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       Penny, p.8

           Hal Borland
 
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  The next morning she seemed to be her usual self, greeted me happily when I let her out, ate her breakfast, went out for a little while, came back in, a model of good behavior. When I came up to my study she came along and lay here for an hour while I worked at the typewriter, then went downstairs in midmorning and went outside and lay on the front steps. The cows were in the pasture, and soon after she went outdoors they came to the watering trough to drink. I watched and saw Penny give them one uninterested look, then pay no more attention. She seemed to be thinking, Cows? So what? And I wondered if what happened the evening before had been just one of those things, a sudden impulse that wouldn’t be repeated.

  I went back to work. Nothing happened. The day passed peacefully. Late afternoon and we were on the porch again, and at five o’clock the cows began lining out for home and milking. Penny saw them, watched for a minute, got to her feet.

  “Penny,” I warned.

  She glanced at me and turned toward the steps.

  “Penny, come back here!”

  I grabbed at her, but too late. She scuttled down the steps and raced across the yard toward the pasture. I picked up the leash and ran after her. The cows saw her coming and turned and loped away. Penny yelped in high triumph and took off after them. I crawled through the wire fence and followed.

  It didn’t take quite as long to catch her that time. The cows didn’t run quite as fast. I kept hoping one of them would give Penny a kick that would send her sprawling, but it didn’t happen. It might have made her all the more determined, though. I finally caught her, snapped the leash on her collar and headed for home. She didn’t make half the struggle that she had the evening before. I took her home and locked her up and let her yowl. An hour later I took a can of dog food out there and gave her her supper in jail. She didn’t appreciate it.

  While Barbara and I ate our supper we discussed the problem.

  “There must be some way,” Barbara said, “to break her of chasing cows. You can break a dog of chasing cars, can’t you?”

  “Some dogs. Some are slow learners. They get killed.”

  “Penny is bright.”

  “Too bright for her own good.”

  “She should be a quick learner.”

  “Want to try teaching her?”

  “I wouldn’t know where to start.”

  “Well, first you learn to talk dog.”

  “Umm-hm. Second?”

  “Get Penny to listen while you talk to her.”

  Barbara thought for a long moment. “Any other bright ideas?”

  “Learn to talk cow.”

  “Yes?”

  “And tell a couple of those old milkers to stop running from Penny. Tell them to kick the stuffing out of her, though I’m not sure that would do much good.”

  “It wouldn’t. It would just make Penny mad. Now it’s just a game with her, like chasing a ball. If a cow kicked her it would turn into a feud.”

  We let it go at that. But half an hour later Barbara called the basset owner up in Massachusetts who had given the basic advice about caring for Penny even before she came to live with us. Barbara told her about the cow problem.

  “The obvious solution,” Sybil said, “is to get rid of the cows.”

  “Yes. But what is the sensible solution. We don’t even own the cows, so we can’t sell them, even to please Penny.”

  “Well, why not put her on a leash and take her out among the cows and show her that they don’t have to be chased?”

  “But she doesn’t chase them any other time of day. Just in the evening. She doesn’t pay any attention to them in the morning. They come up here every morning and she couldn’t care less.”

  “She sounds neurotic, to me.”

  “Do you know a good dog psychiatrist?”

  “Look,” Sybil said at last, “why don’t you bring her up here to me, if she won’t handle. We haven’t any cows. Maybe that’s the solution.”

  “You’d be surprised if we took you up on that.”

  “No, I mean it. I can find her a good home.”

  “We’ll have to think about it.” And Barbara hung up.

  Nine

  The next day Penny left the cows strictly alone. We stayed at home and watched her, just to see what she did. She was a model dog, came when called, ate her food, didn’t chase cows and went to bed without protest. The same the next day, and the next.

  Barbara said, “She’s settling down, at last.”

  And when this exemplary behavior continued for a week I said, “Well, life may be dull around here, but it’s worth living again.”

  “After what we’ve been through with that dog,” Barbara said, “I could do with weeks and weeks of this kind of dullness.”

  Penny was on her best behavior right through the second week, ebullient, lively, but starting no uproars. Maybe, I thought, she had finally got all that out of her system. Barbara and I both began to relax.

  Looking back later, we wondered why we were surprised that it didn’t last. Some dogs, like some people, simply can’t abide a quiet life. Life isn’t life for them unless things are happening. Maybe they have a heightened sense of drama and adventure. Maybe they actually need dragons at every turn in the road. Penny had her dragons out there in the pasture at five o’clock in the afternoon, for a few days. Then they stopped being dragons and were just plain cows. But there had to be other dragons somewhere.

  It started like another normal, quiet day. Penny was her gay, happy self when I let her out of her house, frolicking and romping in the dewy grass, dashing to the back door to be let in, eating her breakfast with gusto, then going outdoors for fifteen minutes. She came back in, greeted Barbara, came up to my study with me and napped for an hour, then went down to lie on the front steps and watch the morning. All routine. Before lunch we would go for a walk, all three of us, and maybe Penny would chase a rabbit.

  I was at work at my desk when a highway truck came up the road about nine-thirty. The town highway department was going to sweep our secondary blacktop road, prepare it for a coat of road oil. The highway crew is a group of men we know, men who patch the chuckholes in the spring, mow the roadsides in the summer, plow the snow in the winter. Friends. They knew us. They knew Penny, at least by sight.

  The truck came up the road, and I heard Penny bark. Then a frenzy of barking. Then men’s laughter.

  I went downstairs, and there Penny was, out in the road, disputing the way with that big red highway truck. The driver had stopped, not wanting to run her down, and he and the two other men with him were trying to talk her into reason, laughing loudly all the while. Penny would back away, they would start the truck, and she would dart in front of it again and they would stop.

  I went out, gave sharp orders, finally caught Penny by the collar and hauled her aside so the truck could go on up the road. I carefully explained to her that these men were friends, that they had business on this road and that she should shut up and lie down or she would be in trouble. She seemed to listen. She lay down on the porch steps as though ready to take a nap, and I went back to my typewriter.

  Ten minutes later here came the sweeper, a big, unlikely looking vehicle with revolving brushes three feet in diameter, which sweeps the loose sand into a windrow at the edge of the road. It came slowly up the road, grumbling and swishing, and I knew there was going to be trouble even before I heard Penny’s first excited yelp. I was halfway downstairs when she charged across the front yard and challenged that rumbling monster. She rushed it, barking madly, threatening to chew it into little tiny pieces.

  I got out onto the porch just as the sweeper’s driver brought it to a halt in front of the house. He sat there, high on its back, and laughed as Penny danced wildly about the machine, yelping, threatening, almost hysterical. I shouted at her, but it was no use. She couldn’t hear me, even if she had listened, above her own noise. I picked up the leash and started across the yard, hoping to catch her before she knew I was there. Just then the big truck came back do
wn the road, and for a moment Penny gave it her attention. The sweeper’s driver started up again, and she returned to that engagement. The sweeper’s driver stopped. “Go ahead!” I shouted. “Run her down if she doesn’t get out of the way!”

  He shook his head and shouted back, “If she gets too close, this thing will pick her right up, probably tear her to pieces.”

  I chased her. She ran around the sweeper. I ran after her. The truck driver stopped, and he and his helpers joined me in the chase. We thought we had her cornered, but she scooted between one man’s legs. I followed her back toward the house, thinking we had won, even without a capture. The men returned to their truck. But at the porch Penny turned, darted away from me and returned to her attack on the sweeper.

  “I’ll be right back,” I shouted, and came into the house, got a length of nylon clothesline, made a loop and returned to the road with a makeshift lasso. It was like lassoing a snake, she was so quick and so sinuous, but I finally got the loop on her and dragged her away. The road men shouted their thanks and went about their business.

  I brought Penny upstairs to my study and closed the door. She whined and whimpered, threatened and entreated, for maybe ten minutes. Then she gave up and lay down. I heard the road truck come up the road again, and she lifted her head, perked her ears and growled. But after that she relaxed, lay back and napped. I finished my morning’s work and took her downstairs with me. She seemed to have quieted down completely, but I put a leash on her and hooked it to the ring on the front porch. She lay down on the front steps as though nothing had happened.

  We had lunch, and I decided that Penny had her world well in place again. I took off the leash, left her there on the front porch, and within ten minutes the uproar started again. I thought at first that the sweeper had come back, but this time it was a horse, a horse and a big white dog. Cathy, a teen-ager from down the road, had ridden up to discuss a job with Barbara, and her old white collie had come with her.

  Penny had seen that horse, Cathy on him, and that old collie at least a dozen times. Never before had she so much as yipped at them. Now she yammered almost the way she had at the sweeper. The horse paid little attention. Cathy laughed and said, “Oh, Penny, what’s the matter with you? You know me.” The old collie tried to ignore Penny, finally looked down his long nose at her as though saying, What a noisy little snippet you are. But the ruckus had to be stopped, so I went out and collared Penny, put her on the leash again and tethered her at the porch. Fifteen minutes later Cathy rode back down the road and Penny didn’t even look up.

  We had to go to the village to do some marketing, and I left Penny still tethered, not wanting her to take after the highway truck or the sweeper if they came back down the road while we were gone. Apparently they passed before we got home, probably without a yip out of her. She was sound asleep, the picture of innocence, when we arrived.

  I let her off the leash and we came into the house. Before I had even set down the bag of groceries I heard an uproar, a typical Penny performance, out at the watering trough. Half a dozen cows were there drinking, and Penny was trying to frighten them off. It was the first time she had tried that. But the cows didn’t panic. They drank their fill, then left the trough. She kept trying to put them to flight. I went out, tried to catch her, and couldn’t. Since the cows weren’t galloping madly away from her, I came back into the house, fed up with her antics.

  I hadn’t been in the house two minutes when the barking stopped. I went to the door, and there was Penny on the front porch, panting and acting innocent as a baby. I went back to the kitchen and said, “I begin to wonder just whom she is badgering, the cows or me.”

  “Whoever she is badgering,” Barbara said, “I am getting very, very tired of it.”

  But there wasn’t another sound out of Penny the rest of the afternoon and early evening. The cows went home undisturbed to be milked. They came back without a yelp from Penny. She ate her supper and lay on the front steps for an hour while we sat on the porch in the dusk, counting fireflies and watching the first stars appear. Then it was her bedtime.

  I called her and we started to the brooder house. Just beyond the back yard, in the home pasture, were the cows, grazing as usual and moving around in the dimness of late dusk. I could make them out as dark shapes with white markings, and I could hear them grunt and wheeze and hear their hooves click as they walked. Penny and I got halfway to the brooder house, and she yelped once, charged under the fence into the pasture and was off on another of her chase-the-cows sprees.

  I followed Penny and the cows clear across the pasture, back toward the road, across the pasture again, a good half mile. Then, puffing with anger as well as exertion, I paused long enough to remember the uproar at the watering trough and how Penny stopped it when I stopped chasing her.

  I turned around, right there, and came back toward the house. Penny was still barking madly and the cows were running with a rumble of hoofbeats when I turned, but before I had walked a hundred yards Penny’s barking began to subside. I reached the gate and came into the back yard. Penny had stopped barking, seemed to be waiting for me to catch up. Then she barked again and I heard the cows running. I came to the back door and there was another pause, another silence. Then more barking. But not frantic. Now it was almost down to the level of token barking, the kind any dog does to hear the echo. I came into the house, started to tell Barbara what had happened, and before I had finished Penny was at the front door, where she always whined when she wanted to be let in.

  That time I put a leash on her and took her to the brooder house without any trouble. When I came back, Barbara said, “That settles it.”

  “What?”

  “I’ve just about had it, with that dog.”

  “It has been quite a day, hasn’t it?”

  “I don’t intend to live in this kind of uproar.”

  “It has its strenuous moments.”

  But she wasn’t just talking. “That dog,” she said, “demands excitement. She can’t live more than a week or two without it. You and I can live very well with just the normal day-to-day excitement of ordinary living. Right?”

  “Right. But Penny likes to be where the action is.”

  “Penny insists on creating the action. The highway truck. The sweeper. Cathy’s horse. The cows at the watering trough. And the cows in the pasture just now. All in one day!”

  “She might have spaced things out a little.”

  “Are you defending her?”

  “Why should I defend your dog?”

  “My dog?”

  “She was a birthday present to you. She presented herself, but it was your birthday, just the same. And—”

  “She is incorrigible! Worse than that car-chasing mutt down the road!”

  “She feels the same way about thunderstorms—”

  “Even an incorrigible child has a likable trait or two. But even with such a child, you have to do something eventually.… No, I’ve just about had it with her. Fun and games is one thing, but—” She shook her head.

  “I thought she was beginning to settle down.”

  “I hoped she was, but—” And suddenly she demanded, “Why? Why does she do these things?”

  “Let’s wait and see what happens tomorrow.”

  “Want to bet?”

  “No. But—she is your dog. Registered in your name.”

  “I should be sentimental about her?”

  I didn’t answer. She was being sentimental, and I knew it. She was practically saying to Penny: Give me back my heart. I gave it to you, but now I must have it back. Give it to me before I have to take it.

  We waited. We went to bed to sleep on the Penny problem. When I let her out the next morning she was her very best self. She romped, rolled in the damp grass, raced around me. She came to the back door and came in for her breakfast. She ate as a dog should eat. She went out and barked once or twice at the morning, wandered down the road a little way, came back and lay down on the front steps.
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  Midmorning and I had to do some weeding in the vegetable garden. She went to the garden with me, lay in the path and watched me work for a time. Then she grew restless, left the garden, watched the road. But no truck or sweeper was coming. She turned toward the mountain, stood there as though pondering, then took off across the pasture. I heard her up there on the mountain the better part of an hour. Then she came back, tired and wet with dew from the tall grass and underbrush.

  I was still weeding. She came into the garden again and lay in the path and licked herself clean and dry. Then she went out, restless, and wandered up the road. Ten minutes and I heard her barking. Two highway trucks had gone up while she was on the mountain, and now she had found them. She yammered at them for some time. Then they came back down the road, driving slowly and carefully. Penny raced alongside, barking madly, first at one, then at the other. The driver of the lead truck slowed up beside the garden and yelled at me, with a grin, “Call off your dog. She’s getting laryngitis!”

  “I hope it turns to pneumonia!” I shouted back.

  He grinned and drove on. The second truck followed. Penny ran alongside, barking furiously, for a couple hundred yards. Then she stopped, looked back toward the garden—and me—barked another time or two and came trotting back home. She came into the garden, lay down in the path, panting, and watched me as though expecting either praise or censure. Some reaction. I ignored her. After a few minutes she got up and left, went around the house toward the barn and the watering trough. The cows had come up the pasture while she was chasing the trucks and were at the trough, drinking.

  I heard the uproar start, Penny’s frantic barking. Then the sound of running cows. They came around the barn and down the pasture, fifteen or twenty of them, with Penny at their heels. The chase was on. Penny was making enough uproar for a whole pack of dogs.

  I continued weeding, hoping she would stop if I didn’t chase her or order her to come back. But she kept on. After a few minutes I knew it was hopeless. I quit weeding and went to the house.

 
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