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Dogs Of Boytown

CHAPTER XV
ROMULUS AT THE TRIALS

Mr. Hartshorn found, upon investigation, that the nearest field trials were those at Bedlow, where the Field Trial Club of Eastern Connecticut held its annual meet in April. It was not usually a large affair nor prominent among the field trials of the country, but Mr. Hartshorn thought it would be just about the right place for Romulus to make his first appearance as a contestant for field-trial honors. Though not a large affair, it was by no means insignificant, for there were some good dogs in that part of the country and one or two kennels from which had sprung dogs that had won a national reputation. Romulus was pretty sure to have opponents worthy of him.

April 15th and 16th were the days set for the event. Mr. Hartshorn communicated with the secretary of the club and made the necessary arrangements. Ernest Whipple filled out the entry blanks and they were properly filed. Unfortunately, Romulus was just a few months too old now to be entered in the Derby, but Ernest was not displeased by the necessity of seeking bigger game, and Romulus was entered in 231 the All-Age or Subscription stake. A purse of $50 was offered for the winner and $30 for the runner-up.

April 14th dawned mild and bright, and about noon Sam Bumpus appeared with Romulus, whom he pronounced to be at the top of his form after a bit of light finishing off the day before. Sam was to go along to handle the dog. He had not had much experience at field trials, but Mr. Hartshorn had given him full instructions, and if anybody could get winning action out of Romulus it was Sam. Mr. and Mrs. Whipple had agreed to let Ernest and Jack go in care of Mr. and Mrs. Hartshorn, and both boys were full of excitement of the prospect. Mr. Whipple came out to ask Sam a few questions and I am inclined to think that even Mrs. Whipple shared a little of the excitement. Sam, as usual, refused to come into the house, saying that he preferred to eat his sandwiches in Rome, but he was glad to accept a cup of hot coffee and some cake which Delia took out to him.

Soon after dinner Mr. and Mrs. Hartshorn appeared in their big car and the boys hurried out to join them. They sat together on the front seat, while Sam, Ernest, Jack, and Romulus were bundled into the back seat, with the suitcases and Sam's gun. It was a tight squeeze, but it was a jolly party that set forth, waving good-by to Mr. and Mrs. Whipple, Delia, and the disconsolate Remus.

232 "It does seem too bad to have to leave poor Remus, doesn't it?" said Mrs. Hartshorn.

"That's all right," said Jack. "His day's coming. You'll see."

As for Romulus, he was wildly excited by this unusual experience, and treated the residents of Boytown to a continuous barking, in which Tatters and Mr. O'Brien and one or two of the other dogs joined, running beside the car until it was well out of town. Then Sam managed to quiet Romulus.

They arrived at Bedlow about dinner time, and Sam at once disappeared with Romulus, saying that he wanted to see that he had a good dinner and a place to sleep. The others went up to their rooms and washed up. Sam did not reappear, and the boys began to be a bit anxious.

"Don't worry," said Mr. Hartshorn. "He's a queer duck, Sam is. But I fancy he would be uncomfortable if he stayed with us, and we might as well let him have his own way. I'll venture to say we won't see him again till morning, but we can be sure of one thing: Romulus will be well looked after."

Mr. and Mrs. Hartshorn and the boys had their supper in the dining-room of the hotel, and all about them they heard dog talk. After supper they all went to a movie on Mr. Hartshorn's invitation, for he said 233 that if they didn't get their minds off the trials for a little while they would not sleep that night.

It was, in fact, some little time before Ernest and Jack could get to sleep in their strange surroundings, but at length sleep came, and the first thing they knew Mr. Hartshorn was knocking on their door and bidding them get up. They dressed quickly and hurried down to breakfast, where they found even more people than there were the night before. Outside there were many automobiles and some horses, and here and there a dog was to be seen, blanketed and receiving unusual attention.

"I don't know where Sam slept last night," said Mr. Hartshorn. "It may have been in the stable for all I know. I didn't ask him. But he's all right, and so is Romulus. Sam saw to it that the dog got a good rest, and he was up bright and early this morning, taking Romulus out for a short walk to limber him up."

After breakfast they all piled into the car and started for the fields a few miles outside of town where the trials were to be held. The sky was overcast, but Mr. Hartshorn said he didn't think it would rain. There was little wind, and Sam pronounced it ideal weather for the contest.

"I hope it won't rain," said he, "because a wet coat bothers a setter and gives the pointers the advantage."

234 There were a number of cars on the road before and behind them, and now and then a man galloped past on horseback.

"Looks like a pretty good gallery," said Mr. Hartshorn.

When they arrived at the grounds, Mr. Hartshorn told the boys they had better remain in the car with his wife, while he and Sam consulted with the officials. After awhile he returned and announced that Romulus had been paired with another setter named Dolly Grey.

"I can't find out much about her," said he. "At least, she's not one of the famous ones, so it oughtn't to be too hard for Romulus. The Derby will be run off first, so Romulus won't be called on until afternoon. Sam has taken him off into the woods to keep him quiet."

In spite of the fact that Romulus did not figure in the Derby, it proved to be an absorbing and exciting event to the Whipple boys. Two by two the young dogs were called out and sent off in whirlwind races after the cleverly hiding birds. Sometimes no birds were discovered, and then it became merely a contest of speed and form in ranging until the judges changed to fresh ground. Every now and then, however, one of the dogs would catch the tell-tale scent, whirl about to some clump of grass or thicket, and come to a rigid 235 point, his less successful opponent trailing him and backing him up. Behind them followed the judges, handlers, and gallery, some in automobiles, some in traps, some on horseback, and some afoot.

It turned out to be a fine day after all, and the dogs, eager and swift, made a pretty sight among the old pastures and stubble fields. For the most part they were kept away from the woods where it would be difficult to judge of their performances.

A halt was called at noon to eat lunch and rest the dogs. Already the constant shifting of ground had carried them far from Bedlow and the men who were afoot were tired. The dogs were wrapped in blankets and were kept as quiet as possible, most of them being in wagons. Mrs. Hartshorn got out the luncheon kit and the boys found that they were famously hungry. Sam appeared during the luncheon hour, to find out how things were going, and Mrs. Hartshorn persuaded him to eat something with the rest. Romulus, he said, seemed to be in good shape, and on no account must anybody give him anything to eat.

About 1:30 the judges called for the final contest in the Derby. A small lemon-and-white female setter named Dorothea was pitted against a somewhat overgrown blue belton of the same species. At first it seemed as though the advantage lay with the bigger, stronger dog, whose name was King Arthur. He kept 236 well in the lead in the ranging, but the wise ones noted little Dorothea's superb form and said nothing. Little by little she crept up on King Arthur, and at length she swerved sharply to one side and pointed at a clump of alder bushes. King Arthur had missed the scent entirely. The birds were flushed and the dogs shot over, for that is the custom. Then the judges, after a conference, declared the Derby closed and Dorothea the winner. The party from Boytown saw a young woman rush out from among the automobiles and throw her arms around the little setter.

"That must be her mistress," said Ernest. "I bet she's happy."

The boys were so much interested in all this that they did not realize that the All-Age stake had already been commenced. Two pointers went galloping across the field and the contest was on. From that moment the boys kept their eyes fastened to the successive pairs of racing dogs, trying to appraise their skill and form and to compare them with Romulus. It was a better contest than the Derby, with more birds found, and it was evident that Romulus had opponents worthy of him. One interesting contestant was a beautiful Irish setter, whose red coat glistened like gold in the sunshine. He did well, beating his opponent, but he did not qualify for the finals.

At last Romulus was called, and with him the setter 237 Dolly Grey. She was a mild-looking animal, but once loosed she led Romulus a merry chase. Both dogs were a bit heady at first and did a deal of running without accomplishing anything, but at length Sam, with his patient whistle, got Romulus straightened out and Dolly Grey also settled down to business. She found the first birds, but after that Romulus beat her to two coveys in rapid succession, and Romulus, to the great joy of his master and Jack, was declared the winner.

"Didn't he do splendidly?" said Mrs. Hartshorn as Sam came up with the panting dog.

"Waal," said Sam, "he might have done worse and he might have done better. He wa'n't up to his top form, but it was his first trial. I expect he'll do better in the finals. It was lucky he wa'n't paired with one of the best dogs, or he might have been out of it now. As it is he's got a chance, and I think it's a pretty good one. I heard one of the judges say some nice things about him."

"Do you think they'll get to the finals this afternoon?" asked Mr. Hartshorn.

"I don't think so," said Sam, "but I've got to stick around. They may want to see Romulus work again."

They did try him out once more toward the end of the day, and this time Sam seemed to be better pleased. Romulus won his heat handily against a 238 bigger dog. Meanwhile, however, everyone was commenting on the superb work of a pointer with a chocolate brown head and markings named Don Quixote, and even the boys could see that he was a past master at the game. He went at it as though he knew just how to make the winning move, and he did it every time.

"He ought to be in the championship class," said Mr. Hartshorn. "He's an old-timer, and if Romulus can beat him it will be a great triumph."

Time was called as the shadows began to lengthen, and the crowd, tired, hungry, and happy, returned to the hotel at Bedlow. At dinner everyone was speculating as to which two dogs would be chosen to compete in the finals, and Ernest was sure that the name of Romulus was heard as often as that of any other dog except Don Quixote. In response to the popular demand, the judges held a conference that evening and chose the two who would compete for final honors on the morrow. Crowds gathered in the lobby to ascertain the outcome of this conference, and when at last the judges came out everyone was a-tiptoe with expectation. One of the judges walked over to a bulletin board and pinned up a piece of paper. It read: "The dogs chosen by the judges to compete in the final heat of the All-Age stake to-morrow morning are Don Quixote, pointer, owned 239 by the Rathmore Kennels, and Romulus, English setter, owned by Mr. Ernest Whipple. The trials will start promptly at 9.30."

A cheer went up all over the lobby, and Ernest and Jack, strangely enough, found tears in their eyes.

"That means," said Mr. Hartshorn, "that unless Romulus is in some way disqualified, he wins second place at least, and to become runner-up in the All-Age stake at his first trial is a big honor, even if he isn't the winner. I tell you this because I don't want you to be too much disappointed if Don Quixote beats him. The pointer is a fast, rangy dog, an old-timer that knows all the tricks of the game, while Romulus, for all Sam's fine training, is still green. Let's not expect too much."

That evening Mr. Hartshorn did not even suggest a movie to take the minds of the boys off the great event of the morrow; he knew it would do no good. He told them stories of historic events in the field-trial game, and then sent them to bed. They talked excitedly together for an hour after that, but at last sleep claimed them, for they were really tired, and running dogs filled their dreams.

An even larger crowd followed the dogs to the trial grounds next morning, for there were some who were interested only in the Championship stake, though they were glad to witness the finish of the All-Age. 240 The day was fine and Sam pronounced Romulus to be in first-class trim.

This time the setter seemed to understand what was required of him. He strained at his leash, and when at last he was set free at the command of the judges, he was off like a shot, neck and neck with the pointer, and the gallery cheered.

Old field-trial fans told Mr. Hartshorn afterward that they had never witnessed a prettier contest than that one. The pointer was cool and collected, but full of strength and spirit. When there was any leading done at all, he generally did it. But there was a certain spontaneous fire and energy in the running of Romulus that caught the fancy of the spectators. And Sam's careful drilling began to tell. Romulus settled down to the steadiest kind of work; his form was perfect and beautiful to watch; his scent was sure and keen.

The second move brought the dogs to a very birdy spot, and the points became frequent. In this department of the work it was nip-and-tuck between the two dogs. No one could say that either had a quicker nose than the other or responded more promptly to the scent. Sometimes one dog would be first on the point, sometimes the other. It was largely a matter of luck, for the birds lay on both sides of a series of fields, and the dogs ranged from side to side, circling 241 and quartering in a manner to delight the heart of a sportsman.

If Romulus had a fault it was overzeal. He covered more ground than was absolutely necessary.

"He is doing wonderfully," said Mr. Hartshorn. "I am only afraid he'll run himself off his feet. This is bound to be a protracted contest, the dogs are so nearly equal in every way, and endurance is the quality that is going to tell in the end."

As the race continued, those who were familiar with the signs observed that Romulus was weakening. The more methodical pointer kept up his steady, fast lope unflagging, but Romulus showed an increasing inclination to drop behind.

"I'm afraid this can't last much longer," said Mr. Hartshorn. "The pace is too hot for Romulus. If he had had more experience he would know how to save his strength for the last ten minutes. As it is, it looks as though the pointer had the reserve power."

Suddenly Don Quixote seemed to tap a new supply of strength and speed. He dashed to the right, and then circled swiftly around to the hedgerow of wild shrubs at the left of the field, and all so swiftly that poor Romulus was left well behind. As they watched, they saw the setter stumble. He recovered himself, but stood trembling with weariness and nervous tension. Sam's shrill whistle sounded and Romulus 242 gathered himself together again, but his feet seemed to drag; he had lost speed.

Ernest Whipple was almost beside himself with excitement and fear of defeat. A hush fell over the gallery as they watched this last manœuver of the dogs, and Ernest's voice sounded loud and distinct as he shouted, "Go on, Romulus! Go on!"

The setter heard. He knew that voice and he loved it well. Sam's whistle, which he had become accustomed to obey, had become monotonous in his ears; it no longer served to put energy into his flagging limbs. But here was a new call, a call that demanded the last atom of his devotion and will and strength. He raised his head and looked about for an instant, his lower jaw quivering. Then he seemed to draw together and bound away like a steel spring released. Straight ahead he went, cutting across the track of the pointer and circling around clean in front of him. Don Quixote, surprised by the suddenness of this rush, hesitated and looked a bit dazed. The awful strain of the contest was telling on him, too, and the setter's burst of speed upset his equilibrium.

While the pointer still trotted along in a wavering course, as though in doubt whether to lead or to follow, Romulus caught a scent from the bed of a little brook almost under the pointer's nose. He whipped about like a flash and froze to a statuesque point that 243 would have made a perfect picture for an artist. The pointer, still bewildered, did not even back him up.

The umpire's whistle sounded and the handlers called their dogs in. Sam picked up the trembling Romulus bodily and carried him to the Hartshorn car.

"He's all in," said Sam. "He used the last ounce he had. What a heart!"

Jack began fondling the setter's ears, but Ernest was eagerly watching the little group about the judges. At last a man on horseback came riding up. He was smiling.

"My congratulations," said he. "Your dog won, and I never hope to see a pluckier finish."

The forenoon was already half over and so the Championship stake was begun immediately, but the occupants of the Hartshorn automobile had no eyes for it. They could have told you nothing about what happened, though they learned afterward that it was an exciting contest in which some of the best dogs in New England took part. They were engrossed in their own triumph, and if ever a dog stood in danger of being spoiled, it was Romulus. Sam wore one of the broadest grins the human face is capable of and Ernest found his emotions quite beyond expression.

The party left early, before the Championship stake was finished, and they made a triumphal entry into Boytown. The last part of the way they were accompanied 244 by a noisy convoy of cheering boys and barking dogs, and the town knew what had happened long before it read the stirring account in the papers.

In due course Ernest received a handsome silver trophy, engraved with the now famous name of Romulus, and Mrs. Whipple appeared to be as proud of its appearance on the mantelpiece as any of the others. There was also the fifty dollar purse, from which Ernest was obliged to deduct a considerable amount for entrance fee and other expenses. The rest he tried to force upon Sam in payment for his invaluable services, but Sam would not hear of it.

"Why," said Ernest, "you earned ten times as much as that."

"I didn't earn anything I didn't get," said Sam. "I raised that pup and I'm as proud of him as you are. I'm satisfied."

So Ernest put the balance in the savings bank as a fund for financing similar undertakings in the future.

"A great dog, that Romulus," said Mr. Whipple, when it was all over. "I always did believe he'd cut a figure somehow. It's a pity Remus isn't in his class."

He didn't mean Jack to overhear him; he had no wish to hurt the boy's feelings. But Jack did overhear and came promptly into the room.

"That's all right," said he. "Remus will have his day yet. He'll show you."


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