Still, when, by and by, the Mistress sat down on the floor beside him and told him what a darling and wonderful and heroic dog he was and how proud she felt of his courage, and when her dear hand rumpled the soft hair behind his ears,--well, somehow Lad found himself laying his head in her lap; and making croony low sounds at her and pretending to bite her little white hand.
It was always hard to stay offended at the Mistress.
Lad was old--very, very old. He had passed his sixteenth birthday. For a collie, sixteen is as old as is ninety-five for a human.
The great dog's life had been as beautiful as himself. And now, in the late twilight of his years, Time's hand rested on him as lovingly as did the Mistress's. He had few of the distressing features of age.
True; his hearing was duller than of yore. The magnificent body's lines were blurred with flesh. The classic muzzle was snow white; as were the lashes and eyebrows. And the once mighty muscles were stiff and unwieldy. Increasing feebleness crept over him, making exercise a burden and any sudden motion a pain. The once trumpeting bark was a hollow echo of itself.
But the deep-set dark eyes, with a soul looking out of them, were as clear as ever. The uncannily wise brain had lost not an atom of its power. The glorious mahogany-and-snow coat was still abundant. The fearlessly gay spirit and loyal heart were undimmed by age.
Laddie resented angrily his new limitations. From time to time he would forget them; and would set off at a run in the wake of Bruce and Wolf, when the sound of a stranger's approach made them gallop up the driveway to investigate. But always; after the first few stiff bounds, he would come to a panting halt and turn back wearily to his resting place in the veranda's coolest corner; as indignant over his own weakness, as he would have been at fetters which impeded his limbs.
He was more and more sensitive about this awkward feebleness of his. And he sought to mask it; in ways that seemed infinitely pathetic to the two humans who loved him. For instance, one of his favorite romps in bygone days had been to throw himself down in front of the Mistress and pretend to bite her little feet; growling terrifically as he did it. Twice of late, as he had been walking at her side, his footing had slipped or he had lost his balance, and had tumbled headlong Instantly, both times, he had begun to growl and had bitten in mock fury at the Mistress's foot. By this pitiful ruse he strove to make her believe that his fall had been purposeful and a part of the olden game.