The confinement of a Kennel, too, no matter how commodious, was most trying. Even the vigorous daily exercise was “personally conducted” by Matt; and Baldy longed for the freedom that had been his when alone, or preferably with the boy, he had roamed through the far stretches of rank grass, tender willows, and sweet-smelling herbs in summer, or over the wide, snowy plains in winter.
Then, later, the boy came to Baldy; and there were blissful periods when he would lie with his head on Ben’s lap; when the repressed enmity of the haughty Tolmans, the cold indifference of the magnificent McMillan, and even Matt’s eternal vigilance were forgotten. Periods when his companion’s toil-hardened hands stroked the sleek sides and sinewy flanks that no longer hinted of insufficient nourishment; and caressing fingers lingered over the smooth and shining coat that had once been so rough and ragged.
To see Baldy receiving the same care and consideration as his stable-mates, who had won the plaudits of the world, justified the boy’s sacrifice; and in spite of his loneliness he always left Baldy with a happy heart.
“We’ll show ’em some day we was worth while, won’t we, Baldy?” he would whisper confidently; and Baldy’s reply was sure to be a satisfactory wag of his bobbed tail, signifying that he certainly intended to do his best.
The First Step
THE FIRST STEP
With the boy’s more frequent visits Baldy’s horizon began to widen almost imperceptibly. He even looked forward to those moments when, with George Allan and his friend Danny Kelly, Ben stood beside him discussing his points and possibilities.
Up to the present his world had included but two friends—the boy and Moose Jones. Annoyed and sometimes abused at the Camp, he had felt that there was no real understanding between himself and most of those with whom he came into association, and it had made him gloomy and suspicious. Now he knew, with the intuition so often found in children and animals, that George and Danny, as well as Ben, comprehended, at least in part, the emotions he could not adequately express—gratitude for kindness and a desire to please; and in return he endeavored to show his appreciation of this understanding by shy overtures of friendliness. He even licked George’s hand one day—a caress heretofore reserved exclusively for Ben Edwards—and he escorted Danny Kelly the full length of the town to his home in the East End, much as he dreaded the confines of the narrow city streets where he was brought into close contact with strange people and strange dogs.
At Golconda, in his absorbing affection for the boy, he had more or less ignored the others of his kind—they meant nothing to him. But now the advantages of plenty of food and excellent care were almost offset by his occasional contact with the quarrelsome dogs of the street, and his constant companionship with the distinguished company into which he had come reluctantly and in which he seemed so unwelcome.