A DOG AND A ROMANCE
GROSSET & DUNLAP
Published by Arrangement with Harper & Brothers
JAN: A DOG AND A ROMANCE Copyright, 1915, by Harper & Brothers Printed in the United States of America Published October, 1915
I. HOW FINN CAME HOME
II. NUTHILL AND SHAWS
III. INTRODUCING THE LADY DESDEMONA
IV. THE OPEN-AIR CALL
V. DESDEMONA'S WANDERINGS
VI. HOW DESDEMONA FOUND HER NEST
VII. DESDEMONA FORGETS HER MANNERS
VIII. FINN IS ENLIGHTENED
IX. THE LONE MOTHER
X. FAMILY LIFE—AND DEATH
XI. JAN GOES TO NUTHILL
XII. SOME FIRST STEPS
XIII. SAPLING DAYS
XIV. WITH REFERENCE TO DICK VAUGHAN
XV. JAN'S FIRST FIGHT
XVI. GOOD-BY TO DICK
XVII. JAN BEFORE THE JUDGES
XVIII. FIT AS A TWO-YEAR-OLD
XX. SUSSEX TO SASKATCHEWAN
XXI. INTRODUCING SOURDOUGH
XXIII. THE FIGHT ON THE PRAIRIE
XXV. JAN GOES ON HIS TRAVELS
XXVI. THE RULE OF TRACE AND THONG
XXVII. MUTINY IN THE TEAM
XXVIII. THE FEAST AND THE FASTER
XXIX. THE FIGHT IN THE WOODS
XXX. REAL LEADERSHIP
XXXI. THE COST OF INCOMPETENCE
XXXII. JAN OBEYS ORDERS AT THE GREAT DIVIDE
XXXIII. BACK TO THE TRAIL
XXXIV. THE PEACE RIVER TRAIL
XXXV. THE END OF JAN'S LONE TRAIL
XXXVI. "SO LONG, JAN!"
XXXVII. BACK TO REGINA
XXXVIII. THE FALL OF SOURDOUGH
XXXIX. HOW JAN CAME HOME
HOW FINN CAME HOME
Rightly to appreciate Jan's character and parts you must understand his origin. For this you must go back to the greatest of modern Irish wolfhounds, Finn; and to the Lady Desdemona, of whom it was said, by no less an authority than Major Carthwaite, that she was "the most perfectly typical bloodhound of her decade." And that was in the fifteenth month of her age, just six weeks before Finn's arrival at Nuthill.
When the Master was preparing to leave Australia with Finn he said, "It's 'Sussex by the sea' for us, Finn, boy, in another month or so; and, God willing, that's where you shall end your days."
Just fourteen weeks after making that remark (and, too, after a deal more of land and sea travel for Finn than comes into the whole lives of most hounds) the Master bought Nuthill, the little estate on the lee of the most beautiful of the South Downs from the upper part of which one sees quite easily on a clear day the red chimneys and white gables of the cottage in which Finn was born. But at the time of that important purchase Finn was lying perdu in quarantine, down in Devonshire; a melancholy period for the wolfhound, that. The Master spent many shipboard hours in discussing this very matter with the Mistress of the Kennels on their passage home from Australia, and he tried hard to find a way out of the difficulty, for Finn's sake. But there it was. You cannot hope to smuggle ashore, even in the most fashionably capacious of lady's muffs, a hound standing thirty-six inches high at the shoulder and weighing nearer two hundred than one hundred pounds. It was a case of quarantine or perpetual exile, and so Finn went into quarantine. But, as you may guess, there were pretty careful arrangements made for his welfare.
The wolfhound had special quarters of his own in quarantine, and his enforced stay there had just this advantage about it, that when the great day of his release arrived there was no more travel and hotel life to be suffered, for by this time the Master was thoroughly settled down at Nuthill, the Mistress of the Kennels had made that snug place a real home, and her niece, Betty Murdoch, was already an established member of the household. So Finn went straight from quarantine at Plymouth to the best home he had ever known, and to one in which his honored place was absolutely assured to him.
But it must not be supposed that, because of his much-honored place in the Master's world, Finn had entirely put behind him and forgotten his strange life among the wild kindred in Australia. That could hardly be. The savor of that life would remain for ever in his nostrils, no matter how ordered and humanized his days at Nuthill; just as consciousness of human cruelty and the torture of imprisonment had been burned into his memory and nature, indelibly as though branded there by the hot irons of the circus folk in New South Wales. Finn adapted himself perfectly to the life of the household at Nuthill, and with ease. Had he not a thousand years of royal breeding in his veins? But he never forgot the wild. He never forgot his days of circus imprisonment as a wild beast. He never for one instant reverted to the gaily credulous attitude toward mankind which had helped the dog-stealers to kidnap him after the first great triumph of his youth, when he defeated all comers, from puppy and novice to full-fledged champion, and carried off the blue riband of his year at the Crystal Palace. Well-mannered he would always be; but in these later days his attitude toward all humans, and most animal folk outside his own household, was characterized by a gravely alert and watchful kind of reserve. As the Master once said, in talking on his homeward way to England of that dog-stealing episode of the wolfhound's salad days:
"It would take a tough and wily old thief to tempt Finn across a garden-path nowadays, with the best doctored meat ever prepared. And as for really getting away with him—well, they're welcome to try; and I fancy they'd get pretty well all they deserve from old Finn, without the law's assistance."
Betty Murdoch—round-figured, rosy, high-spirited, a great lover of out of doors, and aged now twenty-two—had been much exercised in her mind as to what Finn would think of her, when he arrived at Nuthill, after the long railway journey from Plymouth. She had seen the wolfhound only once before, when she was somewhat less grown-up and he was still in puppyhood, before the visit to Australia. The Master, who went specially to Plymouth to fetch Finn, said Betty must expect a certain reserve at first in the wolfhound's attitude.
"He can't possibly remember you, of course, and, nowadays, he is not effusive, not very ready to make new friends."
The Mistress of the Kennels, on the other hand—she still was spoken of as "the Mistress," though at Nuthill there never were any kennels—insisted that Finn would know perfectly well that Betty was one of the family; as, of course, he did. Apart from her physical resemblance to her aunt, Betty had very many of the Mistress's little ways, and especially of her ways in dealings with and thinking of animal folk.
Finn's heart had swelled almost to bursting when the Master came to him in the quarantine station at Plymouth, for, to tell the truth, he never had been able to make head or tail of being left alone in this place, though the Master had tried hard to explain. But he had been well treated there, and was certain the Master would eventually return to him. Yet, when the moment came, there was a sudden overwhelming swelling of his heart which made Finn gasp. He almost staggered as the Master greeted him. The emotion of gladness hurt him, and his dark eyes were flooded.
After that there were no further surprises for Finn. Once he had felt the Master's hand burrowing in the wiry gray hair of his neck, Finn knew well that they were homeward bound, that the unaccountable period of separation was over, and that he would very presently see the Mistress of the Kennels; as in fact he did, that very night, at Nuthill by the Downs. And Betty—well, it was perfectly clear to Finn that she was somehow part and parcel with the Mistress; and whilst never now effusive to any one, he made it clear at once that he accepted Betty as one of his own little circle of human folk, to be loved and trusted, and never suspected. In the evening the great hound lay extended on the hearthrug of the square, oak-paneled hall at Nuthill. (He occupied a good six feet of rug.) Betty stepped across his shoulders once, to reach matches from the mantel; and Finn never blinked or moved a hair, save that the tip of his long tail just languidly rose twice, ever so gently slapping the rug. The Master, who was watching, laughed at this.
"You may account yourself an honored friend already, Betty," he said. "I'll guarantee no other living soul, except the Mistress or I, could step over old Finn like that without his moving. In these days he doesn't unguard to that extent with any one else."
"Ah, well," laughed Betty; "even less wise dogs than Finn know who loves them—don't they, old man?"
Finn blinked a friendly response as she rubbed his ears. But as yet it was not that. Finn had given no thought to Betty's loving him; but he had realized that she was kin to the Mistress and the Master, and therefore, for him, in a category apart from all other folk, animal or human; a person to be trusted absolutely, even by a hound of his unique experience.
NUTHILL AND SHAWS
In a recess beside the hearth in the hall at Nuthill Finn found an oaken platform, or bench, five feet long by two and a half feet wide. It stood perhaps fifteen inches from the floor, on four stout legs, and its two ends and back had sides eight inches high. The front was open, and the bench itself was covered by a 'possum-skin rug.
"This, my friend, is your own bed," said the Master, when he showed the bench to Finn, after all the household had retired that night. "You've slept hard, old chap, and you've lived hard, in your time; but when you want it, there will always be comfort for you here. But you're free, old chap. You can go wherever you like; still, I'd like you to try this. See! Up, lad!"
Finn sniffed long and interestedly at the 'possum-rug which had often covered the Mistress's feet on board ship and elsewhere. Then he stepped on to the bed and lowered his great bulk gracefully upon it.
"How's that?" asked the Master. And Finn thrust his muzzle gratefully into the hand he loved. The bed was superlatively good, as a matter of fact. But when, in the quite early morning hours, the Master opened his bedroom door, bound for the bath, he found Finn dozing restfully on the doormat.
So that was the end of the hall bed as a hall bed. That night Finn found it beside the Master's bedroom door; and there in future he slept of a night, when indoors at all. But he was allowed perfect freedom, and there were summer nights he spent in the outer porch and farther afield than that, including the queer little Sussex slab-paved courtyard outside the kitchen door, where he spent the better part of one night on guard over a smelly tramp who, in a moment unlucky for himself, had decided to try his soft and clumsy hand at burglary. The gardener found the poor wretch in the morning aching with cramp and bailed up in a dampish corner by the dust-bin, by a wolfhound who kept just half an inch of white fang exposed, and responded with a truly awe-inspiring throaty snarl to the slightest hint of movement on the tramp's part.
"Six hours 'e's kep' me there, an', bli'me, I'd sooner do six months quod," the weary tramp explained, when the Master had been roused and Finn called off.
On the morning of his third day at Nuthill it was that Finn first met the Lady Desdemona. And it happened in this wise: Colonel Forde, of Shaws, which, as you may know, lies just across the green shoulder of Down from Nuthill—its fault is that the house is reached only by the westering sun, while Nuthill's windows catch the first morning rays on one side and hold some of any sunshine there may be the day through—wrote, saying that he had heard of Finn's arrival, and would the Master come across to luncheon with the Mistress and Miss Murdoch, and bring the wolfhound.
"I hope you will have a look through my kennels with me in the afternoon," added the Colonel; and that was the kind of invitation seldom refused by the Master.
It is, of course, a good many years now since the Shaws kennels first earned the respect of discerning breeders and lovers of bloodhounds. But to this day there is one kind of doggy man (and woman) who smiles a shade disdainfully when Colonel Forde's name is mentioned.
"Very much the amateur," they say. And—"A bit too much of a sentimentalist to be taken seriously," some knowing fellow in a kennel coat of the latest style will tell you. Perhaps they do not quite know what they mean. Or perhaps they are influenced by the known fact that the Colonel has more than once closed his kennel doors to a long string of safe prizes by refusing to exhibit a second time some hound who, on a first showing, has won golden opinions and high awards. But these refusals were never whimsical. They were due always to the Colonel's decision, based upon close and sympathetic observation, that, for the particular hound in question, exhibition represented a painful ordeal.
Among the breeders who at one time or another have visited the Shaws kennels are a few of the knowing fellows who smile at mention of the Colonel's name. Well, let them smile. It is perhaps as well for them that the Colonel is pretty tolerably indifferent alike to their smiles and to the awards of show judges; for, if Colonel Forde were seriously bent upon "pot-hunting," there would not be anything like so many "pots" about for other people; and these particular gentry would not at all like that.
"Kennels!" said one of them at a dog-show in Brighton, "why, it's more like a kindergarten. There's a sitting-room, a kind of drawing-room, if you'll believe me, in the middle of the kennels, for tea-parties! And as for the dogs, well, they just do whatever they like. As often as not the kennels are empty, except for pups, and the hounds all over the garden and house—a regular kindergarten."
It will be seen then that the Colonel must clearly have merited the disdainful smiles. But I am bound to say I never heard of any one being bitten or frightened by a dog at Shaws, and it is notorious that, difficult though bloodhound whelps are to rear, the Colonel rarely loses one in a litter. Still, "kindergarten" is certainly a withering epithet in this connection; and one can perfectly understand the professional's attitude. A sitting-room, nay, worse—"A kind of drawing-room," in the midst of the kennels! Why, it almost suggests that, forgetful of prize-winning, advertising, and selling, the Colonel must positively have enjoyed the mere pleasure of spending a leisure hour among his dogs; not at a show or in the public eye, but in the privacy of his own home! Glaring evidence of amateurishness, this. The knowing ones, as usual, were perfectly correct. That is precisely what the Colonel was; a genuine amateur of hounds.
INTRODUCING THE LADY DESDEMONA
April was uniformly dull and wet that year, but May seemed to bring full summer in her train; and it was on the morning of the third of May that Finn went to Shaws with the Nuthill house party.
The turf of the Downs was so springy on this morning that one felt uplifted by it in walking. Each separate blade of the clover-scented carpet seemed surcharged with young life. The downland air was as a tonic wine to every creature that breathed it. The joy of the day was voiced in the liquid trilling of two larks that sang far overhead. The place and time gave to the Nuthill party England at her best and sweetest, than which, as the Master often said, the world has nothing more lovely to offer; and he was one who had fared far and wide in other lands.
There is the tiny walled inclosure above the stables at Shaws, once used as a milking-yard, and just now a veritable posy of daisies, buttercups, rich green grass, and apple-blossom. For in it there are six or seven gnarled and lichen-grown old apple-trees, whose fruit is of small account, but whose bloom is a gift sent straight from heaven to gladden the hearts of men and beasts, birds and bees. The big double doors in the ivy-grown flint wall of this inclosure stood wide open. Humming bees sailed booming to and fro, like ships in a tropical trade-wind. And through the lattice-work of the gray old apple-trees' branches (so virginally clothed just now) clean English sunshine dappled all the earth and grass in moving checkers of light and shade.
When the Nuthill party looked in through the gates of this delectable pleasaunce they beheld in its midst the Lady Desdemona, gazing solemnly down her long nose at the moving checkers of sunlight on the grass. Her head was held low—the true bloodhound poise—and that position exaggerated the remarkable wealth of velvety "wrinkle" with which her forehead had been endowed by nature, after the selective breeding of centuries. Low hung her golden dewlap over the grass at her feet; and all across the satin blackness of her saddle intricately woven little patterns of sunlight flicked back and forth as the breeze stirred the branches overhead.
"There's all the wisdom and philosophy of the ancients in her face," said the Master, as the beautiful young bloodhound bitch winded them and raised her head.
As a fact, her thought had been far from abstruse. She was merely watching the moving patches of sunlight, and not reflecting upon it as humans do, but feeling the joyousness and beauty of that time and place. She gave no thought to these matters, but was, as it were, inhaling them, and enjoying them profoundly; more profoundly than most men-folk would.
Finn eyed her gravely, appraisingly, yet also without thought. He, too, had been unreflectingly absorbing the beauty of the morning; and now his enjoyment became suddenly narrowed down and concentrated. The rest of the world dropped out of the picture, or rather it became merged for Finn in the picture he beheld of the Lady Desdemona; a study in tawny orange-gold and jetty black, gleaming where the sun touched her and embodying the quintessence of canine health, youth, and high-breeding.
So the world stood still for a moment while all concerned felt, without thought, how good it was. Then her youth and sex spoke in the bloodhound, and Lady Desdemona, head and stern uplifted now, came passaging gaily, proudly forward down the grassy slope to the gateway, entirely ignoring the human people, as was natural, and making direct for Finn, the tallest, most stately representative of her own kind she had ever seen. The Master stepped aside, with a smile, the better to watch the meeting of the hounds. It was worth watching. Till they met, the movement, the provocativeness was all on Lady Desdemona's side, Finn standing erect and still as graven bronze. Then they met, and at a given signal the tactics of each were sharply reversed. The signal consisted of a little flicking contact, light as thistle-down. As Desdemona curveted down past Finn the tip of her gaily-waving tail was allowed once to glance over the Irish wolfhound's wiry coat; the merest suggestion of a touch. But it seemed this was a magic signal, converting the dancing Desdemona into a graven image and transforming the statuesque Finn into a hound of abounding and commanding activity.
They made quite a notable picture. The Lady Desdemona stood now, tense, rigid, immobile as any rock, though instinct with life in every hair. Finn became the very personification of action, eager movement, alert interest. Inside of one minute he had examined the motionless Desdemona (by means of the most searchingly concentrated application of his senses of sight and smell) at least as thoroughly as your Harley Street expert examines a patient in half an hour. Finn needed no stethoscope to assure him of Desdemona's soundness. But, having seen her in the inclosure, and been interested so far, he now examined her with his keen eyes and nostrils at close quarters, in order that he might know her. And so superior to our own faculties are some of a hound's senses, that at the end of this examination Finn the wolfhound actually did know Lady Desdemona the bloodhound quite as thoroughly as humans know anybody after a dozen or so of meetings and much beating of the air in speech.
This process ended, the two hounds turned and, with many friendly nudges and shoulder-rubbings, proceeded up the meadow together in the wake of the Nuthill party, toward the house of Shaws. One cannot translate precisely Finn's remark to Desdemona at the end of the examination, but the sense of it was probably something of this sort:
"Yes, you are all right. I like you. Let's be friends."
THE OPEN-AIR CALL
That meeting with Desdemona in the walled inclosure at Shaws was the beginning of many jolly days for Finn. Colonel Forde and his family were both interested and amused by the warm friendship struck up between their beautiful young bloodhound and the famous Finn, with his long record of unique experiences on both sides of the world. Neither hound found any meaning whatever, of course, in the laughing remark made to the Master by Colonel Forde that afternoon, as they strolled round the kennels, followed by the now inseparable Finn and Desdemona. The Colonel paused to lay a hand affectionately on Finn's head, and, with a smile in the Master's direction, he said:
"I suppose it's the old Shakespearian story over again, eh, Finn? Desdemona loves you for the dangers you have passed—is that it? Well, your friendship will have to be strictly platonic, my son, for this particular Desdemona is pledged to no less puissant a prince than Champion Windle Hercules, the greatest bloodhound sire of this age. 'A marriage has been arranged,' as the papers say, Finn; and I hope it won't put your long muzzle too badly out of joint—what?"
The Master laughed, and both men passed on, Finn following cheerfully enough by Desdemona's side, conscious only that the men-folk were talking in friendly, kindly fashion, and reeking nothing of the meaning of their words. From his point of view, men-folk use such a mort of words at all times, most of them quite unnecessary, and only a few of them comprehensible. To folk accustomed, like the dog people, to intercourse confined chiefly to looks and movements, the continuous babble of words which humans indulge in is one of their most puzzling attributes. When the Master really wanted Finn to understand anything, the wolfhound very rarely failed him. But Colonel Forde's references to Othello—well, it was all so much puppy talk, just amiable, meaningless nickering to Finn and Desdemona.
That evening, while the Master and his folk were dining at Nuthill, Finn arose from a nap in the hall and, strolling out through the garden, loped easily away across the shoulder of Down betwixt Shaws and Nuthill to visit Desdemona. He found her close to the walled inclosure by the stable, and together they whiled away a couple of evening hours on the springy thyme-and-clover-scented turf of the Downs. Just as darkness was taking the place of twilight the scuttering of an over-venturesome rabbit's tail caught Finn's eye, and cost that particular bunny its life. Desdemona, to whom this little event opened up a quite new chapter in life, was hugely excited over the kill, and could hardly allow Finn, with his veteran's skill, to tear the pelt from the creature's warm body before she made her first meal of rabbit's hind quarters.
It was a trivial episode enough, and especially so for a hunter of Finn's experience, who, in his time, had pulled down dozens of old-men kangaroos, not to mention the smaller fry of the Australian bush. And yet, though he did not show it as Desdemona did, this trifling incident was of quite epoch-marking importance for Finn, and stirred him profoundly.
"Hullo, old friend! What of the hunting? I declare, you've quite the old bush-ranging air to-night. Where have you been?" asked the Master, when Finn rejoined his own family circle in the hall at Nuthill, toward bedtime that night. Finn silently nuzzled the under side of the Master's right wrist; but, though his dark eyes were eloquent, it was beyond him to explain either his doings or his emotions. Yet the Master was not altogether without understanding of these.
"Fact is," he said to Betty Murdoch, as he affectionately rubbed one of Finn's ears, "I believe this old gallant has quite fallen in love with Miss Desdemona, and I could swear he's been hunting in her company to-night. He has all the look of it. I suspect it carries him back to old days, past the quarantine, past even Australia—eh, old chap?—and back to his hunting days about these very Downs, when we were at the cottage, you know. I had to be a great deal in town in those days, before we went to Australia, and Finn ran pretty much wild through his last summer in England."
So the Master did know something of what passed in the wolfhound's mind, though they had no common language. As a matter of fact, the evening meeting with Desdemona, the frolic on the Downs, and, at the last, the running down of that rabbit, had combined to stir Finn more than anything else had stirred him since he had fought for the Master's life in a drought-smitten corner of the bush in Australia. Much that had lain dormant in the great hound since the adventurous days of his leadership of a dingo pack had waked into active, insistent life that evening, and, brushing aside the habits of a year's soft living, had filled him once more with the keenness of the hunter and the fire of the masterful mate and leader.
It must not be supposed that nostalgia is a modern weakness, or the monopoly of human minds. When Finn looked out across the moonlit Downs that night, while strolling round the house with the Master before going to bed, nostalgia filled his heart to aching-point and clouded his mind with its elusive, tormenting vapors as surely as ever it clouded the brain of any human wanderer. It was the nostalgia of the wilderness, of the life of the wild; and, as he looked out into the moonlight, Finn saw again in fancy, the boundary-rider's lonely humpy, the rugged, rocky hills of the Tinnaburra; a fleeing wallaby in the distance, himself in hot pursuit. He smelt again the tang of crushed gum-leaves, and heard the fascinating rustle which tells of the movements of game, of live food, over desiccated twigs and leaves, in bush untrodden by human feet.
Yes, Finn tasted to the full that night the nostalgia of the wilderness. But if it stirred him deeply, it by no means made him unhappy. Across the Downs' shoulder there was Desdemona; and he was free, save for the ties of affection—stronger these than any dog-chain—which bound him to the Nuthill folk. And as for Desdemona; owing to what many fanciers would have regarded as the reprehensible eccentricity of the owner of Shaws, Desdemona was almost as free as Finn.
A week later, even easy-going Colonel Forde was a little perturbed by the news that Lady Desdemona had been away all night and that nobody knew of her whereabouts. However, the bitch strolled into the house during the forenoon, looking none the worse for her night out, and, much to his kennelman's annoyance, the Colonel refused to have her confined to the kennels. He did not know that Finn was schooling this blood-royal princess in the ways of the wild; but he could see that she looked fit as a fiddle and was obviously very much enjoying her life. And so he turned a deaf ear to his kennelman, even when the good fellow said, protestingly:
"You don't see such a bitch once in twenty years, sir. She's just on her eighteenth month and she's worth taking care of."
"She certainly is, Bates," replied the Colonel, "and you must keep a sharp lookout. Look to her each day. But, upon my word, I think she's also worth giving a good time to. Give her her head, and I don't think she will ever disappoint us. Thank goodness, there are no traps or poison about here, or none that I ever heard of."
"No, it's not that, sir," persisted the kennelman; "but Desdemona she's good enough to win in the best company, and to mother winners, too. And you know, sir, if a dog's to do hisself justice on the bench, you can't let him go skirmishing around the country like a gipsy's lurcher. It sorter roughs 'em somehow. The judges don't like it, and the Fancy don't, neither, sir. Look at the chalk an' that on her coat this morning, sir."
"Ah well," said the Colonel, with a little laugh, "we never have bred for the judges, Bates; nor yet for the Fancy, either; and if they can't recognize the merits of a bitch like that because she's been living a natural, happy sort of life, instead of a cage-life—why, then, that's their loss, not ours, and we must chance it."
And so the kennelman shrugged his shoulders and the Lady Desdemona continued to enjoy life, the new and wider life to which she was being introduced by that hardened wanderer and past-master in the lore of the wild—Finn.
It may be that Colonel Forde himself was more than a little worried about it when, a week later, the young bloodhound disappeared one afternoon and did not show up again next day. There had been further communications with the house of the redoubtable champion Windle Hercules in Hampshire. The Lady Desdemona's line of travel had been chosen. Bates was to escort her on the nuptial journey, and all arrangements for the wedding of the distinguished pair had been completed. And now—"Just as if she mighter bin any tramp's cur," as Bates feelingly put it—Desdemona had elected to stay away and to remain away. And the news from Nuthill showed that—"That there plaguy great wolfhound" was also on the missing list.
On the fourth day of absence, all search having proved unsuccessful, the police were notified. Then, bright and early on the morning of the fifth day, the Lady Desdemona walked quietly up to the kitchen door at Shaws, followed leisurely by Finn, who, after seeing his mate welcomed with some enthusiasm by the cook and several members of her excited staff, turned about and loped easily away in the direction of Nuthill.
But to the experts concerned it speedily became apparent that the alliance with Champion Windle Hercules must be indefinitely postponed. Lady Desdemona would have none of him. It seemed she knew her own mind very well, was perfectly calm and content, but quite determined in her opposition to any hint of matrimonial pourparlers with the admitted champion of her race. Bates the kennelman pished and tushed, and thought he knew all about it. The Master felt pretty sure he knew all about it. The Colonel just smiled and said that Desdemona was young yet, and that, for his part, he always had thought two years a better marrying age than eighteen months.
Meantime, you could not have found a more placidly happy and contented hound in England than the Lady Desdemona; and there were very few days on which she did not meet Finn, either at Nuthill or at Shaws.
The beautiful early summer weeks slid by, and the young bloodhound grew more sedate and less given to violent exercise. And then Bates succeeded in persuading the Colonel into allowing him to kennel the Lady Desdemona. It is true the kennel given her was pretty nearly the size of a horse's loose box, and had a little covered outside yard of its own. But it was a kennel, and securely inclosed. Despite the watchfulness of Bates, Finn the wolfhound came nuzzling round its sides fairly often in search of the prisoner.
After four days of confinement the bitch was released by Colonel Forde's orders. For two days she had taken no food; and as she obviously fretted when Finn was kept away from her, the wolfhound was allowed to come and go at Shaws as he chose, and as he did at Nuthill.
Thus a week passed, and it was seen that the Lady Desdemona grew restless and uneasy.
"Take my advice and leave them severely alone," said the Master. "Finn will go his own way whether we like it or not. He's too old a hand to be cajoled, and I've sworn I'll never coerce him. The bitch will be better left to go her own way. She's got a good mate."
Bates sighed, but the Colonel agreed; and very little was said about it when, a few days later, Desdemona passed out beyond the ken of her friends at Shaws and Nuthill, and for the time was seen no more.
What did rather surprise the Master, however, was that after an absence of a few hours, on the day of Desdemona's disappearance, Finn turned up as usual in the evening at Nuthill, and spent the night on his own bed. This fact did strike the Master as odd when he heard that nothing had been seen at Shaws of the bloodhound.
"Evidently, then, Finn has nothing to do with her disappearance," said Colonel Forde next day.
"Ah!" replied the Master, musingly. "I wonder!" And he thoughtfully pulled Finn's ears, as though he thought this might extract information regarding the whereabouts of Desdemona. But Finn, as his way was, said nothing. He maintained in this matter a policy of masterly reserve.
HOW DESDEMONA FOUND HER NEST
It would, of course, be highly interesting if one were able to map out precisely the effect produced in Desdemona's mind by the influence of Finn the wolfhound. One would very much like to trace the mental process; to know exactly how much and in what manner the influence of the wolfhound, with his experiences of life among the wild kindred of Australia, affected the development of the highly domesticated, the thoroughly sophisticated, young bloodhound. This one cannot pretend to do. But, as it happens, one is able faithfully to record the Lady Desdemona's actions and experiences; and from that record, in the light of her previous intercourse with the Irish wolfhound, one is free to draw one's own conclusions as to motives and inspirations.
During the course of their various absences from Shaws and Nuthill, Finn and the Lady Desdemona very thoroughly scoured the South Downs within a radius of a dozen miles from home. In the beginning of their longest jaunt, which kept the pair of them five days away, Desdemona made a discovery that greatly interested both of them.
It happened that Finn ran down and killed a rabbit, rather, perhaps, from lightness of heart, or by way of displaying his powers to Desdemona, than from any desire for food. And so it fell out that, having slain the bunny, the hunter and his mate proceeded to amuse themselves in the vicinity, leaving the rabbit lying where it had received its coup de grace, at the foot of a stunted, wind-twisted thorn-bush.
It might have been an hour later when (with appetites whetted, no doubt, by exercise in the finest air to be found in southern England) Finn and Desdemona forsook their play and made for the thorn-bush, with a view to a cold rabbit supper. But a glance at the spot showed that the very thoroughly killed rabbit was no longer there. Finn's eyes blazed for a moment with the sort of masterful wrath he had not shown since his dingo-leading days in the Tinnaburra. Desdemona noticed this exhibition of lordly anger and thought it rather fine. But, being female, she was more practical than Finn; and being a bloodhound, she had a sense of smell by comparison with which Finn's scenting powers were as naught—a mere gap in his equipment; and this despite the fact that the training his wild life had given him in this respect placed him far ahead of the average wolfhound. But by comparison with bloodhounds, the fleet dogs who hunt by sight and speed—deerhounds, greyhounds, Irish wolfhounds and the like—have very little sense of smell.
Now the Lady Desdemona, having no experience of wild life, did not know in the least what had become of that rabbit. She formed no conclusions whatever about it. But obeying one of her strongest instincts, she picked up a trail leading in the direction opposite to that from which Finn had overtaken the bunny, and, with one glance of encouragement over her shoulder at Finn, began to follow this up at a loping trot. As she ran, her delicate, golden-colored flews skimmed the ground; her sensitive nostrils questioned almost every blade of grass, her brain automatically registering every particle of information so obtained, and guiding her feet accordingly. Her strong tail waved above and behind her in the curve of an Arab scimitar. She ceased to be the Lady Desdemona and became simply a bloodhound at work; an epitome of the whole complex science of tracking. Finn trotted admiringly beside her, his muzzle never passing her shoulder; and now and again when he happened to lower his head from its accustomed three-foot level, his nostrils caught a whiff or two of something reminiscent of long-past hunting excursions when he was barely out of puppyhood.
The dog-folk are not greatly given to discussion. It was obvious that Desdemona had some purpose earnestly in view. (As a fact, she herself did not as yet know what that purpose was.) And that was enough for Finn. The bloodhound's pace was slow, and Finn could have kept up this sort of traveling for a dozen hours on end without really exerting himself.
But this was not to be a long trail as the event proved, though it was mostly up-hill. Before a mile and a half had been covered Desdemona began to show excitement and emitted a single deep bay, mellow as the note of an organ. Finn remarked her fine voice with sincere approval. Like all hounds, he detested a sharp, high, or yapping cry. A few seconds later Desdemona came to a standstill beside the stem of a starveling yew-tree, and just below the crest of the Down. Her muzzle was thrust into an opening in the steep side of the Down, over which there hung a thatch of furze. But though her head entered the opening, her shoulders could not pass it and there was wrath and excitement in the belling note she struck as she drew back.
This was Finn's opportunity and, stepping forward, he attacked the overhanging furze and stony chalky earth with both his powerful fore feet. He had winded now a scent that roused him; and what is more, he remembered precisely what that twangy, acrid scent betokened. The chalky earth flew from under his great paws faster than two men could have shifted it with mattocks; and, as the shelving crust was thin, it took him no more than one or two minutes to make an opening through which even his great bulk could pass with a little stooping.
Another moment and Desdemona had forced her way past Finn, baying hoarsely, and was inside the cave. There followed a yowling, snarling cry, a scuffling sound, and a big red fox emerged, low to the ground like a cat, his brush between his legs, fight in his bared jaws, and flight in his red rolling eyes. But fate had knocked at Reynard's door, and would not be denied. His running did not carry him far. It is probably somewhat disturbing to be rooted out of one's own particular sanctuary by a baying bloodhound. But it is worse to find at one's front door a vision of vengeance and destruction in the shape of a giant Irish wolfhound whose kill one has purloined.
In Finn's salad days it might have meant a fight. As things were, it was rather an execution; and though the fox died snapping, his neck was broken before he had decided upon his line of action. As Finn flung the furry corpse aside, Desdemona appeared in the mouth of the cave with most of the stolen rabbit between her jaws. It was noteworthy that she gave no heed at all to the fox. Her business as a tracker had been with her mate's stolen kill. In the absence of Finn, Reynard would have paid no other penalty for his theft than the loss of the rabbit. As it was, the incident cost him his life; and he was a master fox, too, who had ranged that countryside with considerable insolence for some years; a terribly familiar foe in a number of neighboring farm-yards.
Neither Finn nor Desdemona ate the remains of that rabbit. For one thing, they were not yet really hungry, and for another thing they did not relish the musky tang left by Reynard's jaws. Apart from this (and despite its strong scent) they were both keenly interested in the cave which had been Reynard's home; especially Desdemona.
It seemed the bloodhound would never tire of investigating the cave, once she had satisfied herself as to Finn fully understanding that she alone, unaided, and with most complete success, had tracked down and retrieved the stolen rabbit. This fact had to be clearly appreciated before Desdemona could bring herself to lay aside the mangled rabbit. Then she invited Finn's attention to the interior of the cave. Together they explored its resources till Finn felt almost nauseated by the smell of fox which filled the place. But Desdemona, with her far more delicate sense of smell, seemed quite unaffected by this. To and fro she padded, closely examining every inch of the place, and dragging out into the open scores of bones and other oddments which told of its long occupancy.
It really was a rather fascinating lair, despite its musky smell; and its position was superb. Being on a southern slope, and just below the crest of the highest point of Downs thereabouts, one plainly saw the sparkle of sunlight on the waters of the Channel from the mouth of this cave. On the other hand, an obliging cup-shaped hollow of the Downs, some hundred yards away to the west, gave one a vista of Sussex farm-lands extending over scores of miles; a view that many a caveless millionaire would give a fortune to secure for his home.
Again, the extreme steepness of the particular little spur, or swelling of the Downs, in which this cave had been formed, made it highly improbable that the feet of man would ever come that way. The surrounding turf had doubtless known the sharp little feet of many hundreds of generations of sheep; but it had never known the plow. It was the same unbroken turf which our early British ancestors knew in these parts, and had remained unscathed by any such trifling happenings as the Roman invasion, the Fire of London, the Wars of the Roses, or the advent of Mr. Lloyd George. The very cave itself may easily have been older than Westminster Abbey; and if there is a lord in the land whose ancestral hall can boast a longer record of un-"restored" antiquity, he may fairly claim that his forebears built most superlatively well.
At all events, the place appealed most strongly to the Lady Desdemona, and since her heart seemed set upon it, Finn cheerfully endeavored to forget the foxy smell, busied himself in securing a fresh, rabbit for supper, and generally behaved as a good mate should in the matter of helping to make a new home. And that is the plain truth in the matter of how Desdemona found her nest.
DESDEMONA FORGETS HER MANNERS
It has been recorded that, as the weeks slipped by after Desdemona's first little term of absence from her home at Shaws, she grew daily more sedate in her manner and less given to the irresponsible activities of hound youth.
It was also noticed that she developed a habit of carrying off all her best bones, or other solid comestibles, instead of despatching them beside her dish as her sophisticated habit had always been. What was not known, even to the astute Bates, was that the most of such eatables were laboriously carried over close upon four miles of downland by the Lady Desdemona, for ultimate storage in her cave, where, a little reluctantly, she devoured some of them and stowed away others to be more or less devoured by insects, and, it may be, by prowling stoats and other vermin, during the bloodhound's periods of residence in her own proper home.
Finn accompanied his mate, as a matter of course, upon most of her pilgrimages to the cave. But, somewhat to his chagrin, he found, as time went on, that Desdemona became less and less keen upon his company. Latterly, in fact, she came as near as so courtly a creature could to sending him about his business flatly, and she formed a habit of lying across the mouth of her cave in a manner which certainly suggested that she grudged Finn entry to the old place—a thing which ruffled him more than he cared to admit.
As a matter of fact, the Lady Desdemona had not the faintest idea why she should adopt this tone and manner toward her mate. She admired Finn as much as ever; she liked him well, and had no shadow of a reason for mistrusting him. But she had her own weird to dree; and inherited memories and instincts far stronger than any wish or inclination of her daily life, were just now dominating her utterly.
She was full of a vague anxiousness; a sense of impending difficulties; a blind but undeniable determination to be forearmed against she knew not what dangers and needs. And among other things, other vague instincts the which she must obey with or without understanding, there was the desire to store up food, and to preserve intact her sole command of the privacy of her cave. If Finn had been human, he would have shrugged his shoulders, and in private given vent to generalizations regarding the inscrutability of females. As it was, he very likely shrugged his great gray shoulders, but went his way without remark.
Then came the day upon which Desdemona disappeared from Shaws, and Finn, to the Master's surprise, slept in his own proper bed at Nuthill.
The fact was he had parted with Desdemona that evening under rather painful circumstances. In the early evening he had journeyed with her to the cave—she carrying a large mutton-bone which she made no pretense of offering to share with her mate—and her attitude throughout had been one of really unaccountable chilliness and reserve. They had drunk together—the cold nectar of a prehistoric dew-pond that lay within a hundred yards of the cave—and Desdemona had turned away curtly and hurried back to the cave, with never a lick or a look in Finn's direction, as though she feared he might take the place away in his teeth. Finn had noticed that she moved wearily, as though action taxed her strength; yet he thought her unaccountably ready to walk away from him.
He ran down a rabbit for his mate, and deposited it before her at the cave's mouth in the most friendly manner. Then, before he could get time to tear the pelt off for her, the Lady Desdemona, with a snappishness more suggestive of a hedge-side cur than of a hound of her rank, actually snatched away the rabbit, and with never a "Thank you," or a "By your leave," carried it right inside the cave, dropping it there and returning to bar the entrance, with a look in her red-hawed eyes and a lift of her golden flews which, if not actual snarling, was, as folks say, near enough to make no difference. At least it very plainly told Finn he was not wanted there; and the limits of his punctilious courtesy having now been passed, he had turned away without look or sound and descended the Down in high dudgeon.
It was clear to Finn that his mate needed a lesson in manners, and so, moodily, he stalked away and went hungry to bed like the illogical male creature he was, vaguely surmising that in his discomfort there must be something of retribution for Desdemona. Had he but known it, he had a long line of human precedents in the matter of this particular piece of foolishness, even to the detail of the untasted dinner-dish which he left in the back porch when he went to bed at Nuthill.
FINN IS ENLIGHTENED
Next morning courtesy demanded that Finn should accept Betty Murdoch's invitation to accompany her on a rather long walk. She had bills to pay and calls to make in the village. Finn went, of course, stalking silently beside pretty, cheery Betty. But he made a poor companion, and Betty even told the Master at luncheon that she thought Finn was not very well, so dull and uninterested in anything he had appeared all the morning.
"H'm! I suspect he misses Lady Desdemona," said the Master. "Puzzling thing, that. I can't make out why they're not together."
The fact was, Finn found the nursing of his offended dignity a wearisome task. It was all very well to rebuke Desdemona by ignoring her existence; but could he be quite sure that she noticed his absence or cared about it? And in any case, whether or not it affected her, it certainly bored him very much. He missed greatly the companionship of his mate, and not a bit the less because she had been so rude to him the day before.
The upshot of it was that, after disposing of a good portion of the dinner placed in his big dish at six o'clock that evening (in the little courtyard in which he had once held a tramp bailed up all night), he picked up the large, succulent, and still decently covered knuckle-bone designed for his dessert, and, carrying this in his mouth, set out for the cave on the Downs. He probably had some small twinges of misgiving, but endeavored to dismiss these by assuring himself that poor Desdemona was no doubt very sorry for her ill-temper of the previous day; that she doubtless was feeling his protracted absence keenly, and that it would be only courteous and fair now to let bygones be bygones, and present her with a really choice knuckle-bone by way of proving his forgiveness.
This was more or less the way in which the wolfhound's mind worked as he ambled over the Downs that evening with his big knuckle-bone. (The cook at Nuthill was one of Finn's most devoted admirers. In addition to the appetizing golden-brown skin that coated it, this bone carried quite a good deal of the short, dark-colored sort of meat which, though devoid of juice, makes very agreeable eating, and lends itself well to canine mastication.) And in view of this attitude of mind of his, Finn was rather grievously disappointed by the result of his visit.
He found the Lady Desdemona uneasily prowling back and forth, and in and out of the entrance to her cave. She perfunctorily touched Finn's nose with her own (rather rough and hot) muzzle in greeting and, accepting the knuckle-bone with somewhat unmannerly eagerness, carried it at once to the rear of the cave. But when Finn made to follow her she returned nervously to the mouth of the cave and stood there, blocking the entrance. Most strangely stiff, preoccupied, and ill-at-ease, Finn thought her.
"Glad to see you, and all that," her manner suggested; "but I don't much think you'd better stay. I'm—er—busy, and—er—don't let me detain you here."
That was the suggestion conveyed; and Finn would have been the more angered about it, but for a vague feeling he had which he could in no way account for—a sort of yearning desire to help his mate and do something for her.
"She certainly doesn't seem to want me," he thought. And he tried to brace himself by means of resentful recollection of the eager way she had taken the bone he brought her. But much as he would have preferred to sniff, look coldly down his muzzle, and walk off, he found himself licking one of Desdemona's heavily pendulous ears in quite a humble and solicitous manner. It was really rather annoying.
She jerked herself nervously away from him, with no more of deference than she might have shown some too effusive and presumptuous puppy. And yet, and yet the great wolfhound's bowels yearned in kindliness toward this ungracious bloodhound mate of his; and when he did finally accept her numerous hints and take his leave, it was with no thought of resentment in his mind, but, on the contrary, with many a backward glance over his wire-coated shoulder, and several low whines of farewell from deep down in his throat. Altogether the evening, like the day preceding it, was a depressing one for Finn, and he was not sorry when the time came to stretch his great length upon his bed by the door of the Master's room and sleep.
But when morning arrived Finn surprised his friend the cook by not waiting for his customary dish of milk. Directly the back door was opened he slipped out into the sweet, early sunshine of that fragrant neighborhood, and was off at a good loping gait for the Downs. (It was a thousand pities he could not have carried his milk with him as a morning draught for Desdemona.)
There was no sign of the bloodhound near the mouth of the cave when Finn breasted the steep rise it faced. But as he drew nearer there came sounds from out the cave which, while altogether bewildering in themselves, did at least indicate Desdemona's presence there. The first sound to reach him was a hoarse and threatening growl, a quite unmistakably minatory growl, from the throat of his own mate as she got her first wind of his, Finn's, approach to the cave he had helped to make a home. Finn paused for a moment, head raised and ears cocked, to consider this truly remarkable manifestation. And as he listened, there issued from the den other small sounds of a totally different kind: mild, twittering little bleatings; several voices, each weak and thin, and in some subtle way most curiously appealing to the wolfhound.
Then, in one flash of memory and reason, came vivid understanding of the whole business; as usual, in the form of a picture, Finn saw again, from that sun-washed English hill-side, the gaunt, bald foothills around Mount Desolation. He saw the heat shimmering above the scorched rocks on which he slew Lupus in open fight, and witnessed the terrible disintegration of that fighter's redoubtable sire, Tasman, under the foaming jaws and flashing feet of his own dingo mate, Warrigal. But the picture did not show Finn any fighting. It showed himself, at the den's mouth, gazing in upon Warrigal, and Warrigal's curved flank supporting a little bunch of wolfhound-dingo pups, helpless, blind, new-born, and cheeping thinly like caged birds. Again came the sound of the small bleatings from the cave on the South Downs. The Australian picture faded out from Finn's excited mind, its task accomplished. He knew now; and into the gentle whining which escaped his throat as he stepped forward to the cave's entrance Finn introduced a note of reassurance and soothing understanding which even human ears would have comprehended and been satisfied by.
"All right, my mate," said Finn's gentle whining. "I know, I know. I'll be very careful."
And then came Desdemona's answer as Finn's great bulk blocked the entrance. This time her voice struck a note quite new to her. She understood now that Finn understood; she knew she was not to be called upon to shield that which she cherished in the cave there from immediate peril. There was rest and thankfulness in Desdemona's voice now; but withal, as Finn entered, there was more.
"Oh, please be very careful! Be very careful!" said her whine, as her swimming eyes, with their deep-pouched crimson haws, looked up at Finn. It would have been hard for Desdemona if she had been obliged now to take the defensive, for Finn found the beautiful bitch most utterly exhausted. But, as he well knew, it had gone hardly too with the man or beast who should have forced the Lady Desdemona to her defense. Weak and exhausted though she clearly was, the mother-passion looked out from her brimming eyes, and the call of need would have found her a living flame for valor, a most deadly force in a fight.
"All right! All right! Don't stir, my mate," said Finn's low whine. And then he entered the cave and gazed down upon the miracle the night had brought. Five sleek-sided puppies nestled in a row within the Lady Desdemona's carefully curved flank. They were so new to the world as to be no more than a few hours' old; they were blind and helpless as stranded jellyfish. But they were vigorously breakfasting, none the less; and as Finn gazed down upon them from his three-foot height, their mother proceeded to wash and groom their fat bodies for the twentieth time that morning, interrupting herself from time to time to glance proudly up into her mate's face, as who should say: "See what I have given you! Now you understand. These, my lord, are princes of your royal blood and mine."
Neither she nor Finn could realize, of course, just why these children of their union—their lamentable mesalliance, as the fanciers would have said—were the first of their kind the world had ever seen: the offspring of an Irish wolfhound champion and a daughter of generations of bloodhound champions. But to Desdemona it was clear enough that a miracle unique in history had occurred; and as for Finn, he looked and looked, and his bowels yearned over the group at his feet even more mightily than over Desdemona, his mate, on the previous evening.
Here certainly was food for wonder and astonishment. Two dog people had met outside this lonely cave the night before; and here there were seven. The new-comers were, with one exception, black and golden-brown in color, like their mother; yet their short coats were sensibly different from hers in texture. The exception was black as to his saddle and head, but iron-gray for the rest, a blend one sometimes sees in other hounds. And Finn noticed that this exception was somewhat larger than either of his four brothers and sisters. (Two of them were brothers, and two sisters; the black-and-gray fellow was a brother.)
Finn gently licked the round back of one of the pups. A moment before Desdemona's tongue had crossed the same fat back. Yet its blind little owner whimpered instant complaint at the very gentle touch of Finn's tongue.
"Be very careful!" whined the mother.
So Finn turned to the bigger pup, the black-and-gray, and licked him carefully. There was no sign of a whimper from this sturdy chap. On the contrary, he wriggled over on his round back and presented his equally round, gray belly for the same treatment. So Finn gravely licked his largest son all over in the approved maternal fashion, while Desdemona looked on with a quaint mixture of expressions in her pain-drawn eyes. The mixture was of pride and jealousy, approval and solicitude, motherhood and matehood—quite a curious little study in expression.
And then came an odd, rather touching little incident. Using infinite care to avoid disturbing or unsettling her full-fed little ones, the bloodhound mother slowly, gently, and with much effort, raised her aching body from the ground and stood a moment tremulously resting. Then she nudged Finn with her nose, and gently, but quickly, nervously, edged him out to the mouth of the cave. There the appeal of her liquid eyes, no less than the meaning little whine which escaped her, said, plainly:
"Don't go inside! Stay there, on guard!"
And with a rush (despite her pain-racked state) Desdemona ran down the slope in obedience to an imperative natural call. A few seconds later and she stood drinking eagerly, quickly, beside the dew-pond. But for all her haste and her parched throat and aching body, the mother bitch was careful not to wet her coat, since that might have made their bed chilly for the pups. Returning hotfoot, she found Finn immovable beside the mouth of the cave, a formidable sentry.
But while yet distant some ten or twelve yards, Desdemona heard a whimper from within-sides (doubtless a pup had turned over on its back and forgotten how to roll round again); and accordingly her weary limbs must lift her up the steep slope almost at a bound, leaving her no time for thanks to Finn, and care for nothing but her little ones.
To see her lower herself again to make of her aching body a nest and bulwark for the pups was to see a really beautiful study of animal motherhood. The deep wrinkles of her long forehead were all twisted from the pains of the night; but not by one hair's-breadth did she miscalculate the place for her descent to earth, or the nice disposition of her body to secure the maximum of comfort and shelter for her brood.
If her mate looked for any companionable attention now, he looked in vain. Each of the five young ones must be scrupulously washed and groomed once more to make up for the neglect of the past few minutes. And by that time they were greedily pounding at her dugs for another meal. However, Finn understood now; and as sentry he spent the rest of the forenoon by the cave.
THE LONE MOTHER
Through many, many generations past the forebears of the Lady Desdemona had been wont at all such crises in their lives as she was now experiencing to receive the closest and most unremitting human care and supervision. In the Shaws breeding-kennels, for example, there would always be at such times an abundance of fresh warm milk, clean, warm bedding for the new arrivals and their mother, and every other sort of comfort and attention which men-folk have devised for the benefit of the aristocrats among dog-folk.
Thus, if the alliance between the Lady Desdemona and the great champion of her race, Windle Hercules, had been consummated, a foster-mother would have been held in readiness to share the task of nursing her family when it came. Two or three pups would have been left with Desdemona; the others would have been taught to derive their nutriment and nursing from some plebeian little shepherd bitch, specially bereaved of her own offspring for this purpose. But in the cave on the Downs, and in the aftermath of the runaway match of Finn and Desdemona, no human eye saw Desdemona's family, and no human care played any part in its rearing. Now, since we are all, in greater or less measure, the product of our respective environments, and as for centuries before her time Desdemona's ancestors had been accustomed to the fostering care of humankind, she and her family must have been profoundly affected by the peculiar circumstances of her first maternal experiences.
It did not take long for Finn to realize that his mate attached more importance than she ever had before to the food-supply question. It was easy to bring her a bone from his own daily supply at Nuthill, though that did involve carrying the bone over four or five miles of Downs. But, as was natural, Desdemona wanted more than bones. It was not for nothing that five little mouths (armed with teeth like pin-points) tugged and pounded at her dugs by day and by night. Whenever Finn thought of it, he would run down and kill a rabbit for his mate, and for these the bloodhound was duly grateful. But dogs do not discuss such needs. Finn himself was well fed each day at Nuthill, as a matter of course. Frequently though he visited the down-ridge cave, he did not live there, and being still attached to a regular man-made home, he never adopted any set hunting routine, any more than he reverted to any other among the habits of wild life. He did not reason with himself regarding Desdemona's position or needs. When he thought of it, he gave her food; but these thoughts of his were, quite naturally, less frequent than the recurrence of Desdemona's conscious needs, underlined and emphasized as these were by the tireless assertiveness of her five children.
One result was that, within three days of the arrival of the puppies, Desdemona was doing a certain amount of hunting on her own account, especially in the seasons of twilight, both morning and evening. In her movements she was, of course, infinitely slower than her wolfhound mate. He could easily have run circles round her when she was traveling at her fastest. Her sense of smell and tracking ability were immeasurably ahead of Finn's powers in these directions, and in some countries this would have stood her in good stead. It was no very great help to her, however, in rabbit-hunting; and many a long and patient tracking ended for Desdemona in nothing more nutritious than a view of her intended quarry disappearing into the security of its earth or burrow while the hungry hunter was still twenty paces distant. Then, perforce, poor Desdemona would hurry back to her nursing, hungry as when she left it.
If Finn should arrive with food on such an evening or morning, so much the better. If not—well, Desdemona gave herself utterly to her puppies. There was no thought of grievance or complaint in her mind, but only the earnest endeavor to satisfy, so far as she was able, all the calls of her little blind tyrants. Her will to succeed as a mother was at least equal to that which any creature of the wild could have known. But her powers of contrivance, her cunning, endurance, and, in short, her command of success, in conditions approximating to those of motherhood in lined and emphasized as these were by the tireless assertiveness of her five children.
One result was that, within three days of the arrival of the puppies, Desdemona was doing a certain amount of hunting on her own account, especially in the seasons of twilight, both morning and evening. In her movements she was, of course, infinitely slower than her wolfhound mate. He could easily have run circles round her when she was traveling at her fastest. Her sense of smell and tracking ability were immeasurably ahead of Finn's powers in these directions, and in some countries this would have stood her in good stead. It was no very great help to her, however, in rabbit-hunting; and many a long and patient tracking ended for Desdemona in nothing more nutritious than a view of her intended quarry disappearing into the security of its earth or burrow while the hungry hunter was still twenty paces distant. Then, perforce, poor Desdemona would hurry back to her nursing, hungry as when she left it.
If Finn should arrive with food on such an evening or morning, so much the better. If not—well, Desdemona gave herself utterly to her puppies. There was no thought of grievance or complaint in her mind, but only the earnest endeavor to satisfy, so far as she was able, all the calls of her little blind tyrants. Her will to succeed as a mother was at least equal to that which any creature of the wild could have known. But her powers of contrivance, her cunning, endurance, and, in short, her command of success, in conditions approximating to those of motherhood in the wild, were necessarily not equal to those of wild-born folk.
For the first time in her life the Lady Desdemona was now living hardly, but it must not be supposed that this meant unhappiness for her. That would be far from the truth. The modern hound's sophisticated ancestry is almost as ancient as that of men-folk; but withal he remains very much nearer in every way to the life of the wild, and can revert to it with far more ease. There are penalties attaching to the process, however, and even at the time her puppies were born the Lady Desdemona had grown noticeably less sleek than her habit had been at Shaws; just as even a few days of unsheltered life in the woods—nay, even twenty-four hours without a bedroom—will make a man or woman notably less sleek.
The fact was that, upon her present diet, at all events, the young bloodhound was not quite equal to the task of nourishing five puppies. No doubt Nature—whose wisdom so often is mistaken for ruthlessness by pessimistically inclined observers of the surfaces of things—had a watchful eye upon Desdemona in her cave.
On the morning of the fifth day of the puppies' lives Desdemona was out and about before the sun, and her hunting took her somewhat far afield. While she hunted—doubtless introducing fear into several rabbit earths, and tragedy into one—Destiny came knocking at the door of her own cave, and left his sign manual there in letters of blood. On her homeward way, the half of a young rabbit gripped between her jaws, Desdemona suddenly picked up a fresh trail close to the cave. In the same instant the half-rabbit fell from her parted jaws and her nose went to earth, while premonition of disaster smote at her heart and all the channeled lines of her forehead deepened.
A few urgent bounds carried her to the mouth of the cave. Two more steps, and the events of the last half-hour lay plain before her eyes. Two of her puppies lay dead, and in the throat of one of them there still were fastened the teeth of their slayer: a full-grown, tawny-coated stoat. The blood-drinking stoat was of no greater length than one of Desdemona's low-hanging ears, yet without the smallest flicker of hesitation the terrible little beast wheeled about to attack the bereaved mother of his quarry. With bared fangs—flecked now with blood—the stoat crouched, breathing quite fearless defiance.
For the moment Desdemona gave no thought to the stoat, but lowered her massive head to the inspection of the dead puppy which lay nearest. In that moment the fearless stoat saw his chance. Brave though he was—and no creature is more brave—the stoat did not court death; and so, like a yellow snake, he slid out of the cave and down the steep slope beyond. But, being fearless, he halted when he came to the remains of Desdemona's rabbit. Fresh-killed meat was something he could not pass, even though the investigation should cost him his life.
In the cave, a very few seconds showed Desdemona that two of her pups were dead. A frantically hurried licking sufficed to assure her that the remaining three were unhurt. And then, the fire of judgment in her red-brown eyes, she swept out from the cave on the trail of her enemy. In three bounds she reached the stoat, who was perfectly prepared now to fight an elephant for possession of the half-rabbit he had found. The tiny creature did, as a fact, draw blood, with one slashing bite, from Desdemona's muzzle. And then he died (snarling defiance), his spine smashed through in two places between the bloodhound's powerful jaws.
Without a moment's pause, after completing this act of vengeance, Desdemona hurried back to her young. With a fine effort of will she ignored the two corpses and settled herself down, as though thoroughly at ease in mind and body, to the task of suckling her three remaining youngsters. It is worth noting that, whereas a tithe of the strain and shock she had sustained during the past hour would have made worse than useless the ministrations of a human nursing mother, there was no fault in the quality of this particular meal taken by the puppies, nor any momentary imperfection about the manner in which it was made available to them, or the way in which they were washed and groomed after it, and disposed for their nap.
That Desdemona was none the less acutely conscious of her bereavement is proved by the fact that, so soon as her three full-fed pups were asleep, she rose very deftly and carefully, and drew out to the mouth of the cave the body of the puppy at whose throat she had found the stoat. Depositing the limp little body upon the chalky ledge before the cave, Desdemona regarded it mournfully, sitting on her haunches the while, her muzzle pointing earthward, her splendid brow deeply wrinkled—a true bloodhound.
After a few minutes given to sad contemplation she went inside again, and carried out the other little corpse, laying it near by its fellow and nosing it sadly, till the two were touching. There was another interval of melancholy contemplation. And then, suddenly lifting her muzzle heavenward, so that its deep flews swayed in the breeze, Desdemona broke into vocal mourning, in a long, deep, baying howl; a less eerie sound, perhaps, than the siren-like howl of an Irish wolfhound in distress, yet withal, in its different, deeper, more resonant way, a cry quite equally impressive.
It was at this employ that Finn found his mate when he arrived at the cave that morning from Nuthill. For some moments Finn also gazed down at the victims, pondering over their immobility and his mate's mournful cries. Then, very tenderly at first, he nuzzled the dead puppies. That process flashed a picture into his mind, and he saw again Warrigal's dead children in the Mount Desolation cave. So he understood. His head moved now far more vigorously, almost roughly, indeed, as he pushed the little bodies forward with his nose, thrusting them out upon the turf, so that they rolled, one over the other, down the steep part of the slope.
Then Finn turned to his mate and affectionately licked her low-hanging ears, flews, and dewlap. It was perfectly obvious that he understood her grief and sought to assuage it. Finding that she paid no heed to him, Finn turned from her gravely and walked within to where the three remaining pups lay. Carefully he licked the big black-and-gray dog pup. Still Desdemona remained outside. So Finn proceeded to lick one of the other pups, the weakling of the group. This produced at once a faint whimpering from the puppy, and that brought her mother quickly to her side. Standing aside now, Finn watched the bloodhound settle herself down to the task of nursing. Contented then, he walked to the mouth of the cave and lay down there, gazing out reflectively across the green ridge to the far-off Sussex weald.
It is easy for scientists to affirm that dogs cannot think. Call the process what one may, Finn saw and understood his mate's grief. He recognized that he could not give her comfort. He knew that if Desdemona would not answer to a call from him she would respond immediately to the claims of her offspring, and to her offspring he led her. This is what actually occurred, and no matter what the theorists may say in their learned generalizations, the rest of us are free to draw our own conclusions.
What happened was that Finn led his mate from the abandonment of her lonely mourning to renewed absorption in her motherly duties. It is true enough that nature was at work on Finn's side in this matter, and without the wolfhound's aid would presently have achieved the same result. But Finn assisted and hastened the process; and is that not as much as one can often say of the high task of the physician?
FAMILY LIFE—AND DEATH
In the very early morning of their ninth day in the world, one of Desdemona's three pups died—it was the weakling sister—and the eyes of the big black-and-gray dog pup began to open. It seemed he had absorbed all the strength of his weakling sister to add to his own, and, as is so often the case with the largest pup of a litter, he thrived apace; growing almost visibly "like a weed" as the breeders say.
Desdemona paid very little heed to the puppy that died. Had it been a human child, skilled nurture would likely have sustained its weakling life, possibly for many years. But it was not part of Nature's plan that any of the bloodhound mother's energies should be wasted over the weakling of her little brood. The race is to the swift in Nature's scheme. The black-and-gray pup always secured the most warmth because he burrowed forcibly under his brothers and sisters. He secured the lion's share of nutriment because he was strong enough to force his way from teat to teat, ousting all other comers, till his lusty appetite was satisfied. He secured the most of his mother's attention, partly because of his ability and will to thrust himself to the fore at all times, and partly, it may be, by compelling her prideful admiration.
When Finn found the little dead body he silently nosed and drew it out from the cave. Out there on the open turf of the Down Nature would see speedily to its sepulture, for Nature employs many grave-diggers and suffers no unseemly waste. She works on a huge scale, but only the superficial see wastefulness in Nature's plans.
So now Desdemona's family was reduced to two—the big black-and-gray dog pup and one black-and-tan bitch pup. The reduction was probably a beneficent one for Desdemona, for her flanks were very hollow now. Two puppies were quite enough for her to nourish, more especially since one of the two already demanded as much nourishment as any two ordinary youngsters of his age. The sunken hollows of the Lady Desdemona's sides gave extraordinary prominence to her low-hanging and not too well-filled dugs. Her shape and general appearance were strangely different from those of the sleek and shining young bitch whose beauty had aroused so much enthusiasm in the minds of all judges who had seen her at Shaws. An uninformed outsider would scarcely have recognized her as the satin-coated beauty whose supple grace had so impressed Finn a few months back, in the walled inclosure above the stables.
Yet in some ways the Lady Desdemona of the cave was a more admirable creature than the beautiful young hound who won so much admiration at Shaws. Desdemona had learned more during the past few weeks than in all the rest of her life. Sustained effort for others and consistent self-sacrifice had set their distinctive seal upon a merely beautiful young animal; and now she had elements of grandeur and dignity, of fineness and nobility, such as no amount of human care and kindness can give even to the handsomest of creatures. She had gone out into the open to meet life and deal with it in her own way; she had brought new life into the world, and nurtured it with loving devotion and self-forgetfulness; she had freely courted some of the severest of Nature's tests, and withstood them with credit to herself. So that, whatever the show judges might have said or thought, she was a finer, better creature to-day than she had ever been at Shaws.
As the days slipped past in that early summer-time, the black-and-gray dog pup thrived wonderfully in Desdemona's cave. Having keen sight now in addition to the wonderful sense of smell which was his at birth, the black-and-gray had become a definite person already. Young though he was, he already knew the taste of rabbit's flesh, and would growl masterfully at his own mother if she claimed his attention—say, for a washing—when he had stolen one of her bones, and was busily engaged in gnawing and scraping it with his pin-point teeth. When Finn appeared, this masterful youngster would waddle purposely forward, growling at times so forcibly as to upset his precarious equilibrium.
Twice he had adventured alone to the cave's mouth, and tumbled headlong down the steep slope outside, grunting and growling the while (instead of whimpering, as his sister would have done), and threatening the whole South Downs with his displeasure. With never a hint of anything to fill the place of the much-discussed attribute we call filial instinct in the young of human kind, the black-and-gray pup conceived the greatest admiration for his father. But it was little he recked of fatherhood and he always vigorously challenged Finn's entry to the cave, which he regarded as his property and his mother's. Her authority he was, of course, obliged to recognize, and, too, he liked her well. But though he recognized Desdemona's authority, he disputed it a dozen times a day, and made a brave show of resistance every time he was washed.
His little sister was his abject slave, and if in her slow peregrinations about the cave she should stumble upon a scrap of anything edible, he would promptly roll her over with one of his exaggeratedly podgy front paws and snatch the morsel from her without the slightest compunction. In the same way he would chase her from teat to teat when they both were nursing, and when full-fed himself would ruthlessly scratch and tug at his mother's aching flanks from sheer boisterous wantonness. At such times he would climb about her hollow sides, holding on by his sharp claws, and scratch and chew her huge pendulous ears, rarely meeting with any more serious check or rebuke than a low, rumbling hint of a maternal growl, which, as a matter of fact, alarmed his little sister more than it impressed him. In fact, Master Black-and-Gray was a healthily thriving and insolent young cub, who enjoyed every minute of his life and gave every promise of growing into a big hound—providing he should chance to escape the thousand-and-one pitfalls that lay before him, regarding the whole of which his ignorance was, of course, complete.
The greatest adventure of his infancy came when he was just twenty-eight days old. The time was late afternoon on a warm day. Having thrust his sister out from the coolest innermost corner of the cave, the black-and-gray pup had curled himself up there, and was sleeping soundly, while his sister lay somewhat nearer the opening of the cave. Had the weather been less warm, the black-and-gray pup would have used his sister as a pillow, a blanket, or a mattress, and in that case the adventure might have ended differently. As it was, his dream fancies were suddenly dispelled by the coming of a musky, acrid odor that swept across his small but sensitive nostrils with much the same effect that a sound box on the ear would have upon a sleeping child.
He awoke with a jerk, to see silhouetted against the irregular path of sky that was framed by the cave's mouth the figure of a full-grown mother fox. This vixen was closely related to the red fox to whom this cave had formerly belonged. She had long since learned of Reynard's end, of course, and, indeed, had seen his corpse within twenty-four hours of the execution. Though frequently moved by curiosity, she had never before ventured so near to the cave and would hardly have been there now but for the fact that she had seen Desdemona hunting a mile away and more. Now she peered in at the cave's mouth, informing herself chiefly through her sharp nose regarding its condition and inhabitants.
The black-and-gray pup snarled furiously, and the vixen leaped backward on the instant. Reflection made her scornfully ashamed of this movement, and she stepped delicately forward again. The smaller pup whimpered fearfully, and that was the poor thing's death-knell. The vixen promptly broke its neck with one snap of her powerful jaws and dragged the little creature out into the sunshine. All this time Master Black-and-Gray had been growling fiercely—his entire small body quivering under the strain of producing this martial sound. His fat back was pressed hard against the rear wall of the cave—partly, perhaps, to give him courage, and partly, no doubt, by way of getting a better purchase, so to say, for the task of growling, which really required all his small stock of strength.
Outside the cave, in the sunshine, the vixen was sniffing and nosing at the body of the puppy she had killed. She presented her flank to Black-and-Gray's view, and, for herself, could see nothing inside the cave now. Black-and-Gray had seen his sister slain. The blood of great aristocrats and heroes was in his veins. His wrath was tremendous, overwhelming, in fact, and, but for the support of the cave's wall, would certainly have been too much for his still uncertain sense of balance. Suddenly now his ancestry spoke in this undeveloped creature. Determination took and shook him, and spurred him forward. With a sort of miniature roar—the merest little mixture of breathless growl, snarl, and embryonic bark—he blundered forth from his dark corner, hurtling over the cave's floor at a gait partaking of roll, crawl, and gallop, and flung himself straight at the well-furred throat of the unsuspecting vixen.
Even as an accomplished swordsman may be wounded by the unexpectedness of the onslaught of some ignorant youngster who hardly knows a sword's pommel from its point, so this murderously inclined vixen was bowled over by the astounding attack of Master Black-and-Gray. The slope was very steep and the pup's spring a bolt from the blue. The vixen slipped, lost her footing, and went slithering down the dry grass from the ledge, snapping at the air as she slid, with bites, any one of which would easily have closed Black-and-Gray's career if they had reached him. But the puppy was quite powerless to put on the brake, so to say, and his progress down the slope was therefore far more rapid than that of the vixen. The breath was entirely knocked out of Black-and-Gray when he finally was brought up, all standing, by a sharp little rise of ground alongside the gap past which one saw across the Sussex weald from Desdemona's cave. Here it seemed he must pay the ultimate penalty of his unheard-of temerity, and be despatched by the now thoroughly angered vixen at her leisure.
But in that same moment a number of other things happened. In the first place, having reached it from the far side of the ridge, Desdemona appeared beside the mouth of her cave, dangling a young rabbit from her jaws. In the second place, Finn appeared, climbing from the landward side, in the gap beside which the puppy came to the end of its long tumbling flight. Midway between the gap and the cave, the startled vixen crouched on the slope, turning her head from the terrible vision of Finn, upward to the scarcely less alarming vision of Desdemona, now sniffing in the fact of her little daughter's murder.
The position was a parlous one for the vixen, and as she pulled herself together for flight along the side of the slope she doubtless regretted bitterly the curiosity which had impelled her to visit the den of her departed relative.
The vixen leaped warily and doubled with real agility. But Finn was easily her master in the arts of the chase, and his strength was ten times greater than that of any fox in Sussex. The vixen was still well within sight from Desdemona's cave when her time came. She leaped and snapped, and faced overwhelming odds without wavering, but her race was run when the wolfhound's great weight bore her to the earth and his massive jaw closed about her ruff as a vise grips wood.
And in the moment of the vixen's death, just as Master Black-and-Gray so far recovered his breath and his senses as to sit up and take stock of himself; a pony's nose appeared in the gap alongside him and introduced another new experience into this adventurous puppy's life. The pony must have appeared to his gaze very much as an elephant would appear to a child upon first view. But Black-and-Gray growled threateningly, though he did take two or three backward steps. On the pony's back sat Betty Murdoch, who now slid to the ground and knelt down beside the pup.
Then Desdemona came shuffling down the slope with reassuring little whines of response to her son's growling. And to these there came Finn, a trifle winded, and bearing traces of blood and fur about his bearded gray muzzle. So Master Black-and-Gray, whose knowledge of his fellow-inhabitants of the earth had hitherto been confined to Finn and Desdemona and his own brothers and sisters—now defunct—found himself, at the close of this most adventurous afternoon, the center of an admiring, wondering circle formed by his mother and her wolfhound mate, and the pony and Betty Murdoch. Having regarded each one among his audience in turn questioningly, he finally waddled out to his mother and thrust his somewhat bruised little nose greedily into her hanging dugs, so that Desdemona, forgetful for the moment of other matters, was impelled to lower herself to the turf and yield sustenance to her only surviving offspring.
JAN GOES TO NUTHILL
The idea came to me quite suddenly when I saw Finn walk off with the best of his dinner bones to the Downs. I'd just come in from the village, and Punch was hitched to the gate-post, so I got into the saddle again and set out on Master Finn's trail.
Thus Betty Murdoch, later on in the evening, explaining the position to the Master and to the Mistress of the Kennels.
"I felt sure he must be going to Desdemona," continued Betty. "And—"
"It really is a wonder we none of us thought of that before," said her aunt.
They were all assembled now in a roomy loose box in the Nuthill stables. Comfortably ensconced in a bed of clean straw, Desdemona was nursing her puppy under the approving gaze of Finn, who sat on his haunches beside the Master, gravely reviewing his mate's changed situation.
"I think the cave must be quite four miles away; right out past Fritten Ring and the long barrow, you know, and I fancy poor Desdemona must have had quite a family, because, besides the one dead pup close to the cave, I saw several little skeletons; quite a lot of animal remains scattered about—pieces of rabbit and the remains of another fox besides the one Finn killed. The extraordinary thing is that Jan, here, appeared to me to have been fighting the fox that killed his sister. He was growling away most ferociously when I found him."
"Yes, he's a real 'well-plucked un,' is Jan, as you call him," said the Master. "Your pup, Betty. I'm sure the Colonel will say he must be yours, for you found him, and there's fully as much Finn as Desdemona about him. He will make a wonderful dog, that, unless I'm greatly mistaken. Well, now I must get over to Shaws and let them know about Desdemona. I dare say the Colonel will want to come back with me to see the bitch; so I'll ask him to have dinner with us."
As the event proved, the Nuthill family and Colonel Forde spent most of the evening in that loose box. Stools were brought in from the harness-room; and Betty Murdoch had to tell her story all over again, while the others made suggestions and filled in gaps with their surmises; and everybody's gaze centered upon Desdemona and her son, lying among the fresh straw. It is likely that Desdemona might have noticed the confinement of that loose box a good deal more than she did, but for the fact that she was thoroughly tired out. Her health was not good just then, and the events of the day seemed rather to have overcome her.
To the eyes of Colonel Forde and the Nuthill folk she appeared most cruelly emaciated. She certainly was thinner than hounds who live with men-folk grow; for she had gone rather short of food while nursing her pups and had had to hunt for most of the food she did get. But in any case unless specially nourished for the task, and given the abundant rest of kennel or stable life, a bitch will always lose a lot of flesh over suckling her young. Desdemona was not really so emaciated as her friends thought her; but she was much thinner than she had ever been before; and above all, had not a trace left of that sleekness which sheltered life gives. The veterinary surgeon who came to see her next morning, by Colonel Forde's request, had never before seen a dog fresh from wild life; and he, too, thought Desdemona more dangerously emaciated than she was.
"We must get that pup away from her just as soon as ever we can," said the vet.
"But won't that make her fret?" asked the Mistress of the Kennels.
"Not very much if we let Finn be with her, I think," said the Master.
"And, in any case, she really isn't fit to go on feeding of that great pup," repeated the vet. He even spoke of threatening trouble of the milk-glands, which might mean losing Desdemona altogether. Her complete loss of that smooth sleekness which life with humans gives deceived the vet more than a little. And the upshot of it all was that Betty Murdoch took over the sole management of the black-and-gray pup—her pup, as Colonel Forde called him; and Desdemona and Finn were taken over to Shaws in a cart, Finn being kept with the bloodhound to prevent her from fretting for her puppy. At Shaws, Desdemona was established in a loose box under the vet's supervision, and Finn spent some days there with her.
Betty always said she had no earthly reason for christening her black-and-gray pup Jan; but that, somehow, the name occurred to her as fitting him from the moment at which she first saw him endeavoring to stand up and growl at her pony, Punch, at the vixen, and at the world generally on the Downs. From that same time Jan seemed to every one else to fit his name; and it was clear he had taken a great fancy to Betty Murdoch ever since she had wrapped him in her jacket and carried him home triumphantly on her saddle-bow from the cave on the Downs.
If the season had been winter instead of midsummer, the orphaned Jan would doubtless have missed greatly the warmth of his mother's body. As it was, the harness-room stove was kept going at night to insure warmth in the stable; and a large box, too deep for Jan to climb out from, and snugly lined with carefully dried hay, was provided for his use o' nights. Just at first, the deeply interested Betty tried feeding her new pet with warm milk food in a baby's bottle. But Jan soon showed her that though only a month old he was much too far advanced for such childish things as this. He needed little teaching in the matter of lapping up milk food from a dish (especially as he was allowed to suck one of Betty's rosy finger-tips under the milk for a beginning); and as for gravy and meat and bones, it might be said that he tackled these things with the enthusiasm of a practised gourmet.