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Miss Peggy’s Proteges
by [?]

The unsuspected contiguity of the “menagerie” to the house had its drawbacks, and once nearly exposed her. A mountain wolf cub, brought especially for her from the higher northern Sierras with great trouble and expense by Jack Ryder, of the Lone Star Lead, unfortunately escaped from the menagerie just as the child seemed to be in a fair way of taming it. Yet it had been already familiarized enough with civilization to induce it to stop in its flight and curiously examine the blacksmith’s shop. A shout from the blacksmith and a hurled hammer sent it flying again, with Mr. Baker and his assistant in full pursuit. But it quickly distanced them with its long, tireless gallop, and they were obliged to return to the forge, lost in wonder and conjecture. For the blacksmith had recognized it as a stranger to the locality, and as a man of oracular pretension had a startling theory to account for its presence. This he confided to the editor of the local paper, and the next issue contained an editorial paragraph: “Our presage of a severe winter in the higher Sierras, and consequent spring floods in the valleys, has been startlingly confirmed! Mountain wolves have been seen in Blue Cement Ridge, and our esteemed fellow citizen, Mr. Ephraim Baker, yesterday encountered a half-starved cub entering his premises in search of food. Mr. Baker is of the opinion that the mother of the cub, driven down by stress of weather, was in the immediate vicinity.” Nothing but the distress of the only responsible mother of the cub, Peggy, and loyalty to her, kept Jack Ryder from exposing the absurdity publicly, but for weeks the camp fires of Blue Cement Ridge shook with the suppressed and unhallowed joy of the miners, who were in the guilty secret.

But, fortunately for Peggy, the most favored of her cherished possessions was not obliged to be kept secret. That one exception was an Indian dog! This was also a gift, and had been procured with great “difficulty” by a “packer” from an Indian encampment on the Oregon frontier. The “difficulty” was, in plain English, that it had been stolen from the Indians at some peril to the stealer’s scalp. It was a mongrel to all appearances, of no recognized breed or outward significance, yet of a quality distinctly its own. It was absolutely and totally uncivilized. Whether this was a hereditary trait, or the result of degeneracy, no one knew. It refused to enter a house; it would not stay in a kennel. It would not eat in public, but gorged ravenously and stealthily in the shadows. It had the slink of a tramp, and in its patched and mottled hide seemed to simulate the rags of a beggar. It had the tirelessness without the affected limp of a coyote. Yet it had none of the ferocity of barbarians. With teeth that could gnaw through the stoutest rope and toughest lariat, it never bared them in anger. It was cringing without being amiable or submissive; it was gentle without being affectionate.

Yet almost insensibly it began to yield to Peggy’s faith and kindness. Gradually it seemed to single her out as the one being in this vast white-faced and fully clothed community that it could trust. It presently allowed her to half drag, half lead it to and fro from school, although on the approach of a stranger it would bite through the rope or frantically endeavor to efface itself in Peggy’s petticoats. It was trying, even to the child’s sweet gravity, to face the ridicule excited by its appearance on the road; and its habit of carrying its tail between its legs–at such an inflexible curve that, on the authority of Sam Bedell, a misstep caused it to “turn a back somersault”–was painfully disconcerting. But Peggy endured this, as she did the greater dangers of the High Street in the settlement, where she had often, at her own risk, absolutely to drag the dazed and bewildered creature from under the wheels of carts and the heels of horses. But this shyness wore off–or rather was eventually lost in the dog’s complete and utter absorption in Peggy. His limited intelligence and imperfect perceptions were excited for her alone. His singularly keen scent detected her wherever or how remote she might be. Her passage along a “blind trail,” her deviations from the school path, her more distant excursions, were all mysteriously known to him. It seemed as if his senses were concentrated in this one faculty. No matter how unexpected or unfamiliar the itinerary, “Lo, the poor Indian”–as the men had nicknamed him (in possible allusion to his “untutored mind”)–always arrived promptly and silently.