Under the Sun/Bears — Wolves — Dogs — Rats
BEARS — WOLVES — DOGS — RATS.
Bears are of three kinds, Big Bears, Middle-sized Bears, and Little Wee Bears. — Easily Provoked. — A Protest of Routine against Reform. — But Unreliable. — Unfairly Treated in Literature. — How Robbers went to steal the Widow’s Pig, but found the Bear in the Sty. — The Delightful Triumph of Convictions in the Nursery. — The Wild Hunter of the Woods. — Its Splendid Heroism. — Wolf-men. — Wolf-dogs. — Dogs we have all met. — Are Men only Second-rate Dogs? — Their Emotions and Passions the same as ours. — The Art of Getting Lost. — Man not inferior to Dogs in many ways. — The Rat Epidemic in India. — Endemic in England. — Western Prejudice and Eastern Tenderness. — Emblems of Successful Invasion. — Their Abuse of Intelligence — Edax Rerum.
BEARS are of three kinds, as every child knows. There is the Great Big Bear, the Middle-sized Bear, and the Little Wee Bear. They are all of a domestic kind, and generally go out for a walk in the forest before breakfast, in order to give their porridge time to cool. When met with in a wild state they can be easily distinguished by their size, and by their subsequent conduct, for the bigger the bear is the more of you it will eat. If there is not much of you left when it has done, you ma}^ decide without hesitation that it was the Big bear you met: while if you are only moderately consumed, you may safely conclude it was the Middle-sized bear. The Little Wee Bear, or bear-kin, will only trifle with you, take a mere snack, as it were — make a trifling collation or luncheon, so to speak, off you.
But if still in doubt as to the species encountered, the Hindoo student’s description of the bheel may assist the stranger in arriving at a correct conclusion, for the Big bear is black, “only much more hairy,” and when it has killed you it leaves your body in a ditch. By this you may know the Big bear.
But, unless provoked to attack you, these creatures will not do so; so naturalists assure us. A bear’s notions of provocation, however, are so peculiar that perhaps the safest rule for strangers to observe is not to let the animal see you. The bear never attacks any person whom it cannot see. This is a golden rule for persons who are in the habit of meeting bears to observe.
Otherwise there seem to be no limits to a bear’s provocations. If it comes up behind you, and finds you not looking that way, it knocks off the back part of your head with one blow of its curved claws; and if it meets you face to face it knocks off the front part of your head. But there is nothing agreeable in this variety. Again, if it discovers you sitting below it on the same hillside as itself, it rolls itself up, and comes trundling down the slope upon top of you like an ill-tempered portmanteau; or if it is down below you, and becomes provoked, it comes scrambling up the hill with a speed that in a creature of such a shape is described, by those who have been charged, as quite incredible. Sometimes, on the other hand, bears receive very solid provocation without showing any resentment, for, as Captain Kinloch, a noted Indian Shikarry, has told us, the amount of lead which an old black bear will carry away in his quarters is amazing. But, as a rule, bears will not stand nonsense. It is well known how they behaved in the matter of Goldy locks, who, after all, had only eaten up the Little Wee Bear’s porridge, and broken the seat of the Little Wee Bear’s chair, and gone to sleep in Little Wee Bear’s bed. Yet, if the family had caught her, poor Goldylocks would probably never have got home to her mother to tell the tale.
This characteristic animosity to man has given many writers on the bear a handle for great unfairness towards it.
I far prefer, my self, to see in the bear only some dull-witted, obstinate Mars, pathetic Jubal, or rough but staunch Sir Bors; some slumberous man of might, a lazy Kwasind, or sluggard Kambu Kharna; an easily befooled Giant Dumbledore or Calabadran; some loyal Earl Arthgal of the Table Round, or moody Margrave of Brandenberg — both of whom did not despise the fighting sobriquet of the Bear. For myself, I think no worse of the bear than Toussenel does, — indeed, hardly so badly; for I hesitate to agree with him that it symbolizes only the spirit of persistent savagery, the incorrigible protest of Routine against Reform; that it is the feral incarnation of hostility to progress, and the champion-in-arms of the pretended rights of the Beast against the authority of Man. Men of science assure us that it is one of the senior quadrupeds of the earth; and it was certainly the first among them that arrived at any idea of using fore paws as hands. But unfortunately for itself it has never raised itself any further in the scale; and now that it has been driven into the forest and wilderness, it seems to consider itself unfairly displaced, and sulkily maintains in the solitudes of the hills the character of a misanthrope, the laudator temporis acti, the Legitimist in retreat.
But, unfortunately for it, even in Russia, where the animal is held in semi-reverential awe, its flesh is considered a dainty by the hard-living races among whom it has raised its gloomy standard of protest, and its skin is .valued everywhere; while its pomatum — the pomade de lion of Paris, the “bear’s grease” of London — is alone sufficient for its utter ruin. Pretenders should be poor if they wish to be unmolested. Yet the bear obstinately maintains the unequal struggle, appealing to its semi-erect posture, its hand-like paws, its almost-absent tail, and its innocent tastes, for the clemency and consideration of man. It would, too, recall the facts of history, and remind us how, in the olden days of Roman beast-fights, the bear was hissed from the arena because it refused to fight with the Christians and other captives provided for it; and, pointing to the East, would remind us that there it is called a generous brute, because it will not molest the dead. If a man pursued by a bear feigns death, the bear passes on after a most cursory examination, generously preferring to be thus easily deceived rather than push examination beyond the limits of good taste. You shall also see in this way a truly benevolent man giving alms to a beggar sooner than scrutinize too narrowly the necessity for giving relief.
But I fear that none of these pleas avail the bear, for it is impossible to forget how lamentable are the exceptions to that innocent appetite for leaves and berries and roots which it displays in Europe, and how abominably carnivorous are the grizzly bear of America, and the polar bruin of the Arctic snows. These are facts beyond dispute — but I would not be unjust. I would not throw in their teeth, as some have done, the conduct of those she-bears of Judea, who avenged the touchy prophet by desolating the nurseries of all the countryside, for that was a miracle over which the she-bears had no control. Nor would I give credence to Daniel, when he takes the bear as an emblem of faithlessness; nor to the libellous narrative of Gesner, who tells us how bears make a practice of stealing young women; nor yet would I admit in evidence the mocking eulogies of Ælian. Pliny and Aristotle are of course to be discredited, and we must therefore come to modern times to find the bear justly judged. The delightful La Fontaine speaks of it as a blundering friend, and points the moral by the story of the bear who, wishing to brush away the fly that disturbed its master’s slumbers, accidentally knocked off the top of its master’s skull; and Artemus Ward tells us how it can be taught to do “many interestin’ things, but is onreliable.”
But, after all, this is no excessive disparagement, and within the moderate limits of justice.
Among the stories which have delighted children of all countries, and probably from all time, is one that tells how certain evil-minded men went to steal a widow’s pig, but how they found a bear in the sty instead, and how thereupon disaster, sudden and complete, overtook the robbers.
No child ever doubted the truth of that story; indeed how could it be doubted? It is well known that widows do as a fact frequently keep a pig, and where should they keep it but in a sty? Again, thieves are notoriously given to stealing, and what could be more advantageously purloined than a pig, — above all a pig belonging to a lone and unprotected widow? It is not with swine as with poultry or cattle, for the pig can be eaten up from end to end; even his skin makes crackling, and nothing need be left behind. There are no accusing feathers to lie about the scene of larcenous revel, as is the case when hens have been devoured by stealth, and no bulky hide and horns to get rid of on the sty, as happens whenever robbers irregularly consume a neighbor’s cow or calf. Again, a widow is, as a rule, a person who lives alone — I confidently appeal to all story-books. to support this statement — and, except for such assistance as her cat can give her, is virtually defenceless at midnight against a number of armed and determined men. A widow’s pig is therefore, and beyond all doubt, just the very thing to get itself stolen, and indeed we would venture to say that, as a matter of fact, it always is stolen.
Is it not natural, then, in children to believe implicitly the story we refer to? As for the other incidents of it — those in which the bear takes a prominent part — they, too, are exactly such as might be expected to occur frequently under similar circumstances.
A poor bear-leader on his way to the neighboring town is benighted, on a stormy evening, in a solitary place — just such a place as widows live in — and, knowing from a large and varied experience of men and cities that widows are kind of heart, he intercedes for a night’s lodging for himself and his beast. It is no sooner asked than granted. The widow turns the cat off the hearth to make room for the man, and the pig out of his sty to make room for the bear. The cat and the pig grumble, of course, at having to make their own arrangements for the night; but, at any rate, the sacred duties of hospitality have been faithfully discharged, and, in the sequel, the widow is rewarded. The stormy night has suggested itself to certain good-for-nothing vagabonds — who, in their tramps along the road, have marked down the widow’s pig for their prey — as an excellent opportunity of coming at some home-fed bacon cheaply; and, unconscious of the change of occupant, stealthily approach the sty, hoping, under cover of the night, high wind, and pelting rain, to carry off the porker in a sack which they have provided for the purpose. How differently the case falls out is quickly told. The bear, instead of allowing itself to be put into the sack like a lamb, gets up on its hind legs, and nearly kills the robbers.
From first to last the story has always been completely credible, for given a widow with a pig, a man with a bear, and robbers with a sack, the incident is one that might happen at any time.
Such being the story, so consistent in its circumstances and so complete in its action, it is very pleasing to find that the implicit faith of children in it has, after all, been rewarded by its actual occurrence. Everything is true that really happens, and it does not matter whether the story or the event comes first. Where the incidents have already actually transpired, and a writer sits down to describe them, the narrative is, no doubt, often excellent, vivid, picturesque, faithful, and so forth. Nevertheless, it is rather a commonplace performance after all, and depends for its virtues either upon the state of the narrator’s eyesight and his propinquity to the scene of the event, or else to his judicial capacity for appraising the value of the evidence of others. But where the writer describes occurrences which have not yet occurred, the merits of his work are infinitely enhanced; and the wisdom of the prophets is nowhere more conspicuous than in their selection of this method of narration.
They made it a rule to speak before the event, instead of after it, and it is owing almost entirely to this that their utterances have been so highly spoken of.
Truth, it is said, is stranger than fiction; and so it is in a certain sense, because it is in the nature of fiction to be strange; but truth is a prosaic, every-day sort of thing, and when it is romantic it strikes the mind as being peculiarly wonderful. We do not as a rule expect facts to surprise us; so when they do, they startle us much more than any narrative ever created by novelist or poet. In that case they are more like fiction than fiction itself, and are therefore all the more charming. Thus, “The Bear in the Pig-sty” story may be considered admirable, while a pleasure is superadded by the reflection that the faith of childhood, which is at once the most solemn and the most fascinating attribute of that reverend and delightful age, has not been trifled with and betrayed. That the story was true the children have known all along, but now everybody knows it too, and acknowledges that the children were right.
At the village of Massegros, in France, only the other day, a bear-man came along the road with a bear, and asked for a night’s lodging, and the bear was put into the pig-sty. At night three men came to steal the pig; but, on the contrary, one of the men died, the second very nearly, and the third went mad with fright. The bear did it — just as it was written in the story-book years upon years ago — and the pig is back in Ins sty again.
No wonder one man went mad from fright, for the difference between pigs and bears is very considerable; and the thief putting out his arm to take hold, as he thought, of the sleek and inoffensive porker, might well be startled out of his senses to find himself handling the shaggy hide of a bear. The horror of the discovery, the utter impossibility of guessing what had happened, the first bewildering instant when Bruin rose with a roar from the litter, the next of horrid and inexplicable pain as the great brute closed with its assailant, combined to make such an experience as might well terrify the reason out of a man. Suddenness and darkness are the most awful allies of the dreadful, and when to these are added a consciousness of guilt and superstitious fear, the wits might easily take to flight, and a cunning thief go out a gibbering idiot.
For those who were hurt, — fatally, so the report says, — the horrors of the incident were in one sense even aggravated, as the bear is monstrously cruel in its attack. Thus natives of India look upon the wounds which it inflicts with even greater dread than they regard those from a tiger, for the latter are either clear gashes or bone-shattering blows; but, as a rule, the bear, standing erect before it closes with a man, strikes at the head and its huge blunt claws tear the skin down off the scalp, and over the face, or lay the throat bare, in either case blinding and stunning the unhappy wretch. The pain of even such an attack as that, however, could hardly increase for the unfortunate men the terrors of their position, when there rose up out of the pig’s straw the giant apparition of a growling beast, a great black monster all hair and fury, that was upon them in an instant, roaring like an earthquake, and striking with the arms of a giant. No wonder that two of the three are dead, and the other one is mad!
But the triumph of virtue was delightfully complete, and the pig came by its own again. The widow who hospitably entertained the homeless bear-man, and the cat that surrendered her corner by the fire to the stranger were rewarded; the wicked men who went about stealing pigs were punished, and the story of the old fairy-tale book came true.
The moral of this evidently is that no one should refuse charity even to bears, and no one should steal pigs; for, though bear ham is good, it is not the same as pork ham, and it is better to save your own bacon than to steal your neighbor’s. There is a second moral also, and that is that children are wiser than grown-up people, inasmuch as they believe that there is nothing so wonderful but it may really come to pass, and that everything which will happen has already happened before. Children never give over expecting and hoping, and this is why they alone are never disappointed, and why they deserve so thoroughly to enjoy the triumph of their convictions.
The wolf is a creature of very bad character, and deserves most of it. Born of poor but dishonest parents, he inherits the family instinct for crime, and industriously commits it. No jury would recommend him to mercy, even on the score of youth, nor any chaplain pretend after execution that the deceased had died repentant.
Contrition, it is true, is a mandrake. It springs up under the gallows.
But the wolf, even in the very shadow of death remains a wolf still, and, according to the condition of his stomach, shows either one abominable phase of his character or the other. If hungry he is abject, and curls himself up meekly to receive the fatal blow, dying without half the protest that even a healthy lamb would make. But if he has just dined he snarls and snaps to the last. Yet even the wolf has found his apologists.
We have been told that he is only a dog gone wrong, that evil communications have corrupted his original manners, and that under more wholesome home influences he might have developed into a good dog Tray, instead of the bandit and assassin that he is.
The poetry of crime, however, is a dangerous theme, and when sentiment indulges itself upon the picturesqueness of a criminal's career, it is liable to degenerate into a whimsical justification of wrong-doing and its doer. I can appreciate the solemnity of the wolfs murders, supreme tragedies as they often are — or the splendor of its ravages when, Attila-like, it descends upon the fat plains to scourge the lowland folk — or the nobility of its recklessness as, from age to age, it challenges man to the unequal conflict — or the heroism which sends it out alone into the haunts of men to carry away a child, so that its own whelps may not starve. Nor in all the records of human violence is there to be found anything more tremendous than the deadly patience with which the trooped wolves pursue their victims, or the fierce élan with which they launch themselves from the forest depths upon the passing prey. A party of eighty Russian soldiers, fully armed, were moving in mid-winter from one post to another, when, just as the shades of evening were closing round them, an immense pack of wolves — scouring the black countryside for food — came suddenly across their line of march. Rather than swerve from their course, the intrepid brutes flung themselves upon the soldiers, and tore every man of the detachment to pieces.
This is literally an instance of that “Berserker rage,” that fearless, unarmed rage of which the Scandinavian chroniclers tell us in terms of awesome admiration, so long as the heroes were the fair-bearded men who followed their Erics and Olafs to the sea. Now, for myself, I do not grudge the same admiration to the wolf when it acts as bravely as those old heroes of the Sagas, especially since the Norsemen themselves, to express the intensity of their valor and the surpassing ferocity of their attack, had to go to the wolf for a simile. But, after all, no pleading can avail the wolf, for the whole history of man — black or white, brown, red or yellow — convicts these animals of persistent and ineradicable wickedness — rising, often, it is true, to a considerable dignity in the proportions and manner of their crime, but as a rule taking rank only as misdemeanants of the lowest type.
Children looking at wolves always greet them as how-wows., and in their pretty sympathy offer the wild hunter of the forest morsels of bun. Such cates, however, are not to the wolf’s taste; he would far rather have the children themselves. But he knows that that is out of the question, so he blinks his eyes wearily, and with a sharp expression of discontent at his lot resumes his restless motion up and down the cage.
Only very young children, however, mistake the wolf for a dog, for there is that in its ugly eyes, set so close together and so sinister in their expression, that tells the elder ones that the creature before them is no dog, or, at any rate, not an honest specimen. Besides, nursery stories, fairy tales, and fables have taught them long ago the likeness of the wolf and its character, and the first look at the sharp snout set in gray fur reminds them of that face that little Red Riding Hood found looking out at her, one fine May morning, from under her dear old grandmother's nightcap. If the literature of the nursery has thus familiarized the wolf to the younger generation, their elders also, of whatever nation they may be, and whatever language they may speak, have continued to learn from a hundred sources of the implacable brute (the totem of the Pawnees) that makes the great highways of forest and plain in Northern and Eastern Europe and the mountain paths of the Pyrenees and Apennines so perilous to belated travellers, — that robs the Indian mothers of their children, or pulls down the solitary wood-gatherer as he goes trudging home at nightfall along the pathway that skirts the jungle. Tales of horror crowd into their memory as they look at the unkempt and restless -creatures, condemned to-day to civilization and monotony, but once, perhaps, actors themselves in the very scenes that make the narratives of wolf adventure so appalling. In a bare cage, with iron bars before it, it is difficult to realize the full meaning of the thing before you.
There is nothing in its appearance, except that sinister proximity of its eyes, to betoken a creature so eminently dangerous when wild, no significance of cruel fury in its voice, no profession of murderous strength in its limbs. It looks like a shabby dog, and howls like an unhappy one. There is no fierce tiger-eloquence of eye, no ravening hyena-clamor in its voice, no lion-majesty of form. It seems a poor thing for any one, even a child, to be afraid of, for it appears half-fed and weak-limbed. As it trots backwards and forwards it is hard to believe that these pattering feet are really the same as those that can swing along the countryside in an untiring gallop, defy the horse and laugh the greyhound to scorn; or that the thin neck, craning out of the kennel there, could ever bear a dead child’s weight. Yet this is indeed the very creature that has made countries ring with its dreadful deeds of blood, that has held mountain passes and lonesome wood- ways against all comers, has desolated villages and aroused the resentment of kings. There must, then, be something more, after all, in the thin-bodied thing than the eye catches at first sight, or why should England have had two monarchs that waged imperial war against it, or have had a month named after it, — the modern January, the old Wolf-monath, so called because the depredations of the beast were then especially terrible; or why should the wolf have been included in English litanies as one of the chief perils of life? “From caterans and all other kinds of robbers; from wolves and all other kinds of evil beasts, deliver us, O Lord!”
In other countries it has been at times a veritable scourge, and wherever this has happened local legend and folk-lore have invested the animal with strange, gaunt terrors. In the hungry North, where Arctic snows forbid the multiplication of small animal life, and the wolf would often be starved but for man and his domestic beasts, the wolf is the popular symbol of all that is tragic or to be dreaded, and signifies, in their superstition, the supreme superlative of ruin; for they say that when the last tremendous Night overshadows the earth, and our planet sinks out of the darkened firmament into eternal gloom, the Fenris-wolf and the Sköll-wolf will appear and devour the gods and the firmament! Farther to the south, we find Scandinavian tradition replete with weird wolf-lore; and it is the same in Finland and all over Russia, Germany, and France, where the horrible fiction of the loup-garou — partly ghoul and partly wolf-man — still holds its own. Indeed, so terribly associated are the crimes of wolves and the sufferings of men that all over Europe, from the snows of Lapland to sunny Spain, the gruesome legend is a household story, and the wehr-wolf and wolf-children carry on the old Greek and Latin superstitions of the lycanthropes.
It is, however, in the East, in India, that the wolf attains the complete measure of its obliquities; for just. as the korait snake kills a greater number of human beings than the far more deadly cobra, so the wolf takes infinitely more lives than the tiger. Thousands of adults fall victims annually to this animal’s daring and ferocity, and the destruction of child-life by it is prodigious. It is not only in the remoter districts, where jungles and rocky wildernesses are found, that the wolves thus prey upon man, but in the very midst of busy towns.
They will creep, so the natives say, into houses, and lick the babies from the sleeping mothers’ arms. The soft warm touch of the wild beast’s tongue melts the guardian fingers open. One by one they loosen their hold, and, as the wrists sink apart, the baby slides gradually out of the protecting arms against the soft coat of the wolf. It does not wake, and then the brute bends down its head to find the child’s throat. There is a sudden snap of closing teeth, a little strangling cry, and the mother starts to her feet to hear the rustle of the grass screen before the door as it is pushed ajar, and to feel her own feet slip in the blood at her side. There are those who would gloss over the wolfs crimes by declaring it to be the brother of the dog, and it may be true enough that wolves learn to bark when fostered by canine mothers, that the dogs of the Arctic regions are in reality only wolves, and that till the white man came the Red Indian had no quadruped companion but the wolf. But, after all, such facts only amount to this — that though wolves are never fit to be called dogs, there are some undeveloped specimens of dogs only fit to be called wolves.
I am very fond of dogs, and have indeed, in India had as many as seven upon my establishment at one time. Some I knew intimately, others were mere acquaintances; but speaking dispassionately of them, and taking one with another, I should hesitate to say that they were superior to ordinary men and women. It is, I know, the fashion to cite the dog as a better species of human being and to depreciate men as if they were dogs gone wrong. I am not at all sure that this is just to ourselves, for speaking of the dogs I have met — the same dogs in fact that we have all met — I must say that, on the whole, I look upon the dog as only a kind of beast after all . At any rate I am prepared to produce from amongst my acquaintances as many sensible men as sensible dogs, and if necessary a large number of human beings who if taken by accident or design out of the road will set themselves right again, who if separated for years from friends will readily recognize them and welcome them, who on meeting those who have done them previous injuries will show at once by their demeanor that they remember the old grudge, who will detect false notes in a player’s performance, catch thieves, carry baskets to the butchers, defend their masters, and never worry sheep. On the other hand I will produce in equal number dogs who get themselves lost regularly and for good, until a reward is offered, who never recognize old acquaintances, but will fawn upon those who have injured them, who will sleep complacently through the performances of organ-grinders and never wake up when thieves are on the premises; who cannot be trusted with meat, and who will run away from their masters if danger threatens. Being quite certain of this, I think I am justified in maintaining that dogs are no better than men, and indeed I should not quarrel with him if any one were to say that but for man the dog would have been much worse than he is — probably, only a wolf still.
As a matter of fact, most of the dogs of my acquaintance have been positively stupid. One that I remember well was, however, considered by my friends of remarkable intelligence; but this story often told of him, to illustrate his intelligence, did not give me when I heard it, any high opinion of his intellect. But I may be wrong. He was accustomed, it appears, to go with the family to church. But one day the old church roof began to leak, so workmen were set at the job and the building was closed. But when Sunday came this intelligent dog trotted off as he was wont to do, to the church, and, composing himself in the porch as usual, remained there the customary time and trotted complacently home again. Now where does the intelligence come in, in this anecdote?
In a similar way stories are told in illustration of other feelings and passions, but most of them, so it seems to me, cut both ways. There are, indeed, many human feelings which the dog evinces in a marked way, and often upon very little provocation. The dog, for instance, expresses anger precisely as we do, and, in accordance with the human precept, “When the boy hits you, kick the post,” will bite his friend to show his displeasure at a stranger. I had a little bull-terrier which went frantic if a pedlar or beggar came to the door, and, being restrained from flying at the innocent itinerant, would rush out as soon as released into the shrubbery and go for the gardener. The gardener knew the dog’s ways, for he had had a sharp nip vicariously before, and when he saw Nellie on her way towards him, used to charge her with a lawn mower. Now at other times the gardener and Nellie were inseparable friends, and, weather permitting, the gardener’s coat and waistcoat were Nellie’s favorite bed. In human nature it is much the same, when the husband, because the news in the paper is disagreeable, grumbles at his wife’s cap.
Hatred also the dog feels keenly, — in the matter of cats notably. I have seen one of the exceptionally intelligent dogs referred to above, stop and jump under a tree for an hour, and go back every day for a month afterwards to jump about ridiculously under the same tree, all because a cat which he had once been after, and wanted to catch, had got up that tree out of his way. There is no doubt in my mind whatever, from that dog’s behavior, that he hated the cat.
Jealousy again is a common trait, and in Thornley’s book there is an instance given of a dog that was so jealous of another pet that when the latter died, and had been stuffed, he always snarled if attention was drawn to the glass case from which his rival gazed with glassy eye upon the scene. The envy of the dog has given rise to the well-known fable of the dog in the manger; and the story told in “False Beasts and True” (in illustration of canine sagacity) exemplifies this trait in a striking way. Leo was a large and lawless dog, belonging to an establishment where lived also a mild Maltese terrier. The latter, however, fed daintily, and was clad in fine linen, whereas Leo got as many rough words as bones, and was not allowed in the pretty rooms of which the terrier was a favored inmate. From the reports furnished of the judicial inquiry which followed the crime, it seems that the lesser (very much lesser) dog had been missed for several days, and his absence bewailed, while something in the demeanor of the big dog suggested to all beholders that some terrible tragedy had occurred and that Leo was darkly privy thereto. A length a servant going to the coal-hole heard a feeble moaning proceeding from the farthest corner, and on investigating with a candle, the Maltese terrier was found buried under lumps of coal. The supposition was that Leo had carried his diminutive rival to the coal-hole, and there scratched down an avalanche of coals upon him; and the manners of the two dogs when confronted bore striking evidence to the truth of the theory. Of Leo’s envy there can hardly therefore be a suspicion.
Gluttony is common to all dogs, but their general aversion to drunkenness is supposed, by their partial eulogists, to be demonstrated by the fact attested by the Rev. F. Jackson of a dog who, having been once made so drunk with malt liquor that he could not get upstairs without help, always growled and snarled at the sight of a pewter pot! To establish in a feeble way this individual’s dislike of malt liquor, the eulogist, it seems to me, has trifled away the dog’s intelligence altogether. Nor, as illustrating sagacity, is the following anecdote so very forcible at it might be. Begum was a small red cocker who, with a very strange perception of her own importance, engaged as her attendant a mild Pomeranian of her own sex, who having only three available legs, displayed the gentler manners of a confirmed invalid. Begum, several times in her long and respected career, became the joyful mother of puppies, and on all these interesting occasions her friend Rip (or Mrs. Gamp, as she came to be called) presided over her nursery, kept beside the mother in her temporary seclusion, exhibited the little strangers to visitors with all the mother’s pride during her absences, and in short, behaved herself like a devoted friend. “Strange to say,” says the author, “when the poor nurse herself was dying, and Begum was brought to her bedside to cheer her, the sagacious cocker snuffed her friend, and then leaping gaily over her , gasping form, left the stable for a frolic, and never looked in again on her faithful attendant.” This narrative, however, hardly illustrates the remarkable gratitude which may be almost said to be a dog’s leading principle.
Regret and grief dogs no doubt share also with men, for my own terrier when he stands with sadly oscillating tail and his head stuck through the area railings, whimpering for “the touch of a vanished cat” and “the sound of a puss that is still,” bears ample testimony to the former; nor when, out ferreting, the rabbit has mysteriously disappeared into an impassable earth, is there any room for hesitation as to Tim’s grief. His regret at the rabbit’s evasive habits is unmistakable. Mrs. Sumner Gibson, to illustrate joy, tells us of her pet, which on seeing her unexpectedly return after a long absence was violently sick. I remember when at school seeing a violent physical shock, accompanied by the same symptoms, affect a boy when suddenly approached by a master while in the act of eating gooseberries in class. But none of us attributed the result to an excess of delight.
Laziness is a trait well exemplified in dogs. Thus Cole’s dog of ancient fame was so lazy that he always leaned his head against a wall to bark. So did Ludlam’s.
Courage is not more common among dogs than among men. I had once three dogs who accompanied me on a certain occasion to a museum. The hall at the entrance was devoted to the larger mammalia, and the dogs on passing the folding door found themselves suddenly confronted by the whole order of the carnivora, all drawn up according to their families and genera, ready to fall upon and devour them. With a howl of the most dismal horror, all three flung themselves against the door, and if I had not rushed to open it, would certainly have died or gone mad then and there from sheer terror. As it was they flew through the open door with every individual hair on their bodies standing out like a wire, and arrived at home, some three miles off, in such a state of alarm that my servants were seriously alarmed for my safety. One of the three always slept in my room at night, but on the night after the fright howled so lamentably, and had such bad dreams, that I had to expel him. Miss Cobbe, in her delightful book, illustrates this whimsical cowardice by a bull terrier, who, ready apparently to fight anything, went into paroxysms of hysterical screaming if an Indian-rubber cushion was filled or emptied with air in her presence; and the garden-hose filled her with such terror that on the day when it was in use, Trip was never to be found on the premises, nor would any coaxing or commands persuade her to go into the room where the tube was kept all the rest of the week.
Pride affects the dog mind, for who has not heard of Dawson’s dog that was too proud to take the wall of a dung-cart, and so got flattened under the wheels? Vanity was admirably displayed by an old setter, who often caused us great inconvenience by insisting on following members of the family whenever they went out, usually most inopportunely. But one day the children, playing with it, tied a bow of ribbon on to the tip of its tail, and on everybody laughing at the dog’s appearance, the animal retired under the sofa and sulked for an hour. Next day, therefore, when Nelson showed every symptom of being irrepressibly intent on accompanying the family to a croquet party to which he had not been invited, it occurred to one of the party to try the effect of a bow. The ribbon was accordingly brought, and Nelson being held quiet by two of the girls, the third decorated his tail. No sooner was he released, and discovered the adornment, than the self-conscious dog rushed into the house and hid under the sofa! An hour after the party were gone, he came out as far as the doorstep, and when the family returned there was Nelson sitting on his haunches with the most comic air of having something mortifying to conceal, and refraining from even wagging his tail, lest the hateful bow should be seen. Chivalry, magnanimity, treachery, meanness, a sense of propriety or utter absence of shame, humor, etc., may all in turn be similarly proved to be shared by the dog world; but it is a singular fact that so many of the anecdotes put forward to illustrate the virtues of this animal should, if read with a little irreverence towards the dogs, lend themselves to conflicting if not opposite conclusions.
Indeed, I look upon the woolly little white dog that is so common as a pet in England as absolute criminal. You can see what a timid creature it is by the way it jumps when any cabman shouts, and yet its foolishness and greediness have got as many men into jail as a street riot would have done. You have only to look at it to see what an easy dog it is to steal. In fact, it was made to be stolen, and it faithfully fulfils its destiny. One man — the father of a young family, too — has been in prison twice for stealing that same dog. It is true that, on the other hand, he has sold it at a splendid profit on five other occasions, and has pocketed a handsome reward for “finding” it several times besides, but he nevertheless owes several weeks’ incarceration to that same little dog’s infamously criminal habit of looking so stealable. He can no more keep his hands off the animal than needles can help going to the nearest load-stone. It is of no use his trying to look the other way, or repeating the Lord’s Prayer, or thrusting his hands right down to the bottom of his breeches’ pockets, for as surely as ever that little dog comes by, Jerry will have to steal it. It is chiefly the dog’s fault. It never follows its master or mistress for the time being like a steady dog of business, but trots flickeringly about the pavement, as if it was going nowhere in particular with nobody It makes excursions up alleys on its own account, and comes running back in such a hurry that it forgets whether it ought to turn to the right or the left; or it goes half across a road and then takes fright at a cab, and runs speeding down the highway in front of it under the impression that the vehicle is in pursuit. Or it loiters at a corner to talk canine commonplaces to a strange dog, and then, like an idle errand boy, accompanies its new acquaintance a short way round several corners. Or it mixes itself up with an old gentleman’s legs, and gets eventually trodden upon, and precipitately makes off squeaking down the middle of a crowded thoroughfare into which its owner cannot follow it. Of all these weaknesses Jerry and his comrades are perfectly well aware; and if you will only follow the dog for a quarter of an hour you will see the little wretch get “lost,” as it calls itself — or as Jerry calls it, when the policeman inquires about the dog. There are some people who go through life leaving watches on dressing-tables and money on mantelpieces, and then prosecute the servants who steal them; others who lend strangers sovereigns in order to show their confidence in them, and then call in the police to get the stranger punished; others who post money in open envelopes, and are bitterly indignant with the authorities because it is never received by the addressee; many again who walk about with their purses in pockets placed where morality never meant pockets to be; who, in fact, are perpetually putting temptation into the way of their weak brethren, and then putting their weak brethren in gaol. And the foolish little white dog that is always getting itself stolen is exactly their representative in the canine society which, we are assured, reflects our own.
For myself, I think the dignified position which the dog fills in human society can be far more worthily treated, than by anecdotes of his various virtues and vices, for after all he is one of man’s chiefest triumphs, and one of his noblest servants. “In the beginning Allah created Man, and seeing what a helpless creature he was He gave him the Dog. And He charged the Dog that he should be the eyes and the ears, the understanding and the legs of the Man.”
The writer, Toussenel, then goes on to show how the dog was fitted for his important duties by being inspired with an overwhelming sense of the privileges of friendship and loyal devotion, and a corresponding disregard of the time-wasting joys of family and fireside pleasures, thinking, no doubt, with Bacon, that those without families — the discipline of humanity — make always the best public servants. “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.” And again, “Charity will hardly water the ground where it must first fill a pool.” The dog, therefore, was relieved of paternal affections in order that he might be able to give an undivided mind to the high task set before him, and thus afford primitive man, in the flock-tending days, the leisure necessary for discovering the arts and evolving the sciences.
If Tubal Cain, for instance, had had to run after his own herds he could never have got on with his panpipes; so the dog attended to the sheep and the goats, the kine and the camels, while his master sat in the shade by the river, testing the properties of reeds. Music was the result, thanks to the dog. In the same way, perhaps, we might trace all other great discoveries to the same canine source; and, really, seeing even nowadays, when man has become such a self-helping creature, how many dogs keep men and how many of them support old ladies, the philosopher would seem to have some basis for his fanciful theory that, but for dogs, men would still have been shepherds, and human society still in its patriarchal stage. The Red Indians keep no dogs; and what is the result? AH their time is given up to dog’s work, and they lead a dog’s life doing it — chasing wild things about and holloaing after them. Other peoples, however, who started with them in the race of nations, and who utilized the dog, are now enjoying all the comforts of nineteenth-century civilization, hunting only for amusement and shepherding only on valentines.
Writers on the dog claim for it the noblest attributes of humauity, and share with it our meanest failings; and, although the vast majority of instances of canine mind may be classified under the phenomena of selfinterest and imitation, it is humiliating to feel that, if the dogs were to give their opinions of men, the same classification would hold good, and that for each of their own weaknesses they could cite a parallel among men.
At present, as the matter stands, man seems in some danger of being reckoned only the second best of animals.
In a dispassionate view of the subject, however, the foibles of the dog should not be, as they so often are, overlooked.
Indeed, it might be well if some one would compile a counterblast of remarkable instances of the intelligence and docility of man, the human Trustys and good Dog Trays that abound in the world; the men who have been known to lose their friends in the streets and to find them again; who have been carried to immense distances by wrong trains, and turned up at home after all; who recognize acquaintances with every demonstration of delight after a long separation; who carry baskets from the bakers, and do not eat the contents by the way; who worry cats; who rescue men from drowning and from other forms of death; who howl when they hear street organs; who know a thief when he comes creeping up the back stairs at midnight, and hold him until help arrives; who fetch, and carry, and beg; who, in fact, do everything that a dog can do, and have died for all the world like Christians.
Such instances of intelligence in men, and even women, abound, and are amply authenticated by eyewitnesses.
Nor are any of the passions which move dogs unknown to human kind, for anecdotes illustrative of anger, fear, envy, courage, and so forth, are plentifully scattered up and down the pages of history and biography In short, looking at the matter from both sides, I really think myself that there is no reason for supposing that man is in any-way inferior to the dog.
In science the dogs go after the rats. So they do in nature. But in this book I was obliged to put the rats behind the dogs, as dogs grow so naturally out of wolves that I had it not in my heart to spoil the connection merely for the sake of being scientific. But the connection between rats and dogs, whichever way they come in a book, is none the less very intimate indeed, more so sometimes than the rats like.
But rats have a large history of their own, outside rat-pits. In Egypt and Chaldsea they were the symbol of utter destruction, while in India they are to-day the emblem of prosperous wisdom. The Romans took augury from rats, — happy indeed the man who saw a white one; and Apollo, the most artistic of the Greek divinities, did not scorn the title of the rat-killer. In this very England of ours, the hardy Norseman rats bore their share in the Conquest nobly, and on the continent they have ruined a city and a river. Rats, they say, have scuttled ships, and it is certain they once ate up a bishop.
Not long ago, rat-catching engrossed much of the attention of the Government of India. The emergency was as serious as it was preposterous, for among the great vermin plagues that have afflicted the world the rat-invasion that devastated the Deccan must take high rank. Indeed, since the croaking nuisance took possession of the halls of Pharaoh, there have been very few visitations that have so directly insulted the majesty of man’s high birth, and so absurdly perplexed him.
Up and down the world at different times there have been many plagues — plagues of locusts and cockchafers, of mice and caterpillars, plagues that have ravaged the vineyards and the corn-fields, the pine-forests and the orchards, plagues that have afflicted the farmer and the merchant, the prince and the peasant, the tradesman and the manufacturer, plagues of beasts and birds and insects. Armies have actually marched against little things with wings, and senates have gravely sat in council over creeping creatures. The British force at Waterloo was not so numerous as that which the Moor sent against the advancing locusts; nor did the fathers of the city, fluttered by the news of Lars Porsena’s approach, meet in more serious concern than did the French Assembly to concert measures, the State being in danger, to resist the sauterelle vorace. But in all these, quite apart from the gravity of the evil, there was a matter-of-fact sobriety about the circumstances of the impending danger, which separates them from the rodent visitation of the Deccan. Locusts are the avowed enemies of mankind, and their destruction has always been cheerfully assented to as a pleasing act of justice. No one when the vastatrix was at work among the vines held back the arm of retributive chemistry, nor when the cynips was vandalizing among our turnips was a kindly word spoken for the tiny foe. In India, however, every thing, whether with fur or feathers, whether winged or wingless, finds a friend. Beautiful legends, orchid-like, have overgrown the old country, and so not only everything that moves, but every leaf that stirs, has a poem or a quaint conceit attached to it.
We in the West have flung our prejudices at even inoffensive creatures. Thus, the cormorant is abused by every poet who has mentioned the bird. The owl has no more friends than the toad; and the buzzard and the raven are as unpopular, and as heartily maligned by our imaginative writers, and in our proverbs and ballads, as the badger and the newt. Many others meet only with acidulated compliments, and some — like the glutton among beasts, the crow among birds — are ungenerously denied the possession of the most ordinary beast and fowl virtues. It is true that, on the other hand, we flatter unworthily the creatures of our own affection, embarrassing the pelican with our undeserved regard, and in the robin canonizing what in the sparrow we anathematize. But misplaced esteem does not compensate for wanton depreciation; nor does it affect our action when our prejudices are called into lively expression. Spiders fare ill with most of us, and no earwig of discernment comes for a holiday among us.
In India, however, everything alike is welcome at the fountain of superstitious tenderness, and where European influences have not penetrated, all creation seems to live in amity. The teaching of the compassionate Buddha, “the speechless world’s interpreter,” has elsewhere won for living things the same forbearance at the hands of other millions, and Asia thus stands apart from Europe as the refuge and asylum of the smaller worlds of creatures, harmful and harmless alike.
This pitifulness works often to strange results. A man-eating tiger establishes his shambles near a village, but the villagers, knowing him to be an old and esteemed acquaintance, lately deceased, steal away from their hamlet and deprecate any violent dislodgment of the human soul from its present tiger body. Monkeys rob the shops in the bazaar, but who could think of reprisals against such holy thieves? Snakes take human life, but pay none in penalty. Elephants and cuckoos, bulls and tortoises, quadruped and bird, fish and reptile, all come in for their special honors and special privileges, and, when danger threatens, for special immunity.
The rats in the Deccan in the same way enjoyed the full benefit of this delightful catholicity of benevolence, not from any virtues inherent in that forward rodent, or any tradition of good done to man in a former state, but simply from the Hindoo’s tolerance of small life, and the contemporary growth of superstition.
The famines that laid waste some of the fairest provinces of India had stolen from every hearth one or more of the family circle, and the peasant mind, loyal to its teachings, refused to believe that the loved ones had been lost forever. Cruel drought bound the ground as with iron, and so the seed sown never gave its increase. Starvation crept round the hamlet, and one by one the weakest died.
Yet the wheels of time rolled on, and another harvest-time came round. The seasons were kindly, rain was abundant, and the ground returned to the sower’s hand its hundred-fold. And back to the earth, glad with full harvests, crept the poor defunct. What more natural?
Not, of course, in the likeness of their old selves, for it is not given to man to live twice as man, nor yet in nobler form, for what had the pitiful starved dead given in alms to the Brahmins? So they came back to the world that had treated them so badly — as rats. Killed by the want of grain, they returned as grain devourers, and the round completeness of this retaliation sufficed to satisfy the Hindoo mind as to the iniquity of injuring the still hungry victims of the great famine. That they suffered from their depredations, their own memorials to the authorities attested amply. “We had promise of a good crop. But in came a multitude of rats, which have carried to their holes our ears of corn. Thus the morsel was taken from between our teeth, and the cornstalks stand headless in the fields.” The government, in reply, assured them of its sympathy assured them also of its knowledge of rat habits, and begged them to kill the rats. But there came the rub. Could a Hindoo who was about to be starved kill another Hindoo already once starved to death? Was it not just possible that when he himself had been starved he might return as a rat? To set such a precedent might be to commit suicide while committing murder; so they declined to kill the rats.
In England the rat plague is endemic. Only the other day the populonsness of subterranean London was indicated by the disclosures connected with a case in a police court; for in the evidence taken against some men charged with damaging the bank of the Thames while digging for rats, it was alleged that these creatures swarmed “by tens of thousands” at the mouths of the sewers. Here they work to admirable purpose, in so far as they clear refuse from the river surface, but, in comparison with the mischief done in accomplishing it, their good offices are seriously depreciated. Few creatures have attained to such universal abuse as the rat, and few, perhaps, have deserved so much. It is true that its sagacity is prodigious, and every one knows that in the East it symbolizes Ganesha, the god of wisdom; but its sagacity is so often displayed under compromising circumstances that the rat gains little respect for the possession of this valuable quality. It is very sagacious, no doubt, in an animal to dip its tail in a bottle of oil, and then carry its tail home to suck at leisure, but such larcenous refreshment will not commend itself to any but the disreputable. Nor is there much that is admirable in the wisdom which prompts the rat to make a wheelbarrow or truck of itself, for the greater convenience of removing stolen goods. It appears that, when a gang have come upon a larger plunder than they can carry away from the premises inside them, one of the number lies down on his back while the others load him up with the booty; that he balances the pile with four legs, and, to make matters extra safe, folds his tail over the goods and holds the tip in his mouth, and that his pals then drag him off along the ground by the ears and fur! This is excellent as far as the idea and its execution are concerned; but, after all, the end to which such means are adapted — the nefarious removal of another’s property — is immoral, and unworthy of imitation. It is impossible to extend sincere admiration to so deplorable a misapplication of genius.
Nor can the other virtues attributed to rats, such as considerate treatment of the blind among them, their docility under domestication, and their industry, be regarded as unalloyed. Their industry, for instance, is shown by perpetual voracity, for the rat never ceases gnawing. It does not matter to the small beast what the substance may be, so long as its consumption does not immediately endanger its own person, for it takes a house just as it comes, and, beginning at the floor of the cellar, goes straight through to the slates. Yet this is not industry, although it may look like it, for the rat must either nibble or die. If it were to stop nibbling, and thus allow its teeth to grow unchecked, they would soon overlap each other, and cause lock-jaw, or, as from accident has sometimes occurred, would continue to grow in a curve until they pierced the eye or the brain.
On the rat’s consideration for its kind, again, one might put a very sinister construction, for the knowledge of rat ways might prompt the belief that the infirm were only being cared for until they became fit to eat, and that the jealous solicitude apparently being displayed for the welfare of the afflicted relative was really only a series of selfish precautions to prevent others from surreptitiously making away with the object of their care before he was properly fattened for their own eating. The cannibal propensity is, indeed, grossly developed among rats. The parents eat their young, deciding for their offspring that death in infancy is better than a life of troubles: and the young who survive, seeing around them so much aged misery, and deploring such a future for their parents, piously consume their progenitors.
Thus too, among the earlier barbarians of the Oxus, did the Massagetæ who, if history has not traduced them, ate their infirm relatives, not from ill-will towards them, but as a public duty. Every man was expected to devour his own parents, and the interference of a stranger in the solemn rite might have been rudely resented. For a conscientious family, though they would not probably at other times have grudged him a seat at their board, might on such an occasion have misunderstood the stranger’s offers of assistance, as reflecting upon their capacity to do their duty without outside help.
In its origin also the race of rats resembles exactly those successive waves of savage humanity that have swept westward over Europe, coming from the same Central Asian cradles, and tallying with them in the chronology of their invasions. Yet their great nation has also thrown out from time to time colonies of a far higher stamp of emigrant. Thus, though troops of rats followed and accompanied the Goth and the Hun and the Tartar, similar migrations marked also the Norman invasion and the Hanoverian accession. The rats, in fact, are the doppelgängers of invaders generally, following the provision chests of every human exodus, barbarian or otherwise; and are the emblem not only of determined incursion, but permanent occupation. They are the type of the successful invader, sagacious in forecast, fierce in attack, and tenacious in possession. Wherever their colonies are planted, they take deep root at once and for ever, and the aborigines must either be absorbed into the conquering element, or disappear before it. Their motto is “Rats or nothing.” Rat society, though thus maintaining with persistent ferocity the ground it has gained, and gradually extending its area, will be found, in its latest developments, to be everywhere representative of the most degraded classes of humanity.