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Zero by Barry Pain

CHAPTER I

James Smith was a trainer and exhibitor of performing dogs. His age was forty-five, but on the stage he looked less, moving always with an alertness suggestive of youth. His face was dominant, but not cruel. He never petted a dog. On the other hand, he never thrashed a dog, unless he considered that the dog had deserved it. He had small eyes and a strong jaw. He was somewhat undersized, and his body was lean and hard. This afternoon, clad in a well-cut flannel suit, and wearing a straw hat, he sat on the steps of a bathing-machine on the beach at Helmstone. He was waiting for the man inside the machine to come out. Meanwhile he made himself a cigarette, rolling it on his leg with one hand, and securing the paper by a small miracle instead of by gum.

As he lit the cigarette the door of the bathing-machine opened, and a tall young man of athletic build came out. He was no better dressed than James Smith. At the same time, it was just as obvious that he was a gentleman as that Smith was not.

“Hallo!” said the young man. “You're all right again, I see. What was it—touch of cramp?”

“No, sir,” said Smith. “I'm not a strong swimmer, and I've done no sea bathing before. I never meant to get out of my depth, but the current took me. What I want now is to do something to show my gratitude.”

“Gratitude be blowed!” said the young man cheerfully. “It was no trouble to me, and I happened to be there.”

“Well, sir,” said Smith, “will you let me give you a dog? I've got some very good dogs. I should take it as a favour if you would.”

He took from a Russia leather case a clean professional card, and presented it to the young man.

“That, of course, is not my real name. That's just the French name they've put on the programmes. I'm James Smith, and I have a two weeks' engagement at the Hippodrome here. I've got my dogs in a stable not far from there.”

The young man glanced at his watch.

“Well,” he said, “I've got nothing to do this morning, I'll go and have a look at the dogs, at any rate. They're a pretty clever lot, I suppose.”

“They can do what they've been taught,” said Smith; “all except one of them, and he can do what no man can teach him.”

There was a great noise when they entered the stables. Twenty dogs, most of them black poodles, all tried to talk at once. Smith said something decisively, but quietly, and the dogs became silent again. Smith made a sign to one of the poodles and held out his walking-stick. It looked quite impossible, but the dog went over it.

“My word, but that's a wonderful jump!” said the young man.

“It is,” said Smith. “You won't find another dog of that breed in this country that can do the same. He's yours, if you like to take him.”

“No; hang it all! I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to take a dog which you can use professionally. What about the beggar that you said you could not teach?”

Smith pointed to a huge brindled bulldog, who lay in one corner of the stable absolutely motionless, watching them intently.

“That's the one,” lie said. “He's never been on the stage at all. He couldn't even be taught to fetch and carry.”

“And you just keep him because you're fond of him?”

“Fond of him? No, I'm not fond of dogs. They're my livelihood, and I don't do so badly out of it. But I'm not fond of 'em—know too much about 'em.”

“Then what do you keep him for?”

“You may call it a sense of justice, or you may call it curiosity. He's a rum 'un, that dog is, and no mistake.”

“In what way rum?”

“I'll tell you. He's a dog that sees dangers ahead. He knows when things are going to happen. I had him as a puppy, and when I found I could teach him nothing, I made up my mind to get quit of him. I was going off by train that day to a village fifteen miles away, and I knew a man there who I thought might take a fancy to Zero.”

“Zero, you call him?”

“Yes; that was a bit of my fun. As a performing dog he was just absolutely last—number naught, see? Well, as I was saying, there was I on the platform with the dog at my heel and the ticket in my hand. Just as I was going to get into the train, he made a jump for that ticket, caught it in his mouth and bolted with it, nipping in among a lot of milk-cans. I called him, and he wouldn't come out. Then I went in after him, and he bolted again. By the time I did get him I had missed my train, and I didn't give him half a jolly good hiding for it, I don't think! If I'd gone by that train I shouldn't have been talking to you now. Collision three miles from the station. Well, you don't apologise to a dog. All I could do was to keep him. But that wasn't the only instance. The beggar knows things.”

“Apparently he didn't know that you were going to drown yourself this morning.”

“If he knew anything about it, he knew that I wasn't.”

“Good-tempered dog?”

“Oh, all bulldogs are safe! You want to look after him with collies. He doesn't like 'em. If he gets hold of one, it's bad for the collie. Otherwise a baby could handle him.”

Zero had crossed over to them, and the young man stooped down and patted him. The dog expressed delight.

“I can send him round to your hotel,” said Smith; “or, for that matter, he'd follow you. He's taken a fancy to you, he has.”

“Look here,” said the young man, “let me buy him. I'm not a millionaire, but I can afford to buy a dog. I'd like to have this one, and there's no reason on earth why you should give him to me.”

“You'd like to have him, and I can afford to give him to you, and I want to give him to you. You must let a man indulge his sense of gratitude. It's only fair.”

“Very well, if you say so. Many thanks. I'll step over to the Hippodrome and see your show to-night.”

“Do. You'll be surprised.”

The two men talked for a few moments longer, and then Zero's new owner said that he must be getting back to lunch.

“You really think the dog will follow me?” he said. “I don't want to take a lead?”

“I know he'll follow you. I tell you I know dogs. They take fancies sometimes. You can take that dog out, and if I call him back myself he wouldn't come.”

“I bet you a sovereign he would.”

“I'll take that,” said Smith. “You go on with him, and I'll wait here.”

The young man walked a few yards away with the dog at his heels, and then Smith called the dog back, loudly and insistently. The dog did not give the slightest sign that he had heard anything at all. When his master stood still, he remained standing patiently at his heel, and never once looked back.

The young man laughed as he took out his sovereign-case.

“Queer chap, Zero. Well, you've won, Mr Smith. Catch!”

Mr Smith caught the sovereign adroitly, and went back into the stable.

“Yes,” he said to the cleverest of the black poodles, “I don't know that I wouldn't sooner he'd taken you.”

It was seldom that Smith addressed any of his dogs, except to give an order. The poodle did not know what to make of it. He whined faintly.

Richard Staines went back to his hotel, with Zero at his heels. He had his own sitting-room opening into his bedroom at the hotel, and he intended to keep the dog there at night. This was against the laws of the hotel; therefore Staines had to pause a few moments in the hall to get the laws altered. One of the arguments he used was that he would only be there two days longer, and it would not matter for so short a time. The other argument was bribery and corruption. After which he and Zero went up in the lift together.

CHAPTER II

Staines was a partner in succession to his father in an old-established firm of stockbrokers with a good connection. He had a small flat in St James's Place, and thither he brought Zero. Zero accepted metropolitan life philosophically. There was a dingy cat in the basement of St James's Place, and he was quite willing to make friends with her. He looked mildly puzzled at her definite assurance that she would kill him if he came a step nearer. It never occurred to him to attempt to injure her. But for one slight lapse—he had killed a collie, and cost Staines compensation—his behaviour was admirable. He was fortunate in having a master who was fond of outdoor life, and not at all fond of London. Every week-end, and occasionally on a fine afternoon, if business was slack, he got away into the country. He never quite seemed to understand the terror which his appearance inspired in some young or foolish people. When children rushed from him shrieking, he would look up at his master as much as to say, “Can you understand this?” And he was careful not to increase their terror by running after them.

One day in the Park a muddy-faced little girl of six, who feared nothing at all, came up and patted him, examined his teeth with curious interest, and finally sat on him. These attentions Zero received with great joy. Weeks passed, and he had not given the slightest sign of the curious instinct with which his former master had credited him.

Staines liked him, principally because he so obviously liked Staines. Staines thought him a faithful and affectionate beast, with nothing to distinguish him from the normal. When he recalled Smith's story of the snatched railway ticket, he explained it all as a chance. These flukes did happen sometimes.

And then one afternoon he went to call upon the Murrays—a practice that was becoming rather common with him—and as Jane was particularly fond of Zero, Zero accompanied him. When they reached the square, Zero sat down on the pavement. Staines called him, and the dog wagged his tail, but did not move. Staines went on without him, but presently had to stop, for Zero had now changed his tactics, and was running round and round Staines' legs. The incident of the railway ticket flashed across his mind. He was a business man, and not superstitious; however, it did not matter to him in the least which two sides of the square he took, and he determined to turn back and take the other two sides, and see what would happen. As soon as he turned back, Zero followed at heel in his usual quiet and unobtrusive manner.

A loud crash caused him to look round. A heavy stone coping had fallen from a roof, and if the dog had not brought him back it would have fallen upon him. Here was a nice little story with a mildly sensational interest for Staines to tell over the teacups.

Mr Murray was matter-of-fact.

“Your story is true, of course,” he said. “Your dog did make you take the other two sides of the square, and the fact that you turned back probably saved your life. But, all the same, the dog didn't know. By what means could the brain of a dog recognise the imminent dissolution of part of the roof of a house?”

“Zero did know,” said Jane. She was Mr Murray's only daughter, and without being wildly beautiful, was an extremely pleasing and friendly young woman to look at. At present she was feeding Zero with thin bread-and-butter. Zero had been told, even by Jane herself, that this form of diet was bad for his figure, but he accepted it with resignation—rather an enthusiastic kind of resignation.

“What makes you say that Zero knew?” her father asked, with indulgent superiority.

“Because I know he knew,” said Jane firmly and finally.

“And then,” said Mr Murray, “women tell us they ought to have the vote.”

“Miss Murray,” said Richard firmly, “that dog is not to be fed any more, please.”

“Last piece,” said Jane. “And he's promised to do Swedish exercises.”

Richard was inclined to agree with Mr Murray. The coincidence was again remarkable; it might even be called very extraordinary. And, given a choice of two things, Richard preferred to believe the easier. Why, fond though he was of Zero, he had to admit that the dog was not even clever.

He had tried to teach Zero to find a hidden biscuit, but though he had hidden the biscuit in all manner of places he had never yet selected a place that Zero had been able to discover. He was just a dear old fool of a bulldog, and it was absurd to suppose that he was a miracle.

But Jane Murray remained firm in her belief, and even condescended to be serious about it.

“Look here,” she said, “if you put your horse at a jump, and you're feeling a bit shy of it yourself, do you mean to say the horse doesn't know?”

“Of course he knows. But he only knows it by the way you ride him.”

“Well, I've had it happen to me. All I can say is that I wasn't conscious of riding any differently. It was my first season in Ireland, and I wasn't used to the walls. I said to myself, 'It's got to be.' I did really mean to get over. But the horse knew the funk in my head and refused. However, I'll give you another point. How do you explain the homing instinct of animals?”

“I've never thought about it. I suppose when a pigeon gets up high it can see no end of a distance.”

“That won't do. Dogs and cats have the same instinct—especially cats. For that matter, crabs have been taken from the sea and returned to it again at a point eighty miles away, and have found their way back. It's not done by sight, scent, or hearing. It must be done by some special sense which they have got and we have not.”

“It sounds plausible.”

“It's the only possible explanation. And when once we've admitted that animals have a special sense which we have not, I don't quite see how we are to say what the limitations of that sense are. It is not really a bit more wonderful that Zero should have the sense of impending danger than that a crab, eighty miles from home, should be able to find its way back.”

“Well, you may be right. I wish now that I'd asked that chap Smith a bit more about the dog.”

A few days later one of the partners in Richard's business announced his intention of getting married. He was a junior partner, two years younger than Richard.

“Well, Bill,” said Richard, after he had offered his congratulations, “what shall I give you for a wedding-present?”

“Give us that dog of yours.”

“Never. Try again.”

“Oh, I was only rotting. But, seriously, I'd as soon have a dog as anything. Not a bulldog—they're too ugly.”

“It's a good, honest kind of ugliness. What breed then?”

“Gwen's keen on black poodles.”

That settled it. Richard hunted up Smith's card. He had always meant to do some business with the man if he got an opportunity, and here was the opportunity. On the following day he journeyed to Wandsworth and found Smith. Smith looked less spruce and prosperous than before. He did not actually declare that the performing dog had had his day, but he admitted that business was not what it had been.

“Too many of us in it. And, I tell you, I'm afraid to bring out a new idea—it's pinched before you've had a week's use of it. Public's a bit off it, too. I'm doing practically nothing with the 'alls. I train for others, and I'm trying to build up a business as a dealer. Only first-class dogs, mind.”

“That's what I want. I came here to buy a dog.”

“Let's see. Bulldogs were your fancy. Well, I've got one of the Stone breed that's won the only time it was shown and will win again.”

“This is not for myself. It's a present. Black poodle.”

“I see. Well, you've come to the right market. How far were you prepared to go?”

“Show me a really valuable dog and I will pay the real value. I'm not buying for the show-bench; but I want the best breed, good health, good temper, cleverness and training—two years old for choice.”

“Ask enough,” said Smith, smiling. “Well, if you don't mind stepping into the yard I can fit you. I'm asking twenty guineas, and he's worth every penny of it—he'd bring that money back, to anybody who cared to take it, before a year was out.”

The dog was shown—an aristocrat with qualities of temper and intelligence not always to be found in the aristocrat. Richard Staines thought he would be paying quite enough, but decided to pay it. He returned to the house to write his cheque.

“There you are, Mr Smith. By the way, do you remember Zero, the dog you gave me? He's sitting in my taxi outside.”

“I remember him. He'd never win prizes for anybody—not like that poodle you've just bought. You couldn't teach him anything either. But he could see ahead, that dog could.”

Smith heard how Richard Staines had been saved from the falling roof, and evinced no surprise at it at all. “Yes,” he said, “that dog always knew. Did I tell you about the milk?”

“No. What was that?”

“Me and Cowbit next door got our milk from the same man. I went out one morning to take the can in, when Zero came bullocking past me and knocked the can over. He never tried to drink the milk that was spilled, but just stood there, wagging his old tail. Mind you, sir, that was after he had saved me from the train smash. 'Well,' I said to him, 'I suppose you know'; and I went in to Cowbits' to tell them not to touch that milk. Cowbit laughed at the story, and took milk in his tea. But his missus wouldn't have any, and wouldn't let the baby have none either. Cowbit was ill for days and pretty near died. Mineral poison it was, from one of the milk-pans going wrong.”

“How do you suppose the dog knew?”

“Me suppose? Why, I never asked myself the question. He did know—that was all about it. Still, if I had to explain it, I should say it was some kind of an instinct.”

And Richard mercifully forebore to ask Mr Smith how he would explain that particular kind of instinct.

CHAPTER III

Richard was best-man at his partner's wedding. He afterwards attended a crowded reception. It was too crowded; and there were far too many people there who wanted to talk to Jane Murray. She was popular, and there was a group round her all the time. Not for five minutes could Richard get her to himself. It was this selfishness on the part of others which depressed him, not the reception champagne, which was no worse than is usual on such occasions.

The crowds bored him and when he got back to his flat the solitude bored him. Not even Zero was there. Richard's valet had taken the dog out for exercise; this had been done in obedience to Richard's own orders, but it now seemed to him in the light of a grievance. The grievance became more acute when his servant returned without the dog.

“Very sorry, sir; I wouldn't have had it happen for anything. I was walking in Regent's Park, with the dog at my heels, and all of a sudden he made a bolt for it. I whistled and called, but he went straight on. And when I started running after him, he made a dash into a big shrubbery. That was how he foxed me, sir. While I was hunting him on one side, he must have bolted out on the other. Never known the dog act like that before. It was just as if something had come over him. Speaking in a general way—”

“Well, what did you do?” asked Richard sharply.

“I spoke to the park-keepers, and to a couple of policemen outside, and then I went on to Scotland Yard. The address is on the collar, sir. I should think there's no doubt you'll—”

“That'll do!” snapped Richard. “I thought you could be trusted to take a dog out, at any rate. Well, my mistake.”

With a further expression of contrition, the man withdrew, and almost instantly the telephone-bell on Richard's desk rang sharply.

He went slowly to the telephone, and managed to put the concentration of weariness and disgust into the word “Hallo!”

The voice that answered him was the voice of Mr Murray.

“That you, Staines? ... Right—yes, quite well, thanks.... I wanted to say when Jane got back this evening she found Zero waiting for her outside our front door.... He's here now, and seems quite cheerful about it.... Thought you might like to know.”

Richard rapidly changed his tone of dejection for that of social enthusiasm. He thanked profusely. He would send for the dog at once.

“Well, look here,” said Mr Murray, “Jane and I have got a night off—dining alone. If by any chance you're free, I wish you'd join us. Then you can take the intelligent hound back with you.”

Richard said that he was free, which was a lie; and that he would be delighted to come, which was perfectly true.

He subsequently rang up a man at his club, cancelled an engagement on the score of ill-health, and went to dress. Such was his elation that he even condescended to tell his servant that the dog had been found and was all right.

Zero had done wrong. He must have known that he had done wrong; but he welcomed his master with gambols in the manner of an ecstatic bullock, and showed no sign of penitence at all. It was the habit of Richard to punish a dog that had done wrong, but he did not punish Zero. He called him a silly old idiot, and asked him what he thought he had been doing, but Zero recognised that this was badinage and exercised his tail furiously.

At dinner, Mr Murray said that Zero was an interesting problem. The dog was apparently a fine judge at sight of the stability of structures, but could not find his way home.

“That's not proved,” said Richard, laughing. “He knew his way home all right, but he was trying to better himself. He's not fed at tea-time in St James's Place.”

“He's had nothing here,” said Jane.

“Really, Jane,” said her father.

“Practically nothing. A few biscuits and the least little bit of wedding-cake for luck.”

“Pity I didn't take him to the reception; then he could have had a vanilla ice as well.”

“Wrong,” said Jane. “They hadn't got vanilla—only the esoteric sorts. I know, because I tried. Never you mind, Zero. When the election comes on, you shall wear papa's colours round your strengthy neck and kill all the collies of the opposition.”

“By the way,” said Richard, “how's old Benham?”

“Poor old chap, he's still dying,” said Mr Murray. “It makes me feel a bit like a vulture, waiting for his death like this. Still, I suppose it can't be helped.”

Benham was the sitting member for Sidlington, and Mr Murray had been predestined to succeed him. Murray had fought two forlorn hopes for his party, and had pulled down majorities. He had fairly earned Sidlington—an absolutely safe seat. He had moderate means and no occupation. He had taken up with politics ten years before—shortly after the death of his wife—and had found politics a game that precisely suited him.

The discussion for the remainder of dinner was mostly political, and Jane—as was generally the case when she chose to be serious—showed herself to be a remarkably well-informed and intelligent young woman.

“I've no chance; she's too good for me,” said Richard to himself—by no means for the first time—as he looked at her and listened to her with admiration.

Jane had just left the two men to their cigars when a servant entered with a card for Mr Murray.

“Where have you put him?” he asked the man.

“The gentleman is in the library, sir.”

“Good! Say I'll be with him directly. Awfully sorry, Staines; this is a chap from Sidlington, and rather an important old cock down there.”

“Go to him, of course. That's all right.”

“I'm afraid I must. But here's the port and here's the cigars. When you get tired of solitude, you'll find Jane in the drawing-room. Smoking's allowed there, you know.”

Staines got tired of solitude very soon. In the drawing-room, the conversation between Jane and himself took a new note of earnestness and intimacy. Zero slept placidly through it all.

An hour later Mr Murray came back to the drawing-room with the news of Benham's death. He in return received, with goodwill and no surprise, the news that a marriage bad been arranged, and would shortly take place, between his daughter and Richard Staines.

CHAPTER IV

During the engagement, which was brief, Zero found that two people—of whom his master was one—had very little time to talk to him; but he was not absolutely forgotten.

“What are we to do with Zero while we're away?” asked Richard.

“Could we take him with us?” asked Miss Murray.

“I don't think so,” said Richard. “There would be bother at these foreign hotels; and there's the quarantine to think about.”

“Suppose I said that if Zero didn't go, I wouldn't go either?”

“Quite simple. In that case, I should go alone.”

And then they both laughed, being somewhat easily pleased at that time. Zero was offered to Mr Murray temporarily as an election mascot, but Mr Murray was not taking any risks—one of his principal supporters had a favourite collie. Finally, it was decided that Zero should pay a visit to his former master, Smith, until his master returned. He made one brief appearance at the wedding reception, where his supreme but honest ugliness conquered the heart of every nice woman present. He refused champagne, foie-gras sandwiches, and vanilla ices offered to him by the enthusiastic and indiscreet. However, he managed to find Jane, and Jane found bread-and-butter until word was brought that a person of the name of Smith had called for the dog.

“Bit fat, you are,” said Smith, as he ripped the white rosette off the dog's collar. “Been doing yourself too well. Ah, now you're going to live healthy!”

Smith was as good as his word. Zero was sufficiently and properly fed, and given plenty of exercise. He mixed with some very aristocratic canine society, where the sweetness of his temper was much commended and imposed upon. After two months his master called for him, and Zero once more behaved like an ecstatic bullock.

“Yes,” said Smith, “he's in good condition, as you say. Otherwise, he's not much changed. He's as big a fool as ever he was. If a toy Pom growls at him, he runs away; and if a collie tries to get past him alive—well, it can't. He'd tear the throat out of any man as struck you, and if the cat next door spits at him he goes and hides in the rhubarb.”

“Seen any more of that wonderful instinct of his?”

“No, sir, I have not. But I should have done if there had been any occasion for it. It's a fact that I never feel so safe as I do when I've got that dog here. Don't you believe in it yourself, sir?”

“Sometimes I do—Mrs Staines does absolutely. If there's nothing in it, then there has been the most extraordinary lot of coincidences I ever came across.”

Richard Staines and his wife had agreed that they would live principally in the country, and one day during their engagement Jane took Richard down to Selsdon Bois to show him the house of her dreams, known to the Post Office as Midway. Then, when he came to select, he would know the kind of thing to look for. Jane had known Midway in her childhood, and had loved its wide and gentle staircases, its fine Jacobean panelling, its stone roof, and its old garden with the paved walks between yew hedges.

“Well,” said Richard, “if you are so keen on the place, why shouldn't we wait for a chance to get it, instead of looking for something more or less like it?”

“Because you can't,” said Jane. “We're general public, and general public is never allowed to buy a place like Midway. People live in it till they die, and then leave it to the person they love best, and that person lives in it till he dies. And so on again. It never comes into the market. Things that are really valuable hardly ever do.”

The conversation took place in the train which was conveying them to Selsdon Bois.

“Ah, well,” said Richard, “what is there? It needn't be very big to be too big for us.”

“Not a big house at all. I never counted, but I should think about twenty rooms.” She made guesses as to acreage of garden, orchard, and grass-land. She admitted that they were merely guesses.

“The only thing that I really remember is that it was thirty-six acres in all. Could we do it?”

“Yes,” said Richard; “we ought to be able to do that.”

“Still, it doesn't matter,” said Jane despondently, “because, of course, places like that are never to be got.”

Then they stepped out on to the platform of Selsdon Bois Station, where a man was busily pasting up a bill. It announced the sale by auction, unless previously disposed of, of Midway.

“Miracle!” said Jane, subsiding gracefully on to a milk-can. “It's ours!”

And a fortnight later it was really theirs. The house was as delightful as Jane had said, but it was an old house, and during the last ten years had not been well kept up. There was a good deal to be done to make it quite comfortable and satisfactory. The work was to have been finished by the time Richard and his wife returned from the honeymoon.

“It's been simply funny the way we've been kept back,” said the builder cheerfully. “But you might be able to get in, say, in another week or so.”

They remained for a month in town, and this gave Jane time to discover that it was not possible to teach Zero to do trust-and-paid-for, and to look up a really admirable train by which Richard might travel from Selsdon Bois to the city every weekday morning.

“Yes,” said Richard, a little doubtfully, “it's quite a good train, but—”

“But what?”

“Oh, nothing. I shall probably take it whenever I go up, though it's a bit earlier than is absolutely necessary. You see, I don't regard my presence at the office as so essential as I once did. My partners are most able and trustworthy men, and they like the work. Of course, I shall keep an eye on things.”

“Then how many days a week will you go up?”

“Well, just at first I shall go up—er—from time to time.”

“Come here, Zero,” said Jane. “See that man? He's idle. Kill him!”

“Idle? Why, I shall have any amount of things to do down at Midway! Gardeners and grooms want a deal of looking after at first, until they pick up the way you want things done. Then there's that car your father gave us. I've got to learn how to drive it; I've got to know all about its blessed works right up to the very last word. The man who don't is open to be robbed and fooled by his chauffeur. That won't be done in a week. Then I've had an idea that we might lay out a golf-course—quite a small affair, just for practice.”

“Richard, you're a genius! (You needn't bite him after all, Zero.) That will be the very thing for guests on Sunday afternoons—not to mention us ourselves.”

“I was thinking principally of us ourselves.”

“Where is that big-scale plan of the land? We'll pin it down flat on the table, and start arranging it now. We shall probably have to alter it all afterwards, but that don't matter.”

CHAPTER V

Six years had passed; and Zero had got a new master, a somewhat dictatorial gentleman, but with genuine goodness of heart, aged five, bearing the same name as his father, Richard Staines, but never by any chance addressed by it. His father called him Dick. His mother called him by various fond and foolish appellations. He was known to the servants of the household as the Emperor. He had two sisters, whom he always spoke of collectively as “the children.” He always spoke of Zero as “my dog.”

Zero was rather an old dog now, but hale and hearty. In his own circle he was highly valued, but his formidable appearance still struck terror among strangers, willing though he was to make friends with them. The tradespeople, who had at first approached very delicately, had now grown used to him; but the tramp or hawker who entered the garden at Midway, and found Zero looking at him pensively, as a rule retired quickly to see if the road was still there. No further instance had occurred of Zero's mysterious powers, and in consequence they tended to become legendary. Richard Staines had now definitely adopted the theory of coincidence.

“Zero's a good old friend of mine, and I love him,” he said; “but we must give up pretending he's a miracle.” Jane's faith, however, remained unshaken.

And then, one summer evening, Dick came into the drawing-room with determination in his face.

“Mother,” he said, “I want a stick or whip, please.”

“Well, now,” said Jane, “what for?”

“To beat my dog with. He's got to be punished.”

“That's a pity, Dickywick. What's he been doing?”

“He won't let me go out into the road. Every time he caught hold of my coat and pulled me back. He's most frightfully strong, and he pulled me over once. He wants a lamming.”

“I wonder if he would let me go out,” said Jane. “Let's go and see, shall we?”

“Right-oh,” said Dick, perfectly satisfied.

In the garden they found Zero cheerful and quite unrepentant. As a rule, he rushed to the gate in the hopes of being taken out for a run. But this evening, as Jane neared the gate, he became disquieted. He caught hold of her dress and tried to drag her back. He ran round and round her, whimpering. He flung himself in front of her feet.

“Now, you see,” said Dick triumphantly.

“Yes, I see.”

“Well, I shall go and fetch a stick.”

“Oh, no. Zero does not want us to go out because he believes there's some danger on the road.”

“O-o-oh! Do you really mean it?”

“Honest Injun.”

“Then he's not a bad dog at all, and I told him he was. Come here, Zero.” He patted the dog's head. “You're a good dog really. My mistake. Sorry. What are you laughing at, mother? That's what Tom always says. Now let's go and see the danger on the road.”

“Well, it wouldn't be quite fair to Zero, after all the trouble he's taken. Besides, I want to see the rabbits at their games. They ought to be out just now.”

“All right,” said Dick. “You follow me, and I'll show you them. But you mustn't make the least sound. You must be very Red-Indian.”

Dick's mother followed him obediently, and was very Red-Indian. The rabbits lived in a high bank just beyond the far end of the garden, and what the gardener had said about them before the wire-netting came could not be printed. Jane watched the rabbits, and conversed about them in the hoarse whisper enjoined by her son, but she was thinking principally about Zero.

Then Dick went to bed, and his father came back from the city. He went up at least one day a week, and came back full of aggressive virtue and likely to refer to himself as a man who earned his own living, thank Heaven.

At dinner Richard said: “By the way, I'd been meaning to speak of it—what's the matter with Zero?”

“Why?”

“He won't leave the gate. He was there when I drove in. I called him in, but he went back almost directly. I saw him through the window as I was dressing, and he was still there—lying quite still, with his eyes glued on the road.”

And then Jane recounted the experience of Dick and herself.

“You may laugh, Richard, but something is going to happen, and Zero knows what it will be.”

“Well,” said Richard, “if anybody is proposing to burglarise us to-night, I don't envy him the preliminaries with Zero. But, of course, it may be nothing. All the same I've always said there ought to be a lodge at that gate.”

But to this Jane was most firmly opposed. A new semi-artistic red-brick lodge would be out of keeping with Midway altogether. “And what are you going to do about Zero?”

“Oh, anything you like. What do you propose?”

“I don't know what to say. Whatever is going to happen, apparently Zero thinks he can tackle it by himself. Still, you might have your revolver somewhere handy to-night.”

“I will,” said Richard.

Zero remained at his post until the dawn, and then came a black speck on the white road. Zero stood up and growled. The skin on his back moved.

Down the road came the lean, black retriever, snapping aimlessly, foam dropping from his jaws. Zero sprang at him and was thrown down and bitten. At his second spring he got hold and kept it. The two dogs rolled off the road, and into the ditch.

At breakfast, next morning, Richard was innocuously humorous on the subject of revolvers, burglars, and clairvoyant bulldogs. He was interrupted by a servant, who announced that Mr Hammond wished to speak to him for a moment.

“Right,” said Richard. “Where is he?”

“He is just outside, sir,” said the man. “Mr Hammond would not come in.”

Hammond was a neighbour of Richard's, a robust and heavily built man. As a rule he was a cheerful sportsman, but this morning his countenance was troubled. His clothes were covered with dust, and he looked generally dishevelled.

“Hallo, Jim,” said Richard cheerily. “How goes it? You look as if you'd been out all night.”

“I have,” said Hammond grimly. “So have several other men.”

“Why? What's up?”

“Outbreak of rabies at Barker's farm. He shot one of the dogs, but the other got away. There must have been some damned mismanagement. A lot of us have been out trying to find the brute all night.”

“But, by Jove, this is most awfully serious. Can't I help? I'm ready to start now if you like.”

“Thanks, but I found the dog five minutes ago—dead in a ditch not twenty yards from your gate. He's there still.”

“Who shot him?”

“Nobody. That's the trouble. He had been killed by another dog, as you'll see when you look at his windpipe. The chances are the other dog got bitten or scratched, and he'll carry on the infection. It's the other dog we've got to hunt.”

“Could it be—” Richard paused.

“I'm afraid so,” said Hammond. “Not many dogs would tackle a mad retriever, but your bulldog would. And it was close to your gate that the retriever was killed.”

“If you'll wait half a minute, I'll see where Zero is.”

But the dog was not to be found. Nobody had seen him that morning. In truth, Richard had not expected to find him. He left word that if the dog came back he was to be shut up in an empty stable. And then he and Hammond went out together.

“You've got a revolver, I suppose,” said Richard.

“I don't hunt mad dogs without one. This is most awfully hard lines on you, Richard. He was a ripping good dog, Zero was.”

“He was. It's Dick I'm thinking about. The dog was a great pal of his.”

They found young Barker watching by the dead retriever. He explained gloomily that he had sent a boy for a cart. The body would be taken back and buried in lime. “And even then, sir, we've not got the dog that killed him.”

“We're just going to get him,” said Richard quietly.

They walked on in silence for a mile and then at a turn of the road they saw Zero, apparently asleep in the sunlight in the white dust.

“I ought to do this,” said Richard, “but I wish you would.”

“Right, old chap. It'll be over in a moment, and he'll be dead before he knows he's hurt. Look the other way.”

“Richard turned round and waited, as it seemed to him, for a long time, waiting for the shot. Suddenly he heard Hammond's voice behind him.

“No need to shoot. The poor beggar's dead—been run over by a motor-car, I should say. It's a lucky accident.”

“I wonder,” said Richard.

“Wonder what?”

“Wonder if it was really an accident.”