onto the front steps and lay down to let the morning sun finish drying him.

  Charley phoned a little later to ask if he was here. When I said yes, Charley sounded a little disappointed. “I let him out when I went out to milk, and next time I looked, he was gone. I figured he’d gone down to your place. At least to say hello. Well, I guess he’ll stay around now.”

  That afternoon I phoned Dave, the dog warden. He had been expecting me to call, he said. Figured it would take Pat about this long to get home. The farmer over in York State had phoned him three days ago, said Pat had left there. Dave hadn’t told me, not wanting to raise false hopes. “Seem to be settling down?” he finally asked. I said he seemed to be. “Nice dog,” Dave said. “My little girl begged me to keep him. But I’ve got three dogs already!”

  Pat lay around home, resting and healing his paws, for two days. Then he limped down the road after breakfast, visited Suzy for an hour, and came home. Before the week was out I heard the two of them battling a woodchuck in the lower pasture. And that evening when we went fishing, Pat went along. He prowled the riverbanks, swam the river twice, then hurried ahead when we turned back and was waiting at the dock to greet us.

  The past was past. The incident of the disreputable little yellow bitch was all over and a closed chapter. Eventually he went up to visit Charley again, but Charley said he didn’t go near the patch of alder brush down on the riverbank.

  Pat didn’t do much visiting, however, except to go down and see Suzy. He wanted to be near Barbara or me, though he was no more affectionate than he had ever been. When we were at our typewriters in the morning, he came to my study or lay at the head of the stairs, waiting for us to be through with this strange occupation, this peculiar tap-tap-tap thing we did. When we went out to work in the garden, he went along, to lie in the path just inside the gate and watch us. When we went to the village he watched us go, disappointed, and when we came back he danced to meet the car down the road, then barked his greeting and hurried to the porch to welcome us back, his people come home.

  He loved to ride in the car, but somehow he knew that he was seldom welcome when the two of us went anywhere. When I went alone, he quietly and politely asked to go along, trotting beside me to the garage and waiting to be invited. If I said, “Come on,” and opened the car door, he was in in a leap, sitting beside me and gravely watching the road. Unlike so many dogs, he never sat with his head out the window, ears flapping and tongue dripping. He was a dignified passenger, and he merely glanced at the dogs we passed, even when they barked at us. But the village was a place he had never explored, and it was full of interesting smells. He would happily
have got out and taken inventory; but I raised the windows within a few inches of the top and told him to stay when I went about my business.

  One afternoon I parked at the post office, tended to my business there, then went across the street to buy some office supplies. When I came back, there was no Pat. The windows were still up and I was sure he couldn’t have crawled through the three-inch space above them. Then I saw that the ventilator panel on the driver’s side was wide open. Somehow he had squeezed through there and got out.

  I looked up and down the street. Not a dog in sight. I went to the corner, and still no dog. Had he taken off again? I started back to the car, and Morris, the foxhunter, hailed me. He was grinning. “Looking for Pat?” he asked. I said yes, and Morris said, “He’s over in the next block. I saw him get out and watched to see what he’d do.”

  “Well, what did he do?”

  Morris laughed. “He said to tell you he had to see a dog about a man and he’d be back in a few minutes.”

  I turned away to go look for him, but Morris said, “Give him five minutes. He said to tell you not to worry. … Seen any foxes lately?”

  We talked foxes, and we talked fishing, and then I saw Morris look past me and smile. I turned and there was Pat, coming down the sidewalk, tail high and nonchalant. He went to the car and sat down and waited, and Morris said, “I told you. … Be seeing you when it’s bird season!”

  I went back to the car, opened the door, and Pat got in. He looked at Morris as I drove away, and something was said silently between them. Then he nosed my arm and looked up at me with a kind of dignified air of reassurance, practically saying, “You didn’t think I wouldn’t come back to the car, did you? After all, Boss, I would rather ride home than walk!”

  July passed, and August. It was an early fall, frost the first week in September. One misty morning about the middle of the month I looked out and saw a doe and two fawns under an old apple tree in the pasture only a hundred yards from the house. They were eating windfalls. They were late fawns, still showing traces of their spots. It was almost nine o’clock and Pat had been down at Albert’s on his morning visit for more than an hour. He should be on his way home. I stood at the window, watching for him, wondering what he would do when he saw the deer.

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