Little Yellow Dog

by Stringfellow Barr (1928)

ON THE WHITE ROAD that leads out of Mirebeau toward Nantes, between slender
wavering poplars, I met a very small yellow dog. He trotted slowly up to me, halted,
and spoke.
       “Of course,” he said, “I am only a dog, and a yellow one at that. But I am sure you
will help me. I am looking for my master.”
       “I will do what I can,” I answered. “I like your courage. Frankly, I never expected a
dog to speak to me, least of all a yellow one. Where do you think your master is?”
       The little dog wagged his tail gratefully; and it was not until he showed this sign of
cheerfulness that I realized by contrast how very sad were his yellow eyes.
       “I do not know where he is. I have gone south as far as Poitiers and northward to
Tours and I could find him nowhere. I live in Mirebeau; but as it is certain he is not
there, I am on my way to Nantes to see if he comes off the ships.”
       “But did he put to sea?”
       “I do not know. But I fancy he loved the straight masts against evening skies. They
would remind him of the poplars along the roadside. He was restless and always liked
roads and ships. He always smelt of travel, even in his best clothes.”
       “What does your master look like?”
       The dog turned his head quickly, and a far look came into his melancholy eyes. I
thought at first that he could not speak for pain; but suddenly his gaze softened and he
seemed to be smiling serenely at some old recollection.
       “Ah,” he said, “it is not so much how he looks, or even how he smells; but the things
he does. He is always strong and calm and sure of himself. So that one aches to follow
him and serve him. You don’t know how we little dogs do ache to serve and follow
someone. You may think, because we are restless and keep running into the fields on
either side of the road and back again, that we would gladly be independent and free to
come and go as we please. Never believe it. We are indeed restless, but how we crave
someone to come back to from our strayings. Every morning at dawn I want my master
to lead me off. And I can scarcely sleep by day or night for seeking him.”
       I noticed then that the little fellow was indeed gaunt and unkempt, with that
haunted look in his eyes that some men get. One or two sleek tidy dogs, who came
trotting by at the heels of their masters, never even stopped to make his acquaintance.
He seemed, by his gentle manner, used to this treatment.
       But I reflected that his enthusiastic and, I confess, somewhat bombastic description
of this marvelous master of his was really not of the least value in a search. So I turned
to him sharply. “Come,” I cried, “when and where did you last see your master?”
       “I have never seen him,” said the little dog simply. “Maybe that is why he is so hard
to find. No, if I had once found him, you may be sure I would not have lost him again.
But I have never seen him.”
       He was standing very rigidly before me, with his head on one side, and he seemed
so confident of my understanding his trouble, that I could not laugh at the absurdity
of his quest.
       “But, my dear fellow,” I exclaimed as gently as I knew how, “how can you find a
master you have never seen? And if he exists only as your ideal, you have but to keep
hunting until you find him in the flesh.”
       “I have,” said the little dog ruefully. “I have hunted ever since I knew what my ideal
was like. Though, to tell the truth, it is not so much a question of what my master must
be like, as of what he must not. There are no men that I have seen in Poitiers or Tours
that I could follow.”
       “But other dogs seem to find masters.”
       “I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that better dogs than I find
masters in these places. You are thinking that I am a most conceited pup, a most—”
       “No, no!” I cried. “I am thinking nothing of the sort. I understand what you mean.”
       I sat down suddenly beside him on the dusty bank and drew his head against mine.
A plump peasant who was driving by, looked amusedly at us while his cart covered us
with white dust. The peasant’s great black dog paid us not even the attention of
a glance.
       “No, no,” I murmured again in his ear. “I understand how you feel. You cannot
follow the fat butcher in Mirebeau, or the sleek pharmacist, or the innkeeper with his
well-kept dogs. They would take good care of you, but you cannot follow them. A pup
must follow whom he can, not whomever he will. And none of these men in Mirebeau
or Tours is the man you are searching for.... Poor devil, I understand.”
       The little pup’s body stiffened; he drew his head up; and a strange, troubled, yet
joyful look came into his eyes.
       “No, not that,” I cried, pushing him away and leaping to my feet in a panic and
starting down the road. “No, not me! Courage. Keep a good heart. You will surely find
him at Nantes. Or at Rochelle. You did not think of Rochelle, did you? He will surely
come off the ships there.... But not me! No, no, not me! There is no strength or
sureness in me—no strength.”

•               •               •               •               •

This deceptively enigmatic story was originally published in the Spring 1928 issue of VIRGINIA QUARTERLY REVIEW.                              
It was republished in the November 1960 issue of BOYS’ LIFE magazine, the magazine of the Boy Scouts of America.
The drawings are by James Lewicki and accompanied the story in BOYS’ LIFE. The town names place the location
of the story near the western coast of France.

Stringfellow Barr (1897-1982) was an author and educator, and edited the VIRGINIA QUARTERLY REVIEW from
1931 to 1937. He also served as president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., and is remembered for
introducing a new ‘Great Books’ curriculum, which introduced college students to the Western literary canon
via the study of 100 great books from humanity’s past. Among the books included were the Bible, Chaucer,
Copernicus, Dante, Darwin, Dickens, Freud, Goethe, Hume, Ibsen, James, Kant, Locke, Marx, Milton, Rabelais,
Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Virgil, and many others.