American author and journalist Albert Payson Terhune was popular for his novels about collies. In “The Miracle of Treve” published in 1923, a young collie proves his loyalty and shows his grouchy owner Joel Fenno that he’s more than just a ranch dog.
Published in The Country Gentleman on June 9, 1923
Treve lay drowsing in the early morning sunshine in front of the Dos Hermanos ranch house. The big young collie sprawled lazily on his left side, his classic head outlined sharply against the warming sand of the dooryard, his tiny white forepaws thrust forward as if in a gallop, the sun’s rays catching and burnishing his massive tawny-gold coat.
Treve was well content to sprawl idly like this. It had been a large night. His two owners, young Royce Mack and grouchy old Joel Fenno, and three of their men had spent hours of it in rounding up a bunch of stray sheep that had butted their silly way out of No. 6 pen after sundown and had rambled off aimlessly down the coulee.
The sheep had been gone for hours and had traveled with annoying steadiness and speed before their loss was noted. Then it had taken some time through the dark to overhaul them and far longer to convoy them home.
The sheep might never have started upon their illicit ramble — assuredly they would never have proceeded along ten minutes of it — if Treve had been on the job. But the big young dog had gone with Royce Mack in the buckboard over to Santa Carlotta for the week’s mail and had not got home until dark. It was only during his before bedtime patrol of the pens that he found the forced wattle at No. 6 and realized what had befallen the occupants.
He had dashed up to the ranch house and by his clamor of wild barking had brought the two partners out of doors on the jump. He led them to the empty pen and obligingly took up the scent there, tracing the strays far faster than his human companions could follow through the dense dark and over the rough ground.
Through the open doorway rumbled the sound of voices. Being only a real-life collie and not a phenomenon, Treve could not understand one word in ten that reached his keen ears as he lay there. But he did not need a knowledge of words to tell him the two men were quarreling.
One Lionel Arthur Montagu Brean — an English surgeon who had fled his own country for dishonesty and had become a tramp in the hospitable West — had chanced upon Treve, when as a pup the collie had been tossed out of a baggage-car doorway by a rage-drunk master and had fallen into the Dos Hermanos River. Brean had taken the pup to the Dos Hermanos partners, after curing an injury to Treve’s ear, and had sought to sell him to them.
Brean had guaranteed him to be a trained sheep herder. During a flurry of excitement caused by the inexperienced youngster’s charging out among a bunch of sheep that were passing the door Brean modestly decamped, leaving the collie to his fate and taking along fifty dollars which Joel Fenno had left in a vest when he rushed to the rescue of his imperiled sheep.
As the pup proved to be a natural sheep tender, the partners had made the best of their involuntary bargain and had kept him. Under their tutelage he had become one of the best herding dogs in the region.
To both of them Treve was docilely obedient. But to only one of them did he give the allegiance of his heart. Old Joel Fenno regarded all livestock as mere counters in his game for a livelihood. He neither liked nor disliked Treve. He worked him hard and saw that the collie obeyed orders.
Young Royce Mack was different. By nature he was a dog lover. Moreover, he had a way with dogs. Between him and Treve from the outset a deep friendship had sprung up. At every off-duty moment Treve was at Mack’s heels. He slept beside his bunk at night and usually lay beside his chair at meals. In brief, he adopted Royce as his overlord and gave him glad worship.
With disgusted grunts old Fenno had noted the jolly chumship between dog and man. Yet never until now had he voiced any active objection. Fenno was a man of few and grudging words. Today, however, he considered it high time to speak. And he chose the breakfast table as the place.
“If that cur had been to home, where he belongs, yesterday afternoon,” he grumbled as he began his second cup of coffee, “those sheep wouldn’t ever have got a chance to stray.”
“If he hadn’t been here last night,” said Royce carelessly, “we’d never have found them in a week. Besides, it wasn’t his fault he was off the job in the afternoon. I took him to Santa Carlotta with me. You know that.”
“Sure I know it,” growled Joel. “Why wouldn’t I know it? Cost me a night’s sleep, didn’t it? Oh, I know it, all right. But what I’m getting at is: Every critter in this outfit has got to earn his way — got to pay for his keep. If he don’t, then he’s got to stop eating our grub.”
“Treve pays for himself when he works. And when he don’t work he’s deadwood. Dos Hermanos Ranch can’t afford deadwood. We don’t hire Treve to go driving to Santa Carlotta and to traipse around on loafing walks with you. Nor yet we don’t hire him to snore in the bunk room nights when he’d ought to be on guard. If that’s what he’s going to do the sooner we feed him a lump of lead the better.”
Royce Mack did not speak, for a moment or two. He had been waiting for this outbreak since the mischance at No. 6 fold.
“Treve isn’t deadwood,” he said. “If he’d never done another lick of work since we have had him he’d have paid for a lifetime’s keep by rounding up that bunch of strays last night. By daylight they’d have been over the edge of the Triple Bar range. And you can figure what that outfit of cowmen would have done to ‘em. We’d never have seen wool nor hoof of one of, ‘em again.”
Joel Fenno kept on munching his food. He said nothing. Mack resumed:
“Besides, we’ve got Zit and Rastus for the regular herding and for night guard. That isn’t supposed to be Treve’s job. They’re both born to it. They’re little and black and squat and splayfooted and they can’t be made homelier by galloping all day and every day over hardpan for hundreds of miles in the broiling sun. Neither of them has Treve’s brains nor looks. I don’t want him turned into a splayfoot drudge. He earns his keep, good and plenty, here on the home tract. We agreed to that long ago.”
“You agreed to it,” mumbled L Fenno, his mouth full, his eyes glum. “I didn’t. I haven’t been jawing. But I’ve been watching. And here’s where we come to a show-down. Till we got that cur there wasn’t any loafing here. The Dos Hermanos is a working outfit. No time for pets and the like. It’s got to stop.”
“Then figure out what his keep costs us and deduct it from my share of the profits every month. That’s fair, isn’t it?”
“No,” denied Joel sullenly. “It isn’t. You’re making us both lose money by the time you waste learning him tricks and such like and loafing around with him. Besides, it sets a bad example to the hands. Yesterday I saw Tony trying to learn Rastus to shake hands. Trying to make him do like Treve does. Nice stunt for a sheep wrastler, huh? It’s got to stop.”
“If it stops, then I stop too,” said Mack.
He spoke without heat, but with much finality. Fenno grunted. Royce continued, getting to his feet:
“I’m the only man who ever was able to get on with you, Joel. I’ve stood your grouches and your crankiness because I figured those grouches hurt you a lot more than they could hurt me. And I’ve always tried to dodge any squabbles with you. I’m still going to try to. So I guess you’d better think over what you’ve just said about our getting rid of Treve. H Treve gets out I get out. Not that I’m fool enough to value a dog more than I value a man, but because when one partner begins handing out ultimatums it’s time for the other to quit. So the first ultimatum is going to be the last one. That’s why I’m asking you to think it over and take it back. See you at supper time.”
Still holding in his temper, he left the shack, Joel Fenno staring after him in baleful speechlessness.
As Mack came out into the dooryard Treve was off the ground in one leap and cantering up to him, eagerly expectant of accompanying his god whithersoever Royce might be going. But Mack checked him, “No, old boy,” he whispered, stooping to pat the classic head. “Not this morning. He’s riled. No sense in riling him worse by us starting off to work together. He’d figure we were going to waste half the day in chasing jack rabbits and learning tricks. Stay here. He’s going down to the South Quarter this morning. He said so, yesterday. He said, then, he’d need you to help Rastus drive that South Quarter bunch over to the Bottoms…Lie down there and wait for him.”
Like so many lonely men, Mack had fallen into the habit of talking to this collie chum of his during their long rides or hikes as if to a human. The dog, in true collie fashion, had learned to read both voice and face and to pick up the meaning of certain familiar words.
For example, he understood perfectly now that he must not accompany his god as usual, but must lie down and wait for his other owner’s commands. This was ill news to the dog. And his deep-set dark eyes were full of wistful appeal as he stretched himself reluctantly in the sand again and stared after the departing Royce.
Treve had not long to wait there alone. In another minute Joel Fenno slouched out of the ranch house and stood on the threshold looking moodily down at him. The collie lay, returning the man’s look. Treve was ready to obey any command given him by this oldster or to do any work Fenno might assign him to. He recognized that as his duty. But duty did not entail an enthusiastic greeting to a man who had never yet lavished so much as a pat on his head or spoken a pleasant word to him.
Joel Fenno was wont to bolt breakfast and then to hustle busily off to the morning’s tasks. But today he stood quite still, his brooding old puckered eyes scanning the dog, his ears strained for some sound.
Presently he heard the sound he had been awaiting. It was the starting of the truck’s engine down at the barn.
Royce Mack was backing the big truck out of its cubby-hole. He swung it about and headed bumpily for the Santa Carlotta road, a furlong beyond.
As the truck vanished in a fluff of choky yellow dust Fenno came to life. Stepping back into the shack, he scribbled a few lines on a crumpled paper bag and pinned the paper to the deal surface of the table where Mack could not fail to find it.
Writing was a tedious and grunt-evoking labor to Joel Fenno. He took a pardonable pride in his few literary productions. Now he gratified such pride by bending over to reread half aloud what he had written.
“Mack,” he read, “maybe I was too hot under the collar about Treve. Maybe he is a good chum like you say. I aim to find out. I am going to let Toni take the bunch over to the South Quarter, with Zit or Rastus, today. And I am going to take a two-days’ camping trip down to the Ova and back. Last year this time the water holes down there had kept the grazing i pretty good. If it is as good this year we can maybe save a couple of weeks’ rent money on the gov’t grazing lands up on the peaks by going to the Ova first. I ought to be back by tomorrow night. I am going to take Treve along for company. JOEL.”
Fenno, for the first time in his sixty-odd years, was attempting wily diplomacy. And he was doing it very badly indeed. It did not occur to him that his partner might not accept at its face value this unprecedented taste of his for Treve’s society. And it was a trip any of their men could have made for them. It was unlike Joel to waste two busy days that way in person. And Royce could not well avoid wondering at it. This possibility, too, escaped Fenno’s imagination. To him his scheme appeared truly inspired.
He valued Mack’s partnership. In a grouchy way he was fond of the jolly young fellow. Royce was a hard worker and a good sheep man. Moreover, he had up to date ideas which had more than once been coined into money for the ranch. Fenno had no intention of breaking with so useful a partner.
At the same time he had still less intention of letting Royce go on loafing and frittering valuable time away, as Joel deemed it, by making a pet of a dog.
Fenno’s plan had been worked out in swift detail as soon as Royce had departed for the day’s work. He would start on horseback toward the Ova. At some spot too far from the ranch for Mack to trace the deed and lonely enough to preclude the chance of witnesses he would stop, put a bullet through the collie, scoop out a shallow grave in the sand and bury him.
Then the same evening Fenno would return to the ranch house, saying Treve had run away during their journey and that he had come back for him. Mack could prove nothing. According to Joel’s elaborate, calculations he could suspect nothing. Treve would merely seem to have strayed from his human companion of the trip and would either have lost his way home or have been stolen by some Mexican or shot by a passing cattleman.
Fenno made certain of his scheme’s verisimilitude by ordering Chang, the cook, to put up two days’ rations for him. Then, giving commands to Toni, he saddled his mustang for the lethal ride toward the Ova. At his imperative whistle Treve ranged alongside the pony and the two set forth.
The dog did not relish the prospect of a ride with Joel. True, every dog enjoys a walk or a ride with even a human whom he does not love. But Treve was aware of a queer distaste for today’s jaunt. Perhaps he was warned by the sixth sense which puzzles so many collie students. Perhaps the heat of the day and the glum company of Fenno made the outing seem less attractive than usual. Yet obediently he loped along at the pony’s side.
Fenno had no understanding of horses. He rode as he did everything else, busily and unsparingly. To him a horse was a machine which must be made to earn its cost and upkeep.
His mount today was a temperamental little buckskin, Pancho by name, whose devil temper and inborn mischief had never been trained fully out of him. Royce Mack understood Pancho and got good service from him, in spite of the buckskin’s occasional phases of meanness. But Joel Fenno and Pancho had a steady hatred for each other.
Joel had chosen the buckskin for today’s ride because his own temper was still frayed from the night’s work and the morning’s squabble. He found himself watching for any trick or meanness on the part of Pancho which should warrant the liberal use of quirt and spur.
When a man is looking for a fight Destiny is prone to send one to him. Fenno had not ridden for more than two hours when Pancho saw, or affected to see, something terrifying about a jack rabbit that bounded in front of the pony’s nose.
Pancho went straight up into the air, wheeling halfway about as he did so and coming to earth again stiff legged in a series of spine-jarring buck jumps. The first of these banging impacts nearly unseated Fenno and wholly snapped the illtied cord which strapped the bundle of rations to the back of the saddle.
So occupied was Joel with the punitive values of curb and quirt and heel that he did not observe the loss of his provisions and water bag.
The horse fought frantically. The man fought back with scientific fury. For ferocious brutality he out battled the beast.
In little more than a minute Pancho I- gave up the conflict. Not that he was subdued, but because he found he could not hope to win this particular bout. He stood trembling and non-resisting while the rider whaled him unmercifully.
Joel settled himself down into his saddle. Grimly, he was pleased with himself. He had worked off his sour temper and he had won a victory. The dog, resignedly trotting along beside him, could have told him how far he had come from breaking his foe’s spirit. For Treve could see the pony’s eyes. Their whites showed unduly and there was a hint of murder in their rolling irises.
Two hours went by. And another hour. Then Fenno began to scan the distance for some shady spot where he might make his noonday halt.
There was no shade in sight. In fact, it was the most shadeless season of a shadeless region in that semiarid belt of shadeless country.
In Dos Hermanos County, except on the upper slopes and summits of the Dos Hermanos Peaks, the average yearly rainfall was but twenty-four inches. And more than twenty-one of those twenty-four inches fell between November and April.
Late May had arrived. The level ground — most of it little better than hardpan — was beginning to dry to the consistency of burnt clay. The lower foothills were losing the last of their verdure and beginning to assume their summer coat of khaki tan. True, in such lowlands as the distant Ova the occasional water holes and like receptacles for rainfall sometimes n wet years kept enough green grass alive to serve as temporary grazing ground for sheep before the utter drought of summer sent the sheep men to the government land high in the mountains with their flocks in search of grass. But this was not a wet year.
Joel Fenno saw the arid sweep of ground broken, perhaps a mile ahead of him, by an irregular ring of yellowish green. Here, by all signs, should be a water hole.
Fenno headed for the water hole. His tired pony plodded along over the uneven ground with head adroop. Treve had moved from Pancho’s right side to his left, seeking such tiny patch of shade as the mustang’s moving body might afford. The air hung dead and stifling. The sun blazed from the pitilessly hot sky.
Joel’s tough skin sweated drippingly. It was the hottest day thus far of the year and the weather-wise man knew it was the first of at least three scorchingly hot days. It would be well to do what he had come to do and then turn back toward the ranch.
This was as good a spot as any for his purpose. Here at intervals patches of soft and easily dug sand cropped out through the hardpan and rock. It would be easy enough to scoop out a space deep enough to bury the body of a dog. Yes, and it would be best to do so before getting any nearer to the water hole. The presence of water might well attract other wayfarers — men who might investigate a newly heaped mound of sand in the dead level.
Joel Fenno halted his mustang and glanced around to make certain he had the wide sweep of blisteringly arid country to himself. Treve, still keeping in the shadow of the pony, stopped and looked inquiringly up at the man.
Then, suddenly, his attention was caught by Fenno’s upraised voice. Joel, in the course of his sweeping survey of the country behind him had chanced to drop his gaze to the hips of his sweating and welt-skinned mount. And he saw that the water bag and the bundle of rations were gone from behind his saddle.
He was an old enough plainsman to realize what this implied. It meant he must go hungry until night — he who had ridden himself into such a hearty appetite. It meant, too, that he must do all his drinking from the muddy and perhaps alkaline puddle of the mile-distant water hole and that thereafter he must travel through the heat with unassuaged thirst.
Small wonder that he burst into a roar of profanity!
He knew well enough how the mischance had occurred. It was Pancho’s fault — all Pancho’s fault!
In a gust of wrath he slashed the mustang across the neck with his quirt.
Now a horse is almost as quick as a dog to note a change in his master’s mood. Even before the blow — even before the burst of swearing — Pancho had become aware of a slackening in his rider’s wonted grim self-command. He had prepared to take advantage of it.
Before the quirt had fairly landed athwart his neck Pancho had left the ground. This time he did not buck. Straight up shot his forequarters.
There was no warning of the outbreak. Moreover, Fenno had been sitting carelessly in the saddle, for the horse had been standing still.
With the speed of light the mustang flung his head and shoulders upward. In practically the same motion he hurled himself back, dashing himself to the ground, with his rider beneath hm.
More than once in former battles Pancho had attempted this with Joel. But usually a fist thump between the ears had brought him down on all fours again before the ruse was complete. Failing to land such a punch, Fenno had at other times twisted out of the saddle and safely out of the falling body’s path.
But today the outshot fist started its drive an instant too late. It barely grazed Pancho’s ear. Joel slipped from the saddle, but again fraction of a second too late.
Down crashed the 900-pound mustang, full on the helplessly struggling body of his fallen rider, pinning Fenno to earth on an outcrop of shale rock.
With a snort and a wriggle Pancho was up on his feet again.
On the trampled ground behind him floundered a writhing and bruised man, who twisted like stamped-on snake.
With all his might, Joel Fenno strove to get up. He knew what must be in store for himself should he fail to regain his feet.
But he could not arise. He did not know why. His legs refused to obey him. The fall and the crushing weight that had ground his back into the rock had wrenched the spine. It had left his legs temporarily numb and useless. He was paralyzed.
With lips drawn back from his evil teeth and with ears flat the infuriated pony charged.
With an effort that well-nigh made him faint with agony, Fenno reached back to his hip for the service revolver he had strapped to his belt that morning for the killing of Treve.
Then the agony of his mind made him forget the anguish of his body. In his tumble the pistol had bounced from its holster. It was lying some ten feet away. For all use the weapon could now be to its owner it might as well lie in the next county.
Down at the helpless cripple thundered Pancho.
The mustang’s flashing forefeet were in air above the man, poised for the tearing beats which should stamp their victim to a jelly. Joel shut his eyes
But the murderous hoofs did not reach their goal.
This because a tawny-golden body whizzed through the air from nowhere in particular, but with the deadly accuracy of a flung spear. A pair of snapping jaws sunk their teeth deep in the mustang’s sensitive nose, while a sixty-pound furry body whirled itself so sharply to one side that Pancho’s aim and velocity were deflected.
Down came the hoofs, but waveringly and scramblingly and not within ten inches of the fallen man. Before they could rear again the grip on the nose was changed to a slash along the left side of the mustang’s head. Under the pain of this Pancho veered. And a second slash veered him still farther from the crippled Joel.
While Pancho and Joel had fought on more even terms the dog had looked on, impersonally entertained by the spectacle and with no impulse to interfere. But now that the man was down and helpless, somehow it was different.
To a dog, all men are gods. This does not mean that they are his own particular gods or that he has any interest in most of them. But they are of the race which he and his ancestors have served and guarded and worshiped since the days when the new earth was covered with vapor and the Neanderthal man tamed the first wolf cub.
So now when Joel Fenno lay stricken and defenseless and the mustang turned on him in murder, the collie played true to ancestral instinct.
Pancho spun about at the dog that had balked his yearning to murder the man. Apparently the collie must be gotten rid of before the mustang could finish the task of killing Fenno.
But in less than a handful of seconds he found he had taken upon himself a job far too big and too dangerous for his powers. The dog was everywhere at once and nowhere at any particular moment.
He was rending the bloody nostrils of the mustang. He was nipping the mustang’s hocks. He was slashing at the throat; he was tearing at face and chest and hips. With perfect ease he eluded the flailing hoofs and the pony’s wide-snapping jaws.
Joel Fenno forgot his own intolerable pain in the fascination of the combat. But as suddenly as it beganj the fight ended. The mustang had wit enough to know when he was bested. Bleeding, smarting, confused, all the lust of battle bitten out of him, he turned tail and fled. After the first few yards, Treve let him go and trotted back to the groaning Fenno.
Gravely, inquisitively, the collie stood over the man who had brought him here to shoot him. Down into the tortured face he looked. Joel returned the sorrowful gaze with something of terror in his own leathern visage. He was jolted out of a lifetime’s beliefs and theories.
He tried once more to get to his feet. But his legs were numb. He sought to wriggle along on his stomach toward the mile-off water hole. There he could quench the awful thirst that had begun to grip him. There, too, he might be found by some passer-by.
But the pain of even the slightest motion was more than his iron nerve could endure. With a groan he gave up the attempt. Supine and panting, Fenno lay where he had fallen, the great dog standing protectingly above him.
From time to time Treve would bend down to lick the tortured face or to whine softly in sympathy. He knew the man was helpless and in pain. But there was nothing he could do except to interpose his own hot, shaggy body between Fenno’s head and the terrific sun rays. And even this may have been done by accident.
Thirst at last gripped Joel tenfold more agonizingly than did the pain of his wrenched back.1- His mouth was parched and burning. His tongue had begun to swell. Burying his face — now sweatless and dryly torrid — in his hands, he lay and prayed for death.
When he looked up again Treve was gone. An awful sense of loneliness seized the tormented sufferer. Blithely would he have given his share of the ranch in return for the dog’s comforting presence at his side. More blithely would he have given ten years of life for one drop of water, to ease the fever and the maniac thirst that possessed him.
To few is it given to receive the granting of the only two wishes they have made. But presently it was granted to Joel Fenno. He heard a patter of running feet. Toward him from the direction of the water hole Treve came bounding. The collie’s massively shaggy coat was adrip with water.
Up to the parched victim he trotted and lay down beside Fenno’s head. Greedily Joel dug both fevered hands in the dog’s mattress of soaked fur, squeezing into his own mouth the drops of grimy water wherewith the coat was saturated.
Now Treve had done no miraculous thing; although to Fenno it seemed a major miracle of brain and devotion. Indeed, the dog had done something absolutely normal and characteristic. Seeing Joel lie still with his face buried in his hands, he had concluded the man was asleep and thus was in no immediate need of the collie’s services. And the young dog had scope to think of his own needs.
For more than five hours through the scorching heat Treve had been running, without so much as a single drink of water to cool his throat. Collies, more than almost any other dogs, require plenty of drinking water. Now that he was at leisure to consider his own wants, Treve realized he was acutely thirsty.
His keen sense of smell told him there was water somewhere ahead. And off he went to investigate. Finding the water hole, he drank his fill, then, collielike, he wallowed deep in the muddy liquid. Cooled and with his thirst assuaged, he recalled his duty and galloped back to the injured man, lying down in front of him to await orders. That his soaked coat chanced to contain enough water to soothe the torment of Joel’s fever thirst was mere coincidence.
Twice more during that terrible afternoon of heat the dog stole away to the water hole to drink and to wallow. Both times he came back to the sufferer who waited so frantically to wring out into his own burning mouth the life-saving drops.
Even before the riderless Pancho came cantering home in late afternoon Royce Mack had begun to worry. Returning early from Santa Carlotta, he had found Joel’s note and had read perplexedly between the lines. At sight of Pancho he flung a saddle on another pony and yelled to two of his men to follow. Then he set off at top speed along the trail toward the Ova.
Dark had fallen hours ago when the bark of a collie came to Mack on his plodding ride. Then there was a scurry of feet and Treve was leaping and barking about his pony. From a mile to one side of Royce’s line of march the night breeze had brought the collie his master’s scent and he had galloped to intercept him and to guide him to where a half-delirious old man lay sprawled out on a rock.
At sight of the rescuer Joel Fenno tensed his muscles and forced his face into its wonted sour grimness. But he could not keep his delirium-tickled tongue from babbling.
“Say!” he grunted, before Mack could speak. “We’ll keep Treve if you’re so set on keeping him. Not that he’s really worth keeping — except maybe sometimes. Let him stay on at Dos Hermanos if you like. He’s — he’s only part collie, though. He’s got some of the breeding of — of the ravens that fed Elijah. Let him stay with us. I don’t mind, so long as he don’t eat too much. . . Now quit gawping like a fool and help me to a doctor! Why, that collie’s got more sense than what you’ve got. Besides, he’s — he’s sure one grand water dog!”
Featured image: Illustration by Lynn Bogue Hunt
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