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Story Notes:

This hit me a few months back, and I've recently finished it.  It seems to sit OK as a 'oneshot' as far as I can tell.

I found out a lot about the St Bernard breed while researching for this, and have found that the life of Rufus, as with so many other areas EBD wrote about, is one where it helps to suspend disbelief...

New to SDL - Not a repost from the CBB! :)

3/1/12

 

Years later, Joey would blush whenever someone, usually Madge, Gwynneth, Nell, or Hilda, called her to account for the vast differences in the behaviour of Rufus and Bruno.  She well knew the mistakes they’d made with the latter.  Oh, he could track as well as the friend of her youth, nor was he horribly aggressive, but that was about as far as the similarities went. 

At first she had blamed the differences on Bruno’s young age, and having a differing temperament, and there was some truth in that, but the truth was that she simply didn’t have the time to give to Bruno that she had given to Rufus.  “Oh, I know some people say that I can’t possibly have enough to occupy myself with” she admitted ruefully to them, “but the truth of the matter is, even with Anna and Rosli here to help take care of the family, and the housework, by the time I see to all the bits which are my responsibility, and set aside some time for my writing, there usually isn’t very much time left.

“Yes, I come and spend time at the school on occasion, and I have my parties with the girls each year, but these are in my times off – holiday periods.  Even were I to give them up, I’d never have had enough time to train Bruno to the same extent I did Rufus.  He is better than he could be, thank goodness.  The only time he pulls on the lead now is when he actually needs to track something...

“Truth be told, I’m not the active girl I was when I first got Rufus, I don’t go off climbing trees as I did then – and what walks I do take are usually with a tot or two in tow...  I had thought, at the time, that the girls might train him, as I did with Rufus, but I guess that just wasn’t to be.”

Even to her own ears, Jo’s explanations sounded like rather hollow, and she couldn’t help but let her mind be dragged back to that day so many years before, when she’d gone rushing to the rescue as Eigen told her about the watery grave awaiting Zita’s young pup’s, who had been born at the wrong time of year.

Joey had been fuming when she heard about the fact that the puppies were due to lose their lives.  It wasn’t their fault that they hadn’t been born during the summer, they didn’t deserve to die. 

There hadn’t been any too much time when she found out about their plight.  The hour for their scheduled demise was almost upon them.  Eigen had heard about it on his way back from doing some odd jobs for Marie, and it had been the next job the herdsman had on his list at the time.  He’d been expressing his regret to someone else as Eigen passed them. 

He had hared back to tell Joey, knowing from a conversation that they’d had a few days previously that she loved dogs, and had a particular fondness for the St Bernard breed, having loved it ever since she had first heard about all the good they did in the Swiss mountains, and that to have someone kill them that way would be of great sorrow for her.  He also, more pragmatically, thought that with a possible buyer the family might survive the winter better – there had been talk of killing the mother herself, and that would be a hardship to them in better times.

So, without taking any time to tell anyone where they were going, as soon as prayers were over Joey had Eigen take her to the place where the dreadful deed was to be done.  They had raced all the way to the river, to where the man was standing, the mother dog by his side, and the two week old puppies next to her. 

All barring the last one, a little boy, were drowned by the time Joey and Eigen had arrived, and Joey dived in and grabbed the young thing out of the water just as the man was putting him in.  “Don’t you dare drown him too, you brutal beast!!!  I can’t believe that you would do that to such poor defenceless creatures, you should be shot yourself, never mind shooting the poor mother!  Look at her, she’s devastated!  You don’t deserve to own a dog if you can treat them like that!” she shouted at the man, the majority of her German deserting her in her rage.  She would have gone on, but the rain was falling from the sky in torrents, as it had been all morning, and Eigen was pulling her away, back towards the school.

The two children then dashed back the way they had come, scrambling over rocks and tearing through bushes and thorns, the placid herdsman owner watching them in astonishment, having not taken in a word of the brief harangue he had received, though he was aware that Joey had been very upset at his actions.  For him though, it was the choice of the pup, or his family of 8 at home, who would struggle to survive for the winter.

The dog at his side had been barking her joy at the recovery of one of her puppies, and now she sat stoically as he was taken away from her again.

Not that this lasted for long, as it took but an hour from that point for Madge to reach the family home, a hut consisting of about three rooms.  Here the herdsman was now back with his family, having brought Zita back with him, and was telling his tale with amazement.

It was upon this scene that Madge made her appearance, and taking in the obvious derelict poverty of the place, and the barely warm enough rags the children were wearing, she decided that drastic action was required.

So, making full use of her fluent German, she explained that she was the sister of the child who had run off with the puppy, and having heard all about it she had come to offer her assistance, by keeping the big dog at her school over the winter, where she would take charge of feeding her, and that she would like to purchase the pup from them.  She would also happily take the dog every winter it was required, so that the family’s fragile budget wasn’t pushed to straining point, and they never had to make such a hard decision again.

Then she laid down kroner enough to pay for the pup twice over, and with their amazed agreement ringing in her ears, she asked for the name of the dog.  Once they had told her, with the approval of the family she called Zita to come with her, and, never knowing that she had just won the adoration of the 10 year old boy and his 7 year old sister who were also within the room at that time, she quickly made her way back to the chalet, leaving the family to their astonishment and amazed joy at the difference this would make to their lives.

Once she was home it was the work of moments to reunite the young pup with his mother, who was by now whimpering in her delight at his return, no doubt having never imagined she would meet up with him again, and once she had washed him she lay down and allowed him to feed for a while.  She was in a warm, dry place with plenty of warm hay for a bed, had been reunited with her pup, and had both been given a satisfying meal and had plenty of water to drink should she require it.  On top of that, as the people who had rescued her were leaving her in peace, she had heard her young boy given a name.  He was to be ‘Rufus’ that meant he’d be cared for, and much loved.  Zita felt that he suited his new name.  He really was a pup with bright reddy-brown fur, which had a few white markings – such as down his nose and around his muzzle, and he was black around the eyes; just like his sire.  And Joey looked up at her sister Madge as they left, and thanked her for ‘such a topping birthday gift’.  The people disappeared off, and Zita delightedly gave her pup one last wash before settling down for a long nap.

Later on in the day, once the last class was over, Madge sent for Joey.  “You know Joey-baba,” she started.  “I’m not too sure exactly how the best way to treat Rufus is.  He’s such a young thing.  I think I’m going to go to Herr Arndt to ask him about puppy weaning.  We know so little, and it just wouldn’t do to make mistakes through ignorance.

“Why don’t you take Robin and go spend some time with Rufus and Zita while I’m gone?”  She suggested next.

Joey happily agreed, and went off to collect the Robin from Le Petite Chalet, explaining to Mademoiselle that Madge had given her permission to introduce the small girl to Rufus and his Mother.  Mademoiselle agreed happily to this, knowing that the Robin was becoming like family to Madge, Joey and Juliet, who was Joey’s other adopted sister.

In fact, Joey and the Robin had only just reached the big shed that Zita and Rufus were in when Juliet joined them, telling them that Madame had sent her.  “It’s tophole to have you Juliet” Joey responded with a smile.  “This way Bubchen” she then said to Robin, carefully opening the door.

The three girls went and sat in the hay, petting Zita gently, and looking at the young pup with her.  “I love his colouring Jo” Juliet said carefully.  The younger girl looked up at her with a smile.  “I rather love it too” she admitted quietly.  “I think he’s my favourite shade of St Bernard red.”  And with that they watched the young pup snuggle into his mother, sharing in her warmth.

In about 45 minutes Madge was back, bringing Herr Arndt with her.  He was a vet who had qualified in Wien, a few years back, and while he specialised in the cattle that were so common on the hills, he did care for a few of the canine inhabitants of the area, Zita included.

He explained that Rufus, being two weeks old, would soon be opening his eyes, and that soon after that he would begin to explore the barn they were keeping the dogs in for the present.  Two weeks after that, Zita would begin to wean him, and they should tempt him onto the same things they were feeding Zita...

In relation to his general health and development, he warned that the St Bernard didn’t need huge lengthy walks, as this could again harm their developing bones, which were quite prone to injury anyway.  “Zita doesn’t have any of the bone problems that dogs of this kind can get, neither does the sire, so hopefully that should mean he is less likely to develop anything of the kind.  However, for the first two to three years you should give him short walks only, building up by about 5-10 minutes over the course of each month.”

Then he looked at the girls seriously, before singling out Joey.  “I hear that you, Fraulein Joey, are to be the owner of this magnificent specimen of St Bernard dog hood.  You must therefore realise that he will do his best to please you, but that it will take him a long time to learn.  You must have patience with him, spend as much of each day as possible with him” at that he turned to include Madge in the conversation “you realise, a St Bernard dog must have company mine Fraulein, otherwise they grow bored, and may become destructive.  Let your girls spend what time with him that they may, that the dogs are never left alone for very long.

With a few more injunctions as to the best way to train and look after him, Herr Arndt made his apologies and left to return home, secure in the knowledge that he now had someone else to hand to bring in more funds to his small practice.

Madge had been fortunate to find him in the area, he was based at Spartz, and had only been so close due to a sick heifer which he had been called to earlier on in the day.

With the advice from the vet, supplies were bought and Rufus flourished, enjoying days spent with his young mistress and her friends stroking him, playing with him, and teaching him to walk nicely on the lead. 

He couldn’t go out with their daily walk – it was too far for him yet, and the snowy weather made getting along a bit of a struggle.  Joey spent a lot of time talking with him as well, telling him all she could find out about his ancestor, Barry, the most famous of all St Bernard dogs, though they were not known as that at the time.  Rufus aspired to be like the great Barry, who his young mistress stoutly declared had performed all the amazing rescues attributed to him, regardless of doubt thrown on this fact by anyone else.  He particularly liked the story of the rescue of the young boy.  Could he possibly do things like that?  His Mistress said that to be able to do anything of the kind he’d have to practice hard smelling things with his nose.  Maybe that was a good first step, a good way to practice.

There were many times when Joey would have to scold him while they were out, especially when he tried pulling on the lead.  Still, he worked hard at it, and Joey was always careful to do her best to finish with a positive, and a small treat so he knew he’d done well, and to provide a positive example for him, rather than a negative one.  Often, when his mother Zita was with them, they would take both dogs out together, and have Zita show him what was wanted, whether it was walking nicely on the lead, or by way of a tracking game.

Joey always used to say that those first few weeks, just after he’d opened his eyes, were the funniest, as he’d walk and stumble over to them, tripping over his feet, exploring his environment.  He often found at least three or four girls with him, from the very big ones, right the way down to the youngest.  Joey was with him most of all, of course, but he got to know every girl in the school over those first few weeks, as they marvelled at the way he grew.  Some of the older ones often said in his hearing that spending time with him was as good as a science lesson!  Whatever those things called science and lessons might be!!!

The months passed quickly and it wasn’t all that long until Zita returned home to the family who had brought her up.  Joey was quite suspicious of them, still remembering the actions that the father had taken against the other puppies, but she was soon reconciled when she saw the joy on the faces of the young children as they welcomed their pet home again.  Maybe this time she would have a set of puppies at a time when they could be sold and augment the family income better.

Rufus was sorry to be separated from his mother, but with the numerous visits from different people, the walks, and the various different activities that the company heralded, he was usually too exhausted to miss her much, for anything but her body heat when sleeping, and Joey did all she could to make sure he didn’t miss it too much.

As summertime came Joey stepped up the tracking games – first of all by having one of her friends drag some meat around for him to chase – the first time she had ever involved anyone else in the wonderful job of feeding him – and then, once she had got him used to the idea of finding something good by scent, she would have him play ‘go find.’

Sometimes Joey herself would be the lost object, but more often than not, his target would be Robin, who loved running round the garden for a little while, before finding a hiding place.

Rufus was occasionally distracted by the other girls playing in the meadows, but learned, over time, that the best way to please his young mistress was to stick to task.  Once he had found his quarry, then he was allowed to go and play with the other girls, but if he ran off to join them before his work was done he would very quickly be sent back to the barn he lived in, and someone else would come to give him his exercise by means of a short walk on the lead.

Joey was soon to have reason to be glad that Robin had such fun playing hide and seek with Rufus, for the fruit of it was to be found the day that Robin fell into the river where the juniors were playing one day.

Thankfully Joey herself had seen it happen, but Rufus, who had been out with Juliet at the time, soon came bounding over and joined her in pulling Robin out of the dangerous water.

In the years to come, Joey, and later on, other people such as Dr’s Jem and Jack, would employ him to locate missing people, and Rufus soon discovered that his best treats came from the joy that he had managed to please his people, those who had saved his live and brought him up.  He knew that he had done his best whenever his mistress looked at him and told him with love in her eye’s “You’re just like your ancestor Barry, do you know that Rufus?  Just like your ancestor Barry.”

Joey smiled as she remembered just how delighted Rufus had been all those years before when he was reunited with her in Guernsey.  There had been no question, he knew exactly who he was with, and his delight at rejoining her had been palpable.  She really was his only mistress.  Others could look after him, but she was the one he wanted to spend time with.

When it came down to it, she admitted to herself, the reason Bruno wasn’t trained as much as Rufus was came down to one thing...  As much as she loved the breed of dog, there was but one dog in her heart, and that was Rufus.  She couldn’t care for another as she had him, and it had hurt being with Bruno, for no reason but that he wasn’t Rufus.  It wasn’t the dogs fault, she just couldn’t give him what he needed.

With that thought Joey sighed and shelved the issue.   It really was too late for Bruno now, but she knew what she would have to do any time she was offered the gift of another St Bernard dog.  She would have to admit to herself, and to the prospective gift giver, that hear heart belonged to but one dog, and that dogs name was Rufus.

 




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