A Spectral Collie
by Elia W. Peattie
WILLIAM PERCY CECIL happened to be a younger son, so he left home—which
was England—and went to Kansas to ranch it. Thousands of younger
sons do the same, only their destination is not invariably Kansas.
An agent at Wichita picked out Cecil's farm for him and sent the deeds
over to England before Cecil left. He said there was a house on the place.
So Cecil's mother fitted him out for America just as she had fitted out
another superfluous boy for Africa, and parted from him with an heroic
front and big agonies of mother-ache which she kept to herself.
The boy bore up the way a man of his blood ought, but when he went out to
the kennel to see Nita, his collie, he went to pieces somehow, and rolled
on the grass with her in his arms and wept like a booby. But the
remarkable part of it was that Nita wept too, big, hot dog tears which her
master wiped away. When he went off she howled like a hungry baby, and had
to be switched before she would give any one a night's sleep.
When Cecil got over on his Kansas place he fitted up the shack as cosily
as he could, and learned how to fry bacon and make soda biscuits.
Incidentally, he did farming, and sunk a heap of money, finding out how
not to do things. Meantime, the Americans laughed at him, and were
inclined to turn the cold shoulder, and his compatriots, of whom there
were a number in the county, did not prove to his liking. They consoled
themselves for their exiled state in fashions not in keeping with Cecil's
traditions. His homesickness went deeper than theirs, perhaps, and
American whiskey could not make up for the loss of his English home, nor
flirtations with the gay American village girls quite compensate him for
the loss of his English mother. So he kept to himself and had nostalgia as
some men have consumption.
At length the loneliness got so bad that he had to see some living thing
from home, or make a flunk of it and go back like a cry baby. He had a
stiff pride still, though he sobbed himself to sleep more than one night,
as many a pioneer has done before him. So he wrote home for Nita, the
collie, and got word that she would be sent. Arrangements were made for
her care all along the line, and she was properly boxed and shipped.
As the time drew near for her arrival, Cecil could hardly eat. He was too
excited to apply himself to anything. The day of her expected arrival he
actually got up at five o'clock to clean the house and make it look as
fine as possible for her inspection. Then he hitched up and drove fifteen
miles to get her. The train pulled out just before he reached the station,
so Nita in her box was waiting for him on the platform. He could see her
in a queer way, as one sees the purple centre of a revolving circle of
light; for, to tell the truth, with the long ride in the morning sun, and
the beating of his heart, Cecil was only about half-conscious of anything.
He wanted to yell, but he didn't. He kept himself in hand and lifted up
the sliding side of the box and called to Nita, and she came out.
But it wasn't the man who fainted, though he might have done so, being
crazy homesick as he was, and half-fed and overworked while he was yet
soft from an easy life. No, it was the dog! She looked at her master's
face, gave one cry of inexpressible joy, and fell over in a real feminine
sort of a faint, and had to be brought to like any other lady, with
camphor and water and a few drops of spirit down her throat. Then Cecil
got up on the wagon seat, and she sat beside him with her head on his arm,
and they rode home in absolute silence, each feeling too much for speech.
After they reached home, however, Cecil showed her all over the place, and
she barked out her ideas in glad sociability.
After that Cecil and Nita were inseparable. She walked beside him all day
when he was out with the cultivator, or when he was mowing or reaping. She
ate beside him at table and slept across his feet at night. Evenings when
he looked over the Graphic from home, or read the books his mother sent
him, that he might keep in touch with the world, Nita was beside him,
patient, but jealous. Then, when he threw his book or paper down and took
her on his knee and looked into her pretty eyes, or frolicked with her,
she fairly laughed with delight.
In short, she was faithful with that faith of which only a dog is capable—that
unquestioning faith to which even the most loving women never quite
However, Fate was annoyed at this perfect friendship. It didn't give her
enough to do, and Fate is a restless thing with a horrible appetite for
variety. So poor Nita died one day mysteriously, and gave her last look to
Cecil as a matter of course; and he held her paws till the last moment, as
a stanch friend should, and laid her away decently in a pine box in the
cornfield, where he could be shielded from public view if he chose to go
there now and then and sit beside her grave.
He went to bed very lonely, indeed, the first night. The shack seemed to
him to be removed endless miles from the other habitations of men. He
seemed cut off from the world, and ached to hear the cheerful little barks
which Nita had been in the habit of giving him by way of good night. Her
amiable eye with its friendly light was missing, the gay wag of her tail
was gone; all her ridiculous ways, at which he was never tired of
laughing, were things of the past.
He lay down, busy with these thoughts, yet so habituated to Nita's
presence, that when her weight rested upon his feet, as usual, he felt no
surprise. But after a moment it came to him that as she was dead the
weight he felt upon his feet could not be hers. And yet, there it was,
warm and comfortable, cuddling down in the familiar way. He actually sat
up and put his hand down to the foot of the bed to discover what was
there. But there was nothing there, save the weight. And that stayed with
him that night and many nights after.
It happened that Cecil was a fool, as men will be when they are young, and
he worked too hard, and didn't take proper care of himself; and so it came
about that he fell sick with a low fever. He struggled around for a few
days, trying to work it off, but one morning he awoke only to the
consciousness of absurd dreams. He seemed to be on the sea, sailing for
home, and the boat was tossing and pitching in a weary circle, and could
make no headway. His heart was burning with impatience, but the boat went
round and round in that endless circle till he shrieked out with agony.
The next neighbors were the Taylors, who lived two miles and a half away.
They were awakened that morning by the howling of a dog before their door.
It was a hideous sound and would give them no peace. So Charlie Taylor got
up and opened the door, discovering there an excited little collie.
"Why, Tom," he called, "I thought Cecil's collie was dead!"
"She is," called back Tom.
"No, she ain't neither, for here she is, shakin' like an aspin, and a
beggin' me to go with her. Come out, Tom, and see."
It was Nita, no denying, and the men, perplexed, followed her to Cecil's
shack, where they found him babbling.
But that was the last of her. Cecil said he never felt her on his feet
again. She had performed her final service for him, he said. The neighbors
tried to laugh at the story at first, but they knew the Taylors wouldn't
take the trouble to lie, and as for Cecil, no one would have ventured to