One morning before breakfast Mrs. Vancourt stepped out on her terrace to look at the ocean. On the stone railing, watching a sea gull fall out of sight below the cliffs, sat a tiny white dog. It was only three inches high and three inches long. Almost hidden under its short white fur was a solid-gold collar engraved with the word Gloria.
"Amazing!" exclaimed Mrs. Vancourt, placing Gloria in her palm. "I thought you were a toy! Are you a puppy?"
The dog's blue eyes, searching her wrinkled face, were calm and clear.
Mrs. Vancourt shook her head. "No, you are definitely not a puppy. But what an incredible specimen. Only three inches high! Do you know any tricks?"
Gloria wagged her short curly tail. "A few, she answered.
Mrs. Vancourt glanced around the terrace. Except for the clog, she was alone.
"It was only the roar of the surf," she told herself. But to make sure, she asked again, "D0 you know any tricks?"
This time Gloria answered in a very loud voice, "About three hundred and sixty-seven!"
With a shaking hand, Mrs. Vancourt put on the glasses hanging from a gold chain around her neck. "You did say 'three hundred and sixty-seven,'" she said, looking Gloria right in the eye, "didn't you?"
"Give or take a few," said Gloria.
"Incredible!" said Mrs. Vancourt. "A talking dog!"
"Most people are surprised at first," said Gloria. "If I startled you, I'm sorry."
"I thought I was losing my mind!" said Mrs. Vancourt. "How did you get on my terrace? Are you lost?"
"Not exactly," said Gloria. "As a matter of fact, I just arrived in the neighborhood. I'm looking for a home."
Mrs. Vancourt adored small things. "I suppose a talking dog three inches high and three inches long can pick and choose," she said. "What sort of place are you looking for?"
"I'm not particular," said Gloria. "Three meals a day, cozy fires, fresh flowers, birthday cakes, singing, and laughter."
Mrs. Vancourt laughed. What fantastic luck! In exchange for a few comforts this talented dog could be hers! She carried Gloria into her elegant drawing room and placed the little dog carefully on a table beside her chair.
"My dear Gloria," she said, "your search is ended. My home is yours for as long as you care to stay!"
Gloria glanced behind her, through the open French doors to the terrace. "It isn't just for me," she said.
At that moment a child appeared in the doorway. She was three years old, with short blond hair and cheeks as soft as fresh raspberries.
"Come in, Annabel," said Gloria. "I want you to meet Mrs. Vancourt. She has kindly offered us a home."
"Not 'us,' " said Mrs. Vancourt quickly as the child approached the table. "Just you, Gloria. Just you. Nothing was said about a child!"
"Annabel Tippens is well behaved," said Gloria.
"No," said Mrs. Vancourt. "Not a child. Not possibly. Not in this house. I'll never agree to it. Never in a million years."
Calmly, Gloria studied Mrs. Vancourt's determined face. "I couldn't stay without Annabel," she said.
Mrs. Vancourt shook her head. "My house, she said, is not an orphanage!
"Annabel is not an orphan," said Gloria. "Due to circumstances beyond their control, her parents left her in my care.
One day they will return. Our stay with you will be only temporary."
Mrs. Vancourt hesitated. She almost never changed her mind. She looked at Annabel and then at Gloria. "Do you really know three hundred and sixty-seven tricks ?"
Gloria stood up. She flipped her hind legs into the air and ran around in a circle on her front paws. It was a circus-dog's trick, but she accomplished it with incredible ease. Then she did a couple of backflips and a forward roll.
"More!" cried Annabel, clapping her hands.
Starting with a triple roll, Gloria did all her tricks -- jumping, rolling, flying about, her little black nose and paws skimming over the polished table like spots on rolling dice. After trick three hundred and sixty-seven she wasn't even out of breath.
"Now, about Annabel," she said. "Before the sun sets I must find her a home."
In all the capitals of Europe, Mrs. Vancourt had never seen a performance that could compare with this one. She put her glasses on and off a dozen times, trying to make up her mind. She knew that her opportunity to own a live talking dog three inches high and three inches long that did hundreds of tricks might never come again.
"Before the sun sets," repeated Gloria.
Mrs. Vancourt looked at Annabel and forced a smile. Then she picked up Gloria. "Come along then," she said, "it's time for breakfast."
Except for a few servants, Mrs. Vancourt lived alone. Her very large house, surrounded by gardens and smooth lawns, overlooked a wide river where it emptied into the sea. Far out on the horizon a lighthouse stood, like a piece of white chalk against the blue sky.
In the dining room Gloria and Annabel met the plump housekeeper, Miss Peach. Though she had no waist to speak of, Miss Peach moved as briskly as a sergeant major. She carried out Mrs. Vancourt's every wish with military precision, failing only to obey the order to diet. Secretly, Miss Peach carried candy in her pocket.
"A child in the nursery again!" she exclaimed, smiling d0 at Annabel. Miss Peach was accustomed to Mrs. Vancourt's sometimes unusual guests, who ranged from turbaned maharajas to kimonoed Japanese, and her surprise when Gloria said How do you do? registered only in her hind llama-like eyes.
After breakfast Mrs. Vancourt and Miss Peach took Gloria and Annabel up to the old nursery. It was a large plain room with white furniture and a fireplace.
Miss Peach raised the blinds, letting in the bright sunshine. She opened the tall windows and the balcony door to let in the smell of the sea and the roar of the surf breaking against the cliffs below the lawn.