Exactly, — Dog-Talk. And I sit down to write some of it out, in the middle of this pleasant month of May, lest, peradventure, if I postpone my task for a few weeks longer, I may fall in with my memories some time in the raging days of the dog-star, when the overwhelming sense of dog, in which, for the true working out of these memories, I must first dip my mind, may debar me from enjoying to the fullest extent the bounteous tap of Croton water which tinkles with such rivulet chiming from the silver (German) faucet into the marble (wash-hand) basin with which one side of my apartment is adorned. Hydrophobia is one thing, and hydrophobiæphobia is another.
Although but the mid-time of May, as I have said, the thermometer is reported at something not far short of eighty degrees, and that in as much shade as can possibly be had in the street in which I write, which is a brick street of New York, with one catalpa-tree in it, — a poor, vegetable fakir, standing on his one leg at a distance of about three blocks from “our corner,” and sprawling out all round with his shrivelled hands, as if to catch the passing robe of some rambling breath of fresh air. With a trustful hope that this statement may be accepted in extenuation of the inevitable platitudinism down the gently inclined plane of which I feel myself impelled to slide into my memories, I will endeavor to bring some of the latter to the surface.
I fancy it has been already remarked by writers, — though that will not prevent me from repeating it, — that, of all the four-footed friends of man, none, not even that corpulent chap, Elephant, has contributed more voluminously to the literature of anecdote than that first-rate fellow, Dog. Let me also take the liberty of recalling, in corroboration of others who have previously drawn attention to the same fact, that from the earliest ages we trace Dog as the companion, friend, and ally of him whom alone he condescends to acknowledge as master, to accept as tutor, and to sympathize with in the spirit of hostility to obnoxious things, and in attachment to the sports of the field. It can hardly be necessary for me to explain that I allude to Man.
Above all other created things, Man is the one that laughs, — a remark, so far as the present writer is aware, entirely original, and vastly more indicative of genius than the best of the platitudes incidentally referred to above. Some of the lower animals weep. The deer, for instance, has been observed to shed tears in the extremity of terror, and the hard-pressed hare cries like an ill-regulated child; but not one of them indicates any emotion analogous to the laughter of Man, excepting Dog. True it is, that we hear of a “horse-laugh.” There is a beast, too, called the “laughing hyena,” and a dismal beast he is. Among the feathered tribes there flourishes an individual named the “laughing falcon.” From inanimate creation the poet has evoked for us “Minni Haha,” or the “laughing water”; and the expression, “it would make a cat laugh,” is frequently made use of in reference to anything very ridiculous. But in every one of these cases of so-called laughing things, the sound only of the laughter is there, — the sentiment is wanting. Not so with Dog, who, when the spirit of fun moves him, smiles beamingly with his eyes, giggles manifestly with his chops, or laughs uproariously with his tail, according as the occasion demands.
Yet, with all his wonderful gifts of intellectual ability, we cannot concede to Dog the possession of the supereminent faculty called reason, — the faculty which, as an eminent writer—Tupper, I think—remarks, places Man immeasurably above all the other animals stationed so much lower down, and by virtue of which he is lord and master of them all, leading Behemoth over the land with a ring in his nose, and towing Leviathan across the waters with a harpoon in his ribs. Fine as the line may appear which separates instinct from the divine gift of reason, we must see that progress, an essential consequence of the latter, is denied to the former. It is quite possible that the dogs which accompanied the first mariner in the first argosy were educated to fetch and carry, or were even so far accomplished as to sit up and beg; and it is but little more their descendants can do at the present day. But what of Man, who weathered safely the storm of storms in that same Ark? Compare that venerated bark, as imagined by us from traditionary description, with the least eligible of the ferry-boats which scud across our crowded rivers, and we have answer enough for the present, so far as progress is concerned.
Well, if Dog has never invented so much even as a patent rat-trap, — a thing, you see, that might have saved him some labor, — if he persists in disregarding the majesty of Fashion, and continues to move about in society with the same kind of coat on his back as that worn by his first ancestor, hatless, disaffected of shoes, and totally obtuse to the amenity of an umbrella, — if, in fact, his only approach to humanity, as distinguished by apparel, is his occasional adoption of a collar precisely similar in general effect to those in which Fashion, empress of Broadway and of a great many other ways, condemns her wretched votaries to partial strangulation, — well, say I again, in spite of all this, Dog is prime company. Intimately associated as I have been from earliest boyhood with many excellent fellows of the family, from social communion with which I am at present debarred only by the direful necessity of dwelling in lodgings, — a necessity which, if distasteful to Man, to Doe,, oh, how fatal! — bound, I may say, as I was for years, not by straps and chains only, but by ties of confident friendship also, to canine comrades possessing the purest elements of worth and humor, it is to me a task not altogether devoid of interest to fall back on such memories as may enable me to chronicle a few reminiscences of the nobilities and eccentricities of the race.
Before I discourse of individual dogs of the present century, however, with whom I have had the pleasure of being personally acquainted, let me reproduce the following short tale of a dog from an old French volume, — a tome fittingly adorned with ears of that noble animal innumerable.
Persimel St. Remi was a gentleman of fortune, whose income was derived principally from large rented farms, the dues arising from which he sometimes collected himself, in preference to intrusting that important duty to a steward or agent. On his excursions for that purpose, he was generally accompanied by a favorite little spaniel, of a kind too small to be of any service to him as an escort, but inestimable for his qualities as a companion. One day M. St. Remi had ridden a long way to collect certain sums of money due him in arrears of rent, but which he had little expectation of being able to obtain without further trouble. To his agreeable surprise, however, his tenants paid him the whole arrears, — an event so unexpected that he could not conceal his exultation as he clinked the heavy bag of money on the pommel of his saddle, when cordially taking leave of his farmers. Merle—that was the little dog’s name—was equally delighted; for his moods were always regulated by those of his master, — such is the mysterious sympathy between Dog and us; and ever as his master laughed cheerily to the chink of the gold, on his homeward ride, Merle barked and bounded alongside of him, clearly understanding that gold is a thing to be laughed with and not at, and that it is no laughing matter to be without it. This is what the old French writer asserts respecting the inward sentiments of that small dog. How he arrived at a knowledge of them, I know not, nor is it any business of mine. Well, Persimel St. Remi galloped on and on, until they reached the way-side well about half-way home, — the old stone trough, with the water sparkling into it from the grotesque spout carved out of the rock. Here he pulled bridle to water his horse, refreshed him further by slackening the girths of the saddle, and, unstrapping the bag of gold which was attached to the holsters, he placed it by his side on the rock, while he splashed his hands and face in the cool water. By-and-by he drew up the girths, mounted his horse dreamily, for he was a man of contemplative moods, and rode away from the way-side well, forgetful of his treasure, which lay temptingly on the flat rock, ready to the hand of the first comer. Not so his faithful dog, who, having in vain tried to lift the bag, which was too heavy for him, ran swiftly after the rider, whose attention he strove to arouse by barking violently, and careering round and round the horse when he slackened his pace. Failing thus to attract notice, he went so far in his zeal as to bite the horse pretty severely in the fetlock, which caused him to swerve on one side, and wake up his master to a vague sense of something wrong, the first idea that occurred to him being that his dog had gone mad. Cases of hydrophobia had lately occurred in the neighborhood, and St. Remi was convinced of the seizure by it of his poor dog when they reached the brook which flowed across the road. Instead of luxuriating and drinking in this, as he usually did, the spaniel circled away to where it narrowed, and leaped across it in his run. Then St. Remi, drawing a pistol from his holsters, fired at and shot his faithful companion, averting his eyes as he touched the fatal trigger, and galloping rapidly away from the death-cry that smote upon his ear; and, as he dashed the spurs into his reeking horse, he invoked maledictions on the money which was the cause of this unfortunate journey. The money! but where was it? Suddenly he pulled up his harassed steed, and the unhappy truth flashed upon him: he had left his treasure by the way-side well, and had shot his faithful dog for trying to remind him of it. Riding back to the well with mad speed, he found by traces of blood upon the path that the poor spaniel had dragged himself thither again to guard his master’s gold to the last. There he found him, stretched out beside the bag of money, with just strength enough left to raise his head towards his master, with a look of forgiveness, ere he died.
The chronicler does not state what M. St. Remi did with all that money, — though we may be safe in supposing that he very exactly knew; but we would fain hope that he expended a moiety of it in founding a retreat for decayed dogs, as a monument to the poor little spaniel so faithful to him in life and in death.
Sporting dogs, — the setter, the pointer, the fox-hound, and all the several varieties of hound, have had their historians, from Dame Juliana Berners to Peter Beckford, and that more recent Peter whose patronymic was Hawker; while, on our side of the Atlantic, the late “Frank Forester” has reduced kennel-practice to a system from which the Nimrod of the ramrod may not profitably depart. Apart from history, however, and from didactic argument, the individual traits of dogs remarkable in their day have but too rarely been recorded. Certainly the shepherd’s colley has been admirably individualized by the Ettrick Shepherd; but many a terrier—“a fellow of infinite fancy”—has passed through the world’s worry without ever seeing his name in print, — unless, indeed, he happened to have fallen among thieves, and found himself lamp-posted accordingly, — has passed the grizzle-muzzle period of doghood unbiographied, and gone down to his last burrow unsung.
Among the regrets with which we are saddled for our omissions, not the least of mine is now galling me for having neglected to reduce to writing, on the spot, curious facts which fell under my immediate notice in the course of many years’ companionship with a somewhat miscellaneous assortment of canine friends, —
The little dogs and all,
Tray, Blanche, and Sweetheart.
Nevertheless, I will endeavor to bring together in this paper such stray reminiscences of doggery in general as may occur to me while I write, illustrating the subject, as I proceed, with occasional passages from the careers of humble, but eccentric individuals of the race.
Extinction has been the fate of some varieties of the dog, which have been either superseded by the progress of machinery, or have gone to decay in consequence of the annihilation of the animals for the chase of which they were maintained. When there were wolves in the mosses and caverns of Ireland, for example, there were wolf-dogs to hunt them. The last wolf of that country—and he was a wonder, from the then rarity of the animal—was killed about one hundred and fifty years ago; and although the breed of hound then known as the Irish wolf-dog—one of the largest, noblest, and most courageous of the canine race—was kept up to some extent for nearly a century later, we doubt much whether a single pure specimen of the variety is now in existence; unless, indeed, it may so happen that some ultimus Romanorum of the tribe still licks his patrician chops in the kennels of the Marquis of Sligo, in the possession of which family the last litter was many years ago supposed to be.
Reverting to times when I was a boy, I remember me of a generation of bandy-legged, foxy little curs, long of body, short of limb, tight of skin, and “scant of breath,” which were regarded as the legitimate descendants of a superseded class, — the Turnspit of good old times. The daily round of duty of that useful aide-de-cuisine transpired in the revolution of a wheel, along the monotonous journey of which he cantered, as a squirrel does in his rolling cage, keeping in motion, by his professional exertions, the wheels and spinners of the spit upon which the joint was kept turning before the fire. The tight skin of this ugly dog was evidently a provision of Nature to secure him from entanglement with the machinery amid which his business was conducted. Had a Scotch terrier, for instance, whiskered and plumed, descended from his own more aristocratic circle to disport himself in that where turnspit was the principal mover, — the kitchen-wheel, — he might have found himself cogged, and caught up, and spitted, and associated promiscuously with leg of mutton as roasted hare; in which capacity he might eventually have been eaten with currant-jelly and considerable relish, receiving more honor, perhaps, “in that connection,” than had ever in his lifetime been lavished on him as a member of society.
But Turuspit’s profession is a thing of the past, his very existence a myth. The roasting-jack, with a wind-up weight by which the spit was turned, cut him out first of all; other inventions further diminished his importance. But the tea-kettle—which he somewhat resembled in figure, by-the-by—scalded him clean off the face of creation; for the bright steam-engine, attached nowadays to the kitchens of our principal hotels, has given a new turn to affairs, ruling the roast after a fashion that sets back old Turnspit into the, remotest corner under the back-stairs of the Dark Ages. I have alluded to his alleged descendants, as pointed out to my observation in boyhood; but they were an effete and degenerate race, purposeless, and wallowing much with the pigs, whom their grandsires would have recognized only to roast.
In one instance only, and that on this side of the Atlantic, do I remember having been introduced to any dog whose profession was at all analogous to that of the turnspit of other days. Falling into conversation with an old Dutch-Yankee farmer, in a remote and very rural district, I made some remarks about his dog, which was a very large, heavy one, of that no-particular-kind happily classified by the comprehensive natural philosophers of the barn-floor as “yellow dog.” Farmer assured me that this fine fellow—whose name I am ashamed to say I have forgotten—did all the churning of the farm-dairy by imparting his motive power to a wheel. This piece of ingenuity, Farmer informed me, was originally and exclusively an inspiration from the intellect which animated his, Farmers, proper clod; nor was he greatly exhilarated when I narrated to him the tradition of the turnspit, whose memory, I regret to record, he spurned as that of a mean cuss, destitute of that poetry which dwelleth in the pastoral associations of the dairy.
Although not strictly in connection with the subject of this article, I will here relate a story told to me, on the same occasion, by that old farmer, because it struck me as being rather a good one, and is not particularly long.
Seeing that I took notice of a smock-frocked rustic employed in foddering the cattle, — a rustic whose legs and accent were to me exclusively reminiscent of the pleasant roads and lanes of cheery Somersetshire, — Farmer informed me that he was a newish importation, having made his appearance about there early in the previous winter. While snow, of such quality and in such quantity as they have it in that region, was yet a novelty to the bumpkin, he was dispatched on horseback, one day, to the neighboring village, strict instructions being given him to ride carefully in the middle of the track, as, treading in the deep snow, the horse might “ball,” — an expression applied to taking up snow in the hollow of the hoof, which causes the animal to stumble. An unusually long time elapsed before the messenger made his appearance from his mission, and then he was seen making his way painfully through the snow, leading the horse after him by the bridle.
“What’s wrong now?’ inquired Farmer, as he glanced at the animal’s knees; “been down, I guess; did Old Horse ball?”
“Noa,” replied Bumpkin, “a didn’t joost bawl, but a groonted consoomedly every toime a cooin down. Oi thowt a wur a-gwoan to bawl the last toime we coom down together, and zo oi joost stayed down and walked ’im whoam.”
When doggy men beyond ocean talk about a terrier, they usually pronounce it tarrier, and not terrier, as we mostly call him on this bank of the Atlantic. There is no authority for the former pronunciation, that I know of, beyond usage, which, however, is much taken as a standard in England. Thus, an English merchant will talk to you about his clerks, an American about his clurks. The French word terrier—derived, of course, from terre—signifies not only the dog, but a burrow in the earth; a kind of retreat in which such dogs are supposed to pass a portion of their existence, occupied in the subterrene branches of the chase. It means, also, a laud-roll or register. In Lower Canada, which is essentially France, I recollect the label, “Papier Terrier,” upon the door of a public-land-office. A friend of mine, clandestinely and under cover of darkness, removed the label, substituting for it a scurrilous one setting forth “Pasteboard Poodle,” an announcement which did not appear to convey any particular idea whatever to the unsettled mind of the haggard provincial chef du bureau, as it flashed upon him next morning in the light of the glad young autumn-day. But, reverting to pronunciation, tare-ier would, of course, more correctly reverberate the sound of the French original than either of the other usages, while it would possess the advantage of conveying a suggestion of that proclivity for tearing, so characteristic of the animal designated by the term. On this important question the learned philologists wrangle. For my part, I stick to tarrier, which comes “oncommon handy,” as the horse-dealer hinted, when reproved by the Cambridge student for reducing a noble animal nearly to the level of a donkey by calling him “an ’oss.”
And of all the terrier tribe, there is no quainter little fellow than he of the Island of Skye, — known to his friends and admirers as the “Skye dog.” This little animal, which, in length of spine, shortness of legs, wildness of hair, and litheness of movement, resembles one of those long, hirsute caterpillars oft-times to be observed by the happy rambler in the country, as it promenades across his path, possesses many distinctive traits, which separate him, in a manner, from Dog in general, assimilating him somewhat, indeed, to the ferœ, which find in rapine and carnage the subsistence which Nature evidently has not intended that they should realize in communion with man. The peculiar odor of the fox is his, though in a mitigated decree. He loves to make a lair under the bushes by tearing up the turf with his teeth and paws, and to lie in it. He is of a shy and reserved disposition, and usually more lively at night than by day. These are attributes of beasts of prey. Unlike all other members of the terrier family, he cares nothing about rats. He will sit down and bark in a tone of contempt at one turned out before him in a close passage or room, declining, in fact, to recognize rats as game, unless entered at them while very young. I speak only of the pure, unmixed Isle-of-Skye dog, or “tassel terrier,” as he is sometimes called by rabbit-hunters, — a breed difficult to obtain in perfection, and one which is particularly scarce in this country. The proper game or quarry of this animal is the otter, which he does not hesitate to follow into his very burrow in the river-banks; nor is he afraid to attack one nearly double his size.
Having, time after time, possessed several of these dogs, verified as being derived from the best stock on the island, from which their parents—who understood no language but Gaelic—were brought direct, I have noted some of their odd, whimsical ways, a few of which I will illustrate, taking for my exponent one very remarkable little fellow who was a genuine type of his kind.
This animal was one of the smallest of his family, and of a color uncommon among them; for they are mostly either of a yellowish dun, or of that slaty mouse-color known among dog-fanciers as “blue,” — a tint, by the way, particularly appropriate for a dog of Skye. Sometimes they are black; but Sambo, better known to his familiars as Sam, was of a sooty brindle, with a very dark muzzle, and eyes burning out like black stars from the cloud of shaggy hair that mantled upon his brow. Next to the shortness of his legs, the length of his body was one of the most remarkable physical freaks I remember to have observed; neither of these attributes, however, having a chance of notice in comparison with the quantity and denseness of his long, soft hair, — for the coat of a true Skye dog is fleecy, rather than wiry. It was the joint result of the shortness of his legs and the length of his beard that the latter appendage continually swept the ground, — an inconvenience which I once undertook to remedy by trimming it off short with scissors. No Turk could have more indignantly resented the process than did that small quadruped, — his Celtic feelings being so severely wounded by it, in fact, that he abstained from sustenance for three days, putting himself into moral sackcloth and ashes for that period by retiring into his penitential cell under a chest of drawers.
When quite a pup, hardly half-grown, he played a trick unaccountable to me at this day as it was then. Sam had the run of the house, and he availed himself of it. On going into the breakfast-room, one morning early, I observed a singular phenomenon in connection with a large, cold round of beef, which was the pièce de résistance on the table. It was curious to behold a round of cold beef with a tail, which it wagged, and feathered, and beckoned with, as if to say, “Come, eat me.” The tail was the tail of Sam, whose body was concealed far down in the interior of the tower of beef, into which he had cut his way with great perseverance and success. But the puzzle was, how he got there; for there was no chair within reach of the table, and he was much too small to have jumped up on it; while the theory of the servant, who propounded that he must have climbed up by the table-cloth, tooth over claw, was wild, and simply entitled to the contempt of any person aware of the difference between dog and cat. There is but one acceptable theory on the subject, — that he was down in the caverns of the beef, tail and all, before it was brought up-stairs, and so escaped notice.
Early in life, he contracted—from evil association, perhaps—a vulgar trick of running after carriages, and barking at the horses’ heels, a trick of which I in vain tried to break him. Once, when he was about a year old, I took him up beside me into a high calèche, in which we were going some distance. The moment the horse started, Sam jumped out to have a bark at his heels, when, to my horror, the wheel of the vehicle, in which there were three of us, went right over the middle of his body, cutting him, apparently, in two; but be was up in a second, and barking at heels and wheels for half a mile before we could pull up and get him in again. This accident appeared to decide him in the choice of a profession, for he devoted himself energetically, from that hour, to the pursuit and baying-at of all manner of wheeled things propelled by horse-power.
A rat he would never touch, although I introduced him to one before he was a year old; he manifested neither fear of the vermin, nor surprise at it, but simply took no interest in it. He had much pleasure in worrying cats; but that was owing, I fancy, to a sad discomfiture he once met with from one. Walking through a suburb one day, with Sammy trotting before me in dreamy mood, to which he was much given, a small, but remarkably severe cat made a sudden and very fierce dash at him from a cottage-door, taking him so completely aback, that he tumbled, head over tail, into a deep, dirty pool of green, stagnant water, such as is usually to be seen in the pleasure-grounds environing a suburbo-Hibernian shanty. His appearance, on emerging from that cesspool, was the reverse of majestic; but the incident gave him such an idea on the subject of cats, that he always persecuted them remorselessly from that day; nor did he ever again walk through a suburb in any other frame of mind than a particularly wide-awake one, and with his tail up.
These dogs are curiously sensitive about their dignity, and sometimes do not recover their elasticity of spirits for several days after having undergone a process of correction. I recollect a singular instance of this sensitiveness displayed by Sambo, in which he also manifested a kind of inferential power wonderfully akin to reason.
One morning, a tumult of dogs in the street drew him to the window, out of which he looked by jumping on a chair, just as a troop of “curs of low degree” tore past after a rather genteel-looking dog with a kettle tied to his tail. They whirled rapidly by in a turmoil of dust, and clink, and cur-dog yelp, but not so rapidly as to prevent Sam from perceiving the terrible degradation to which a gentleman-dog had been subjected. The sight bad a visible effect on his spirits, for he immediately became quite depressed as to tail and mind, a condition which influenced him for a day or two, after which he again appeared comparatively cheerful, and took his place in society with his accustomed cautious conviviality. About a month after this, he was seen coming very slowly along a lane which led up to the back of the house, — a course hardly ever taken by him, as he was a parlor-dog, and considered himself entitled to the freedom of the hall-door. Creeping on in the shadow of the wall, he arrived with a very crest-fallen aspect at the kitchen-door, where the cause of his ignominious approach was made manifest to those who were watching him. He had a kettle tied to his tail. Now this animal must surely have argued in his own mind, that running away with a tin kettle is a sure way of attracting undesirable notice; also, that proceeding through a public thoroughfare with such an appendage is injudicious, and likely to result in trouble. The circumstance of the runaway dog and the tumult after him had left its impression upon him; and, travelling on his experience, he rightly judged that an unpleasant affair of the kind might best be hushed up by quietly making one’s way home through back-lanes and the kitchen-door.
Skye terriers, when young, are apt to have a bad trick of gnawing and tearing up articles of wearing apparel, particularly slippers, gaiters, and such other things as are handy to toss up and catch. The fellow I am writing about, when very young, destroyed sundry items of my property in that way. He occupied a buffalo-robe in my room, and I heard him very busy one night about something, but did not pay much attention to it, as he was often lively at night. In the morning, however, on looking for a pair of leather gaiters, I recognized the remains of them, after much investigation, in a mass of pulp, to which they had been reduced by the little beast as completely as they could have been by the most experienced boa-constrictor. This habit I soon broke him of by chastising him with the remnants of the worried article, when there were any left of substance sufficient to weave into a scourge; nor did he ever recur to it when grown up, except once, evidencing upon that occasion a remarkable instance of hereditary instinct.
Some fur caps, and other articles of winter wear, had been shaken out of their summer quarters for the purpose of beating the moths out of them and ventilating them generally, with a view to which they were placed upon the sill of an open window. By some means Sam obtained access to the room, where he was discovered in the act of mauling a valuable otter-skin cap, which he had selected out of the whole collection for his particular amusement. This dog had never seen an otter; but his ancestors were noted for their game qualities in the pursuit of that animal, and their speciality must have descended to him.
Eventually Sambo lost all his self-respect. He became discontented and addicted to low company, dissipating with vile curs whose owners enjoyed anything but unblemished reputations, a fact first notified to me by a clergyman of my acquaintance who knew him well. The worst of this was, that he wore a collar with my name engraved on it in full; and it was a long time before I had an opportunity of redeeming that misused badge. About the very last time I ever saw him, I think, he came home with one of his eyes gouged out, a split ear, and other marks but too suggestive of the tavern brawl. I then deprived him of his collar; soon after which he returned to his unsettled course of life, and I never saw him again.
The peculiar, otter-like form of these animals, and the buoyancy given to them by their long, floating hair, endow them with great facility for swimming; while the small compass into which they will pack in a canoe or skiff makes them very useful companions to the sportsman whose propensities are for paddling about “in the melancholy marshes.” I made an excellent retriever of one of mine by carrying in my pocket a stuffed snipe, which I would make her hunt up and fetch out of the weeds into which I had thrown it. She would go back half a mile and fetch this, when I had hidden it ever so cunningly in a thicket by the way-side. I also taught her to dive, by making her, while young, fetch up a little bag of shot from the bottom of a bathtub in my room. By throwing this into deeper water, gradually, she would soon go down to a great depth for it. A charge of shot, tied up in a piece of white kid-glove, with a “neck” left to hold on by, is a good object for the purpose, as it is readily seen in deep water, and teaches the animal, besides, to nip gingerly, — a valuable qualification in a retriever. I remember one of these dogs fetching up from a considerable depth the watch of a friend of mine, which had slipped out of his pocket into a clear, still bay, over which he was loitering in his canoe.
From times unrecorded until about twenty years ago, the Skye terrier awaited confidently his summons to the sphere of rank and fashion. About that time, the day, which, as the proverb figuratively informs us, it falls to the lot of each individual of the canine race to enjoy, began to shine out brightly for the dog of Skye, the first rays of it that reached him being reflected from no less a luminary than the Crown of Great Britain; for it was among the Scottish fancies of England’s Queen to adopt as a prime favorite this hitherto obscure quadruped. Reckoned until that time—if anybody took the trouble of computing him at all as one of the ugliest of his race, he at once found himself invested with all the attributes of a canine Adonis, — a very Admirable Crichton of dogs, — perfect in intellect, face, figure, and the Hyperion luxuriance of his copious mane and tail. In our youth, we knew—and hated—a small, unmitigated snob of a dog called the Pug, a kind of work-basket bull-doe, diminutive in size, dyspeptic in temper, disagreeable to contemplate, and distressing to be obliged to admire. One of the missions in society of Skye Terrier—who, when going before a high wind, bears no unapt resemblance to a mop or a wisp of tow—was to mop up Pug, and polish him off the hearth-rug of Fashion; a mission which he appears to have at least partially accomplished. For now the black muzzle of Pug is but seldom to be seen protruded from carriage-window, biding his time for a snap at the first kid-gloved finger that wags within range of his overlapping tusks in waving salutation to his dowager mistress, — for, of the dowagers, above all, he was one of the chronic calamities. Oftener, now, are the Well-combed whiskers and moustaches of Skye Dog to be recognized, dropping over the drawing-room window-sill, or framed, like a portrait by Landseer, in the panelled sash of the barouche, out of which he gazes pensively with the impressive speculation of the true flâneur; — yea, for as men of fashion are, so are their dogs; and so also of the fighting butcher, who ever has his counterpart in the fighting bull-dog that glowers from his gory stall.
This exalted value of Skye Dog, in a commercial point of view, has, of course, given rise to the manufacture of a spurious article; whence it comes, that, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the animal palmed off on the unsophisticated as genuine has nothing of the real stuff in his constitution, but is simply a shallow imitation, compounded according to prescription, — one part common cur-terrier to two parts insignificant French poodle. And so I take leave of the Skye terrier with a caveat emptor to the purchaser who does not want to be sold while he buys.
The sense of humor must surely exist in individual dogs; otherwise it would puzzle me to account for the singular practical jokes played off by a water-spaniel once possessed by me. This individual, whose name was Muff, was a rather small-sized one, of the pure Kentish blood; liver-colored, with a white ring on his neck, and white paws; close-curled, wicked-eyed, deep-chested, and remarkably powerful for his size. Professionally a retriever, — and one of great promise, although never fully tested with the gun, — his leisure hours, which included every one in the twenty-four, were passed in the invention and perpetration of curiously regulated mischiefs, with all of which he took pains to combine an element of the ludicrous. His great spree was to run amuck into a flock of small children coming out of school. If there was a dirty crossing hard by, over which they had to pass, he would wait until they had got half-way, and then, going through them like a rocket, would chuck them down into the mud, right and left, as he sped, keeping straight on in his career until far beyond range of pedagogue’s rod. His trick of making a sudden rush at the heels of unsuspecting persons—and he invariably selected the right sort for his purpose—might often have got me into ugly scrapes, but for the tact with which he invariably ignored his master on such occasions. If pursued, he never came near me for protection, but fled wildly on, assuming the character of a dog on the loose, belonging to nobody in particular, and quite able to take care of himself. He had a decided objection to street industrials in general, including Italian organ-grinders and image-sellers. Once I saw him crouching stealthily after one of the latter, who was passing through an open square with a tray of casts upon his head; and before I could get up a whistle or call him off by name, he had darted like a javelin at the legs of the refugee, startling him so much out of the perpendicular that the superstructure of plastic art came to the ground with a crash, top-dressing the sterile soil of the Campus Martins with a coat of manufactured plaster of Paris. Marius, blubbering over the shattered chimney-stacks of Carthage, could not have displayed a more touching classical spectacle than did that modern Roman lamenting to and fro among the fragments of his collapsed martyrs and ruined saints; nor were his pangs fully assuaged even by the application of the universal panacea to an amount more than double the value of his lost wares.
A great difficulty in training this dog was to bring him “to heel,” — a still greater one to keep him there when he came. If thrashed into his proper place in his master’s wake, he always resented the indignity by biting him pretty severely in the legs with a savage whimper. This he invariably did on first leaving the house with me, sometimes nipping me so severely, after we had gone a short distance, that I have hesitated whether to go back for a pistol to shoot him, or forward for a pennyworth of biscuit to buy him off. When told to “hie away,” the extravagance of his joy knew no bounds. He would have been as invaluable to a tailor as was to the Parisian décrotteur the poodle instructed by him to sully with his paws the shoes of the passengers; for, in the exuberance of his gladness, he but too often rent insufferably the vestments of the hapless pedestrians in his line of fire. Sometimes he would turn his assaults upon me, and, springing suddenly at my “wide-awake,” take it from my head, trailing it wildly away through the mud, and dropping it in some place where it would be difficult to get at it without wading. Then I would have to conciliate him to fetch it, — a favor not to be obtained without much stratagem and diplomacy.
One of this dog’s abnormal qualities was the bull-dog one of holding on to his antagonist in a fight. But few dogs of his size were able to cope with him; and I once saw him, when in grips with a fierce bull-terrier by a riverside, precipitate the result by dragging his adversary into the water, and dipping his head under. He would jump off the highest bridge to fetch out of the water anything thrown in for him, never failing to bring it to his master’s feet, — except once, when he steadily declined to recover from the raging element a cane with which I had, some time previously, administered to him a sound thrashing for some delinquency. On the first occasion of his being accidentally left behind at a ferry across a very wide and rapid river, he swam out some distance after the boat; but, finding the enterprise a rather hopeless one, soon put back again and waited for the next boat, on board of which he took his place with a tranquil and business-like air. This he regularly did on subsequent occasions, without risking the swim; and when on board, he always seated himself on the upper deck and as far forward as possible, so as to catch early glimpses of his friends in waiting.
Among the gifts of this clever animal, I must not forget to reckon a perception of the truthful in Art. I had a walking-stick, upon the crooked handle of which was carved, with tolerable skill, a pointer’s head. This piece of sculpture was a source of frequent anxiety to Muff, — his embarrassment apparently arising from the circumstance of his not having the gift of speech wherewith to deliver himself of an opinion on the subject. He would sometimes get up from the sunny spot on the carpet where he lay, walk over to the corner in which the stick was deposited, contemplate the handle attentively, with his head on one side, for several minutes, and then, shaking his head doubtfully, return to his lair with a sigh. Philanthropist as well as critic, he once saved the life of a dissipated old sergeant of dragoons, to whom he had taken a fancy, by rushing into a house which the man had just quitted in a state of intoxication, and so rousing the inmates by his gestures, that they at once followed him into the road, alongside of which the beery old sabreur was found prostrate in a pool of water, setting his face pertinaciously against that hostile element, even to what was very near being his last gasp.
Large dogs often appear to take a humorous view of the futile attempts of small ones to accomplish some feat beyond their strength or stature. A friend of mine once possessed a very large animal of a cross between the Mount St. Bernard dog and the English mastiff, and as remarkable for his good-nature as for his great strength and courage. Rambling out one day, accompanied by this trusty friend, they came upon a group of rustics engaged in the ignoble diversion of baiting a badger, an animal much in request among English dog-fanciers as a test for the pluck of their terriers. “Drawing a badger” is the proper sporting-phrase, — the animal being chained to a barrel, from the recesses of which he contends savagely with the fierce little dogs pitted against each other to drag him out within a given time. Nero looked on at the sport with a majestic air of contempt, as dog after dog was withdrawn from the conflict. At length, disgusted with the failures, he watched his opportunity until the badger made a dive from his den at a retreating foe, when, snapping him up by the collar, he thundered away down the road with the barrel flying after, nor ever stopped until he reached home, nearly a mile away, where he safely deposited badger and barrel in the immediate vicinity of his private residence in the stable-yard.
One of the worst vices by which a dog can be beset is a propensity for killing sheep. It is not a common vice, but, where it exists, it appears to be inveterate and beyond all hope of reform. Shutting up the delinquent with a dangerous ram has often been recommended as a certain mode of disgusting him with mutton, should he survive the discipline inflicted on him by the avenger of the blood of his race. I can recall but one instance within my experience in which this corrective was tested. It was in the case of a sulky dog of a breed between the red Irish setter and something larger, but less patrician, upon whom the thirst for blood fell at uncertain intervals, impelling him then to devastate the very sheepfolds of which in his capacity as watch-dog he might have been considered as ex officio the guardian. This vile malefactor had been ordered for execution, and the noose was already coiled for his caitiff neck, when a neighbor of his master’s—a great raiser of sheep—begged for him a reprieve, kindly volunteering the use of a truculent, but valuable ram belonging to him, for the purpose of illustrating the homæopathic theory above alluded to. At nightfall the ram was brought and turned into a paddock, where he was left fettered to the dog with a couple of yards of chain. At the dawn of morning the ram’s master approached confidently the arena of discipline, secure of a result triumphant for his theory. But theory was a delusion in this instance; for the red dog Tanner sat there alone and surfeited with mutton, — though there was a good deal of the ram still left.
It is wonderful what an amount of crime can be committed, even by a small dog, when, like the Chourineur of Eugene Sue, he is under the glamour of blood. Of this there came to my knowledge a well-authenticated instance, one for the truth of which I can vouch. A settler in a remote bush-district had been to the nearest village, which was many miles from his clearing. It was in March, and the surface of the snow—which was quite two feet deep—was frozen to a hard crust, as he travelled homewards in his cutter, accompanied by a currish dog, not nearly so large as an average pointer. About nightfall, and when some two miles from home, a herd of nine deer crossed his track, struggling away into the woods with uncertain plunges, as the treacherous crust gave way beneath them at every bound. While they were yet in sight, the dog gave chase, and they all disappeared into the dark forest together; nor did the dog return to the call of his master, who, after whistling to him for a short time, proceeded on his way and drove home without him. Early next morning the cur made his appearance, glutted and gory, and looking the very picture of dissipation. Struck by his appearance, they took the back track on his trail, which led them to a hollow in the bush, where the snow was much trampled and draggled with blood, and in and around which every one of the nine deer lay dead, pulled down and throttled by one miserable cur, who had the mastery over them, because he could run on the surface of the snow, through which they sunk. The dog’s master—at whose shanty I once stayed when on a fishing-excursion—was much mortified at the occurrence, as the deer-hunting season was past, and he was one of Nature’s sportsmen, a game-keeper by instinct.
I have but one more anecdote of a dog, for the present; and that is one for the truth of which I distinctly decline to vouch. It was imparted to me by a calker, who owned a woolly French poodle, which remarkable animal, he informed me, used to swim out regularly once a week, — on Saturday evenings, I think he said, — with a large wisp of tow in his mouth, upon the ascension of his fleas into which place of refuge, he would “let it slide” down the current and swim back tranquilly to the shore, there to slumber away another week in comparative comfort.1
Having thus calked my Dog-Talk—bark, in fact—with this very tough bit of yarn, I now trustfully commit it to the mercies of the “Atlantic.”
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- The calker’s dog had probably never read Olaus Magnus, though that worthy Archbishop wrote something very like dog-Latin; but, as dwellers on the margin of the “Atlantic,” we have too great a respect for a prelate who believed in the kraaken and the sea-serpent, not to refer our valued Cynophilist to the Thirty-Ninth Chapter of the Eighteenth Book De Gentibus Septemtrionalibus, where he will find the same story told of the fox. — Eds. Atlantic, 1859. ↩