An Unpaid Debt


IF one could but find them again — those flitting benefactors who unconsciously did us a good turn and, before we could manage a proper ‘ thank you,’were lost in the crowd! A kindly direction given in the course of travel; a beautiful face that flashed like sunshine over some drab hour; the notes of a song that touched the heart more deeply than the singer knew. We have all encountered many such unwitting Good Samaritans, but the first one recorded in my memory is the man who saved the puppy.

The puppy, led home on a leash by my enthusiastic young father, had appeared in our midst the night before. He did not stand on ceremony, but with leaps and licks and staccato yaps immediately broke down all barriers, and in no time my father, the puppy and I were all in a democratic tangle on the floor. My father was the first to regain his normal poise, and, drawing me to him, told me impressively that the puppy was no ordinary dog, but ‘very valuable’; that he was ‘a pedigreed pointer,’ and that he would make a splendid hunter when ‘ broken to the gun’; and finally that on no account must he be let out of the front gate. I said I understood, and went to bed pondering on the strange and pleasing sound of ‘pedigreed pointer,’ and wondering if it would hurt the puppy to be ‘ broken to the gun.’

In the morning I woke before the household, and, as the young day appeared enticing, I clambered out of bed and scrambled into the toilsome habiliments of civilization with what dexterity my six years permitted, and went out into the misty mysterious morning. There was no sound save the song of birds and my own footsteps crunching on the gravel walk, as I went toward the gate. Only recently had I received permission to go beyond its limits, and consequently the gate drew me irresistibly. The trance of the adventurer was upon me! I raised the creaking latch with exalted soul and thoughts soaring above the trivialities of life. I was on the point of breathing in the first sweet breath of freedom when, with the suddenness of a falling star, something swift and sleek and palpitating whisked by me. I made a frantic grab, but eels drenched in oil would have been less elusive. The dog — the ‘very valuable’ dog — was at large!

Had I not been warned against this very catastrophe? And now behold, a ramping, frisking, leering beast who mocked my every effort to reach his collar by making evasive circles around me, or by galloping off at a tangent. I tried commanding. I stamped my little foot and called him ‘ You dog!’ in harsh and horrid tones. At which he stood stock-still some distance off and grinned, his pink tongue drooping derisively out of the corner of his mouth. I approached with caution, hope mounting skyward in my heart, but the hope was vain. Whisk! and he was off. Changing my tactics, I essayed cajolery.' Nice puppy,’ I pleaded. He halted and looked round, tail and ears alert. I made a step forward, and he retreated.

My faith both in him and in myself gave way. My spirit was broken. I could no longer do anything but attend to the sobs which began to chase each other from the tips of my toes up to my throat. It would soon be breakfast time, and my hour of reckoning was nigh.

It was at this black moment that the man appeared. He came swinging along at a brisk pace, towering gigantic above me. I had never spoken to a stranger before, but this was a crisis demanding heroism. With a mighty gulp I swallowed the most imminent sob and gathered courage.

‘Mister,’ I accosted. But he did not hear —his ear was so far above me. Desperate, I felt that I must do or die. I ran after him.

Mister,’ I repeated, and I am sure my voice must have been between a wail and a shout this time. He stopped and looked down from his altitude. ‘ Could you,’I began, realizing the magnitude of my request, ‘ could you make that dog go back in the yard? He is very valuable,’ I added.

The man was evidently in a hurry, for he did not pause for speech. He took three splendid strides toward the puppy (who was now sniffing a tree, the personification of innocence), and with the utmost ease he collared that ‘valuable dog,’ nonchalantly dumped him inside the gate, and closed it firmly.

Here was a miracle-worker, a superman, a god! With the deftness of a prestidigitator the impossible had been accomplished. In a twinkling the thing was done. By just the turn of the hand he had saved the day for me. And he was gone before I could voice my gratitude; gone, with never a thank you — gone clean out of my life!

I sat down on the stone carriage-step in front of the house to collect myself. The puppy looked at me through the bars of the gate, his jaws stretched in a friendly smile, his tail wagging amicably. He seemed to bear me no malice, but at that moment I had only hatred in my heart for him. I was hunting through the ramifications of my hasty toilette for a handkerchief to wipe away the trace of my recent tears, when my father opened the front door and whistled. The puppy reversed and bounded to his master. My father stooped and fondled him; then, looking beyond the fateful gate, he called out a goodmorning to me and added, ‘You were a good girl not to let the puppy out. Come in to breakfast now.’

I rose, feeling my first pang of hypocrisy, but above everything my whole soul welled up in gratitude to the man — that noble, omnipotent Mister!

And across the years of half a lifetime I still am wishing that I could thank him.