THE LONG TRAIL
MIKE had a mussed-up tawny coat and only a stump of a tail, but he had affectionate eyes and a merry face. He liked to chase cats and he was interested in everything that passed on the street. His heart held one great love, and the most engrossing fights with other dogs or the most alluring scents down alleys never tempted him far from the home of his idol. Every afternoon Mike was waiting, listening for the step he knew, ready to bark out his frantic joy when HIS MASTER came home.
Among humans, his master was not a very important person. He was a clerk at a large draper's shop in London, or, as we should say, a salesman in a department store. Whenever there was a holiday, he took Mike and went on a long walk, and the Irish terrier was his best friend in all the world.
One day they took a longer walk than usual, and Mike was puzzled that he could not make his master as playful or as active as he generally was. Master seemed somewhat abstracted.
Next morning the house was in a strange bustle, and Mike was distressed at the feeling of something happening, he could not understand what. At last his master grabbed Mike up and nearly choked him as he said into his hairy coat, "Well, goodbye, old chap; I hope you'll be here when I come home again." And he went out; but in the opposite direction to the way he had always started before.
Mike realized that something unusual had happened, so he was not entirely surprised when his master did not come home that night. He could not, of course, understand the talk of the people that "It's Private Brown now, and he's on the road to France." Mike played less gaily with the other dogs for a day or two, and waited a little longer in the evenings. Then he just waited all day.
One day, as he waited, he thought very hard. He wasn't very used to thinking, and it was rather difficult for him. At last his conclusions were something like this: "Master has gone away somewhere. He didn't want to go. He must need me. I will go to him."
"When the landlady called him for supper, Mike had disappeared, and no amount of whistling or searching brought him back.
He started off in the direction that his master had taken, but so many people had passed by in the days since, that the scent was lost. However Mike remembered noticing it the day after his master left, going toward a place they had visited together recently. This place was a big field with tents in one end, and lots and lots of men, who often marched about like a parade. Mike went there, though it was a long trip, beyond the outskirts of London. When he arrived in camp, for such it was, he hoped that he would see his master right away. He took a general look all about, but could find no trace of Private Brown. It was dark, so he found a warm corner and slept undisturbed.
The next day Mike started in to make a thorough search. It was very discouraging all morning. Mike had about decided to make his way back to the camp kitchen in pursuit of dinner, when all at once a sudden whiff made him scurry round and round, ears flapping, tail pumping up and down, and uttering little barks of excitement. Yes, his master had really been here; right on the edge of the parade ground his feet had passed. The scent was fresh enough to be unmistakable. He was on his trail at last!par Mike became much more cheerful. He was very pleasant to the cook and got a good dinner. Later in the day, in one of the tents he found the cot that his master had used, and at once jumped up on it and had a good nap. When the new recruit came in after drill and found Mike on his bed, he played with him, and fondled him and urged him to stay. Mike understood his kind offers, and did his best to explain matters. "You see," Mike tried to say," my master needs me, and I must go to him. He's been here quite recently, and, if I hurry, I can find him. Thank you, but I cannot wait."
Off Mike started again. His master was not in camp now: which way had he gone? Uncertainly Mike followed a scent that seemed to accompany his master's, as it left camp and passed along a winding road. Yes, hurrah, here and there a faint trace of Private Brown, and once so plain that Mike knew he wasn't far ahead. For days Mike traveled on, and could not quite catch up. At last he came upon a good-sized town by the edge of the sea. This must be the end of his journey. He was sure that he was finding his master now. He hurried along. And then and then the trail led him out on a great pier running into the water, and stopped!
Mike's stump of a tail slowly drooped and his head hung down dejectedly. He lay down by that last fresh smell and felt almost completely disheartened. "He's gone away on the big water. I can never find him now. Shall I go home to London again? I've come such a long way; and he isn't here!"
It was indeed a long way. Mike had come seventy-six miles to Folkestone, where the troops embarked for France. Mike lay in a heap of discouragement for some time. Then he jumped up, shook himself, and with his usual cheerful air, hunted for a sleeping place.
"Of course," he said to himself, "it's quite plain my master still needs me, so of course I shall go. There'll be a way."
In a couple of days a great ship warped in beside the pier. Troops that had been gathering in the town began to board her. Mike suddenly recognized the recruit from camp. He would go with him in the big boat! But before the ship sailed, the first mate saw Mike, and shouting, "You can't bring your dogs along!" threw him ashore again. There was no other chance to get aboard, so Mike resolved to wait for a more agreeable first mate. "I hope Master knows that of course I shall not fail him," he thought.
There was a great deal of hurry and confusion when the next boat was loading, and Mike was kicked about so that he just could not keep aboard, and found himself left behind when she sailed. Altogether it was two weeks before he succeeded in establishing himself on one of the transports. He worked his way into the captain's good graces by catching a large rat in the hold of the ship. Then the captain made him a nice bed and said he was going to keep him. But Mike said to himself, "He doesn't understand. I have an important duty. I must go to my master." And Mike slipped away as soon as the ship made fast at Boulogne.
Boulogne was the strangest place Mike had ever seen. There was not a familiar smell or sound or look. Mike felt more lost than he had ever felt before in his life. He was lonely and homesick. He wondered if he would better look up that captain again. He could find no sign of Private Brown. Why should his master come to such a queer place anyhow? But he did not go back to look for the captain after all.
"If my master had to come here, he needs me more than ever, so I'll find him," he said.
One day Mike found a camp, somewhat like the one in England, where there were English soldiers, and where he heard a real English whistle. This was such a relief that Mike rested there for some time, but always looking for some sign that would tell him of Private Brown.
It was three weeks before he found any, and then, when taking an exploring trip some distance away from camp, he suddenly came upon that longed-for, almost despaired-of, signal. Mike was so overjoyed that he frisked, he barked, he rolled on his back, and started right down the road, with never a good-bye to camp.
There were all sorts of strange French dogs along his way. Some growled and snapped and wanted to pick a fight. It was hard for Mike to resist that, but he flung back at them as he continued on his road, "I've more important business than attending to you fellows. My master needs me, and I'm going to him. Perhaps some day I can come back and settle things."
A few of the dogs wanted to make friends, but these he hardly had time to notice.
Mile after mile, and mile after mile Mike travelled. Rain did not stop him, nor his curiosity about unfamiliar things, nor weariness. His trail was good, and he must follow before he lost it.
In a couple of days a roar and a booming grew more and more noticeable. It sounded a good deal like thunder. Mike had always had a marked dislike for thunder. But his master had certainly gone this way, so Mike went, too.
And then, at last, the great day came! In a dilapidated French town, at the doorway of a half-ruined house, Mike found his hero, and Private Brown could scarcely believe his eyes.
"Is that Mike?" he had yelled as he caught sight of the dog hurrying gaily down the street. A moment later it was hard to tell which was dog and which was man.
"Oh Mike," whispered Private Brown into Mike's ear, "you're the first thing I've seen that looks like home!"
"Well, you see I knew you wanted me, so I came," answered Mike as he licked his master's face all over several times.
Private Brown was the proudest and the happiest man in Armentieres that day, and Mike stayed with him until the end of the war as mascot of the regiment.