By Anna Rajagopal
Word Count: 1457
Summary: Kenneth Ford, a Grandson of Anne Shirley-Blythe, is faced with a terrible task.
The Tilt of His Ears
By Anna Rajagopal
A Blythe Fanfiction Story
“What’s the matter, sonny?”
I am rewarded with a jewel-bedewed glance from the tear-veiled grey eyes of the little boy seated on the wall. He rubs one arm across his pale face as if to banish its wet foolishness while the other remains firmly around the flowing ruff of a tri-coloured Shetland sheepdog, who affectionately turns to his young master and licks his ear. He’s a handsome little fellow, the latter, in his tailored breeches and crisp white shirt, with his wavy, dark hair and lightly-tanned complexion, and I find myself innately drawn to him.
“My guardian wants-s to-to s-sell B-Baronet,” he stammers anguishedly. “And he’s-he’s my pet.”
“Oh, I am so sorry,” I sympathise in a tone which feels and sounds terribly cold, adult, and unsympathetic, though I comprehend the child’s pain. Any man who has once been a boy with a dog can imagine how it would be to lose the cherished canine, by death or human hand.
“What is your name, son?” I enquire soothingly.
“Kenny Ford. My father is Ken Ford, and he works in the Canadian government. My mother is dead, so he has his friend Walter Pettigrew look after me. But I don’t like him.”
His clefted chin quivers, but he bravely vanquishes the sobs, clinging to Baronet and caressing the shelty’s ruff as if his short and ill-fated life depends upon it.
“Your father doesn’t know you don’t like him?” I question, crouching down at the foot of the stone wall to be at his level.
“No. They’ve been friends for years, and Walter never let on that he didn’t like me. And I don’t let on that I don’t like him, it would sadden Dad so much.”
Brave little fellow!
“And so he doesn’t know about Walter wanting to sell your dog?”
He shakes his head, miserably.
“He already has a buyer for him, and he isn’t even worth being sold, not as a show dog, I mean.”
“What?” I exclaim, gazing at the sculpted-eared, poignant-eyed image before me, who waves his curved essence of a tail with the re-application of a rose-hued tongue.
“He seems to me to be the finest Shetland sheepdog I’ve ever set eyes on,” I praise. “And I’ve seen a considerable number.”
“Oh, he is the finest Shetland sheepdog ever,” Kenny avows, giving his pet a swift hug. “But not in breed points. He’s the smartest dog you’ll ever see. He knows commands in three different languages, and can even open the ice box door. I’ve taught him to salute, too.”
“That is impressive,” I acknowledge, regarding Baronet with due awe. “But there’s something I’m missing here. Here is this dog, to anyone far and away the most perfect of his breed, and yet you say he’s lacking in breed points. What breed points? Could you perhaps point them out to me?”
“I don’t need to point them out to you, sir,” Kenny replies with respectful honesty. “They’re all right there. His ears, for example.”
“I don’t see anything amiss.”
“And his tail.”
I scrutinise the appendage.
“And his coat.”
“Again, the best I’ve seen.”
Kenny smiles at this listing of his dog’s attributes, and I momentarily wonder if he’s made up these preposterous and non-existent flaws to get me to admit them. But no, he doesn’t seem like that sort of boy.
“You said you’ve seen a lot of Shetland sheepdogs,” he reminds. “So by now you must be a pretty good judge of them, mustn’t you, sir?”
“Son, I’ve judged Shetland sheepdogs.”
“Then can you judge Baronet?” he petitions, almost challengingly. I see again that same satisfied smile.
“It would be an honour.”
“Okay, Baronet, the nice young gentleman’s going to judge you,” he informs his pet, signalling him down onto the meticulously-gravelled drive. I smile as I watch the two, although I’m still completely mystified.
“Okay, boy, stack,” Kenny instructs, and the shelty freezes, foursquare, the very archetype, to all but the most scrupulous critic, of the Shetland sheepdog standard.
“Beautiful!” the compliment sails spontaneously from my lips.
Kenny looks at me, but this time he doesn’t smile.
“Walter taught him to do that,” he says.
“Well, Baronet, let’s see how you match up,” I croon as I approach him. I set a hand on his sturdy, raven back.
“He feels good, Kenny.”
“Yes,” he agrees. “There’s nothing wrong with his back. If there was, he wouldn’t have been able to drag me from the whirlpool in the river when I fell in.”
“He saved you from a whirlpool?” I display my admiration, tickling the choice point where ruff meets neck. “So you’re a hero dog, too.”
“He’s a genius.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised.” I rub my hands up and down Baronet’s legs, down and over his flanks, and up and over his chest, neck, and sides. All are exceptionally true-to-standard and wonderfully muscular. His dove paws are delightfully oval, his dusk-masked face is flawlessly wedged, his lustrous overcoat is an ebony that will not rust, and he sports auburn-gold in all the appropriate places. He must be used to strangers handling him, because he endures my inspection with the complacent dignity of a born show dog.
“Why aren’t you in the show rings, buddy?” I whisper in his etched ear. “You could easily trounce Earl Grover’s Sableland Vintage.” Kenny is obviously a perfectionist.
“Well, Kenny, there’s nothing I can fault him with here,” I finally conclude, preparing to rise, and Baronet wags his tail as if he understands that the examination is finished, and he may, at a signal, return to his lord. “Even if certain points aren’t precisely standard-perfect,” I explain, “they’re true enough that no judge is going to fault him for them in the ring. And what dog exists whose every point is standard-perfect? Not even these Westminster Best in Show winners.”
“Wait, sir, you’re forgetting the two most important things,” Kenny objects. “The ears and the tail.”
“No,” I say, “I haven’t forgotten them. I can see them. They’re flawless.”
“I wonder how many unworthy dogs you’ve placed,” Kenny grins insinuatingly, but not maliciously. “Feel them. Feel his ears.”
A bit hesitatingly, an ugly idea forming in the corners of my mind, I turn once more to our dog, still stacking patiently, the illustration of canine impeccability and desirability, indeed a “small baron.” My entire being loathes ruining this picture I have of him, and yet a second consideration urges me on.
Kneeling at Baronet’s exquisite shoulder, I reach and finger his left ear. And it is as I had feared. The hateful sensation of cardboard that a judge always abhors to find in a dog that had thrilled his very soul with its supposed superiority. And yet, at the same time, I am glad.
“His ears have been fixed,” I state, looking back towards Kenny with the contradictory aura of disillusionment and relief.
“Right,” he nods, his hands in his tailored pockets. “And his tail has been weighted, and his coat has been roughened. The three most important things in a Shetland sheepdog, and he doesn’t have them, though he has all the others. He’s prick-eared, and gay-tailed, and soft-coated, but he’s my dog, and I love him.”
“Well, Kenny,” I say, rising to my feet and joining him again. His marvellous grey eyes, desperate in their resolute acceptance and unclouded now by tears, gaze into mine with only faint expectation, and I suddenly realise that I am addressing a younger version of his famed uncle, Walter Blythe, the author of “The Piper”. I want to pick him up, cuddle him, and kiss him. But of course, I can’t do that.
“Kenny,” I repeat, “I don’t think you have to worry about losing Baronet.”
“You don’t?” he stares at me wonderingly.
“No. Your guardian can’t profit from a lie, and he deserves to stay with you. You know his true value. A value that has nothing to do with the tilt of his ears or his tail.”
“Sir,” Kenny responds, marvellingly, “you seem to know all about it.”
I smile grimly.
“Yes,” I say. “I do. Because I’m the buyer.”
End Note: Craig Courtney, the successful child lawyer, informed a shocked Kenneth Ford of his son’s situation, and Walter Pettigrew was fired. During World War II, both Kenny and Baronet registered for duty, and the shelty afterwards saved his master’s life, and the lives of his comrades, on more than one occasion. Following the war, Baronet received the Dicken Medal for his bravery, thereby proving his prospective master’s words; that the true value of a dog has nothing to do with the appearance of his ears or his tail.