Daintily, with infinite gentleness, Lad fixed his teeth in the loosest portion of the bundle that he could find; and lifted it. It was amazingly heavy, even for so powerful a dog. But difficulties had never yet swerved Lad from any set purpose. Bracing his strength, he turned homeward, carrying the burden between his mighty jaws.
And now, he was aware of some subtler feeling than mere desire to bring the Mistress one more gift. His great heart had ever gone out in loving tenderness toward everything helpless and little. He adored children. The roughest of them could take unpardonable liberties with him. He would let them maul and mistreat him to their heart's content; and he reveled in such usage; although to humans other than the Mistress and the Master, he was sternly resentful of any familiarity.
His senses told him this bundle contained a child;--a baby. It had been lying alone and defenseless beside the road. He had found it. And his heart warmed to the helpless little creature which was so heavy to carry.
Proudly, now, he strode along; his muscles tensed; moving as if on parade. The bundle swinging from his jaws was carried as lovingly as though it might break in sixty pieces at any careless step.
The spare tire was adjusted. The men glanced nervously up and down the road. No car or pedestrian was in sight. The driver scrambled to his place at the wheel. His brother crossed to the alder bush behind whose shelter he had left the baby. Back he came, on the run.
"'Tain't there!" he blithered. "'Tain't there! 'Tain't rolled nowheres, neither. It's been took! Lord! What're we goin' to--?"
He got no further. His brother had scrambled down from the seat; and pushed him aside, in a dash for the alder. But a few seconds of frantic search proved the baby was gone. The two men glared at each other in silent horror. Then by tacit impulse they got into the car.
"It couldn't 'a' walked off, could it?" gurgled the driver. "They can't walk, can they;--not at six months? Not far, anyhow?"