The Black Poodle, and Other Tales
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It was the same house, though stripped and deserted, but all the life and colour and warmth had gone out of it; and he ran here and there, seeking for them in vain.
He picked his way forlornly down to the hall again, and there he found a mouldy old woman with a duster pinned over her head and a dustpan and brush in her hand; for, unhappily for him, the family, servants and all, had gone away some days before into the country, and this old woman had been put into the house as caretaker.
She dropped her brush and pan with a start as she saw him, for she was not fond of dogs.
'Why, deary me,' she said morosely, 'if it hasn't give me quite a turn. However did the nasty little beast get in? a-gallivantin' about as if the 'ole place belonged to him.'
Dandy sat up and begged. In the old days he would not have done such a thing for any servant below a cook (who was always worth being polite to), but he felt a very reduced and miserable little animal indeed just then, and he thought she might be able to take him to Hilda.
But the charwoman's only idea was to get rid of him as quickly as possible.
'Why, if it ain't a Toby dawg!' she cried, as her dim old eyes caught sight of his frill. Here, you get out; you don't belong 'ere!'
And she took him up by the scruff of the neck and went to the front door. As she opened it, a sound came from the street outside which Dandy knew only to well: it was the long-drawn squeak of Mr. Punch.
'That's where he come from, I'll bet a penny,' cried the caretaker, and she went down the steps and called over the gate, 'Hi, master, you don't happen to have lost your Toby dawg, do you? Is this him?'
The man with the drum came up – it was Jem himself; and thereupon Dandy was ignominiously handed over the railings to him, and delivered up once more to the hard life he had so nearly succeeded in shaking off.
He had a severe beating when they got him home, as a warning to him not to rebel again; and he never did try to run away a second time. Where was the good of it? Hilda was gone he did not know where, and the house was a home no longer.
So he went patiently about with the show, a dismal little dog-captive, the dullest little Toby that ever delighted a street audience; so languid and listless at times that Mr. Punch was obliged to rap him really hard on the head before he could induce him to take the slightest notice of him.
But in spite of all this, he made the people laugh; most, perhaps, at night, when the show was lit up by a flaring can of paraffin, and he sat with his feet in Punch's coffin, howling dolefully at the melancholy strains of Jem's pipes, which Dandy always found too much for his feelings.
It was winter time, about a fortnight after Christmas, and the night was snowy and slushy outside, though warm enough in the kitchen of a big Belgravian house. The kitchen was crowded, a stream of waiters and gorgeous powdered footmen and smart maids was perpetually coming and going; in front of the fire a tired little terrier, with a shabby frill round his neck, was basking in the blaze, and near him sat a little dirty-faced man with a red beard, who was being listened to with some attention by a few of the upper servants, who were enjoying a moment's leisure.
'Yes,' he was saying, 'I've been in the purfession a sight o' years now, but I don't know as I ever heard on a Punch's show like me and my mate's bein' engaged for a reg'lar swell evenin' party afore.It shows, to my mind, as public taste is a-coming round – it ain't quite so low as formerly.'
The little man was Jem; and he, with his partner Bob, and Dandy, were in the house owing to an eccentric notion of its master, who happened to have a taste for experiments.
He agreed with many who consider that some kind of amusement in the intervals of dancing is welcome to children; but it was one of his ideas too that they must be getting a little bored by the inevitable lecture with the dissolving views, and find a conjuror (even after seeing him several times in a fortnight) as a rule more bewildering than amusing; although as a present-producing animal, the last has his compensations.
He was curious to see whether the drama of Punch and Judy had quite lost its old power to please. He could easily have hired an elegant and perfectly refined form of the entertainment from some of the fashionable toy-shops or 'universal providers,' only unfortunately in these improved versions much of the original fun is often found to have been refined away.
So he had decided upon introducing the original Mr. Punch from his native streets and in his natural uncivilised state, and Jem and Bob chanced to be the persons selected to exhibit him.
'Juveniles is all alike,' observed the butler, who, having been commissioned to engage the showmen, condescended to feel a fatherly interest in the affair; ''igh or low, there's nothing pleases 'em more than seeing one party a-fetching another party a thunderin' good whack over the 'ead. That's where, in my opinion, all these pantomimes makes a mistake. There's too much bally and music 'all about 'em and not 'arf enough buttered slide and red-'ot poker.'
'There's plenty of 'ead whackin' in our show,' said Jem, with some pride, 'for my partner, you see, he don't find as the dialogue come as fluid to him as he could wish for, so he cuts a deal of it, and what ain't squeakin' is mostly stick – like a cheap operer.'
'Your little dog seems very wet and tired,' said a pretty housemaid, bending down to pat Dandy, as he lay stretched out wearily at her feet. 'Would he eat a cake if I got one for him?'
'He ain't, not to say, fed on cakes as a general thing,' said Jem drily, 'but you can try him, miss, and thankee.'
But Dandy only half raised his head and rejected the cake languidly – he was very comfortable there in the warm firelight, and the place made him feel as if he were back in his own old kitchen, but he was too tired to be hungry.
'He won't hardly look at it,' said the housemaid compassionately. 'I don't think he can be well.'
'Well!' said Jem. 'He's well enough; that's all his contrariness, that is. The fact is, he thinks hisself a deal too good for the likes of us, he do – thinks he ought to be kep' on chickin in a droring-room!' he sneered, wasting his satire on the unconscious Dandy.
'I tell you what it is, miss: that there dawg's 'art ain't in his business – he reg'lar looks down on the 'ole concern, thinks it low! Why, I see 'im from the werry fust a-turnin' up his nose at it, and it downright set me against him. Give me a Toby as takes a interest in the drama! The last but one as we had, afore him, now, he used to look on from start to finish, and when Punch went and 'anged Jack Ketch, why, that dawg used to bark and jump about as pleased as Punch 'isself, and he'd go in among the crowd too and fetch back the babby as Punch pitched out o' winder, as tender with it as a Newfunland! And he warn't like the general run of Tobies neither, for he got quite thick with the Punch figger – thought a deal on 'im, he did – and if you'll believe me, when I 'ad to get the figger a noo 'ead and costoom, it broke the dawg's 'art – he pined away quite rapid. But this 'ere one wouldn't turn a 'air if the 'ole company went to blazes together!'
Here Bob, who had been setting up the show in one of the rooms, came into the kitchen, looking rather uneasy at finding himself in such fine company, and Dandy was spared further upbraidings, as he was called upon to follow the pair upstairs.
They went up into a large handsome room, where at one end there were placed rows of rout seats and chairs, and at the other the homely old show, seeming oddly out of place in its new surroundings.
Poor draggled Dandy felt more ashamed of it and himself than ever, and he was glad to get away under its ragged hangings and lie still by Bob's dirty boots till he was wanted.
And then there was the sound of children's voices and laughter as they all came trooping in, with a crisp rustle of delicate dresses and a scent of hothouse flowers and kid gloves, that reached Dandy where he lay: it reminded him of evenings long ago when Hilda had had parties, and he had been washed and combed and decked out in ribbons for the occasion, and children had played with him and given him nice things to eat – they had generally disagreed with him, but now he could only remember the pleasure and petting of it all.
He would not be petted any more! Presently these children would see him smoking a pipe and being familiar with that low Punch. They would laugh at him too – they always did – and Dandy, like most dogs, hated being laughed at, and never took it as a compliment.
The host's experiment was evidently a complete success: the children, even the most blas?s, who danced the newest valse step and thought pantomines vulgar, were delighted to meet an old friend so unexpectedly. A good many had often yearned to see the whole show right through from beginning to end, and chance or a stern nurse had never permitted it. Now their time had come, and Mr. Punch, in spite of his lamentable shortcomings in every relation of life, was received with the usual uproarious applause.
At last the hero called for his faithful dog Toby, as a distraction after the painful domestic scenes, in which he had felt himself driven to throw his child out of window and silence the objections of his wife by becoming a widower, and accordingly Dandy was caught up and set on the shelf by his side.
The sudden glare hurt his eyes, and he sat there blinking at the audience with a pitiful want of pride in his dignity as Dog Toby.
He tried to look as if he didn't know Punch, who was doing all he could to catch his eye, for his riotous 'rootitoot' made him shiver nervously, and long to get away from the whole thing and lie down somewhere in peace.
Jem was scowling up at him balefully. 'I know'd that 'ere dawg would go and disgrace hisself,' he was saying to himself. 'When I get him to myself, he shall catch it for this!'
Dandy was able to see better now, and he found, as he had guessed, that here was not one of his usual audiences – no homely crowd of loitering errand boys, smirched maids-of-all-work, and ragged children jostling and turning their grinning white faces up to him.
There were children here too – plenty of them – but children at their best and daintiest, and looking as if untidiness and quarrels were things unknown to them – though possibly they were not. The laughter, however, was much the same as he was accustomed to, more musical perhaps, and pleasanter to hear, but quite as hearty and unrestrained – they were laughing at him, and he hung his head abashed.
But all at once he forgot his shame, though he did not remember Mr. Punch a bit the more for that; he ran backwards and forwards on his ledge, sniffing and whining, wagging his tail and giving short piteous barks in a state of the wildest excitement. The reason of it was this: near the end of the front row he saw a little girl who was bending eagerly forward with her pretty grey eyes wide open and a puzzled line on her forehead.
Dandy knew her at the very first glance. It was Hilda, looking more like a fairy princess than ever.
She knew him almost as soon, for her clear voice rang out above the general laughter. 'Oh, that isn't Toby – he's my own dog, my Dandy, that I lost! It is really; let him come to me, please do! Don't you see how badly he wants to?'
There was a sudden surprised silence at this – even Mr. Punch was quiet for an instant; but as soon as Dandy heard her voice he could wait no longer, and crouched for a spring.
'Catch the dog, somebody, he's going to jump!' cried the master of the house, more amused than ever, from behind.
Jem was too sulky to interfere, but some good-natured grown-up person caught the trembling dog just in time to save him from a broken leg, or worse, and handed him to his delighted little mistress; and I think the frantic joy which Dandy felt as he was clasped tight in her loving arms once more and covered her flushed face with his eager kisses more than made up for all he had suffered.
Hilda scornfully refused to have anything to do with Jem, who tried hard to convince her she was mistaken. She took her recovered favourite to her hostess.
'He really is mine!' she assured her earnestly; and he doesn't want to be a Toby, I'm sure he doesn't: see how he trembles when that horrid man comes near. Dear Mrs. Lovibond, please tell them I'm to have him!'
And of course Hilda carried her point, for the showmen were not unwilling, after a short conversation with the master of the house, to give up their rights in a dog who would never be much of an ornament to their profession, and was out of health into the bargain.
Hilda held Dandy, all muddy and draggled as he was, fast in her arms all through the remainder of the performance, as if she was afraid Mr. Punch might still claim him for his own; and the dog lay there in measureless content. The hateful squeak made him start and shiver no more; he was too happy to howl at Jem's dismal pipes and drum: they had no terrors for him any more.
'I think I should like to go home now,' she said to her hostess, when Mr. Punch had finally retired. 'Dandy is so excited; feel how his heart beats, just there, you know; he ought to be in bed, and I want to tell them all at home so much!'
She resisted all despairing entreaties to stay, from several small partners who felt life a blank after she had gone – till supper came; and so her carriage was called, and she and Dandy drove home in it together once more.
'Dandy, you're very quiet,' she said once, as they bowled easily and swiftly along. 'Aren't you going to tell me you're glad to be mine again?'
But Dandy could only wag his tail feebly and look up in her face with an exhausted sigh. He had suffered much and was almost worn out; but rest was coming to him at last.
As soon as the carriage had stopped and the door was opened, Hilda ran in, breathless with excitement.
'Oh, Parker, look!' she cried to the maid in the hall, 'Dandy is found – he's here!'
The maid took the lifeless little body from her, looked at it for a moment under the lamp, and turned away without speaking. Then she placed it gently in Hilda's arms again.
'Oh, Miss Hilda, didn't you see?' she said, with a catch in her voice. 'Don't take on, now; but it's come too late – poor little dog, he's gone!'
ACCOMPANIED ON THE FLUTE
A TALE OF ANCIENT ROME
The Consul Duilius was entering Rome in triumph after his celebrated defeat of the Carthaginian fleet at Myl?. He had won a great naval victory for his country with the first fleet that it had ever possessed – which was naturally a gratifying reflection, and he would have been perfectly happy now, if he had only been a little more comfortable.
But he was standing in an extremely rickety chariot, which was crammed with his nearer relations and a few old friends, to whom he had been obliged to send tickets. At his back stood a slave who held a heavy Etruscan crown on the Consul's head, and whenever he thought his master was growing conceited, threw in the reminder that he was only a man after all – a liberty which at any other time he might have had good reason to regret.
Then the large Delphic wreath, which Duilius wore as well as the crown, had slipped down over one eye and was tickling his nose, while – as both his hands were occupied, one with a sceptre, the other with a laurel bough, and he had to hold on tightly to the rail of the chariot whenever it jolted – there was nothing to do but suffer in silence.
They had insisted, too, upon painting him a beautiful bright red all over, and though it made him look quite new, and very shining and splendid, he had his doubts at times whether it was altogether becoming, and particularly, whether he would ever be able to get it off again.
But these were but trifles after all, and nothing compared with the honour and glory of it! Was not everybody straining to catch a glimpse of him? Did not even the spotted and skittish horses which drew the chariot repeatedly turn round to gaze upon his vermilioned features? As Duilius remarked this, he felt that he was, indeed, the central personage in all this magnificence, and that, on the whole, he liked it.
He could see the beaks of the ships he had captured, bobbing up and down in the middle distance; he could see the white bulls destined for sacrifice entering completely into the spirit of the thing, and redeeming the procession from any monotony by occasionally bolting down a back street, or tossing on their gilded horns some of the flamens who were walking solemnly in front of them.
He could hear, too, above five distinct brass bands, the remarks of his friends as they predicted rain, or expressed a pained surprise at the smallness of the crowd and the absence of any genuine enthusiasm; and he caught the general purport of the very offensive ribaldry circulated at his own expense among the brave legions that brought up the rear.
This was merely the usual course of things on such occasions, and a great compliment when properly understood, and Duilius felt it to be so. In spite of his friends, and the red paint, and the familiar slave, in spite of the extreme heat of the weather and his itching nose, he told himself that this – and this alone – was worth living for.
And it was a painful reflection to him that, after all, it would only last a day: he could not go on triumphing like this for the remainder of his natural life – he would not be able to afford it on his moderate income; and yet – and yet – existence would fall woefully flat after so much excitement.
It may be supposed that Duilius was naturally fond of ostentation and notoriety, but this was far from being the case; on the contrary, at ordinary times his disposition was retiring and almost shy; but his sudden success had worked a temporary change in him, and in the very flush of triumph he found himself sighing to think that, in all human probability, he would never go about with trumpeters and trophies, with flute-players and white oxen, any more in his whole life.
And then he reached the Porta Triumphalis, where the chief magistrates and the Senate awaited them, all seated upon spirited Roman-nosed chargers, which showed a lively emotion at the approach of the procession, and caused some of their riders to dismount, with as much affectation of method and design as their dignity enjoined and the nature of the occasion permitted.
There Duilius was presented with the freedom of the City and an address, which last he put in his pocket, as he explained, to read at home.
And then an ?dile informed him in a speech, during which he twice lost his notes and had to be prompted by a lictor, that the grateful Republic, taking into consideration the Consul's distinguished services, had resolved to disregard expense, and on that auspicious day to give him whatever reward he might choose to demand – 'in reason,' the ?dile added cautiously, as he quitted his saddle with an unexpectedness which scarcely seemed intentional.
Duilius was naturally a little overwhelmed by such liberality, and, like everyone else favoured suddenly with such an opportunity, was quite incapable of taking complete advantage of it.
For a time he really could not remember in his confusion anything he would care for at all, and he thought it might look mean to ask for money.
At last he recalled his yearning for a Perpetual Triumph, but his natural modesty made him moderate, and he could not find courage to ask for more than a fraction of the glory that now attended him.
So, not without some hesitation, he replied that they were exceedingly kind, and since they left it entirely to his discretion, he would like – if they had no objection – he would like a flute-player to attend him whenever he went out.
Duilius very nearly asked for a white bull as well; but, on second thoughts, he felt it might lead to inconvenience, and there were many difficulties connected with the proper management of such an animal; the Consul, from what he had seen that day, felt that it would be imprudent to trust himself in front of the bull – while, if he walked behind, he might be mistaken for a cattle-driver, which would be odious. And so he gave up that idea, and contented himself with a simple flute-player.
The Senate, visibly relieved by so very unassuming a request, granted it with positive effusion; Duilius was invited to select his musician, and chose the biggest, after which the procession moved on through the Arch and up the Capitoline Hill, while the Consul had time to remember things he would have liked even better than a flute-player, and to suspect dimly that he might have made rather an ass of himself.
That night Duilius was entertained at a supper given at the public expense; he went out with the proud resolve to show his sense of the compliment paid him by scaling the giddiest heights of intoxication. The Romans of that day only drank wine and water at their festivals, but it is astonishing how inebriated a person of powerful will can become – even on wine and water – if he only gives his mind to it. And Duilius, being a man of remarkable determination, returned from that hospitable board particularly drunk; the flute-player saw him home, however, helped him to bed, though he could not induce him to take off his sandals, and lulled him to a heavy slumber by a selection from the popular airs of the time.
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