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"Why play?" might Michael have asked, who had had all play taken out of him.
But when it came to serious work, he was there even ahead of Jerry. On account of foot-and-mouth disease and of hog-cholera, strange dogs were taboo on the Kennan ranch. It did not take Michael long to learn this, and stray dogs got short shrift from him. With never a warning bark nor growl, in deadly silence, he rushed them, slashed and bit them, rolled them over and over in the dust, and drove them from the place. It was like nigger-chasing, a service to perform for the gods whom he loved and who willed such chasing.
No wild passion of love, such as he had had for Steward, did he bear Villa and Harley, but he did develop for them a great, sober love. He did not go out of his way to express it with overtures of wrigglings and squirmings and whimpering yelpings. Jerry could be depended upon for that. But he was always seriously glad to be with Villa and Harley and to receive recognition from them next after Jerry. Some of his deepest moments of content, before the fireplace, were to sit beside Villa or Harley and lean his head against a knee and have a hand, on occasion, drop down on his head or gently twist his crinkled ear.
Jerry was even guilty of playing with children who happened at times to be under the Kennan aegis. Michael endured children for as long as they left him alone. If they waxed familiar, he would warn them with a bristling of his neck-hair and a throaty rumbling and get up and stalk away.
"I can't understand it," Villa would say. "He was the fullest of play, and spirits, and all foolishness. He was much sillier and much more excitable than Jerry and certainly noisier. He must have some terrible story to tell, if only he could, of all that happened between Tulagi and the time we found him on the Orpheum stage."
"And that may be the least little hint of it," Harley would reply, pointing to Michael's shoulder where the leopard had scarred it on the day Jack, the Airedale, and Sara, the little green monkey, had died.
"He used to bark, I know he used to bark," Villa would continue. "Why doesn't he bark now?"
And Harley would point to the scarred shoulder and say, "That may account for it, and most possibly a hundred other things like it of which we cannot see the marks."
But the time was to come when they were to hear him bark again--not once, but twice. And both times were to be but an earnest of another and graver time when, without barking at all, he would express in action the measure of his love and worship of them who had taken him from the crate and the footlights and given him the freedom of the Valley of the Moon.
And in the meantime, running endlessly with Jerry over the ranch, he learned all the ways of it and all the life of it from the chickenyards and the duck-ponds to the highest pitch of Sonoma Mountain. He learned where the wild deer, in their season, were to be found; when they raided the prune-orchard, the vineyards, and the apple-trees; when they sought the deepest canyons and most secret coverts; and when they stamped out in open glades and on bare hillsides and crashed and clattered their antlers together in combat. Under Jerry's leadership, always running second and after on the narrow trails as a subdued dog should, he learned the ways and habits of the foxes, the coons, the weasels, and the ring-tail cats that seemed compounded of cat and coon and weasel. He came to know the ground-nesting birds and the difference between the customs of the valley quail, the mountain quail, and the pheasants. The traits and lairs of the domestic cats gone wild he also learned, as did he learn the wild loves of mountain farm-dogs with the free-roving coyotes.