That afternoon, the Mistress and the Master went for a five-mile ramble through the woods and over the mountains, back of the Place. With them went old Laddie, who paced gravely between them. With them, also, went Bruce, the magnificent dark sable collie of kingly look and demeanor; who was second only to Lad in human traits and second to no living animal in beauty. Bruce was glorious to look upon. In physique and in character he had not a flaw. There was a strange sweetness to his disposition that I have found in no other dog.
With Lad and Bruce, on this walk, raced Lad's fiery little golden son, Wolf.
Of old, Lad had led such runs. Now, advancing age and increased weight had begun to make him chary of throwing away his fading energies. Wherefore, he walked between his two deities; and let the two younger dogs do the galloping and rabbit chasing.
And he had his reward. For, as they neared the highroad on the way home, Wolf and Bruce chanced to tree a squirrel. Thus, Lad was first to reach the road with the two humans. Suddenly, he. darted ahead of them; and snatched up from the wayside the somewhat worn case of a thermos bottle which had been discarded there or had fallen from a car-seat. This he bore to the Mistress; fairly vibrating with pride in his own exploit.
Noting his joy in the deed, she made much of the shabby gift; praising and thanking Lad, inordinately; and forbearing to throw away the worn case until the collie was out of sight.
Of late, as Laddie began to show signs of age, she and the Master had taken to making more and more of him; to atone for his growing feebleness and to anticipate the dark day which every dog-owner must face;--the day when his voice and his caress can no longer mean anything to the pet who once rejoiced so utterly in them.
All of which went to confirm Lad in the natural belief that anything found on the road and brought to the Mistress would be looked on with joy and would earn him much gratitude. So,--as might a human in like circumstances,--he ceased to content himself with picking up trifles that chanced to be lying in his path, in the highway, and fell to searching for such flotsam and jetsam.
He began the hunt, next morning. Pacing gravely along the center of the road, he headed toward the mile-distant village. By sheer luck, such few automobiles as chanced along, at that hour, were driven by folk who had heart enough to slow down or to turn aside for the majestically strolling old dog. To the end of his long life, Lad could never be made to understand that he was not entitled to walk at will in the exact middle of the road. Perhaps his lofty assurance in taking such a course made motorists check speed to spare him.