فصل 09

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فصل 09

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CHAPTER NINE

A Welcome Rest

He had a look of sadness in his little eyes and he was too thin.

This wasn’t a brave adventurer’only a tired old dog, hungry for food and love.

Longridge’s house was now three hundred kilometers behind them. The three animals were all alive, but only the cat was really healthy. The old dog still struggled along happily, but the Labrador was really weak after the fight with the farm dog. His beautiful red-gold coat didn’t shine. He couldn’t open his mouth fully because of an aching tooth, so he was hungry all the time. When the cat killed a small animal or bird, he gave it to the Labrador. But the young dog could only drink the fresh blood of the animal.

Every day the two dogs walked along side by side, brave and purposeful.

They looked like two family pets out for a walk around the neighborhood. One morning they were seen like this by a man who was working in the forest. He was busy with the trees and didn’t think about them at the time. But later in the day, when he remembered the two dogs, he was surprised. There were no houses for forty kilometers. So where did the dogs come from? He told his boss but his boss just laughed. He thought that his friend was imagining things!

“What will you start dreaming about next?” he asked.

But a few days later, people started to talk about the disappearance of the three animals. And then the boss stopped laughing.

At Heron Lake, the vacation of John Longridge and his brother was ending. In England, the excited Hunter family were packed and ready to return home. Mrs. Oakes was busy in the old stone house, while her husband worked in the yard.

At the same time, the three animals continued on their way. The country was less wild now, and once or twice they saw small, lonely houses. The young dog stayed in the woods and didn’t go near them. But the old dog loved human beings and looked at the houses with hopeful eyes.

Late one afternoon they were followed by a bear. It was curious about the animals but was no danger to them. The young dog felt uncomfortable, though, with the shadow of the great bear behind them. He decided to leave the woods and walk along a quiet country road. As it got dark, they arrived at a few small houses, a schoolhouse, and a white church. The young dog wanted to continue, but the old dog suddenly refused to move. He was, as usual, very hungry. And when he saw the warm lights from the houses, he wanted food, from the hand of a human being. His eyes grew bright at the thought and he started to walk toward the houses. The young dog followed. He felt weak and sick after the fight with the farm dog. His bad tooth was very painful. He wanted to lie down and rest his aching head on the ground.

As they passed the first houses, they could smell the delicious smell of supper. They heard the sounds of human beings everywhere. The old dog stopped outside one of the houses. He walked up the steps, lifted his paw, and knocked on the door. Then he sat down and listened hopefully.

Soon the door opened and a small girl stood in front of him. The old dog looked up at her with his ugly smile on his face. The girl looked afraid and shouted out, “Dad!…” Then the door shut hard in the terrier’s face.

The old dog couldn’t understand, but knocked again. He saw a face at the window and barked politely at it. Suddenly, the door was thrown open again and a man ran out with a bowl of water in his hand. Angry, he threw the water in the old dog’s face. “Get out! Get out of here!” the man shouted. The wet terrier ran away fast toward the Labrador and the cat. He wasn’t afraid but he felt unhappy. Human beings were not usually like that when he was friendly to them. They always laughed and played with him.

He quietly followed the Labrador back along the road. Three kilometers later, they arrived at a farm. They crossed some dark fields and lay down for the night outside one of the farm buildings.

The young dog had a bad night. His mouth was aching and he was exhausted with the pain. He got up in the night to drink from a small lake. He stood chest-deep in the cold water.

When the old dog woke up in the morning, he was alone. The cat was hunting for his breakfast and the young dog was down by the lake. The terrier could smell cooking through the morning air. The pale sun was coming up in the sky as he walked to the farmhouse door. He sat down on the steps and waited. His memory was short; human beings were friendly again and gave dogs food. He knocked on the door with his paw. It opened and a wonderful smell of breakfast came out. The terrier smiled his ugly smile. There was a silence, then the deep, amused voice of a man said, “Who’s here?” He looked down at his strange visitor, then called into the house. “Come here a minute, dear, and look at this!”

The warm voice of a woman answered, and then she stood next to the man at the open door. She looked down in surprise at the white dog on the step. When he saw her smile, the old terrier gave her his paw. She shook it, laughing quietly. Then she invited him into the house.

The old dog walked in calmly and looked around for food. He was lucky because this man and woman were the kindest people in the neighborhood. Their house was the most welcoming. James and Nell Mackenzie lived alone in the big farmhouse. Their eight children were adults now and lived away from home.

Nell gave their visitor a bowl of food and he ate it quickly. Then he looked up for more. “He’s very hungry!” she said, and gave him her breakfast. He ate that almost before it reached the ground. Without a word James Mackenzie gave him his plate of food, too. And some milk. At last, warm and happy, the old dog lay down in front of the fire while Nell cooked another breakfast.

“What type of dog is he?” she asked. “I’ve never seen anything so friendly.

But he’s ugly, too!”

“He’s an English bull terrier,” said her husband. “I love them. He’s about ten or eleven years old. And I think he’s been in a fight.”

The old dog listened and wagged his tail from side to side. Then he got up and put his head on Mackenzie’s knee. “You are friendly, aren’t you? But what are we going to do with you?”

Nell touched the dog’s shoulder and then looked at him more closely. “He hasn’t been in a dog fight,” she said. “He’s had a fight with a bear!”

In silence they looked down at the dog by their feet. They could see now that he was exhausted. He had a look of sadness in his little eyes and he was too thin. This wasn’t a brave adventurer’only a tired old dog, hungry for food and love.

“We’ll keep him if he wants to stay,” Nell said.

“I’ll tell the police when I go into Deepwater,” said Mackenzie. “Maybe we can write something about the dog for the city newspaper too. If nobody wants him, he can live with us.”

After breakfast Mackenzie went down to a small lake to do some hunting. Six birds flew into the air and he shot at them twice. One bird fell into the water and another on the ground near the lake. He picked one up and then, to his surprise, saw the large head of a dog in the lake! It was swimming toward the dead bird!

The Labrador caught the bird, swam out of the water with it, and brought it to the man.

Mackenzie couldn’t believe it. “Good dog!” he said quietly, holding out one hand. “Well done! Now give it to me.”

The dog walked slowly toward the man and put down the bird. Mackenzie saw that he was in great pain and needed help. He picked up the bird and said, “Follow me,” to the Labrador.

The dog walked behind him back to the farmhouse. He was too weak to worry about human beings.

Crossing the fields with the dog at his side, Mackenzie thought about the other dog. How many more were there in the neighborhood? “Maybe another one will come to the kitchen door this afternoon!” he laughed to himself.

As Mackenzie passed one of the farm buildings, a sleepy Siamese cat looked up. The farmer didn’t see him, but the young dog wagged his tail and turned his head.

In the kitchen, the man looked in the Labrador’s mouth and carefully cleaned his bad tooth. Then he gave him some medicine to help the pain. While Mackenzie was helping Luath, the terrier watched closely. He didn’t want the man to hurt his dear friend.

After about an hour, the Labrador looked much better. The old dog sat next to him as he drank a bowl of milk. It was clear to the Mackenzies that the two dogs came from the same home. But they couldn’t understand why the animals weren’t with their family.

“What are they doing out in this wild country?” Nell asked.

“Maybe their master’s died,” Mackenzie answered, “and they’ve run away together. Or maybe they were in a car with someone but got lost. You can see that they’ve been away from home a long time. And they’ve been very hungry. How did they find enough food to stay alive?”

“Hunting? Stealing maybe?” Nell suggested. “I saw the old dog take some food off a plate on the table after breakfast!”

“So they didn’t eat much in the forest,” said her husband thoughtfully. “The Labrador’s very thin. I’ll shut them in one of the farm buildings outside when I go to Deepwater, Nell. We don’t want them to run away. Now, are you sure you want these two strange dogs?”

“I want them,” she said, “if they’ll stay. But we must think of names for them. We can’t say ‘good dog’ all the time. I’ll think of some names while you’re in Deepwater.”

Mackenzie crossed the yard with the two dogs and put them in one of the warm, sweet-smelling farm buildings. Then he shut the door carefully behind him. The cat sat in the sun and watched. Soon Mackenzie drove away and everything was quiet again. A few curious farm cats came to look at Tao. Who was this stranger in their favorite place in the sun? Tao didn’t like other cats and watched them coldly. After two or three small fights, the farm cats walked away and Tao went back to sleep.

Halfway through the morning, he woke up and walked toward the farm building. He skillfully opened the door with his paws and walked in. His old friends welcomed him loudly and followed him into the sunny yard.

When Mackenzie drove into the yard later in the afternoon, he was surprised to see the two dogs outside in the sun. They stood up when they saw him. Then, with wagging tails, they followed him into the house.

“Did you let them out into the yard, Nell?” he asked.

“Of course not,” she answered in surprise. “I took them some milk, but I shut the door carefully after me.”

“That’s strange. Were lucky they’re still here,” said Mackenzie. “The Labrador looks much better. He’ll be able to eat a good meal this evening. I’d like to see him fatter. Nobody knew about the dogs in Deepwater. But they came from the east because somebody in a town to the east saw them on his doorstep. Maybe the Labrador was on a hunting trip and got lost. But what about the bull terrier? Why is he with the young dog? If we don’t want the dogs, somebody in Deepwater will take them.”

“No they won’t!” Nell said.

“All right,” her husband agreed, laughing. “We’ll keep them as long as we can, dear. But if they’re going somewhere with a purpose, Nell, nothing will keep them here. We can feed them well. Then, if they leave, they’ll have a better start.”

After supper that night the Mackenzies and their guests moved into the little back room. It was warm and comfortable, with children’s books, pictures, and photos of the family. Mackenzie sat at the table, smoking his pipe. His wife read a book. The Labrador lay under the table in a deep sleep, warm and safe. The terrier slept near him on an old sofa.

The only sound during the evening was the noise of a huge cat fight out in the yard. Both dogs sat up immediately, wagging their tails. “They look very interested,” said Nell to her husband.

Later, the dogs followed Mackenzie out to the farm building. He filled a bowl with water, then shut the door behind him. A few minutes later, the lights in the house went out.

The dogs lay quietly in the darkness, waiting. Soon they heard the soft sound of paws on wood, and the door opened. The cat walked in and lay down next to the old dog’s chest. Then there was silence in the building.

The young dog woke up in the cold early morning. He knew that they had to start their journey to the west again. The cat joined him at the door. Then the old dog came, shaking in the cold wind. For a few minutes they sat there quietly, listening. They could hear some of the farm animals moving. They looked across the dark yard. Then they silently crossed it, went into the fields, and started to walk west.

In front of them lay the last eighty kilometers of their journey. This country was more dangerous and lonely than before. And the young dog was already sick and weak.

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