"I want to KNOW!" half-wept the child; angry at the change of subject, and noting that the Mistress was moving toward the next room, with Lad at her heels. "Come back and tell me!"
He stamped after her to bar her way. Lad was between the irate Cyril and the Mistress. In babyish rage at the dog's placid presence in his path, he drew back one ungainly foot and kicked the astonished collie in the ribs.
At the outrage, Lad spun about, a growl in his throat. But he forbore to bite or even to show his teeth. The growl had been of indignant protest at such unheard-of treatment; not a menace. Then the dog stalked haughtily to his cave, and lay down there.
But the human witnesses to the scene were less forbearing;--being only humans. The Mistress cried out, in sharp protest at the little brute's action. And the Master leaned forward, swinging Cyril clear of the ground. Holding the child firmly, but with no roughness, the Master steadied his own voice as best he could; and said:--
"This time you've not even bothered to wait till our backs were turned. So don't waste breath by crying and saying you didn't do it. You're not my child; so I have no right to punish you. And I'm not going to. But I want you to know you've just kicked something that's worth fifty of you."
"You let me down!" Cyril snarled.
"Lad is too white and clean and square to hurt anything that can't hit back," continued the Master. "And you are not. That's the difference between you. One of the several million differences,--all of them in Lad's favor. When a child begins life by being cruel to dumb animals, it's a pretty bad sign for the way he's due to treat his fellow-humans in later years,--if ever any of them are at his mercy. For your own sake, learn to behave at least as decently as a dog. If--"
"You let me down, you big bully!" squalled Cyril, bellowing with impotent fury. "You let me down! I--"