Retrieving the Airedale

‘ WE are sending George a half-grown Airedale pup,’ wrote my uncle. ‘His registered name is Jasper III. Don’t let him run by himself until you have shown him the country.’

If Jasper was a puppy, he was old for his age. He was approximately the size of a sheep, though more gaunt and rangy in build; and he had the easy gait of a zebra. His expression was worn and sapient. This aspect of advanced age was heightened by the brown wisps of beard that floated around his chin. He had an elderly mannerism of cocking one eyebrow and glancing about, sidelong, out of the corner of one cynical eye. He looked like an ancient wizard or dervish — shrewd and inscrutable.

But, however aged Jasper looked, his stride was agile. ‘Don’t let the dog out! ’ shouted the family in one breath if one of us went to the door. We developed an elaborate technique of stageexit to get out of the house at all: first backing discreetly toward the door, squeezing hastily through, and finally stuffing back such portions of Jasper’s leaping frame as had managed to emerge.

Twice daily, our pet walked out on a leash. Brother George had decided to show him the country. I was offered the privilege of acting occasionally as Burton Holmes myself, if I liked, but I always objected to going on a leash.

Our dog had therefore seen only such parts of the country as George had had time to show him, when, on New Year’s Sunday, he escaped. I was to blame. Two friends had promised to call for me to go with them to four o’clock Vespers. As they came in, Jasper rushed out, prancing deliriously off across the snow.

‘Catch him!’ gasped my friends, as I plunged down the steps. I whistled busily as I ran. Surely he would come! He was still in sight against the skyline, dancing on his hind legs like some fairy-tale goblin in the snow. If only I could reach the top of the hill before he finished his barn-dance! Just at this point, the minister’s bull-dog Mike came trotting happily down the west road, and with him Patrick, the belligerent Irish terrier owned by the HighSchool principal. Into this impeccable company sailed Jasper, a yelping lunatic, wild with joy. They greeted him with shouts, and all three rolled with laughter in the drifts.

My friends, breathless with remorse, came scrambling over the hill, and we charged three abreast toward the heap of dogs. Jasper saw us. With a kangaroo leap he cleared the fence, and, followed by Mike and the terrier, went skimming in great sweeping circles toward the square. Here, Admiral Sims, the grocer’s young spaniel, joined the flying squadron. The dogs stopped to explain matters to the Admiral.

‘Oh,’ gasped one of my runningmates, ‘if we only could creep up on ’em now!’ Creeping up, one finds, is not the right method of pursuit for such as Jasper. We had barely gained the green when Judge Granger’s white setter, Lady Montague, appeared around the corner by the church. Head over heels went Admiral Sims. Swifter than eagles flew Mike and the terrier. But more fleet than they all, went Jasper. Lady Montague met them serenely in the wide enclosure by the church. Once more the circle of dogs stood motionless, noses together, tails all wagging amiably — plumed tail, bob-tail, willow tail, screw-tail, and the rag-tag tail of Jasper. People were still going into church. As my friends and I came pounding along, I thought feverishly of those quiet old days, when I used to go to Vespers myself.

I turned a heated countenance to my friends. ‘Go into church,’ said I solemnly. ‘All I have to do is take Jasper home.’

They obeyed, protesting.

‘Come, Jasper,’ said I in disciplinary monotone, persuasive hand upon his collar. I stood aside politely to let. Judge and Mrs. Granger pass in to divine worship, and then I set off across the lawn, dragging my lion couchant beside me over the frozen crust. At the gate he arose with a jerk, rampant — and his collar slid off in my hand.

Oh, dogs can laugh — wild mirth, an ecstasy of humor. Down the long hill they flew, hysterical with glee, Mike and the Admiral and Patrick in the rear, Lady Montague and Jasper far ahead.

I set my teeth. I was accountable to George for Jasper’s safe convoy. I had vague, ascetic visions of following, following until I died. With the warm collar still in hand, I toiled on gloomily, now at a foot-pace, now at a moderate trot. The term ‘dog-trot’ took on a richness of significance new to me. In a sketchy, canine way, we mapped the township and all its rural routes, returning at last by early star-rise down the west road to the home neighborhood.

Here I had an inspiration. Going to the door of the High-School principal, I rang the bell.

‘Would you be willing,’ said I, ‘to see if you can call Patrick? If all the rest of these dogs would go home, I might be able to call Jasper.’

A house-to-house canvass of all the dog-owners I made, with conscientious thoroughness. I roused them all, even Judge Granger’s distinguished son. He greeted me with a peal of frivolous gayety, but he called Lady Montague.

‘Shall I call Mike, too? ’ he inquired. ‘ The minister and my father are staying for a committee meeting after Vespers.’

Vespers! thought I.

‘Yes, call him,’ I said. ‘Do.’

This left only Jasper. He flitted briskly up the embankment near our neighbor’s house and dared me to come near. I glanced over at my own home. There was a light in George’s room. With parched lips I whistled the family whistle. Up went the window.

‘George,’ said I mildly, ‘Jasper got. out. He won’t come in.’

‘Why don’t you whistle to him?’ suggested George placidly.

I walked stonily into the house, and met my brother in the hall.

‘Here,’ said I bitterly, ‘here is Jasper’s collar. You whistle.’

A moment later, George and Jasper came in, hand in hand, and sat down before the fire.

‘George,’ said I gently, after a. thoughtful pause, ‘when did Uncle Tyler say we could let Jasper run!'

‘As soon as he’s seen the country.’

I looked at Jasper, and Jasper, cocking one eyebrow, looked at me.

‘Well,’ said I, ‘he has.’