FINN THE WOLFHOUND
By A. J. DAWSON
AUTHOR OF "'THE MESSAGE," "THE GENTEEL A.B.," ETC.
ILLUSTRATED BY R. H. BUXTON
[Frontispiece: The man had his back to the withered iron-bark now.]
This etext prepared from a 1909 reprint of the first edition published in 1908 by Grant Richards of London and printed by William Brendon and Son Ltd of Plymouth.
TO "THE MISTRESS OF THE KENNELS" AND TO THE MEMORY OF TYNAGH MOTHER OF WOLFHOUND HEROES ITS WRITER DEDICATES THIS HISTORY
CHAPTER I. The Mother of Heroes
CHAPTER II. In the Beginning
CHAPTER III. The Foster-mother
CHAPTER IV. First Steps
CHAPTER V. Youth beside the Downs
CHAPTER VI. The Ordeal of the Ring
CHAPTER VII. Revelations
CHAPTER VIII. Finn Walks Alone
CHAPTER IX. The Heart of Tara
CHAPTER X. A Transition Stage
CHAPTER XI. A Sea Change
CHAPTER XII. The Parting of the Ways
CHAPTER XIII. An Adventure by Night
CHAPTER XIV. The Southern Cross Circus
CHAPTER XV. The Making of a Wild Beast
CHAPTER XVI. Martyrdom
CHAPTER XVII. Freedom
CHAPTER XVIII. Too Late
CHAPTER XIX. The Domestic Lure
CHAPTER XX. The Sunday Hunt
CHAPTER XXI. Three Dingoes went a-walking
CHAPTER XXII. A Break-up in Arcadia
CHAPTER XXIII. The Outcast
CHAPTER XXIV. A Lone Bachelor
CHAPTER XXV. Mated
CHAPTER XXVI. The Pack and its Masters
CHAPTER XXVII. Single Combat
CHAPTER XXVIII. Domestic Life in the Mountain Den
CHAPTER XXIX. Tragedy in the Mountain Den
CHAPTER XXX. The Exodus
CHAPTER XXXI. The Trail of Man
CHAPTER XXXII. In the Last Ditch
CHAPTER XXXIII. Back from the Wild
LIST OF FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS
THE MAN HAD HIS BACK TO THE WITHERED IRON-BARK NOW (Frontispiece)
FINN AND HIS FOSTER-MOTHER
TARA SMILED BROADLY, AND STRETCHED OUT HER FORE-LEGS ON THE GROUND
THE GATE LEADING INTO THE YARD OPENED, AND BILL APPEARED
FINN'S TEETH SANK DEEP
THE NEXT INSTANT SAW THE PROFESSOR FLUNG BACK AT LENGTH AGAINST THE BARS OF THE CAGE
WAS LOST IN THE SHADOW OF THE MAIN TENT
SPURRING HIS HORSE FORWARD
HE WAS BACKING GRADUALLY TOWARDS A BOULDER BESIDE THE TRAIL
FINN WAS STANDING ROYALLY ERECT
FINN'S TOWERING FORM STOOD OUT CLEARLY IN THE MOONLIGHT
HE SLUNG THE WALLABY OVER HIS SHOULDER AND SET OUT FOR THE MOUNTAIN
SCRAMBLING AND SLIDING DOWN THE HIGH BANKS OF A RIVER-BED
THEY SETTLED WITHIN A DOZEN PACES OF HIS RECUMBENT FIGURE
FOUR MEN WERE RIDING TOGETHER THROUGH THE LOW BURNT-UP SCRUB
THE WOLFHOUND RAISED HIS BEARDED MUZZLE, AND SOFTLY LICKED THE MASTER'S THIN BROWN HAND
THE MOTHER OF HEROES
For a man whose thirtieth year was still not far behind him, the man's face was over careworn. It suggested that he felt life's difficulties more keenly than a man should at that age. But it may have been that this was a necessary part of the keenness with which the whole of life appealed to him; its good things, as well as its worries.
He rose from his writing-table and straightened his back with a long sigh, clenching both hands tightly, and stretching both arms over his shoulders, as he moved across the little room to its window. The window gave him an extensive view of dully gleaming roofs and chimney-pots, seen through driving sleet, towards the end of a raw forenoon in February. The roofs he saw were those of one of London's cheap suburbs; first, a block of "mansions" similar to those in which his own flat was situated; then a rather superior block, where the rents were much cheaper because they were called "dwellings"; and beyond that, the huddled small houses of a quarter with which no builder had interfered since early Victorian days.
The man turned away from the dripping window, and looked round this den in which he worked. Its walls were mostly covered by book-shelves, but in the gaps between the shelves there were pictures; a rather odd mixture of pictures, of men and women and dogs. The men and women were mostly people who had written books, and the dogs were without exception Irish Wolfhounds; those fine animals which combine in themselves the fleetness of the greyhound, the strength of the boarhound, and the picturesque, wiry shaggyness of the deerhound; those animals whose history goes back to the beginning of the Christian era; through all the storied ages in which they were the friends and companions of kings and princes, great chieftains and mighty hunters.
For several minutes the man paused before a picture, underneath which was written: "The Mistress of the Kennels." This picture showed a girl with wind-blown hair, happy face, and laughing eyes, standing, with a small puppy in her arms, in the midst of a wide kennel enclosure on the sloping rise of an upland meadow. In the background one saw a comfortable-looking house, half hidden by two huge walnut trees, and flanked by a row of aged elms. When the man had looked his fill at this picture, and at other pictures of various Irish Wolfhounds, each marked with the name and age of the hound depicted, he sighed, and went to the window again. While he stood there, looking out through the February sleet, the door of the den opened, and the Mistress of the Kennels came in, wearing a big, loose overall, or pinafore, which covered her dress completely. Her face had not quite the colour which the picture made one feel it must have had when she stood in that wide, windy, kennel enclosure; but it was still a sunny face; the eyes were still laughing eyes; a loving, lovable face, one felt, even though London had robbed it of some of its open-air freshness. She walked up to the man's side, and, seeing the expression on his face as he gazed out over the wet roofs, she said—
"Yes, it is, rather—isn't it?—after Croft."
"Oh, don't talk of Croft, child, or you'll bring my spring madness upon me before its time. I have had hints of it this morning, as it is. It seems almost incredible that we have only been two years and four months away from Croft, and the old open life. I was looking at the picture of the Mistress of the Kennels just now. Do you remember that morning? Tara's first litter hadn't long been weaned. My goodness, the air was sweet in that meadow! That was the morning poor old crippled Eileen ran the rabbit down, you remember."
"Yes, and it was old Tara's third day out, after that awful illness. Well, well, it's a blessed thing to know that the old dear is happy, and has such a lovely home down in Devonshire, isn't it?"
"Yes, oh yes; I know it might have been worse, and I'm a brute to be discontented, but—two and a half years! Why, it seems more like twenty, since we lived in a place where you could lean out of the window and drink the air; where I could go outside in my pyjamas before tubbing in the morning, and see the dogs, and set the rabbits flying in the orchard. Two years and four months. Do you know, if we give spring madness half a chance this year, it strikes me it will lead us out of this huddled, pent-in town, out to the open again. I almost think we could manage it now. I hardly seem to have lifted my nose from that table since last summer; but it's true the bank book shows small results as yet."
"And four years was to be the minimum, wasn't it? We thought of five, at first."
"Yes, yes; I know. My idea was that we would not go back till it seemed sure we should be able really to stay; no more returns to town with our tails between our legs. But, all the same, when I look out of that window—if we really lived cottage style, you know."
"But should we? Cottages don't have kennels, you know; not Wolfhound kennels, anyhow."
"I know. Oh, of course, it would be quite unjustifiable, quite mad; but—I thought I felt signs of spring madness when I looked out of that window this morning."
"Oh, well! Now do you know what I came in for? I came to tell you that this is the last day of the Dog Show at the Agricultural Hall. You remember that I have to go over to Mrs. Kenneth's this afternoon, and I think it would be a good plan for you to take an afternoon off and go to the Show. If you don't, it will be the third year you have missed it. I really think you ought to go. It will do you good."
"H'm! I should hardly have thought a Dog Show was a good thing for spring madness and the change fever; rather dangerous, I should have thought," said the man, with a queer little twisted smile.
"Oh, yes; I think it is all right; quite bracing; a sort of trial of strength; and quite safe, because we know that madness in that direction is simply and altogether impossible. You have been working too hard; and besides, it will do you good to meet the people. You will see a lot of the youngsters we reared; there are three champions among them now. Do go!"
A little more than an hour later he was on his way to the Dog Show, at which, in other days, he had been one of the principal exhibitors. A bout of ill-health, combined with consequent diminution of earnings, and a characteristic habit of doing things on a more generous scale than his income justified, had led to a break-up of his country home, with its big kennels and stabling, and a descent upon London in pursuit of economical living and increased earnings. Parting with the kennels and their inhabitants had been the severest wrench of all; and it is probable that, even in the mean little town flat, room would have been found for Tara, the well-loved mother of Irish Wolfhound heroes, but for the special circumstance that an excellent home had been offered for her in Devonshire. The Devonshire lady to whom Tara had, after long deliberations, been sold by the Master, had been extremely keen upon purchasing her, and, in addition to offering a splendid home, had faithfully promised that in no circumstances whatever would she think of parting with Tara unless to the Master himself. Here then was an opportunity which the man had felt that he could not afford to miss.
He had been very much concerned about other matters and other troubles at the time, but when the actual morning of Tara's departure had arrived, he had begun to feel very bad about it. The household gathered round to bid good-bye to the beautiful hound, and her Master himself took her to the station. When Tara was in the guard's van she looked out through a barred window at her friend on the station platform, and he said afterwards that the situation exhausted every ounce of self-control he possessed. He had an overpowering impulse, even when the train was moving, to jump aboard and release old Tara.
"I would sooner face the Bankruptcy Court than have her mournful old eyes turned upon me again with just that wonderingly reproachful look," he said.
But glowing reports were received of Tara's happiness in her new home, with its extensive grounds and generous management; and, though Tara was never forgotten—one does not forget such a mother of heroes, when one has bred her and nursed her through mortal illness—her Master had ceased to grieve about her or to feel self-reproachful about having parted with her.
Arrived in the great show building, he wandered up and down between the benches, pausing now and again to speak to an old acquaintance, human or canine, as the case might be. But this was the last day of the show, and the majority of the exhibitors were away. The place had a half-dismantled air about it. The Show was virtually over. Presently the Master found himself in a kind of outbuilding, where an auction sale of dogs was being held. There he sat down on a chair at the edge of the ring in which the dogs for sale were being led to and fro by attendants for inspection.
After a while a young Irish Wolfhound was led into the ring for sale, and immediately monopolized the Master's attention, for it was a dog of his own breeding, sold by him from the country home, Croft, soon after weaning time. He handled the dog with a deal of interest, and was expatiating upon its merits to a small group of possible buyers when he felt another dog nuzzling his arm and wrist from behind, where it was evidently held by a chain, or in some other way prevented from coming farther forward, for its muzzle was pressing hard under his cuff. But the Master was too much interested in examining the young hound then being offered for sale to pay any attention to any other animal. In due course, however, the young Wolfhound was sold and led away, and the auctioneer was heard to say—
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, we come to lot number a hundred and twenty-seven, lot one-two-seven, the—er—the—er—er—yes, ladies and gentlemen, the dam of the fine young hound just sold—a remarkable good bargain, too—to my friend Mr. Scarr-Hislop. This magnificent bitch, whose show record I will read to you directly, is, most of you are probably aware, by the famous Champion O'Leary, ex—er—Come, come, man; let's have that bitch in the ring, please. No one can see her there."
The auctioneer spoke sharply to an attendant who stood close to the Master's seat tugging at a chain. The Master, who had been busy in conversation up till that moment, turned now to respond to the pressingly affectionate advances of the unseen animal, whose cold muzzle he had felt at his wrist for some minutes past.
"Just push her out for me, sir, if you please," said the rebuked attendant, sulkily. "I can't get her to budge from your chair. The brute's as strong as a mule."
"Let me have the chain a minute," said the Master, as he rose from his chair. "I expect you've frightened the—— Why—Great Caesar! Why—Tara! Tara—dear—old—lady. Who the devil put this hound in here?"
"Mrs. Forsyth, the owner, put her in; she's for sale, without reserve," said a groom, who forced his way forward through the crowd at this moment.
The Master wasted some moments, but not many, in wondering, disgusted expostulation, while fondling the head of poor Tara, who had stood erect with her fore-paws on his shoulders the instant he recognized her, her noble face all alight with gladness and love. Through ten acutely unhappy minutes she had nuzzled her friend's hand, and gained never a hint of recognition or response. Then the Master walked up to the auctioneer's rostrum, followed by Tara, who, with no apparent effort, dragged the sulky, puzzled attendant after him, paying not the slightest heed to his angry jerks at her collar.
"I'm sorry," said the auctioneer, after a few moments' conversation; "but I cannot possibly postpone the sale, can I? I had my instructions direct from the owner, and she should know. I am told the dog is positively to be sold, and—— No, there is no reserve at all. Yes, certainly, I will take your cheque as deposit, if you will get it endorsed by the Show Secretary. But—— Very well, sir; no need to blame me about it. I'll give you five minutes. Bring in lot 128, Johnson."
Five minutes was not much of a respite, but the Master meant to make the most of it. See old Tara put up and sold to a dealer in the ring, he felt he could not. The bare idea of her being held there in the auction-room by a show attendant—Tara, the queen of Wolfhound mothers, the daughter of innumerable generations of Wolfhound queens, the noblest living dam of her noble race—was maddening to the man who had bred and reared her, seen her through her puppy's ills, and bred from her the most famous hounds of the day. The groom said Mrs. Forsyth was in the tea-room, and there the Master sought her, with anger and anxiety in his eye; sought her unavailingly and in a frenzy of haste. To and fro he hurried through the huge, noisy show building. At one moment of his fruitless search he obtained a card from the Show Secretary stating that his cheque might be accepted; but even as he thanked the worried official for his confidence in an old exhibitor, he realized with bitterness that he could not by any stretch of fancy pretend that he was able to afford anything like the sort of price that Tara would bring. Not a sign did he see of Mrs. Forsyth, and at last a Kennel-man, whom he remembered tipping years before for some slight service, informed him that he had seen Mrs. Forsyth leaving the building some time before. Almost despairing now, and conscious that the limit of time given him was passed, he hurried back to the auction-room, caught a glimpse of his beautiful Tara standing sorrowful and stately in the ring, head and tail both carried low, and heard a tall, clean-shaven man in a kennel-coat bid forty-eight guineas for her.
"Forty-eight!" echoed the auctioneer. "This magnificent Irish Wolfhound bitch, the dam of many winners and two champions, is positively going for forty—— Why, gentlemen, she'd be worth that to the Natural History Museum!"
"Forty-nine!" cried the Master, with a tightening of his lips.
And then he saw the mean, ferrety face of a well-known low-class dealer thrust forward from among the crowd. This dealer was notorious for keeping a large number of big Danes and Newfoundlands in the miserable backyard of a cobbler's shop in the East End of London. He had been ordered out of show rings before that day for malpractices. He had never owned a Wolfhound, but he was a shrewd business judge of the values of dogs. He nodded to the auctioneer, and that gentleman nodded responsively before taking up his tale afresh.
"Fifty guineas only is offered for the celebrated Irish Wolfhound Tara, by the famous Champion O'Leary. Fifty guineas only is offered, and the time is running merrily on, gentlemen, all the time. Fifty guineas only is offered—and one. Fifty-one guineas—Thank you, sir. Fifty and one guineas is my last bid for——"
The auctioneer babbled serenely on, and the Master followed his words, rather pale in the face now, for fifty-one guineas was a great deal more than he could afford to pay at this time, for such a purpose.
The ferret-faced dealer raised the price to fifty-three guineas, and the Master bit his lip and made it fifty-four.
"May I say fifty-five for you, sir?" said the auctioneer to the clean-shaven man in the kennel-coat.
"If you'll just wait one moment, sir; I must just ask my——" The clean-shaven man was edging his way towards the back of the crowd, where several ladies and gentlemen were seated at a table just out of sight of the ring.
"Time and tide and auctioneers wait for no man, sir," continued the auctioneer. "The hammer is very near to falling, gentlemen. The magnificent St. Bernard dog—um—er——The magnificent Irish Wolfhound Tara is going for fifty-four guineas only; for fifty-four guin—and one——Thank you, sir"—this to the ferret-faced dealer—"at fifty-five guineas only, this noble animal is going for fif——Why, gentlemen, what has come over us this afternoon? Her record alone is worth more than that. You must know that if this animal were sold by private treaty, double the sum would not purchase her. What am I to say for the gentleman who appeared to be recognized by this fine animal? Surely, sir, civility demands a little recognition of such touching devotion!"
"We're not dealing in personalities, sir," snapped the Master. "Sixty guineas!"
And then he turned on his heel; this desperate bid being far more than he could afford. The auctioneer smiled amiably.
"As you say, sir, this is strict business, strict business; and all I am offered for this magnificent hound, gentlemen, is sixty guineas! But my instructions are to sell, gentlemen; and sell I must, whatever the figure." He raised his hammer. "At sixty guineas, gent—and one. At sixty-one guineas, gentlemen; lot number 127 is going—a rare bargain for somebody—going! Will nobody try another guinea on this magnifi——Thank you, sir! That's a little better, gentlemen. Seventy guineas I think you said, sir?"—this to the man in the kennel-coat, who had returned from his visit to the back of the crowd.
The ferret-faced dealer who had bid sixty-one guineas now turned his back on the ring; and, as he heard the cry of seventy guineas, the Master moved slowly forward among the crowd toward the door of the building. He dared not offer more, and he could not wait to see Tara led out of the ring by some stranger. He paused a moment, without looking up, and heard the auctioneer's "Going, going, gone!" Then he walked to the entrance of the main hall, to escape from the scene of so grievous a disappointment.
Outside, in the main building, while moodily filling a pipe, the Master decided that, whatever happened, he must find out who had purchased Tara in order that he might put in a word for his dear old friend, and thereby, it might be, ensure more consideration for her in her new home. There were one or two little whims and peculiarities of hers which he must explain. He thought of pretty Mrs. Forsyth and her broken pledge regarding Tara. He looked along the dusty, littered hall, and, in the distance, saw an elderly lady leading an Irish Wolfhound. A moment later, and he recognized the hound as Tara, and the lady as a good friend of his own, a kindly, wealthy Yorkshire woman who had bought two whelps of him before he left the country, and with whom he had corresponded since. He had visited this lady, too, to help her in the matter of some doggy trouble of hers. Now she was walking directly toward him, leading Tara, and smiling and nodding to him. Just then the lady leaned forward and unsnapped Tara's chain. In an instant, the great hound bounded forward to greet her well-loved friend, the Master, furiously nuzzling his hands, and finally standing erect to reach his face, a paw on either shoulder, her soft eyes glistening, brimming over with canine love and delight. The man's eyes were not altogether dry, either, as he muttered and growled affectionate nonsense in Tara's silky ears. His heart swelled as he felt the tremulous excitement in the great hound's limbs.
"You see, dear old Tara cannot be deceived; she knows her real friends," said the lady from Yorkshire, as she shook hands with the Master. "Please take her chain, and never give any one else the right to handle it. You will allow me this pleasure, I am sure, if only because of the love I bear Tara's son." (One of the whelps this lady had bought from him was a son of Tara.) "I know Mrs. Forsyth quite well—a whimsical, fanciful little person, who takes up a new fad every month, and is apt to change her pets as often as her gloves. I could not possibly let a stranger buy the beautiful mother of my Dhulert, and it gives me so much real pleasure to be the means of bringing her to your hands again."
This good woman bowed her silvery head when the Master took her hand in his, because she had caught a glimpse of what glistened in his eyes, as he tried to give words to the gratitude that filled a heart already swelled by another emotion inspired by Tara.
They walked all the way home, the Master and Tara; and twice they made considerable detours (despite the distance still before them), for the sake of spending a few minutes in open spaces, where there was grass—smutty and soiled it is true, but grass—and comparative solitude. In these places they exchanged remarks, and Tara placed a little London mud on each of the Master's shoulders, and he made curious noises in his throat, such as Tara had been wont to associate with early morning scampers in an upland orchard, after rabbits.
At last they came to the "mansions," and made great show of creeping along close to the railing, and dodging quickly in at the entrance to avoid being overlooked from the windows above. As a matter of fact tenants of the flats in these buildings were not supposed to keep dogs at all, while the idea of an Irish Wolfhound, thirty-two inches high the shoulder!—— But it was little the Master cared that night. The meeting between Tara and the Mistress of the Kennels was a spectacle which afforded him real joy. The flat seemed ridiculously tiny when once Tara was inside it; but, like all her race, this mother of heroes was a marvel of deftness, and could walk in and out of the Mistress's little drawing-room without so much as brushing a chair-leg. There was great rejoicing in the little flat that night; and a deal of wonderful planning, too, I make no doubt.
And this was how Tara, the mother of heroes, returned to the friends who had watched over her birth and early training, and later motherhood, with every sort of loving care.
IN THE BEGINNING
It was little that Tara, the Wolfhound, cared about lack of space, so that she could stretch her great length along a hearthrug, with her long, bearded muzzle resting on her friend's slippers, and gaze at him, while he sat at his work, through the forest of overhanging eyebrows which screened her soft, brown eyes. And in any case, the next four months of her life, after the happy meeting at the Show which restored her to her old friend, were too full of changing happenings and variety of scene and occupation to leave time for much consideration about the size of quarters, and matters of that like.
For one thing, it was within a few days of the show that Tara was taken on a two days' visit to a farm in Oxfordshire, where she renewed her old acquaintance with one of the greatest aristocrats of her race, Champion Dermot Asthore, the father of those great young hounds she had given to the world during her life with the Master; the children whose subsequently earned champion honours reflected glory upon herself as the most famous living mother of her breed, though not the most famous show dog. The qualities which win the greatest honour in the show ring are not always the qualities which make for famous motherhood. As a show hound merely, Tara might have been beaten by dames of her race who had not half her splendid width of flank and chest and general massiveness, though they might have a shade more than her height and raciness.
After that, something considerable seemed to happen pretty well every day. The Master spoke laughingly of the spring madness that was as quicksilver to his heels, and of great profit to furniture removers. He laughed a good deal in those early spring days, and took Tara and the Mistress of the Kennels with him on quite a number of journeys from Victoria railway station. Tara heard much talk of Sussex Downs, and when she came to scamper over them, found herself in thorough agreement with every sort of joyous encomium she heard passed upon them. Then there came a day of extraordinary confusion at the little flat, when men with aprons stamped about and turned furniture upside down, and made foolish remarks about Tara, as she sat beside the writing-table gravely watching them. That night Tara slept in a loose box in the stable of a country inn, and in the early morning went out for a glorious run on the Downs with the Master, who seemed to have grown younger since they left London.
Within a very few days from this time, Tara and her friends had settled down comfortably in a new home. An oddly-shaped little house it was, full of unexpected angles and doors, and having a garden and orchard which straggled up the lower slope of one of the Downs. It had a stable, too, of a modest sort, and rather poky, but the coach-house was admirable, light, airy, facing south-east, and having a new concrete floor, which the Master helped to lay with his own hands. The back half of this coach-house consisted of a slightly raised wooden dais; a very pleasant place for a Wolfhound to lie, when spring sunshine was flooding the coach-house. But Tara did not spend much of her time there, for between the stabling and the house there was a big wooden structure with a tiled roof, large as a good-sized barn, but with an entrance like an ordinary house-door, and comfortably matchboarded inside, like a wooden house. A pleasant old villager who was doing some work in the garden referred to this place as "th'old parish room," but the Master made it his own den, lined one of its sides with books, and pictures of dogs and men, and fields and kennels. He had his big writing-table established there, with a sufficiency of chairs, a few rugs upon the forty-feet length of floor, and an old couch upon one side, manufactured by himself with the aid of an ancient spring mattress, a few blocks of wood, a big 'possum-skin rug which some friend had sent him from Australia, and a variety of cushions. The actual house, for all its rambling shape, was small, and possibly this was why the Master chose to utilize this outside place as his den, and to fix a big stove in it for heating. Here, too, at one end, and just beyond the big writing-table, was a raised wooden dais or bed, like that in the coach-house, a good six feet square, with sides to it, perhaps six inches high. Tara watched the making of this dais, and saw the master cover its floor with a kind of sawdust that had a strong, pleasant smell, and then nail down a tightly stretched piece of old carpet over that, making altogether, as she thought, a very excellent bed. And as such Tara used it by night, but in the daytime she usually preferred to stretch herself beside the writing-table, or on the rug by the door, where the sunshine formed a pool of light and warmth on a fine morning.
Here it was that Tara took her meals, a dish of milk in the morning, with a little bread or biscuit, and the real meal of the day, the dinner, which the Mistress of the Kennels always prepared with her own hands, so that it was full of delightful surprises and variety, though everything in it had the moisture and flavour of meat, in the evening. At about this time it was that Tara noticed a kind of white sediment, quite inoffensive and not at all bad to eat, in her morning milk dish; and this she welcomed, because in some dim way it was connected in her mind with happy old days that came before her parting with the Master, when she had lived with him in a place not unlike this clean, fragrant down-land, which stretched now, far as one could see on either hand, outside the garden and the orchard, all about this new home, which Tara found so good. (At certain times and in certain circumstances, some breeders of big hounds believe in mixing precipitated phosphate of lime with ordinary food, for the sake of its bone-forming properties.)
To describe one half the many delightful incidents and occupations which made the days pass quickly for Tara now, would require a volume; but as time went the great hound tended to become less active. There were any number of rabbits on the Downs beyond the orchard, and at first, in her before-breakfast ramble with the Master, Tara used greatly to enjoy running down one or two of these. But after a little time the Master seemed to make a point of discouraging this, even to the extent of resting a hand lightly upon Tara's collar as she walked beside him; and, gradually, she herself lost inclination for the sport, except where greatly tempted, as by a rabbit's jumping suddenly for its burrow close beside her. In the afternoon, when Tara generally went out with the Mistress of the Kennels for a good long round, she wore a lead on her collar now, so that even sudden inspirations to galloping were checked in the bud, and a sedate gait was maintained always. Without troubling her head to think much about it, Tara had a generally contented feeling that these precautions were wise and good. The same prudent feeling influenced her in the matter of meals now. Though she frequently felt that she would much rather be without her morning milk, she always lapped it carefully up, and conscientiously swabbed the dish bright and dry with her great red tongue. She could not have explained, even to herself, just why she did these things; but sub-conscious understanding and fore-knowledge play a large part in a Wolfhound's life, and so does sub-conscious memory and the inherited thing we call instinct. Without considering prehistoric ancestry, there were fifteen hundred years of lineal Irish Wolfhound ancestry behind Tara; her own family dated back so far. For instance:—
In the year 391, seven centuries before the Conqueror landed in England, there was a Roman Consul whose name was Quintus Aurelius Symmachus. In a letter that he wrote to his brother Flavianus, he said:—
"In order to win the favour of the Roman people for our Quaestor, you have been a generous and diligent provider of novel contributions to our solemn shows and games, as is proved by your gift of seven Irish hounds. All Rome viewed them with wonder, and fancied they must have been brought hither in iron cages. For such a gift, I tender you the greatest possible thanks."
That these Irish Wolfhounds of fifteen hundred years ago were big and fierce, and brave and strong, you may know from the conviction of the Roman people that they must have been brought in iron cages. Also, friend Symmachus writes in other letters of the boars, and lions, and the armed Saxons provided to do battle with the Irish Wolfhounds. Also, he shows the quaintest sort of annoyance over the fact that some twenty-nine of these perverse Saxons, who were obtained to fight the Irish Wolfhounds, cut their throats on the night before the games—their own throats, I mean—and so spoiled sport for the holiday-loving Romans. In the first century of our era, Mesroida, the King of the Leinstermen, had an Irish Wolfhound which was so mighty in battle that it was said to defend the whole province, and to fill all Ireland with its fame. For this hound, six thousand cows, besides other property, were offered by the King of Connaught, and about the same price was offered by the King of Ulster. Irish Wolfhounds fought regularly in battle, through the early centuries of our era; and fearsome warriors they were. Right down to the period of a couple of centuries ago, a leash of Irish Wolfhounds was considered a fitting and acceptable present for one monarch, or lord, to offer to another king or great noble; while from the earliest times, down to the day of Buffon, and, in our own time, "Stonehenge," the naturalists have written of the Irish Wolfhound as the greatest, that is finest, and "tallest of all dogs."
But it was not alone in such matters as refraining from violent exercise, and the taking of food whether inclined for it or not, that a sort of prescience guided beautiful Tara at this time in her new home beside the Sussex Downs. There came a morning when, as she strolled about the strip of shrubbery and orchard which lay between the stabling and the house, it occurred to her that it would be a good thing to dig a hole somewhere in the ground; the sort of hole or cave into which a great hound like herself could creep for shelter if need be; a cave in which she could live for a while. Tara did not know that the Master was watching her at this time; but he was, and there was a sympathetic and understanding sort of smile on his face, when Tara forced her way in between two large shrubs, and began excavating. The earth was soft and moist there, and Tara's powerful fore-feet scooped it out in regular shovelfuls, for her hind feet to scatter in an earthy rain behind her. She made a cavern as big as herself, and then divided the rest of the day between the beautiful big dais in the coach-house, all dry, and sweet, and clean, and her fragrant, carpeted great bed in "th'old parish room." Lying there at her ease, with one eye on the Master's shoulder, where it showed round the side of his high-topped writing-table, Tara wondered vaguely why she had troubled to dig that hole in the wet earth. But the Master knew all about it, though he could not claim to have fifteen hundred years of Wolfhound ancestry behind him, and he seemed quite satisfied.
On the following day Tara gravely inspected the hole she had dug, and decided that it was not altogether good. So she went and dug another in a rather more secluded spot; and then came back and dozed comfortably at the Master's feet while he wrote. Later on in the day she strolled round the whole premises, and inspected carefully the various places in which, during the past week or so, she had buried large bones. The next day found Tara extremely restless and rather unhappy. She had an uncomfortable feeling that she had forgotten some important matter which required attention. In her effort to recall what the thing could be that she had neglected, she dug two or three more holes, and finally, a thing she had never thought of doing before, took one of the Master's slippers—always a singularly dear and comforting piece of property to Tara—and buried it about two feet deep in a little ditch. She felt vaguely ashamed about this, though she had no idea that the Master had watched her taking the slipper away; but she could not bring herself to return the slipper, because of the hazy need she felt for laying up treasure and taking every sort of precaution against a rainy day.
During the afternoon, Tara's general uneasiness increased. She felt thoroughly uncomfortable and worried; convinced that she had forgotten some really important matter, and disinclined either to go out or to stay in. Fifty times the Master opened and closed doors to suit her changing whims, until poor Tara felt quite ashamed of herself, though still quite unable to settle down. As a sort of savoury after dinner, the Master gave her some silky, warm olive oil; an odd thing to take, Tara thought, but upon the whole pleasing and comforting. Then, suddenly, and as she woke from a doze of about ten seconds' duration, Tara decided that it would be a good thing to tear a hole in the middle of the tight-stretched old carpet on her big bed. She got to work at once, pleased to think that she had remembered this little matter in good time, and was distinctly disappointed when the Master came and sat beside her on the edge of the bed and playfully held her paws, after gently lowering her into a lying position. Still, it was good to have him sit there and chat, as he did for some little time, rubbing the backs of her ears, and being generally sociable. He was the only human creature, with the exception of the Mistress of the Kennels, who had ever really chatted with Tara.
While Tara was gradually forgetting her desire to tear the bed covering, a cart stopped outside the house, and a whiff, the hint of an odour, drifted in through the open door of the den, and caused the great hound's nose to wrinkle ominously. Next moment she gave a savage bark, deep, threatening, and sonorous, and sprang to her feet. She was not quite sure what ailed her, but she was conscious of an access of great anger, of passionate hostility. After soothing her, the Master carefully locked the door of the den, and then went round through the gateway leading to the front of the house, and took delivery of a large hamper from the station carrier. Then the Mistress of the Kennels came and sat in the Master's den for perhaps half an hour, while he was busy down at the coach-house with the hamper, and a lantern, and a dish of dog's dinner of a milky, sloppy sort.
That was a strange, eventful night in the den. All the country round was silent as the grave, and the air of the June night was soft and sweet as the petals of wild roses. The Mistress of the Kennels was persuaded into going early to bed, but the Master sat behind his big table, writing beneath a carefully shaded lamp, and rising quietly every now and again, to peer over the top of the high table in the direction of the big bed in the shadow, where Tara lay. Many things happened in the meantime, but it was just after the clock in the tower of the village church had struck the hour of one, that the Master was thrilled by a cry from his beloved Tara; the fifth he had heard during the past three and a half hours.
He leaned forward on his elbows, waiting and listening. Tara had never heard of duty or self-control. She was a pure child of Nature. But the moment of that cry of hers was the only moment she allowed for self-consideration, or the play of her own inclinations. In the next moment she was busying herself, with the most exquisite delicacy and precision, over the care of her latest offspring; the last late-comer in her new family of five. In that next instant, too, a weak, bleating little cry, a voice that was not at all like Tara's, smote pleasantly upon the ears of the Master, where he waited, peering watchfully from beside the deeply shaded lamp on his table.
It was then, just after the Master heard that little bleating cry which told of new life in the world, that Tara, with infinite care and precaution, lowered her great bulk upon the bed in a coil—she had been standing—the centre of which was occupied by four glossy Irish Wolfhound puppies, who had arrived respectively at ten, eleven, twelve, and half-past twelve that night. The four, then blindly grovelling over the carpeted bed, were now perfectly sheltered in the still heaving hollow of their mother's flank. These comparatively world-worn pups had not arranged themselves conveniently in a cluster to receive their loving mother's caress. On the contrary, they were all groping in different directions at the moment in which Tara's pain-racked body was lowered to rest, and to shelter them. But, while yet that great body hung over them in the act of descending, it had twisted and curved into the required lines, and a soft muzzle had thrust this puppy that way, and the other another way; the mother's soft, filmy eyes missing nothing before her or behind. One inch of miscalculation, and the life had been crushed out of one of those tiny creatures. But pain brought no miscalculation for Tara.
One quick movement of her head satisfied the mother that her four firstborn were safe and well disposed. Immediately then, with never a thought of rest, her nose thrust the new-comer into position between her fore-paws, and she proceeded to administer the life-giving and stimulating tongue-wash. Over and over the little shapeless grey form was turned, cheeping and bleating, until every crevice of its soft anatomy had come under the vivifying sweep of six inches of scarlet tongue, warm and tenderly rough. Then the mother's sensitive nose thrust and coaxed the little creature to its nesting-place under her flank, where three sisters and a brother already nosed complainingly among milk-swollen dugs, quite indifferent to the coming of an addition to their number, and desiring they knew not what—desiring it lustily.
Then, and not till then, did the beautiful mother of these new-born descendants of an ancient race permit herself to draw a long breath of relief, and lower her massive head upon her fore-paws. A moment later, and a desire which overcame weariness impelled Tara to part her hot jaws, and glance in the direction of the shaded lamp. No least movement of hers escaped the Master, and in the moment of her glance, he came forward with a dish of fresh cold water in his hand. The mother lapped, slowly, weakly, gratefully, thanking whatever gods she knew, and the friend whose hand and eye were so ready, for the balm of water. The man moved very gently and deftly before her, and no anxiety came into her brown eyes when he leaned forward to examine the now resting litter at her flank. But it had gone hardly one fancied with the stranger, or even with the casual acquaintance, who should have approached too inquisitively the little family.
"There, there, pet; all right, my Tara girl," murmured the man, as he stepped back softly to his table, to return a moment later with a dish of warm milk and water, which the slightly rested mother drank with forethoughtful eagerness, though the effort necessary for lapping in that constrained position, and without disturbing the little ones beside her, was far from pleasant, and far enough from personal inclination.
Ten minutes later the dam very gently changed her position, all idea of rest having left her now, and proceeded systematically to lick, first her own swollen dugs, and then the little featureless faces of her offspring, with many small encouraging muzzle-thrusts and undulations of her sinuous frame; while the Master (ready to give assistance if that were required, but too knowledgeable in these matters to wish to hasten Nature, or botch the delicate handiwork of the mother) stood in the shadow of his big table, watching and waiting. Within another few minutes the five pups were immersed in the most important affair of life (from their point of view) and, with wriggling tails and tiny, heaving flanks, with impatient, out-thrust, pink fore-feet, wet faces, and gaping little jaws, were nursing in a row like clock-work.
The mother turned a proud, filmy eye in the direction of her friend, the Master, and allowed her massive head to fall on its side, her whole great form outstretched to reap the benefit of a few more minutes of needed repose.
"Good girl!" whispered the Master; and stepping backward, he turned yet lower than it was the wick of his shaded lamp. "Good! Excellent! Five's a very good number. I should have been sorry to see a big litter, for dear old Tara. And, anyhow, that last one, the grey, is about equal to any two I ever saw; an immense whelp; dog for sure, and a giant at that."
The Master lay down to sleep presently, on the couch with the 'possum-skin rug; and before many hours of the June daylight had passed, he had verified his impressions of that last-born son of Tara's as a grey-brindle, and the biggest whelp of its age that he had ever seen. For purposes of registration in the books of the Kennel Club—The Debrett of the dog world—the late-comer was forthwith christened by the Mistress of the Kennels, under the name of Finn, in honour of the memory of the fourth-century warrior Finn, son of Cumall, lord of three hundred Irish Wolfhounds, whose prowess in battle and in the chase were sung by Oisin in two thousand, two hundred and seventy-two separate verses. Finn was chief of King Cormac's household and master of his hounds; for the most honoured counsellor that the ancient Kings of Ireland had were masters of the hounds always.
And this was the way of the Irish Wolfhound Finn's entry into the world, at the end of the first hour of a June day, in the Master's den beside the Sussex Downs. You may see the embalmed body of his great mother's sire, Champion O'Leary, if you care to look for it, in the Natural History Museum at Kensington; woefully shorn of his imposing beard and shaggy eyebrows, it is true, but yet only less magnificent in death than he was always in life. Her mother was the dam of the hound who marches to-day at the head of His Majesty's Irish Guards. Between them, the sire and dam of Finn would have scaled three hundred pounds, while either could easily have stretched to a height above the shoulders of a six-foot man. Finn rested easily in the palm of the Master's right hand when christened by the Mistress of the Kennels, for he was little bigger than a week-old kitten. But he was none the less Finn, the lineal descendant of King Cormac's battle-hounds of fifteen hundred years ago; and it was said he had the makings of the biggest Wolfhound ever bred.
Finn's first adventure came to him when he was no more than about thirty-seven hours old, and, of course, still blind as any bat. That being so, it may be taken that the grey whelp was not particularly interested. Still, the event was important, and probably affected the whole of Finn's after life. This was the way of it:—
Early on the second morning of his life in this beautiful world, Finn was lying snugly asleep between his mother's hind-legs on the great bed at the stove-end of the outside den. When a litter of puppies are lying with their mother there is always one place which is snugger, and in various ways rather better than any other place. You would have said that the little more or less shapeless, blind lump of gristle and skin that was Finn, at this stage, had no more intelligence or reasoning power than a potato; but it is to be noted that, from the very beginning, this best place had been exclusively occupied by him; and if while he slept one of his wakeful brothers or sisters crawled over him and momentarily usurped his proud position, then, in the very moment of his awakening, that other puppy would be rolled backward, full of gurgling and futile protestation, and Finn would resume the picked place. Whatever was best in the way of warmth, and food, and comfort, that Finn obtained, even at this absurdly rudimentary stage, by token of superior weight, energy, and vitality. Also, though the last to be born, Finn was the first to approach the achievement of standing, for an instant, upon his own little pink-padded feet, and the first, by days, to dream of the impertinence of blindly pawing his mother's wet satin nose, while that devoted parent washed her family.
But Finn and the rest were sound asleep, and Tara was dozing with one brown eye uncovered, when the Master came into the den on that second morning and spoke invitingly to his beloved mother of heroes. The great bitch rose slowly and with gentle care, and Finn, with the other sucklings, rolled helplessly on his back, sleepily cheeping a puny remonstrance, though he had no idea what he wanted. Then, in his ridiculously masterful way, Finn grovellingly burrowed under the other puppies, that he might have the benefit of all their warmth, and was asleep again. Tara eyed the blind things for a moment with maternal solicitude, and then, seeing that all was well with them, followed the Master out into the bright, fresh sunshine of the stable-yard. She did not think about it, but she was perfectly well aware that it was desirable for her to take fresh air, and move about a little to stretch her great limbs.
"Come and see the Mistress, old lady; come along and stretch yourself," said her friend.
And so Tara strolled round the yard twice, and then across to the back-kitchen door, where, inside the house, she had some warm bread and milk with the Mistress of the Kennels. Tara lapped steadily and conscientiously, but without much appetite. Suddenly, when the basin was about three-quarters empty, she realised with a start that the Master had left her. One quick look she gave to right and left, and then, the mother anxiety shining in her brown eyes, she reached the outer door in a bound.
"Look out for Tara!" cried the Mistress through the open window. And: "All right! I'm clear now. Let her in, will you?" answered the Master, from beyond the gate leading to the coach-house.
So the Mistress opened the house door, and in three cat-like bounds Tara reached the door of the den, and stood erect, her fore-paws against the door, more than six feet above the ground.
"There, there, pet; your children are all right, you see," said the Mistress, as she let Tara into the den.
In a moment, lighter of foot than a terrier, for all that she weighed as much as an average man, Tara was in the midst of the big bed, where she saw her puppies bunched snugly and asleep. She looked up gratefully at the Mistress, as the roused pups (she had touched them with her nose) came mewing about her feet, and coiled down at once to nurse them, apparently unconscious of the fact that there were only four mouths to feed instead of five. One cannot say for certain whether or not she missed Finn then. She licked the four assiduously while they nursed; and, in any case, four gaping little mouths, and four wriggling, helpless little bodies, represent a considerable claim upon a Wolfhound mother's attention and strength; also, it may be, that if she did notice that the big grey whelp was missing, she was too wise and devoted a mother and nurse to allow herself to injure the remaining four by fretting and worrying over matters beyond her immediate control. One must remember, too, that Tara lived in an atmosphere of the most implicit confidence, in which she never even heard an unkind word. On the other hand, if there had been no puppies at all on that bed, when Tara returned from her brief excursion to the back-kitchen, then it is likely that the big den would not have been strong enough to have held her for long within its wooden walls. The room had windows, and match-boarding and weather-board are not like iron.
Having seen Tara comfortably settled down with her family of four, the Mistress hurried back to the house in time to see the Master unwrapping little Finn from a soft old blanket, and placing him carefully in the midst of three puppies of perhaps half his size, in a hamper near the kitchen stove. Finn bleated rather languidly for two minutes in his new environment, and then, being very full of milk, and very warm, forgot what the trouble was and fell asleep. The Master closed the lid of the hamper then, and said:—
"I'll let them have a good two hours together there. Finn ought to assimilate the smell of the others pretty well by then. What do you think of the foster?"
"Oh, I like her," said the Mistress of the Kennels. "She seems a nice affectionate little beast, and I think she has quite recovered from the effects of that awful journey."
"Um! Yes, twelve or fourteen hours' travelling with three new-born pups must be rather awful—poor little beast! Did she take her breakfast?"
"Yes; a first-rate meal. And I think she will be a good mother. She seems to have any amount of milk—more than is comfortable for her, poor little thing!"
"Yes; that's exactly what I want. I want her to be uncomfortably heavy for the time, and then she will be the less likely to resent my great big Finn's introduction. It's only discomfort, you know, not pain; and we shall put it right in a couple of hours."
"Then you have decided to put Finn to the foster-mother?"
"Yes. You see, poor old Tara—well, she——"
"Yes, I know; she's poor old Tara—spoiled darling!"
The Master chuckled. "Well, perhaps it is partly that. And, any way, she deserves it. The old girl has done a good share of prize-winning, and nursing, and the rest of it. I think of her as a lady who has earned repose, particularly after——"
"Yes, I know; the illness, you mean."
"Well, anyhow, I think four pups quite enough for her to nurse. And, as a matter of fact, I am none too comfortable about that. You know I have always believed that that awful bout of mammitis permanently affected her; her heart, and——and other things, too. Four days with a temperature of over a hundred and five, you know; and, mind you, the vet. said she must die. It was, so to say, in spite of Nature that we pulled her through. I am not at all sure that we may not have to take them all from her. We shall see better by to-night."
"Yes; I see." The Mistress of the Kennels was thoughtfully balancing on the tip of her fore-finger a big wooden spoon, used in the mixing of Tara's meals. "But why do you choose Finn for the foster?"
"Well, now, that's rather a nice point, and involves a conviction of mine which I know you'll resent, because you rightly think Tara the perfection of all that a Wolfhound should be. But the conviction is right, all the same. A mongrel's milk is far stronger, heartier food than the milk of so highly-bred a great lady as dear old Tara. Tara gives the most aristocratic blood in the world; but when you come to food, the nourishment that is to build up bone and muscle, and hardy health—that's different. Also, I only mean to give the foster this one pup, though I dare say she is capable of rearing two or three. Therefore that one pup ought to do exceedingly well with her. Now Finn, as you see him, is the biggest pup I ever knew, and I want to give him every chance of growing into the biggest Irish Wolfhound living. That's why he is going to have this sheep-dog foster all to his little self, and, unless I'm mistaken, you'll find him in a week the fattest little tub of a pup in all England—the fatter the better at this stage, so the food's wholesome and digestible."
In about one hour from that time, Finn woke among his strange bedfellows, and trampled all over them, in a vain and wrathful search for his mother's dugs. Then he bleated vigorously for three minutes; and then the warmth of that snug corner of the kitchen sent him off to sleep again.
Another hour passed, and when Finn woke this time one could tell from the furious lunges he made over the little bodies of his foster-brothers that he had arrived at a serious determination to let nothing stand any longer between himself and a good square meal. He would take one indignant step forward (as it might have been a rather gouty and very choleric old gentleman, prepared to tear down his bell-rope if dinner were not served that minute); then his podgy little fore-legs would double up, and the next few inches of progress would be made on blunt little pink nose, and round little stomach, his hind-legs being flattened out behind him in the exact position of a frog's while swimming. Several times Finn quite thought he had at length found a teat, and, in its infantile, impotent way, the blind fury he displayed was quite terrible, when he discovered that he was merely chewing the muzzle of one of the other pups. On one of these occasions, Finn spluttered and swore so vehemently that the effort completely robbed him of what rudimentary sense of balance he had, and he rolled over on his back, leaving all his four pink feet wriggling in the air in a passion of protest.
It was in this undignified position that the Master presently found the grey whelp, and he chuckled as he picked up Finn, with two of the other pups, and wrapped them together in a warm blanket. The remaining puppy was handed over to the gardener and seen no more in that place; so it is safe to assume that this little creature's life embraced no sorrows or disillusions. The next thing Finn knew was that his gaping mouth, held open by the Master's thumb and forefinger, was being pressed against a soft surface from which warm milk trickled. "At last!" one can imagine Finn muttering, if he had been old enough to know how to talk. Immediately his little hind-legs began to work like pistons, and his fore-paws to knead and pound at the soft udder from which the milk was drawn. Finn, with his two foster-brothers, was at the dugs of the foster-mother, a soft-eyed little sheep-dog, then occupying a very comfortable corner of the big bed in the coach-house.
The Master sat watchfully beside the sheep-dog. She was very glad to be eased of some of her superabundance of milk, and curved her elastic body forward to simplify matters for the pups. Then she began to lick the back and flank of the pup nearest her head; one of her own. The Master leaned forward. The foster's sensitive nose passed over the back of the first pup to the wriggling tail of Finn; and her big eyes hardened and looked queerly straight down her muzzle at the fat grey back of the stranger; a back twice as broad as those of her own pups. The black nostrils quivered and expanded, expressing suspicious resentment. No warm tongue curled out over Finn's fat back; but, instead, a nose made curiously harsh and unsympathetic pushed him clear away from the place he had selected, after spluttering hurried investigation, and out upon the straw of the bed.
Immediately then, and almost before Finn's sticky mouth could open in a bleat of protest, the Master's hand had returned him to the warm dugs. Again came the harsh, suspicious nose of the foster about Finn's tail, and this time a low growl followed the resentful sniff, and blind, helpless, unformed little jelly that Finn was, instinct made him wriggle fearfully from under that cold nose. The language in which bitches speak to the very young among puppies is simplicity itself. The Master, human though he was, had not failed to catch the sense of this observation of the foster's, which was:—
"Get out of here, you lumping great whelp! You're not mine, and I won't nurse you. Get out, or I'll bite. It's true you've somehow got the smell of mine; but—you can't deceive me. Gr-r-r-! Get out!"
But, though Finn instinctively wriggled his hind-quarters from under that cold muzzle, his mouth and fore-feet vigorously pursued their business; and, before the threatened bite came, the Master's hand (a firm one, and soothing to dog people) had caressingly pressed the foster's head back upon the straw, and held it there.
"There, there, little woman," he said, good-humouredly. "Let him have his chance; he's a good pup, and will do you great credit presently."
His hand continued to rest on the sheep-dog's neck or head, till the three pups were comfortably full, and the foster herself was comfortably eased of her bounteous milk-supply. Then, gently, he removed his hand, and the foster proceeded to lick her own two pups with exemplary diligence. Out of consideration for the Master, whom she found an obviously well-meaning person, she refrained from taking any active steps against the big grey pup, but she very pointedly ignored him. And when, in due course, Finn came galumphing about her neck, with all the doddering insolence of the full-fed pup, she turned her head in the opposite direction with cool superciliousness, and exhaled a long breath through her nose, as though she found the air offensive. But the Master petted her, and gave her a very little warm bread and milk. Then he took the three puppies away in the warm blanket and handed one of them to some one who waited outside the door of the back-kitchen. Finn, with one sleepy foster-brother, was replaced in the hamper near the kitchen stove.
A couple of hours later, the foster-mother began to worry, and to wish that her puppies would come and take another meal. At about the same time Finn and his diminutive companion in the hamper began to worry, and to wish that they could have another meal. Ten minutes after that they were carried down to the coach-house, and put to nurse again. While they fed vigorously, the foster, apparently by accident, touched Finn once or twice with her tongue, in process of licking her own pup; and she did not growl.
"Good!" said the Master, and he sat down on a little barrel of disinfectant powder to fill a pipe.
Then both puppies began to grovel and slide about the foster's legs and body; this being the natural order of things for very young puppies: to feed full, to grovel and wriggle, to sleep; and then to begin again at the beginning. But for the complete comfort and well-being of puppies at this age, certain maternal attentions, apart from the provision of nourishment, are requisite. For several minutes the foster-mother plied her own offspring with every good office, and severely ignored the rotund and would-be playful Finn. Then the sheep-dog lay flat on her side, and breathed out through her nostrils a statement to the effect that:—
"That is really quite as far as I can be expected to go. This big grey creature has fed beside mine, and I have suffered it, as a matter of charity; but—-no more. The great clumsy thing must shift for itself now."
But Finn appeared to think otherwise. His mode of progression was rather that of an intoxicated snake, or an over-fed turtle on dry land; but he managed to stagger along as far as the foster's muzzle, and swayed there on his little haunches within reach of her warm breath. Instinct guided the pup so far, and left him waiting vaguely uncomfortable.
The Master watched closely, but nothing happened, save that the bitch ostentatiously closed her eyes. Then instinct moved again, strongly, in shapeless little Finn, and he straddled the foster's nose, so that his round stomach pressed on her nostrils. There he wriggled helplessly. Then a curious thing happened, while the Master leaned forward, prepared to snatch the pup from danger. The sheep-dog emitted a low, angry growl, which filled Finn with uncomprehending fear, and toppled him over on his fat back. But, even while she growled, maternity asserted its claim strongly in the kindly heart of this soft-eyed sheep-dog. Finn did not know in the least what he wanted; but the wise little sheep-dog did; and, her growl ended, she rolled Finn into the required position with her nose, and gave him the licking and tongue-washing which his bodily comfort demanded, with quiet, conscientious thoroughness. When this was over, Finn, feeling ever so much more content, sidled back to a place beside the other pup, and in a minute the pair of them were fast asleep in the warm shelter of the foster's flank. Then the Master laid down his pipe, and bent forward to stroke and fondle the little sheep-dog for two or three minutes, chatting with her, and establishing firmly the friendship already begun between them. And then, feeling quite safe in the matter, now that the foster had once licked Finn into comfort, he went away, and left the three together while he paid a visit to Tara.
Next morning, while the foster-mother was being petted and fed in the garden, some one removed her own little puppy from the bed, and when she returned to the coach-house, full of the contentment inspired by a good meal, a little exercise, and a deal of kindly petting, it was to find her bed occupied only by the big grey whelp. But she showed no more than momentary surprise and uneasiness, and within the minute was busily engaged in giving Finn his morning tubbing and polishing, after which she disposed herself with great consideration in a position which made nursing an easy delight for Finn, and enabled his assiduous foster-mother to watch the undulations of his fat back, out of the tail of her left eye, while apparently sleeping.
The sturdy, kindly, plebeian sheep-dog proved an admirable foster-mother, diligent, thorough, and forgetful of nothing, not even of her own needs and well-being, though it was evident that these were served from quite unselfish motives, and obliged to take a secondary place in all her thoughts. It was particularly well for Finn that the sheep-dog proved so sterling a soul; for, though he naturally knew and cared nothing about it all, Finn received less attention during the next few days from the Master and the Mistress than they were wont to give their canine families. Of course, the foster was properly fed and given exercise and otherwise looked after; but the Master did not smoke his pipe in the coach-house, and the Mistress of the Kennels did not sit on the side of the bed for half an hour at a time and stroke the foster's ears while admiring her nursling, as certainly would have happened in normal circumstances.
The Master's doubts about poor Tara's health had been fully justified. Her puppies were thin and inclined to be ailing, and she herself was only just saved, by means of scrupulous care and attention, and the use of other drugs besides externally-applied belladonna, from a severe illness. Meantime, another foster was telegraphed for, and, an hour after this new-comer's arrival, one of Tara's pups died. The Master had no time to be greatly concerned about this, by reason of his anxiety regarding Tara herself. He felt that another bout of the illness in which she had nearly lost her life in the early days would almost certainly be fatal, and the steps he took to stave this off kept him very busy. In addition to this, a carpenter had to be set to work in a great hurry to put together a suitable bed for the new foster-mother in a shed in the orchard. Fortunately, the weather was very favourable, and the two puppies taken from Tara soon picked up their lost ground when they were established with their foster, an active, cross-bred spaniel-retriever.
But Finn in the coach-house knew nothing of all this. Apart from anything else, he was still perfectly blind; also, he had as much of the best kind of nourishment as he was capable of absorbing, and was watched over, and cared for, and ministered to by the loyal little sheep-dog quite as scrupulously as a human baby is tended. There never was a truer saying than that "Blood will tell." But, not only is a mongrel mother's milk rich and strong (if she is a healthy, well-cared for animal), but also her care of her young is slavish and unremitting. Her nerves are never overstrained; she is not unduly sensitive; she knows how to economize vital energy. There is as much difference between her life and temperament and that of a champion-bred aristocrat and winner of prizes at shows as there is between the life and temperament of a society belle and a Devonshire dairymaid. In the sheep-dog's case, a healthy appetite waited always upon plentiful meals. She had but one whelp to care for, and of that one she hardly ever lost sight, even when sleeping. If the blind, foolish Finn wriggled from her side in mid-most night, he ran no risk of taking cold, for if the sheep-dog did not see him, then her instinct (keener in the plebeian than in the dog of high degree, just as nerves and sentiment are keener in the aristocrat) woke her within the minute, and up she got to nose her erring infant back to sleep and warmth and safety.
On the evening of his tenth day in the world, Finn was still perfectly blind. His eyes as yet showed no signs of opening. This rather surprised the Master, when he looked in before shutting up for the night. He was quite easy in his mind now about Tara, who was almost well again, to all appearances, and lay contentedly in the den all day, having apparently forgotten, not only her illness, but its causes, and her puppies. She was rather listless and lackadaisical, but seemed to be well content so that she could lie within sight of the Master and dream. And now the Master was chatting with the sheep-dog foster, after having had a good look at Finn, and before shutting up for the night.
"But perhaps it is well he is still blind, for your sake, old lady," said he to the foster. "He will be a bit of a handful for you before you've done with him, I fancy; and the sooner he begins to find his own way about, the longer he will torment you. Never mind, little bitch; you must do your best for Finn; for he's a great pup."
And a great pup he assuredly was, to be sprawling across that little sheep-dog's sandy flank. He covered pretty nearly as much space as a whole litter of her own kind would have occupied. His pink pads looked monstrous now; his timbers were quite twice the thickness you would have expected to find them; and his shapeless, abundantly nourished body was very nearly as broad at the haunch as it was long from neck to tail. His flat, black nose was remarkably broad, in spite of the unusual length of the black-marked muzzle, and the Master, who had studied Wolfhound puppies very closely, seemed particularly pleased about this. Finn's corners, so to say, were practically black. His body, as a whole, was of a steely, brindle grey, but the centre of the back of his tail and its tip were almost black, and so were his little podgy hocks, knees, muzzle, brows (if he could be said to have any) and the hair over his gristly shoulder bones. The Master swung his hurricane lamp high for a last look at Finn and the foster.
"You certainly are a marvel of size, my son; but I wonder you don't begin to open those eyes of yours, I must say. Let's hope they're very dark. Good-night, little shepherd!"
The light of Finn's twelfth day on earth had already filled the coach-house through its back windows when the sheep-dog stirred next morning and yawned. The slight sound and movement woke Finn, and automatically he burrowed vigorously after his breakfast without an instant's hesitation. Presently he emerged with milky nose from the foster's flanks, and meandered forth to be licked and made comfortable. The licking ended, the foster rose, and stepped off the bed to stretch her limbs. Finn rolled rollickingly over on his back, and then staggered up and on to his absurdly large and spreading feet. Then he backed sideways among the straw, like a crab. Then he tried to rub one eye with one of his mushroom-like fore-feet, and, failing abjectly in that, fell plump on his nose. Staggering to his feet again, Finn turned his face once toward the broad sunbeam that divided the coach-house in two parts from the side window; and then, as though tried beyond endurance, opened wide his jaws and bleated forth his fright and distress to the world, so that the patient little foster-mother was obliged to cut her constitutional short, and hop back to bed, lolling a solicitous tongue and making queer comforting noises in her throat.
But for some several minutes the puppy absolutely refused to be comforted; and when the Master came in an hour or so later he understood at a glance what Finn's trouble was, though the casual observer might well have thought there was no particular change in his circumstances. The fact was Finn had sustained a real shock, and his perturbation about it lasted for nearly half an hour, after which it retired, overcome by youthful curiosity. Finn had suddenly awakened to the fact that he was no longer blind; he had stepped, at one uncertain stride, into a seeing life. It was like being born again, and that with faculties matured and sharpened by nearly a fortnight's life in the world. It really was no trifling adventure for Finn, this discovery of a new and very wonderful sense, which had come simply with the parting of the lids that covered his black-brown eyes.
He spent practically the whole of that day testing this new sense which had come to him with so great a shock. For instance, he found that if he crawled a certain distance from the foster in one direction, the air before him became whiter and whiter, until at last he stubbed his toes and his nose against it. And that was his first acquaintance with walls. Then, when he crawled in another direction, he came presently to a ledge several inches in height, and when, as the result of really herculean efforts, he had raised his fat body upon that ledge, the floor beyond jumped up and hit him very hard, and left him helpless as a turtle on its back, till the foster came and lifted him back to bed in her jaws. That was how he learned that it was not wise for very small pups to climb over the edges of beds. Towards evening, when many useful lessons had been learned, and the pup was beginning to swagger over the advantage given him by his new-found sense, in the matter of picking and choosing feeding-places, and demanding his foster-mother's attention by planting one foot on her eye, and so forth, Finn came to the conclusion that this new power he had was, upon the whole, a remarkably fine thing, and a jolly gift, even if it did keep one awake, and lead to considerable exhaustion, and—— And then he shut up his little black-brown eyes, and, well sheltered by the foster's right hind-leg and tail, went fast asleep and dreamed of warm milk.
From this point onward, Finn's progress was rapid. Whereas till now he had seemed little more than an appendage of the sheep-dog foster-mother, he now rapidly developed a personality, and a very masterful one, of his own. His eyes, which were quite as dark as the Master had desired them to be, were idle only when he slept; and the same might have been said of every part of him. He grovelled most industriously during all his waking hours, until such time as his podgy legs had hardened sufficiently to bear his weight—with many falls, of course—and then he began to scurry about on his feet. His usual style of progression at this period was to take from two to four abrupt, jerky strides, rather with the air of a fussy and corpulent old gentleman who had to catch a train, and then to subside in a confused lump, on chest and nose, with tail waggling angrily in mid-air. This was not so annoying to the grey pup as one might suppose, because, though generally in a hurry, he always forgot his intended destination by the time he had taken three steps towards it, and therefore a sudden halt at the fourth seemed reasonable enough, and quite an agreeable diversion.
During the third week of his life, the weather being very fine, Finn, with the other pups, was treated to long sun-baths in a little fenced-in square of gravel which was covered with deodorized sawdust. These sun-baths were extremely good for the pups, and provided pleasant periods of rest and relaxation for the foster-mothers, who, though never allowed to see each other, were each within smelling distance of the pups, one upon one side and one on the other.
A huge dry bullock's shin-bone was put into the sun-bath, on a piece of matting, and this was a source of great interest to the pups, whose little white teeth were now as sharp as needles; a fact known only too well to their respective foster-mothers. Finn's favourite amusement was to lie straddled along this bone, and defy the other pups to touch it. He would give hard-breathing little snorts which he meant for growls, when one of the other pups began to nuzzle the bone; and, at times, these snorts would be vehement enough to make him lose his balance and roll helplessly off the bone on to the ground. Then the other three pups would straddle across his tubby body and snort defiance at him, each with a paw planted victoriously in his protuberant stomach or on his broad chest.
On Finn's twenty-first morning he spent the better part of half an hour in the lap of the Mistress of the Kennels, learning to lap warm milk and water. First of all he learned to suck the milky tip of the Mistress's little finger. Then, gradually, his nose was made to follow the little finger-tip into the milk; and, one way and another, he consumed during that first lesson about a tablespoonful of milk. In the afternoon he was kept for perhaps two and a half hours from the foster-mother, and then he, with the other pups, made great progress in the art of lapping; though they were all glad to approach the feeding question in a more serious and practical manner on being returned to their foster-mothers. Still, they had learned something, and the succeeding lessons of each following day brought quick familiarity and facility. In fact, the trouble with Finn, after two or three days, was that, in his lusty eagerness for nourishment, he generally risked the suicide's end by stumbling forward and plunging his whole face in the milk. His one notion of a safeguard against this danger was to plant one, or both, of his tubby fore-legs in the dish, a course which always brought him rebuke from the Mistress of the Kennels.
Toward the end of the fourth week these lessons in lapping became real meals, and the milk so consumed was always fortified with a thickening of some cereal rich in phosphates, besides minute doses of precipitated phosphate of lime, intended to stiffen the gristly leg-bones of these heavy pups, and increase bone development. The foster-mothers had been taking this, and communicating it in their milk, all along. This was the period in which the maternal feelings of the foster-mothers were submitted to the most severe strain. Finn's milk-white teeth, and his toe-nails, too, were sharp as pins, and used with great strength and vigour. Naturally, he entertained no unkind feelings for his loving little foster-mother; but, from sheer ignorance and riotous good living, he gave her a good deal of pain. Some dog-mothers would have warned him about this pretty sharply; but not so the little sheep-dog. She never even growled when, after feeding till he could feed no more, the insolent grey whelp would pound and paw at her soft dugs, and tug at them with his sharp teeth in sheer wantonness, till they were a network of red scars and scratches. The most the gentle, plebeian little mother would do would be to lie flat, after a while, to protect her dugs—and that for the puppy's own sake—a movement which always brought Finn galumphing over her shoulder to bite her ears and paw her nose, and otherwise seek to provoke breaches of the peace. A riotous, overbearing, disorderly rascal was Finn at this stage.
On the morning which ended Finn's fifth week in the world, all the pups were solemnly weighed in the kitchen scales, which were brought into the coach-house for that purpose. The Master stood by with a note-book, and these are the weights he recorded:—
Fawn bitch 10 3/4 lbs. Grey bitch 11 1/4 lbs. Fawn dog 12 lbs. 3 oz. Finn 14 lbs. 4 oz.
In other words, at the age of five weeks, and while still a suckling pup, Finn weighed as much as some prize-winning fox terriers, and that breed when fully developed, in point of size, though not, of course, shapely or set. After corresponding with other breeders, the Master was confirmed in his already-expressed conviction that, thus far, Finn was a maker and breaker of records.
During the week following this weighing Finn was only allowed to visit his foster-mother once, for half an hour or so, in each day. But the meals he lapped from a dish, in his own blundering way, included broth now, as well as milky foods, and he still slept with the foster at night. During the next week—in fine, dry July weather—all four puppies were gambolling together in the orchard, from six in the morning till six at night, and never saw the foster-mothers till they were tired out with their day-long play and ready for the night's sleep. The Master and the Mistress took their own lunch and tea in the orchard at this time, and a table and chairs were kept under a big oak tree for this purpose. In and out among the legs of these chairs and the table the Wolfhound pups played boisterously hour by hour, till fatigue overtook them, with capricious suddenness, and they would fall asleep in the midst of some absurd antic and in any odd position that came handy.
Then one of the pups, usually Finn, would open his eyes and yawn, realize once more how good life was, and plunge forthwith upon his still sleeping brothers and sisters, tumbling them triumphantly into the midst of a new romp before they knew whether they were on their heads or their heels. A twig, a leaf, or a stone would be endowed with the attributes of some cunning and fierce quarry, to be stalked, run down, and finally torn in sunder with marvellous heroism, with reckless, noisy valour. The sun shone warm and sweetly over all, there beside the immemorial Sussex Downs; life and the dry old earth were very, very good—if only one's breath did not give out so soon, and one's fore-legs had not so annoying a trick of doubling up; and then—— What was that rascally fawn pup rushing for? The Mistress, with the four little dishes and the big basin? Another meal? Here goes! Bother! I should certainly have reached her first, if I hadn't turned that somersault over the fawn pup!
That was how it seemed to Finn, whose life was one long, happy play and swagger at this time. But there were moments of a kind of seriousness, too, in which Finn had glimpses of real life. That very night, or rather late afternoon, Finn discovered that he could bark, more or less as grown-up dogs bark. True, his first, second, and third barks proved too much for his unstable equilibrium, and he rolled over on his side in emitting the noble sounds. But the fourth time he leaned against the table-leg under the oak tree, and on that occasion was able to stand proudly to observe the paralysing effect of his performance upon the others of his family, who sat round him on their podgy haunches in a respectfully wide circle, and marvelled fearfully at his robust prowess. They had all yapped before, but this deep, resonant bark—fully one in three had no crack in it—this was an achievement indeed. After a while the grey bitch pup came and tentatively chewed Finn's backbone, with a vague idea that the sound came from there.