“One Minute Longer”
by Albert Payson Terhune
I have a confession to make. Albert Payson Terhune taught me to read. Yeah, the “Lad: A Dog” writer, who paid for his country gentleman lifestyle with hundreds of stories about the “gloriously human” dogs of his family home, Sunnybank, in the Pompton Lakes area of New Jersey.
Terhune was far from a great writer. But the simplicity of his journalistic style was as easy on the reading skills of a mid-twentieth century elementary school student like me as it had been for adult audiences in the golden age of magazine writing at the beginning of the century.
Not that Terhune could have captured my heart without the dogs. Despite his twenty years of newspaper sports reporting (he was an avid amateur boxer), it was the dogs that made him famous. And no matter how heroic Terhune’s fictional dogs were, they were real dogs. They shed the beautiful coats collies are known for like crazy, scratched fleas, and loved to roll in stuff best not mentioned before breakfast. Though often brainy, theirs was intelligence with the strange limits and unhuman viewpoints of living animals.
Breeding exotic and, by and large, useless animals is a fad among a certain class of gentrified Americans. Terhune’s exotic animals of choice were his collies. But the Sunnybank collies more than paid for themselves by providing endless fodder for his stories. His founding dog, Lad, starred in a host of magazine stories. And in 1919, Terhune turned collies into gold with his first book length collection based on Lad’s exploits (and sometimes, foibles). Terhune would go on to write dozens of novels and story collections about Lad and his fellow collies, whose blood still runs in the veins of many modern members of the breed.
Well, not the blood of Lad’s son, Wolf, inspiration for “One Minute Longer.” Wolf,
Terhune states, in this blend of fact and fiction, “looked not at all like his great sire, Sunnybank Lad, nor like his dainty, thoroughbred mother, Lady. Nor was he like them in any other way, except that he inherited old Lad’s staunchly gallant spirit and loyalty, and uncanny brain. No, in traits as well as in looks, he was more wolf than dog.”
In fact, Wolf, looked more like a mutt than either a wolf or collie, according to contemporary photos at www.sunnybankcollies.us/collies.htm/.
But he was the dog those of us who love them wish we had. And he was the inseparable companion of “the Boy,” the son Terhune must have wished he had, talking insatiably to Wolf, who “at the sound of some familiar word or voice inflection, would pick up his ears or wag his tail, as if in the joyous hope that he had at last found a clue to his owner’s meaning.”
Left alone on a dreary winter day, boy and dog set out for a walk around the half-frozen lake bordering the Sunnybank homeplace. And in the least likely of places for disaster to strike, it does. “The light shell of new-frozen water that covered the lake’s thicker ice also masked an air-hole nearly three feet wide. Into this, as he strode carelessly along, the Boy had stepped. Straight down he had gone. . . ”
Clinging to the edges of the ice, unable to free himself as cold numbs his body, the boy sends Wolf for help, an errand that will tax the dog’s mental and physical abilities to their limits. “He knew the dog would try to bring help; as has many another and lesser dog in times of need. Whether or not that help could arrive in time, or at all, was a point on which the Boy would not let himself dwell.” Did it? See the full story in the collection Buff: A Collie, at www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/42804/.
The illustration for this post comes from a 1926 edition of still another Terhune book, My Friend the Dog, found at Fireside Books in Tyler, Texas.
Terhune would lament not having a son to maintain Sunnybank, his forty acre estate. His first wife died shortly after giving birth to his only child, daughter Lorraine Virginia, and Terhune had no children with his second wife, Anice, the beloved Mistress of the collie stories. The estate is now the Terhune Memorial Park in Wayne, New Jersey. The house was demolished in the 1960’s, surviving now only in the descriptions of Sunnybank: Home of Lad: “a gray old stucco house with dark woodwork and with wistaria all over it. . . Glowing flowers in tubs and boxes on the gray veranda, and flowers and vines everywhere.”
(Next Wednesday, Adventure classics concludes a February of animal adventures with Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty.)