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Bruce By Albert Payson Terhune Characters: 37397

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The guest had decided to wait until next morning, before leaving The Place, instead of following his first plan of taking a night train to New York. He was a captain in our regular army and had newly come back from France to forget an assortment of shrapnel-bites and to teach practical tactics to rookies.

He reached his decision to remain over night at The Place while he and the Mistress and the Master were sitting on the vine-hung west veranda after dinner, watching the flood of sunset change the lake to molten gold and the sky to pink fire. It would be pleasant to steal another few hours at this back-country House of Peace before returning to the humdrum duties of camp. And the guest yielded to the temptation.

"I'm mighty glad you can stay over till morning," said the Master. "I'll send word to Roberts not to bring up the car."

As he spoke, he scrawled a penciled line on an envelope-back; then he whistled.

From a cool lounging-place beneath the wistaria-vines arose a huge collie-stately of form, dark brown and white of coat, deep-set of eye and with a head that somehow reminded one of a Landseer engraving. The collie trotted up the steps of the veranda and stood expectant before the Master. The latter had been folding the envelope lengthwise. Now he slipped it through the ring in the dog's collar.

"Give it to Roberts," he said.

The big collie turned and set off at a hand-gallop.

"Good!" approved the guest. "Bruce didn't seem to be in any doubt as to what you wanted him to do. He knows where Roberts is likely to be?"

"No," said the Master. "But he can track him and find him, if Roberts is anywhere within a mile or so from here. That was one of the first things we taught him-to carry messages. All we do is to slip the paper into his collar-ring and tell him the name of the person to take it to. Naturally, he knows us all by name. So it is easy enough for him to do it. We look on the trick as tremendously clever. But that's because we love Bruce. Almost any dog can be taught to do it, I suppose. We-"

"You're mistaken!" corrected the guest. "Almost any dog CAN'T be taught to. Some dogs can, of course; but they are the exception. I ought to know, for I've been where dog-couriers are a decidedly important feature of trench-warfare. I stopped at one of the dog-training schools in England, too, on my way back from Picardy, and watched the teaching of the dogs that are sent to France and Flanders. Not one in ten can be trained to carry messages; and not one in thirty can be counted on to do it reliably. You ought to be proud of Bruce."

"We are," replied the Mistress. "He is one of the family. We think everything of him. He was such a stupid and awkward puppy, too! Then, in just a few months, he shaped up, as he is now. And his brain woke."

Bruce interrupted the talk by reappearing on the veranda. The folded envelope was still in the ring on his collar. The guest glanced furtively at the Master, expecting some sign of chagrin at the collie's failure.

Instead, the Master took the envelope, unfolded it and glanced at a word or two that had been written beneath his own scrawl; then he made another penciled addition to the envelope's writing, stuck the twisted paper back into the ring and said-

"Roberts."

Off trotted Bruce on his second trip.

"I had forgotten to say which train you'll have to take in the morning," explained the Master. "So Roberts wrote, asking what time he was to have the car at the door after breakfast. It was careless of me."

The guest did not answer. But when Bruce presently returned,-this time with no paper in his collar-ring,-the officer passed his hand appraisingly through the dog's heavy coat and looked keenly down into his dark eyes.

"Gun-shy?" asked the guest. "Or perhaps he's never heard a gun fired?"

"He's heard hundreds of guns fired," said the Master. "I never allow a gun to be fired on The Place, of course, because we've made it a bird refuge. But Bruce went with us in the car to the testing of the Lewis machineguns, up at Haskell. They made a most ungodly racket. But somehow it didn't seem to bother the Big Dog at all."

"H'm!" mused the guest, his professional interest vehemently roused. "He would be worth a fortune over there. There are a lot of collies in the service, in one capacity or another-almost as many as the Airedales and the police dogs. And they are doing grand work. But I never saw one that was better fitted for it than Bruce. It's a pity he lives on the wrong side of the Atlantic. He could do his bit, to more effect than the average human. There are hundreds of thousands of men for the ranks, but pitifully few perfect courier-dogs."

The Mistress was listening with a tensity which momentarily grew more painful. The Master's forehead, too, was creased with a new thought that seemed to hurt him. To break the brief silence that followed the guest's words, he asked:

"Are the dogs, over there, really doing such great work as the papers say they are? I read, the other day-"

"'Great work!'" repeated the guest. "I should say so. Not only in finding the wounded and acting as guards on listening posts, and all that, but most of all as couriers. There are plenty of times when the wireless can't be used for sending messages from one point to another, and where there is no telephone connection, and where the firing is too hot for a human courier to get through. That is where is the war dogs have proved their weight in radium. Collies, mostly. There are a million true stories of their prowess told, at camp-fires. Here are just two such incidents-both of them on record, by the way, at the British War Office

"A collie, down near Soissons, was sent across a bad strip of fire-scourged ground, with a message. A boche sharpshooter fired at him and shattered his jaw. The dog kept on, in horrible agony, and delivered the message. Another collie was sent over a still hotter and much longer stretch of territory with a message. (That was during the Somme drive of 1916.) He was shot at, a dozen times, as he ran. At last two bullets got him. He fell over, mortally wounded. He scrambled to his feet and kept on falling, stumbling, staggering-till he got to his destination. Then he dropped dead at the side of the Colonel the message had been sent to. And those are only two of thousands of true collie-anecdotes. Yet some fools are trying to get American dogs done away with, as 'non-utilitarian,' while the war lasts! As if the dogs in France, today, weren't earning their overseas brothers' right to live-and live well!"

Neither of his hearers made reply when the guest finished his earnest, eager recital. Neither of them had paid much heed to his final words. For the Master and the Mistress were looking at each other in mute unhappiness. The same miserable thought was in the mind of each. And each knew the thought that was torturing the mind of the other.

Presently, at a glint of inquiry in the Master's eye, the Mistress suddenly bent over and buried her face in the deep mass of Bruce's ruff as the dog stood lovingly beside her. Then, still stroking the collie's silken head, she returned her husband's wretchedly questioning glance with a resigned little nod. The Master cleared his throat noisily before he could speak with the calm indifference he sought. Then, turning to the apparently unnoticing guest, he said-

"I think I told you I tried to get across to France at the very start-and I was barred because I am past forty and because I have a bum heart and several other defects that a soldier isn't supposed to have. My wife and I have tried to do what little we can for the Cause, on this side of the ocean. But it has seemed woefully little, when we remember what others are doing. And we have no son we can send."

Again he cleared his throat and went on with sulky ungraciousness:

"We both know what you've been driving at for the past five minutes. And-and we agree. Bruce can go."

"Great!" applauded the guest. "That's fine! He'll be worth his-"

"If you think we're a couple of fools for not doing this more willingly," went on the Master with savage earnestness, "just stop to think what it means to a man to give up the dog he loves. Not to give him up to some one who will assure him a good home, but to send him over into that hell, where a German bullet or a shell-fragment or hunger or disease is certain to get him, soon or late. To think of him lying smashed and helpless, somewhere in No Man's Land, waiting for death; or caught by the enemy and eaten! (The Red Cross bulletin says no less than eight thousand dogs were eaten, in Saxony alone, in 1913, the year BEFORE the war began.) Or else to be captured and then cut up by some German vivisector-surgeon in the sacred interests of Science! Oh, we can bring ourselves to send Bruce over there! But don't expect us to do it with a good grace. For we can't."

"I-" began the embarrassed guest; but the Mistress chimed in, her sweet voice not quite steady.

"You see, Captain, we've made such a pet-such a baby-of Bruce! All his life he has lived here-here where he had the woods to wander in and the lake to swim in, and this house for his home. He will be so unhappy and-Well, don't let's talk about that! When I think of the people who give their sons and everything they have, to the country, I feel ashamed of not being more willing to let a mere dog go. But then Bruce is not just a 'mere dog.' He is-he is BRUCE. All I ask is that if he is injured and not killed, you'll arrange to have him sent back here to us. We'll pay for it, of course. And will you write to whomever you happen to know, at that dog-training school in England, and ask that Bruce be treated nicely while he is training there? He's never been whipped. He's never needed it, you see."

The Mistress might have spared herself much worry as to Bruce's treatment in the training school to which he was consigned. It was not a place of cruelty, but of development. And when, out of the thousands of dogs sent there, the corps of trainers found one with promise of strong ability, such a pupil was handled with all the care and gentleness and skill that a temperamental prima donna might expect.

Such a dog was the big American collie, debarked from a goods car at the training camp railway station, six weeks after the Mistress and the Master had consented to his enlistment. And the handlers treated him accordingly.

The Master himself had taken Bruce to the transport, in Brooklyn, and had led him aboard the overfull ship. The new sights and sounds around him interested the home-bred collie. But when the Master turned him over to the officer in whose charge he was to be for the voyage, Bruce's deep-set eyes clouded with a sudden heartsick foreboding.

Wrenching himself free from the friendly hand on his collar, he sprang in pursuit of his departing deity,-the loved Master who was leaving him alone and desolate among all these strange scenes and noises. The Master, plodding, sullen and heavy-hearted, toward the gangway, was aware of a cold nose thrust into his dejected hand.

Looking down he beheld Bruce staring up at him with a world of stark appeal in his troubled gaze. The Master swallowed hard; then laid his hand on the beautiful head pressed so confidingly against his knee. Turning, he led the dog back to the quarters assigned to him.

"Stay here, old friend!" he commanded, huskily. "It's all right. You'll make good. I know that. And there's a chance in a billion that you'll come back to us. I'm-I'm not deserting you. And I guess there's precious little danger that any one on The Place will ever forget you. It's-it's all right. Millions of humans are doing it. I'd give everything I've got, if I could go, too. IT'S ALL RIGHT!"

Then Bruce understood at last that he was to stay in this place of abominations, far from everything he loved; and that he must do so because the Master ordained it. He made no further effort to break away and to follow his god ashore. But he shivered convulsively from head to foot; and his desolate gaze continued to trace the Master's receding figure out of sight. Then, with a long sigh, he lay down, heavily, his head between his white forepaws, and resigned himself to whatever of future misery his deities might have ordained for him.

Ensued a fortnight of mental and bodily anguish, as the inland-reared dog tasted the horrors of a voyage in a rolling ship, through heaving seas. Afterward, came the landing at a British port and the train ride to the camp which was to be his home for the next three months.

Bruce's sense of smell told him the camp contained more dogs than ever he had beheld in all his brief life put together. But his hearing would have led him to believe there were not a dozen other dogs within a mile of him.

From the encampment arose none of the rackety barking which betokens the presence of many canines, and which deafens visitors to a dog-show.

One of the camp's first and most stringent rules forbade barking, except under special order. These dogs-or the pick of them-were destined for work at the front. The bark of a dog has a carrying quality greater than the combined shouting of ten men. It is the last sound to follow a balloonist, after he has risen above the reach of all other earth-noises.

Hence, a chance bark, rising through the night to where some enemy airman soared with engines turned off, might well lead to the bombing of hitherto unlocated trenches or detachment-camps. For this and divers other reasons, the first lesson taught to arriving wardogs was to abstain from barking.

The dogs were divided, roughly, by breeds, as regarded the line of training assigned to them. The collies were taught courier-work. The Airedales, too,-hideous, cruel, snake-headed,-were used as couriers, as well as to bear Red Cross supplies and to hunt for the wounded. The gaunt and wolflike police dogs were pressed into the two latter tasks, and were taught listening-post duty. And so on through all available breeds,-including the stolidly wise Old English sheepdogs who were to prove invaluable in finding and succoring and reporting the wounded,-down to the humble terriers and mongrels who were taught to rid trenches of vermin.

Everywhere was quiet efficiency and tirelessly patient and skillful work on the part of the trainers. For Britain's best dog men had been recruited for service here. On the perfection of their charges' training might depend the fate of many thousand gallant soldiers. Wherefore, the training was perfect.

Hundreds of dogs proved stupid or unreliable or gun-shy or too easily confused in moments of stress. These were weeded out, continually, and shipped back to the masters who had proffered them.

Others developed with amazing speed and cleverness, grasping their profession as could few human soldiers. And Bruce, lonely and heartsore, yet throwing himself into his labors with all the zest of the best thoroughbred type,-was one of this group.

His early teachings now stood him in good stead. What once had been a jolly game, for his own amusement and that of the Mistress and the Master, was now his life-work. Steadily his trainer wrought over him, bringing out latent abilities that would have dumfounded his earliest teachers, steadying and directing the gayly dashing intelligence; upbuilding and rounding out all his native gifts.

A dog of Bruce's rare type made up to the trainers for the dullness of their average pupils. He learned with bewildering ease. He never forgot a lesson once taught.

No, the Mistress need not have interceded to save him from beating. As soon would an impresario think of thrashing Caruso or Paderewski as would Bruce's glum Scottish trainer have laid whip to this best pupil of his. Life was bare and strict for Bruce. But life was never unkind to him, in these first months of exile from The Place. And, bit by bit, he began to take a joy in his work.

Not for a day,-perhaps not for an hour, did the big collie forget the home of his babyhood or those he had delighted to worship, there. And the look of sadness in his dark eyes became a settled aspect. Yet, here, there was much to interest and to excite him. And he grew to look forward with pleasure to his daily lessons.

At the end of three months, he was shipped to France. There his seemingly aimless studies at the training camp were put to active use.

* * *

At the foot of the long Flanders hill-slope the "Here-We-Come" Regiment, of mixed American and French infantry, held a caterpillar-shaped line of trenches.

To the right, a few hundred yards away, was posted a Lancashire regiment, supported by a battalion from Cornwall. On the left were two French regiments. In front, facing the hill-slope and not a half-mile distant, was the geometric arrangement of sandbags that marked the contour of the German first-line trenches.

The hill behind them, the boches in front of them, French and British troops on either side of them-the Here-We-Comes were helping to defend what was known as a "quiet" sector. Behind the hill, and on loftier heights far to the rear, the Allied artillery was posted. Somewhere in the same general locality lay a division of British reserves.

It is almost a waste of words to have described thus the surroundings of the Here-We-Comes. For, with no warning at all, those entire surroundings were about to be changed.

Ludendorff and his little playmates were just then engaged in the congenial sport of delivering unexpected blows at various successive points of the Allied line, in an effort to find some spot that was soft enough to cave in under the impact and let through a horde of gray-clad Huns. And though none of the defenders knew it, this "quiet" sector had been chosen for such a minor blow.

The men in higher command, back there behind the hill crest, had a belated inkling, though, of a proposed attack on the lightly defended front trenches. For the Allied airplanes which drifted in the upper heavens like a scattered handful of dragon-flies were not drifting there aimlessly. They were the eyes of the snakelike columns that crawled so blindly on the scarred brown surface of the earth. And those "eyes" had discerned the massing of a force behind the German line had discerned and had duly reported it.

The attack might come in a day. It might not come in a week. But it was coming-unless the behind-the-lines preparations were a gigantic feint.

A quiet dawn, in the quiet trenches of the quiet sector. Desultory artillery and somewhat less desultory sniping had pre

vailed throughout the night, and at daybreak; but nothing out of the ordinary.

Two men on listening-post had been shot; and so had an overcurious sentry who peeped just an inch too far above a parapet. A shell had burst in a trench, knocking the telephone connection out of gear and half burying a squad of sleepers under a lot of earth. Otherwise, things were drowsily dull.

In a dugout sprawled Top-Sergeant Mahan,-formerly of Uncle Sam's regular army, playing an uninspiring game of poker with Sergeant Dale of his company and Sergeant Vivier of the French infantry. The Frenchman was slow in learning poker's mysteries.

And, anyway, all three men were temporarily penniless and were forced to play for I.O.U's-which is stupid sport, at best.

So when, from the German line, came a quick sputt-sputt-sputt from a half-dozen sharpshooters' rifles, all three men looked up from their desultory game in real interest. Mahan got to his feet with a grunt.

"Some other fool has been trying to see how far he can rubber above the sandbags without drawing boche fire," he hazarded, starting out to investigate. "It's a miracle to me how a boche bullet can go through heads that are so full of first-quality ivory as those rubberers'."

But Mahan's strictures were quite unwarranted. The sharpshooters were not firing at the parapet. Their scattering shots were flying high, and hitting against the slope of the hill behind the trenches.

Adown this shell-pocked hillside, as Mahan and the other disturbed idlers gazed, came cantering a huge dark-brown-and-white collie. The morning wind stirred the black stippling that edged his tawny fur, showing the gold-gray undercoat beneath it. His white chest was like a snowdrift, and offered a fine mark for the German rifles. A bullet or two sang whiningly past his gayly up-flung head.

A hundred voices from the Here-We-Come trenches hailed the advancing dog.

"Why, it's Bruce!" cried Mahan in glad welcome. "I might 'a' known he or another of the collies would be along. I might 'a' known it, when the telephones went out of commission. He-"

"Regardez-donc!" interrupted the admiring Vivier. "He acts like bullets was made of flies! Mooch he care for boche lead-pills, ce brave vieux!"

"Yes," growled Dale worriedly; "and one of these days a bullet will find its way into that splendid carcass of his. He's been shot at, a thousand times, to my own knowledge. And all I ask is a chance, with a rifle-butt, at the skull of the Hun who downs him!"

"Downs Bruce?" queried Vivier in fine scorn. "The boche he is no borned who can do it. Bruce has what you call it, in Ainglish, the 'charm life.' He go safe, where other caniche be pepper-potted full of holes. I've watch heem. I know."

Unscathed by the several shots that whined past him, Bruce came to a halt at the edge of a traverse. There he stood, wagging his plume of a tail in grave friendliness, while a score of khaki-clad arms reached up to lift him bodily into the trench.

A sergeant unfastened the message from the dog's collar and posted off to the colonel with it.

The message was similar to one which had been telephoned to each of the supporting bodies, to right and to left of the Here-We-Comes. It bade the colonel prepare to withdraw his command from the front trenches at nightfall, and to move back on the main force behind the hill-crest. The front trenches were not important; and they were far too lightly manned to resist a mass attack. Wherefore the drawing-in and consolidating of the whole outflung line.

Bruce, his work done now, had leisure to respond to the countless offers of hospitality that encompassed him. One man brought him a slice of cold broiled bacon. Another spread pork-grease over a bit of bread and proffered it. A third unearthed from some sacredly guarded hiding-place an excessively stale half-inch square of sweet chocolate.

Had the dog so chosen, he might then and there have eaten himself to death on the multitude of votive offerings. But in a few minutes he had had enough, and he merely sniffed in polite refusal at all further gifts.

"See?" lectured Mahan. "That's the beast of it! When you say a fellow eats or drinks 'like a beast,' you ought to remember that a beast won't eat or drink a mouthful more than is good for him."

"Gee!" commented the somewhat corpulent Dale. "I'm glad I'm not a beast-especially on pay-day."

Presently Bruce tired of the ovation tendered him. These ovations were getting to be an old story. They had begun as far back as his training-camp days-when the story of his joining the army was told by the man to whom The Place's guest had written commending the dog to the trainers' kindness.

At the training-camp this story had been reenforced by the chief collie-teacher-a dour little Hieland Scot named McQuibigaskie, who on the first day declared that the American dog had more sense and more promise and more soul "than a' t'other tykes south o' Kirkcudbright Brae."

Being only mortal, Bruce found it pleasanter to be admired and petted than ignored or kicked. He was impersonally friendly with the soldiers, when he was off duty; and he relished the dainties they were forever thrusting at him.

But at times his soft eyes would grow dark with homesickness for the quiet loveliness of The Place and for the Mistress and the Master who were his loyally worshiped gods. Life had been so happy and so sweetly uneventful for him, at The Place! And there had been none of the awful endless thunder and the bewilderingly horrible smells and gruesome sights which here met him at every turn.

The dog's loving heart used to grow sick with it all; and he longed unspeakably for home. But he was a gallant soldier, and he did his work not only well, but with a snap and a dash and an almost uncanny intelligence which made him an idol to the men.

Presently, now, having eaten all he wanted and having been patted and talked to until he craved solitude, Bruce strolled ever to an empty dugout, curled up on a torn blanket there, put his nose between his white paws and went to sleep.

The German artillery-fire had swelled from an occasional explosion to a ceaseless roar, that made the ground vibrate and heave, and that beat on the eardrums with nauseating iterance. But it did not bother Bruce. For months he had been used to this sort of annoyance, and he had learned to sleep snugly through it all.

Meanwhile, outside his dugout, life was speeding up at a dizzying rate. The German artillery had sprung to sudden and wholesale activity. Far to the right of the Here-We-Come regiment's trenches a haze had begun to crawl along the ground and to send snaky tendrils high in air-tendrils that blended into a single grayish-green wall as they moved forward. The hazewall's gray-green was shot by yellow and purple tinges as the sun's weak rays touched it. To the left of the Here-We-Comes, and then in front of them, appeared the same wall of billowing gas.

The Here-We-Comes were ready for it with their hastily donned masks. But there was no need of the precaution. By one of the sudden wind-freaks so common in the story of the war, the gas-cloud was cleft in two by a swirling breeze, and it rolled dankly on, to right and left, leaving the central trenches clear.

Now, an artillery barrage, accompanied or followed by a gas-demonstration, can mean but one thing: a general attack. Therefore telephonic word came to the detachments to left and right of the Here-We-Comes, to fall back, under cover of the gas-cloud, to safer positions. Two dogs were sent, with the same order, to the Here-We-Comes. (One of the dogs was gassed. A bit of shrapnel found the other.)

Thus it was that the Here-We-Comes were left alone (though they did not know it), to hold the position,-with no support on either side, and with a mere handful of men wherewith to stem the impending rush.

On the heels of the dispersing gas-cloud, and straight across the half-mile or less of broken ground, came a line of gray. In five successive waves, according to custom, the boches charged. Each wave hurled itself forward as fast as efficiency would let it, in face of the opposing fire, and as far as human endurance would be goaded. Then it went down, and its survivors attached themselves to the succeeding wave.

Hence, by the time the fifth and mightiest wave got into motion, it was swelled by the survivors of all four of its predecessors and was an all-but-resistless mass of shouting and running men.

The rifles and machine-guns of the Here-We-Comes played merrily into the advancing gray swarms, stopping wave after wave, and at last checking the fifth and "master" wave almost at the very brink of the Franco-American parapet.

"That's how they do!" Mahan pantingly explained to a rather shaky newcomer, as the last wave fell back. "They count on numbers and bullrushes to get them there. If they'd had ten thousand men, in that rush, instead of five thousand, they'd have got us. And if they had twice as many men in their whole army as they have, they'd win this war. But praise be, they haven't twice as many! That is one of the fifty-seven reasons why the Allies are going to lick Germany."

Mahan talked jubilantly. The same jubilation ran all along the line of victors. But the colonel and his staff were not rejoicing. They had just learned of the withdrawal of the forces to either side of them, and they knew they themselves could not hope to stand against a second and larger charge.

Such a charge the enemy were certain to make. The Germans, too, must soon learn of the defection of the supports. It was now only a question of an hour or less before a charge with a double-enveloping movement would surround and bag the Here-We-Comes, catching the whole regiment in an inescapable trap.

To fall back, now, up that long bare hillside, under full fire of the augmented German artillery, would mean a decimating of the entire command. The Here-We-Comes could not retreat. They could not hope to hold their ground. The sole chance for life lay in the arrival of strong reenforcements from the rear, to help them hold the trenches until night, or to man the supporting positions. Reserves were within easy striking distance. But, as happened so many times in the war, there was no routine way to summon them in time.

It was the chance sight of a crumpled message lying on his dugout-table that reminded the colonel of Bruce's existence and of his presence in the front trench. It was a matter of thirty seconds for the colonel to scrawl an urgent appeal and a brief statement of conditions. Almost as soon as the note was ready, an orderly appeared at the dugout entrance, convoying the newly awakened Bruce.

The all-important message was fastened in place. The colonel himself went to the edge of the traverse, and with his own arms lifted the eighty-pound collie to the top.

There was tenderness as well as strength in the lifting arms. As he set Bruce down on the brink, the colonel said, as if speaking to a fellow-human:

"I hate to do it, old chap. I HATE to! There isn't one chance in three of your getting all the way up the hill alive. But there wouldn't be one chance in a hundred, for a MAN. The boches will be on the lookout for just this move. And their best sharpshooters will be waiting for you-even if you dodge the shrapnel and the rest of the artillery. I'm sorry! And-good-by."

Then, tersely, he rasped out the command-

"Bruce! Headquarters! Headquarters! QUICK!"

At a bound, the dog was gone.

Breasting the rise of the hill, Bruce set off at a sweeping run, his tawny-and-white mane flying in the wind.

A thousand eyes, from the Here-We-Come trenches, watched his flight. And as many eyes from the German lines saw the huge collie's dash up the coverless slope.

Scarce had Bruce gotten fairly into his stride when the boche bullets began to sing-not a desultory little flurry of shots, as before; but by the score, and with a murderous earnestness. When he had appeared, on his way to the trenches, an hour earlier, the Germans had opened fire on him, merely for their own amusement-upon the same merry principle which always led them to shoot at an Ally war-dog. But now they understood his all-important mission; and they strove with their best skill to thwart it.

The colonel of the Here-We-Comes drew his breath sharply between his teeth. He did not regret the sending of the collie. It had been a move of stark military necessity. And there was an off chance that it might mean the saving of his whole command.

But the colonel was fond of Bruce, and it angered him to hear the frantic effort of the boche marksmen to down so magnificent a creature. The bullets were spraying all about the galloping dog, kicking up tiny swirls of dust at his heels and in front of him and to either side.

Mahan, watching, with streaming eyes and blaspheming lips, recalled the French sergeant's theory that Bruce bore a charmed life. And he prayed that Vivier might be right. But in his prayer was very little faith. For under such a fusillade it seemed impossible that at least one highpower bullet should not reach the collie before the slope could be traversed. A fast-running dog is not an easy mark for a bullet-especially if the dog be a collie, with a trace of wolf-ancestry in his gait. A dog, at best, does not gallop straight ahead as does a horse. There is almost always a sidewise lilt to his run.

Bruce was still further aided by the shell-plowed condition of the hillside. Again and again he had to break his stride, to leap some shell-hole. Often he had to encircle such holes. More than once he bounded headlong down into a gaping crater and scrambled up its far side. These erratic moves, and the nine-hundred-yard distance (a distance that was widening at every second) made the sharpshooters' task anything but an exact science.

Mahan's gaze followed the dog's every step. Bruce had cleared more than three-fourths of the slope. The top-sergeant permitted himself the luxury of a broad grin.

"I'll buy Vivier all the red-ink wine he can gargle, next pay-day!" he vowed. "He was dead right about the dog. No bullet was ever molded that can get-"

Mahan broke off in his exultation, with an explosive oath, as a new note in the firing smote upon his trained hearing.

"The swine!" he roared. "The filthy, unsportsmanly, dog-eating Prussian swine! They're turning MACHINE-GUNS on him!"

In place of the intermittent rattle of rifleshots now came the purring cough of rapidfire guns. The bullets hit the upper hillside in swathes, beginning a few yards behind the flying collie and moving upward toward him like a sweeping of an unseen scythe.

"That's the wind-up!" groaned Mahan. "Lord, send me an even break against one of those Hun machinegunners some day! If-"

Again Mahan failed to finish his train of thought. He stared open-mouthed up the hill. Almost at the very summit, within a rod or two of the point where the crest would intervene between him and his foes, Bruce whirled in mid-air and fell prone.

The fast-following swaths of machine-gun bullets had not reached him. But another German enemy had. From behind a heap of offal, on the crest, a yellow-gray dog had sprung, and had launched himself bodily upon Bruce's flank as the unnoticing collie had flashed past him.

The assailant was an enormous and hyena-like German police-dog. He was one of the many of his breed that were employed (for work or food) in the German camps, and which used to sneak away from their hard-kicking soldier-owners to ply a more congenial trade as scavengers, and as seekers for the dead. For, in traits as well as in looks, the police-dog often emulates the ghoulish hyena.

Seeing the approaching collie (always inveterate foe of his kind), the police-dog had gauged the distance and had launched his surprise attack with true Teuton sportsmanship and efficiency. Down went Bruce under the fierce weight that crashed against his shoulder. But before the other could gain his coveted throat-grip, Bruce was up again. Like a furry whirlwind he was at the police-dog, fighting more like a wolf than a civilized collie-tearing into his opponent with a maniac rage, snapping, slashing; his glittering white fangs driving at a dozen vulnerable points in a single second.

It was as though Bruce knew he had no time to waste from his life-and-death mission. He could not elude this enemy, so he must finish him as quickly as possible.

"Give me your rifle!" sputtered Mahan to the soldier nearest him. "I'll take one potshot at that Prussian cur, before the machine-guns get the two of 'em. Even if I hit Bruce by mistake, he'd rather die by a Christian Yankee-made bullet than-"

Just then the scythelike machine-gun fire reached the hillcrest combatants. And in the same instant a shell smote the ground, apparently between them. Up went a geyser of smoke and dirt and rocks. When the cloud settled, there was a deep gully in the ground where a moment earlier Bruce and the police-dog had waged their death-battle.

"That settles it!" muttered the colonel.

And he went to make ready for such puny defense as his men might hope to put up against the German rush.

While these futile preparations were still under way, terrific artillery fire burst from the Allied batteries behind the hill, shielding the Here-We-Come trenches with a curtain of fire whose lower folds draped themselves right unlovingly around the German lines. Under cover of this barrage, down the hill swarmed the Allied reserves!

"How did you get word?" demanded the astonished colonel of the Here-We-Comes, later in the day.

"From your note, of course," replied the general he had questioned. "The collie-old Bruce."

"Bruce?" babbled the colonel foolishly.

"Of course," answered the general. "Who else? But I'm afraid it's the last message he'll ever deliver. He came rolling and staggering up to headquarters-one mass of blood, and three inches thick with caked dirt. His right side was torn open from a shell-wound, and he had two machine-gun bullets in his shoulder. He's deaf as a post, too, from shell-shock. He tumbled over in a heap on the steps of headquarters. But he GOT there. That's Bruce, all over. That's the best type of collie, all over. Some of us were for putting him out of his misery with a shot through the head. We'd have done it, too, if it had been any other dog. But the surgeon-general waded in and took a hand in the game-carried Bruce to his own quarters. We left him working over the dog himself. And he swears Bruce will pull through!"

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