Luckily for the sake of discipline, the order of “Break ranks!” was given before Mahan could disgrace himself by such unmartial behavior. And, on the instant, the Sergeant broke into a run in the direction of the rocks.
Wondering at his eccentric action, several of the soldiers followed. The company captain, at sight of a knot of his men dashing at breakneck speed toward the boulders, started at a more leisurely pace in the same direction.
Mahan had reached the edge of the rocks when his ears were greeted by a yell of mortal fear. The captain and the rest, catching the sound, went faster. Screech after screech rang from the rocky enclosure.
Mahan rounded the big boulder at the crest of the ridge and flung himself upon the two combatants, as they thrashed about in a tumultuous dual mass on the ground. And just then Bruce at last found his grip on Stolz’s throat.
A stoical German signal-corps officer, on a hilltop some miles to eastward, laid aside his field-glass and calmly remarked to a man at his side
“We have lost a good spy!”
Such was the sole epitaph and eulogy of Herr Heinrich Stolz, from his army.
Meantime, Sergeant Mahan was prying loose the collie’s ferocious jaws from their prey and was tugging with all his might to drag the dog off the shrieking spy. The throat-hold, he noted, was a bare inch from the jugular.
The rest of the soldiers, rushing up pell-mell, helped him pull the infuriated Bruce from his victim. The spectacle of their admired dog-hero, so murderously mauling a woman of the Red Cross, dazed them with horror.
“Take him away!” bellowed Stolz, delirious with pain and fear. “He’s killed me—der gottverdammte Teufelhund!”
And now the crazed victim’s unconscious use of German was not needed to tell every one within hearing just who and what he was. For the quavering tones were no longer a rich contralto. They were a throaty baritone. And the accent was Teutonic.
“Bruce!” observed Top-Sergeant Mahan next morning, “I’ve always said a man who kicks a dog is more of a cur than the dog is. But you’ll never know how near I came to kicking you yesterday, when I caught you mangling that filthy spy. And Brucie, if I had kicked you, well—I’d be praying at this minute that the good Lord would grow a third leg on me, so that I could kick myself all the way from here to Berlin!”
When Bruce left the quiet peace of The Place for the hell of the Western Front, it had been stipulated by the Mistress and the Master that if ever he were disabled, he should be shipped back to The Place, at their expense.
It was a stipulation made rather to soothe the Mistress’s sorrow at parting from her loved pet than in any hope that it could be fulfilled; for the average life of a courierdog on the battle-front was tragically short. And his fate was more than ordinarily certain. If the boche bullets and shrapnel happened to miss him, there were countless diseases—bred of trench and of hardship and of abominable food—to kill him.