With (Chapter 13)
She wished she had some friends handy to help her make sense of this whole situation. Her haunch really hurt where he had kicked her out the door, which seemed to be his way of saying that she was being replaced by the girl. She had examined the child closely and determined that the girl probably could not fetch or beg, nor guard the henhouse nor bite intruders. So the girl was intended for some other purpose which escaped Hreapha. If that purpose was companionship, the girl obviously was not going to be very companionable, agreeable, nor even pleasant. Maybe the man was just giving her a trial. Maybe the girl had found him somewhere on his travels and had decided to follow him home and see if he wanted to keep her. Hreapha’s own mother, Whuphvoff, had once upon a time when she was young secured her own position in a good family by that maneuver: she had just followed a boy home and the boy had said, “Mom, she followed me home. Can I keep her?” and Whuphvoff had thus been absorbed into a good family, where Hreapha had been eventually born. Hreapha’s mother told her that she hoped she would never have to resort to that method of securing a family, but it was something to keep in the back of her mind, where Hreapha already had so many things stored that they were crowding into the front of her mind.
The very fact that the man was probably preparing breakfast for the new girl (Hreapha could smell the coffee and some kind of awful prepared meat frying) and had neglected to fill Hreapha’s dish made her sure that her place in this world was being supplanted by the newcomer. After a while the man came out and ran to the henhouse where he gathered up two handfuls of eggs, and Hreapha whimpered her name softly to him in hopes he would notice her and remember to feed her, but he did not. She had not had anything to eat since that thoughtful egg that that charitable hen had laid for her yesterday, and she was getting very hungry.
Later the man brought the girl out of the house and showed her to the little building where people poop, and again Hreapha made mild whimperings to call attention to herself, and again she was ignored. And after that, they came out again so that the man could show the newcomer how to draw water from the well. During the operation, Hreapha positioned herself nearby and tried to look nice and eager and hopeful without outright begging, but again it did not dawn on the man that he had neglected to feed his faithful dog. Next the man attempted to show the newcomer how to chop wood and after repeated attempts the girl was able to split a piece of it. Well now, at least that’s something I couldn’t ever do, Hreapha reflected. Nor could she draw water from the well. She did not need to because, as she next discovered, the man was showing the girl to the springhouse, which was a perfectly good source of water. Hreapha followed, maintaining all the while her pleasant hopeful look and posture, but the man and the girl were caught up in a discussion about something called Kool-Aid and neither of them gave Hreapha a glance.
Later in their tour of the premises, the girl was shown the barn and warned to stay away from it and then shown the shop, which, Hreapha had long since discovered, the in habit liked to inhabit and where he could usually be found. Or, since “found” doesn’t apply to in habits, perhaps “detected” was the word. The in habit studied the girl with great attention and curiosity but did not reveal himself to her. Nor did the man discover the in habit. The man did, however, begin to talk about the in habit, or rather about the in habit when the in habit had actually inhabited the place, as a young schoolboy named Adam Madewell. Hreapha listened with great interest to what was said about Adam, and wished she could communicate with Adam In Habit and compare notes with him about his impressions of this newcomer. Did he think she was just a stray who had followed the man home? Should we keep her? Could we keep her? Even though the girl was not sociable, certainly not to Hreapha, whom she seemed to dislike intensely, the girl was, after all, lovely, innocent and uncorrupt, even if she could not fetch and beg, and she was potentially loads of fun. Didn’t Adam think so? But Hreapha did not know how to ask these questions of Adam, and wasn’t sure he could answer. That would come later.
And then she heard the girl say to the man, “Somebody is going to shoot you.” It did not sound very sociable at all.
And she heard the man answer, “They’ve got to find me first.”
After they had gone inside to have their lunch and she was left with only the prospect of becoming an egg-sucking dog, she pondered these statements and reasoned that the man was perhaps hiding from someone who wanted to shoot him. That would help explain all the trouble the man had taken to relocate, to abandon the house in the village of Stay More and stock up this mountain hideaway with enough food to last forever and enough drink to fly over the moon. It also gave Hreapha notice that one of her duties in the foreseeable future might be to protect the man against somebody trying to shoot him.
Later the man threw her some kind of small bones that had been pickled and were virtually inedible, so she did not try to eat them, but went on starving. Later still the man came out and rummaged through the shop and finally took notice of Hreapha and said to her, “Bitch, you haven’t seen any scissors anywhere, have you?”
She stood on her hind legs in a begging posture, licking her chops and wagging her tail and sparkling her eyes in an attempt to communicate If you’ll give me some food I’ll find some scissors for you. But he could not hear her, and went back into the house.
And still later, after Hreapha had gone to the henhouse and actually drooled upon an egg but resisted the overpowering urge to suck it, the man came out once again and said to her, “Bitch, keep an eye on this door. If she comes out to use the privy, that’s okay, but don’t let her wander off. You hear me?” Once again Hreapha rose up on her hind legs in the begging posture, licking her chops and smiling hopefully, but once again the man failed to get her message, and she began to conclude that he might actually be pretty dense. He took his shovel and his axe and disappeared down the trail in the direction of the truck’s parking place.
Hreapha obediently guarded the door for a long time but the girl did not come out. Hreapha was bored. She’d much rather have followed the man to the truck, or accompanied the child to the privy, but there was nothing to do, and nothing to think about except her empty stomach. She was nodding off and ready for an afternoon nap when out of the corner of her eye she noticed a hawk circling overhead. She knew it was a red-tailed hawk. Even though she was colorblind like all her kindred, she had learned from Yowrfrowr that it was called a red-tailed hawk, even though it didn’t have a tail, at least not like a dog’s. Anyway, the big bird landed on a high tree limb and just sat there giving the evil eye to Hreapha and then to the various chickens who were pecking around in the yard. What intimidating eyes the hawk had! Hreapha tried to return the bird’s malevolent stare, but couldn’t maintain eye contact. It occurred to her that the hawk was sizing her up, trying to determine if there would be any resistance if the hawk made off with one of the hens. “Hreapha!” Hreapha declared, letting the hawk know that Hreapha intended to protect the flock.
But Hreapha’s warning went unheeded. Suddenly with a hideous bloodcurdling scream the hawk dived from its perch and headed straight for the selfsame hen who had benevolently provided Hreapha with the only sustenance she’d had in ages, a single egg.
Hreapha sprang into action and reached the hen too late to spare it from being snatched in the talons of the hawk but quick enough to leap and seize the hawk’s head in her mouth, feeling its skull crunch beneath her teeth. The hawk screamed even louder, the sound deafening and petrifying Hreapha, who hung on for dear life as the three of them plummeted back to earth.
The hen’s life was spared and she ran off squawking bloody murder. The hawk continued to thrash and shriek for a few interminable moments and then lay still. It was the first time that Hreapha had ever killed anything (if we do not count assorted sinister fleas). She was too stunned to move, for a long time. She could only stand and contemplate the dead hawk, a really huge bird with an enormous wingspan now disheveled and askew. There was another hawk circling high overhead, possibly the wife or husband of this slain bird, but the other hawk did not come down to investigate.
Good dog! said a voice behind her, and she, having never been called that before, turned eagerly, only to see nothing, or rather only to perceive the presence of the in habit, who, at least, had demonstrated that he could communicate.
After a while, first looking around to see if she was observed by anyone “real” and noticing that all the hens and the two roosters were watching her with awe, Hreapha ate the hawk.
It was not easy. It was in fact very messy. The feathers got in the way of the meat, and Hreapha had constantly to spit out a mouthful of feathers. She eschewed the drumsticks and the wings but chewed the breast and thighs and made a welcome meal of it. The meat was somewhat gamy although Hreapha had absolutely no other game to compare it with. Perhaps “wild” would be a better word, and Hreapha was somewhat concerned that eating this hawk might make her feral and even vicious. But her hunger pangs were temporarily abolished.
When the man came home from whatever he’d been doing with the shovel and axe, obviously tired from his work, he saw the remains of the hawk and hollered, “Goddamn it, Bitch, have you been eating one of the chickens?” She cowered and whined, and he kicked the hawk’s remains preparatory to kicking her. When he did so, the enormous wingspan and the beaked head became evident to him and he said, “Well, what do you know? It’s a hawk!” He stood there looking at the hawk and counting the chickens and taxing his limited intelligence and finally said, “This hawk must’ve got in a fight with a fox or something. Shitfire, what kind of watchdog are you?”
He went on to the house and she did not see him again until he came out at bedtime to use the pooping-perch. It was dark and after the lamps were extinguished within the house it remained dark and quiet for the rest of the night. Hreapha brooded about what kind of watchdog she was. His mention of a fox reminded her that the chickens had more to fear from foxes than from hawks. More than once at the old place in Stay More she had had to chase foxes away from the henhouse, and had fought a couple of them, and knew that they were mean. She understood that foxes were dogs and therefore her cousins, but she intensely disliked them. And vice versa.
She napped fitfully through the night, perhaps dreaming a time or two. It seemed that in one of her dreams she was a hawk, soaring high above Madewell Mountain with a fine view of this homestead, which, however, was completely abandoned again, except for its in habits. But now there were three in habits, including that of a female dog.
She woke at dawn from this dream at the scent of the girl-child stepping out the front door. “Shhh!” the girl said to Hreapha with her finger over her lips, and then left the premises. In one hand she was carrying a flashlight, not lit; in the other hand a small paper sack which had the scent of edibles, possibly crackers.
Naturally Hreapha followed, but once they had left the yard the girl turned and stomped her foot and hissed at her, “Get home!” and swished her hands holding the flashlight and sack. Naturally Hreapha did not get home but waited just a while and resumed following the child, who seemed to be trying to find the path that led to the trail that led to the truck’s parking place, but the girl could not find it. If the girl had asked Hreapha politely, the latter, who could easily smell the trail, would have shown her where it was. But the girl tried to find it by herself and got extremely off course. Hreapha said “Hreapha” in a gentle way that was meant to correct her bearings, but the girl picked up a rock and threw it at her. It missed. “Get home!” she said again, and threw some more rocks. None of the rocks succeeded in finding its mark. But Hreapha understood that the girl did not want her company. She waited, and allowed the girl to wander on out of sight, and waited some more, and then easily picked up the scent and followed unseen from a distance.
The child really had no idea where she was going, and began drifting southward instead of northeastward where the truck parking place was. Soon, Hreapha perceived, the child was hopelessly lost, but kept plodding on, and circling back while getting deeper into the tall white oak forest. Even from a distance Hreapha could smell the child’s extreme fear and panic as well as her unreasonable determination. Nothing smells worse than unreasonable determination.
It had not been too awfully long ago when Hreapha herself had reached the momentous decision to run away, and thus she understood and empathized with the girl, and even wondered if possibly the man had beaten the girl with a stick or had tried to get the girl to sleep with him and then had attempted to probe her afterplace with his manthing. But the essential difference between this girl’s running away and Hreapha’s was that the latter at least had some idea of where she was going, and this girl had none whatsoever.
At least the act of running away made it pretty clear to Hreapha that the girl was not a stray who had followed him home.
After a while the girl came upon a marvelous but useless discovery: there was a pond of water where beavers had felled trees and made a beaver dam. From a distance Hreapha could smell the scent of the animals, although she knew they were nocturnal and would not be visible. She was delighted to discover that beaver were living here on the mountainside so near the farmstead, and she was curious to investigate their dam and lodge but did not want to be seen by the girl. The girl herself had paused in her flight to study the pond and the beavers’ log structures, which seemed to fascinate her, as if she knew what sort of creature had done this remarkable construction.
Hreapha was fascinated too, but she realized the man would be waking soon and would be exceedingly angry at finding that Hreapha had abandoned her post. So Hreapha ran quickly home. And just in time. The door opened and the man struggled to drag an entire piece of bedding out of the house. Having seen him transporting a davenport on his back, Hreapha was not surprised to find him in this act, but she soon perceived that the bedding bore the strong scent of the girl’s marking. Hreapha herself did a lot of marking, as was the nature of any canine, but the girl was not a canine and Hreapha did not understand why she had so thoroughly marked the bed, unless it was a kind of defiant farewell gesture to the man.
The man dragged the mattress on out into the yard, where he left it, and then he turned to Hreapha. “Which way did she go?” he asked. “Did you happen to notice?”
Of course this was one of those occasional situations when Hreapha wished that she could use the human language, but all she could do was turn a circle, reverse the circle, and then begin trotting in the exact direction from whence she had just trotted. Although the man’s thinking faculties were somewhat slow, even retarded, he managed to understand that she intended to lead him in that direction, so he followed her. She led him out across the field and to the edge of the woods and into the woods and down into a dale and over a knoll and into the deeper woods and down the hillside to a little rivulet which flowed and flowed and culminated in a beaver pond. She was not unmindful that she was thus betraying the child if indeed the child was trying to run away. But her first allegiances and responsibilities, after all, were to her master, bastard though he was.
The girl was not at the beaver pond. The man paused for only a moment to marvel at the beavers’ engineering achievement, then he said to Hreapha, “Well, Bitch? So where is she?” For a moment Hreapha wondered if maybe the girl had gone underwater with the beavers into their lodge, a ridiculous conjecture. But she sniffed along the sluiceway of the dam for a while and picked up the girl’s scent again, and followed it not very far to a glade in the sunlight where the child was sitting on a rock, nibbling on a cracker.
“Get home!” the girl snapped at Hreapha and began looking for a rock to throw at her. But at that moment the man came into her view, and she stood up and tried to run away. The man quickly caught up with her and swept her up off her feet and held her in the air.
“Honeybunch!” he said. “You don’t know what you’re doing. You could get real bad lost out here and just perish!”
The girl’s eyes were dampening and it looked as if she were trying very hard to cry. But she did not. He set her down, and put his hand on her shoulder and steered her in the direction of home. Hreapha followed happily along after, and the man stopped to reach down to pat his dog on the head. It was the first time she’d ever been patted. “Good ole Bitchie,” he said, and he said to the girl, “she might not have the sense to keep the foxes or hawks away from the chickens, but she knew how to find you. If it weren’t for her, you’d of got hopeless lost out here and you’d of been et by the bears or the wolves, I guarantee you.”
The girl kicked at Hreapha and connected, right in the ribs. “I hate your dog and I hate you,” she said. “I want to go home.”
“We’re going home, sweetheart,” he said. They came again to the beaver pond. “How about me and you come over here sometime and do some fishing?” he suggested.