Whisper 'rabbit' to him

Scamper was a redbone hound of advanced mentality, rugged endurance, and indefatigable persistence, and in many ways the finest pooch I ever patted behind the ears. He belonged to Buddy Russell, who in Scamper's time was proprietor of Kennebago Lake Camps, Maine's prestigious vacation resort deep in the wilderness. In the evening, when folks sat about the lounge to yawn away the post-prandial and pre-beddybye hour, Buddy was the one with Scamper stretched out on his knees, both of them sound asleep. For Buddy and Scamper began their days at 4:30 a.m., when Buddy arose to check the kitchen and Scamper fared forth to chase rabbits. While Buddy put in his day with the chores and duties of management, Scamper kept the bunnies on the hop, so both were tired come evensong.

Scamper was, through no fault of his own, a hunting dog, and the true blood of his long lineage was dedicated to sleuthing rabbits. Nothing else, which is what makes a good dog. Scamper disdained foxes, bobcats, birds, and deer, but whisper ''rabbit'' to him and he'd bellow and bawl and take off. In season, Buddy would go into the woods with Scamper, but during the summer months rabbits are protected, so Scamper chased them only for amusement. Scamper never caught a rabbit, and seldom does any dog. So, you must understand that the rabbits Scamper chased were the almost-pet rabbits that roamed these wilderness premises , being a part of the resort's offerings to beguile the paying guest.

Further, these were not really rabbits, although Mainers call them rabbits - they were variable hares, the ones with the huge hind legs that Mainers also call snowshoe rabbits. Brown in summer, white on snow. Nibbling the lawns in considerable numbers at Kennebago, they seldom looked up when guests snapped their cameras, but were quick to retreat if somebody came too close. Now and then a guest, with carrots and lettuce from the kitchen, would entice the hares closer, but never so anybody could lay on a hand. As to Scamper, they indulged him and made a pleasant game of his attention.

As to speed, Scamper was no match for a snowshoe, so when Scamper got on a scent, as he did every morning, the rabbit involved would run on ahead, gaining some distance by circling about the 25-odd buildings and camps of the hotel, and when he had Scamper suitably baffled he would pause to chew some grass, one ear cocked for the inevitable approach of old Scamper. When Scamper came near, off would go the bunny again, and the guests would watch all this from their piazzas and laugh, cheering Scamper and the rabbit together. It was clear that both dog and bunny enjoyed this exercise and the attention it caused. Come suppertime, Scamper would quit.

Now one summer about the first of July a couple arrived for a week's stay. They were probably from Philadelphia, because in a Maine woods story Philadelphia is a fine place for ''sports'' to be from. And they had with them two of the most handsome boxer dogs you ever clapped an eye to. Buddy Wilcox, a guide, described them as ''a matched pair.'' And they did walk together like yoked oxen. Trained to a whisper, they were beautifully obedient - as dogs were never allowed in the dining room, they used to stand motionless at the portal while their owners ate. Friendly, they caught the approval of all the guests and won big attention.

So much so that Scamper took notice, and Buddy Russell mentioned that Scamper's nose was out of joint because of this intrusion on his prior claims. Scamper was camp dog and had a position to protect.

Which is the explanation of how come, one morning, the cry went up that the two boxers were missing. High and low, they could not be found. The patent dog whistle had tweeted silently in vain. The two guests took turns tweeting, and were exhausted. Everybody turned out, and there was a big search up and down both sides of the lake, and several miles out toward town. That evening Buddy noticed that Scamper arrived for supper on schedule, and he wondered.

Buddy's wonderment was justified. Truth to tell, Scamper had played the genial host, and had taken the boxers for a run in his beautiful woods, setting them some kind of doggy game, and losing them on the far side of Spotted Mountain. A game warden found them a week later; they went home; and Scamper was again king of the hill.

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