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   Chapter 15 XVToC

Thirty Years in Australia By Ada Cambridge Characters: 17699

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


TOBY

All I know of his breeding is that he had none. His mother, a drawing-room pet and the only acknowledged parent, was a little long-bodied, dainty bundle of silver-grey silk that swept the ground; he, fully twice her size and height, with a compact, sinewy frame and a close, wire-haired, rusty-black coat, was more in the style of the useful out-door terrier that loves a scrimmage in the street and is rough on rats-mere dog, in short, and a despicable animal from the fancier's point of view. But when I saw him first-he was brought to my bedside during illness, as a present more likely to cheer me than anything else-I thought I had never seen a sweeter pup; and I do not hope to meet again, still less to own, a brighter, smarter, dearer creature than he afterwards became.

There was nothing of the trick dog about him, and with respect to striking exploits he was less distinguished than several of his predecessors in my regard. One of these, for instance, was part-proprietor of a town and a country house, both of which were kept open and habitable (caretakers in one while the family occupied the other), and there was a considerable railway journey between the two. My canine friend preferred, of course, to live with the family, but if they happened to hurt his feelings he quietly trotted to the station, picked out the right train, and thereby conveyed himself to his alternate home, where he remained until the trouble had blown over. The railway officials at both ends knew him well, and he them, but they declared that, even at the crowded station of the large town, he was capable of finding his own train without their assistance. This same dog knew when it was Sunday simply by count of days-at least, he would seem to know before anything in the house could have told him-and took his measures accordingly. He was always missing between breakfast and church time, and always known to be in hiding under a seat of the family pew during divine service, although an order prohibiting his attendance had never been repealed. Another dog friend used to wait for his mistress on doorsteps when she did errands or paid calls, and one day she left a house by a different door from that by which she had gone in, forgetting that he was there. Missing him during the day, finding that he was not at home all night nor all next day, she became frantic with fears that something dreadful had happened to him, sending messages of inquiry in all directions. After a hunt in more likely places, he was discovered on the doorstep where she had left him. It had been snowing and blowing, and he was starved with cold and hunger, but he had not budged. I knew a dog that nearly died at his post in the same way, and quite lately the current dog of this establishment spent a cold night at the local cemetery gates, waiting for a master who had gone home unbeknown in a mourning coach the day before. Dozens of incidents equally remarkable occur to me, but not in connection with Toby; who, however, if he did not do any very wonderful things, was capable of doing them. As with inglorious Miltons amongst ourselves, he simply lacked opportunity.

What entitled him to be remembered as I remember him was his splendid force of character and his absolutely faithful heart. He was, indeed, energetic to a fault in nearly all directions. No dog walked that he was not game to tackle, and no cat, except his own cat, whose successive kittens he nursed as if engaged for the purpose, was safe for a moment within range of his alert eye; while to see him careering round the paddock after frenzied poultry, or throwing the garden bodily over his back when burying his bones and digging them up again, was to understand in some degree why he was not exactly popular with the powers of his world. But the ardour of his affection for, and devotion to, his particular owner was a thing to shame human friendship at its best. I can never think of it without thinking what life would be if men and women loved each other like that.

Full of business as he always was, I think he never lost the run of his mistress for an hour when she was at home, unless he were tied up for misdemeanours or otherwise forcibly restrained. A thing of whalebone and quicksilver, of tireless energy and vivacity, he schooled himself to the conditions of indoor companionship, and would lie all day at my side, eyes watching for the merest glance from mine, tail poised for a joyous thump the moment he received it. When I sat out of doors, and he thought I was quite safe not to go away, he would amuse himself in the vicinity in all sorts of cheerful ways. He always took a deep interest in fowls, and a favourite game of his was to draw an imaginary circle round a selected hen, and by working along that line to keep her from breaking out of it. He did it so neatly and at such a distance from her that she was not seriously alarmed; but when, every time she started for a new point, she found him there ahead of her, her disconcerted cluck and bewildered aspect were extremely funny. The current kittens were also toys that he delighted in; he and the mother cat would spend endless time and ingenuity in carrying them away from one another and fetching them back again, all in the most friendly fashion. Of course, he accompanied me everywhere in my walks abroad. Some readers of these pages will recall his wit and his persistence in following me into houses where I was paying calls after doors and gates had been closed against him. How he did it we sometimes could not tell, since he was neither a professional burglar nor a kangaroo; and, of course, I ought to have brought him up not to do it, as not to do a few other things that I weakly allowed for the sake of the love that prompted them.

At night, when not on that chain which we both disliked so much, he preferred to sleep on my doorstep-I had an outside doorstep, where a French window opened upon the raised verandah-deserting the kennel in which he could have been dry and warm. When I was alone-he always knew when that was-the worst weather would not keep him away; but when the rain, which occasionally was sleet and snow, beat on him, he would scratch and whine to be let in; and then I would be inclined to wish that one or other of us had never been born. It was a torment to hear him and refuse his plea, but the most doggy person must draw the line somewhere; besides, if I had admitted him once, he would have suffered for my indiscretion many times, as also should I. So I used to shout, "Go to bed, sir!" with a make-believe severity that had no more effect than to send him dejectedly flopping down the verandah steps, to creep up again before he had reached the bottom. But generally he was good and quiet. I used to wake sometimes to hear a subdued sniff under the door, or the thud of a soft body flinging itself ostentatiously upon hard boards. These were his ways of reminding me, in case I doubted it, that he was there.

Unfortunately, as before remarked, he was not popular with the household. I daresay it was my fault. There are such differences of opinion about dogs in our family that we never do have one without quarrelling over it, more or less. Poor Toby was the domestic scapegoat. If a chicken got roup or a stray cow walked over the flower-beds, he was the suspected culprit; every muddy boot-print, every unmentionable insect that came into the house, was laid at his door; and to smell an unpleasant odour was at once to connect it with his coat, and not with cabbage water in the kitchen or a neglected drain.

I went out a-visiting for a week or two, and when I returned found that he had been given away. He was still on the premises to welcome me in his vociferous manner, and the news was not broken too abruptly: but I had to hear it before the following afternoon, which was the time fixed for his departure. It appeared that in my absence he had taken up with some friends of ours whom he had often called upon with me, particularly attaching himself to the eldest schoolboy son, and had virtually been living with them nearly all the time. They were but temporary dwellers in the town, and about to leave it; and as he had greatly endeared himself to the numerous children, and was rightly supposed to be unappreciated in his own house, they had asked to keep him and take him with them. Evidently the request had been hailed as delightfully opportune, and unhesitatingly granted by those who had no authority to dispose of him.

"Now, you know," it was said to me, when, after something of a scene, I was considered in a fit state to be reasoned with, "that Toby only makes discord and dissension in an otherwise united family. He will interfere with the fowls, and dig holes in the garden, and bring dirt and fleas into the house; and then,

when he is put on the chain, you don't like it and make a fuss. Here's a splendid home for him, where he'll be as happy as the day is long. The T.'s, who have just as much as they can do to feed their own children and pay their own travelling expenses, would not add him to the party if they were not really fond of him; and you can see, by the way he has been haunting their place, how fond he is of them. It is for the dog's own benefit as well as ours, and we shall never get such another chance."

Well, I saw that. When you love a creature, dumb or otherwise, its own happiness is what you consider first, and every proof had been given that his new proprietors would be good to him. In this case, as in so many cases, the benevolent heart went with the slender purse; Toby himself was well aware of it. And so I consented to let the bargain stand. I had promised to see my friends off at the railway station, but now cancelled that engagement, sending them a message to say that, though they might take Toby, I could not see him go. They told me afterwards that he went quietly; I daresay he did, not knowing what was happening and how we should feel about it at our next meeting.

I had no expectation, at the time, of any next meeting. But a year or two later, while having a little travel for my health, I found myself in the large town whither he had been taken when torn from me: and, of course, I made it my business to find him there, if possible. I did not know where his people lived, the streets were strange to me, and I have no bump of locality whatever, so I started soon after breakfast and gave the morning to it. By about lunch-time, after many inquiries and misdirections, and much fatigue and exasperation, I discovered the house in a very far-out suburb. But, before I discovered the house, Toby discovered me. He had not seen me, I am convinced-had either scented me in the distance or recognised my (to human ears inaudible) step-when he uttered his first ecstatic yell and hurled himself over the gate; I was still half a street's length off when I beheld him tearing towards me as if discharged from a giant catapult. Literally, I could hardly see him for dust. We fell into each other's arms forthwith, and I must have looked, to the casual spectator, as if engaged in a death grapple with a wild beast.

His young master appeared, and I managed to shake his hand and ask if he lived there, and how his mother was. He took me in to her, and she was delighted to see me; his father and the family joined us, and said how good it was of me to look them up, and of course I must stay to dinner, and how were all at home, and so on; but it was dumb show-we could not hear ourselves speak. Toby nearly lifted the roof with his uproar of welcome, and seemed to have lost the power to stop himself; every breath was a shriek, so full of the fury and passion of joy that it seemed like to choke him. This sounds like exaggeration, but really is not, as those present with me will testify, supposing they read this tale. Since they never can have seen a dog so conduct himself before or since, I am sure they will remember the circumstance. He clawed me frantically, hugged my knees with his strong forelegs, grovelled at my feet, licked them, rolled over them, rubbed his dear snout, his ears, his shoulders, upon every part of me that he could get at, contorting his body in the most grotesque and violent fashion, as if in the throes of some mysterious convulsive fit. In short, no hatter or March hare was ever so entirely mad and off his head and beside himself.

I confess I was almost as great a fool; seeing which, the kind household bore with the deafening racket as long as we chose to make it-ten minutes, perhaps, which must have had the wearing power of ten hours in that small room. Then, out of pity for my hostess, who was invalided at the time, and to give human friendship a chance, and because really a continuation of that Bedlam hubbub would have been too much for anybody's nerves, I consented to a suggestion that Toby should be removed for an interval. His young master took him as far away as the limits of the premises allowed, and shut as many doors upon him as there were to shut. "Now we can talk," said my hostess, with a sigh and smile of utter relief.

So we talked; and as friends who had not met for a long time, as mothers whose respective children were the most important objects in the universe, we had a great deal to talk about. We could have gossiped about our families and affairs for a whole day quite contentedly, and should have made excellent use of the two or three hours actually available-had Toby permitted. But he wailed and howled in his shed in the backyard, and no doors could smother the distracting sound. We pretended for some time that we did not hear it, while I answered questions at random, incapable of fixing my thoughts on anything but him. Finally the strain became unbearable, and the prisoner was released upon my giving an undertaking that he should reasonably behave himself.

He returned like a whirlwind, but, after a brief struggle with himself, submitted to what he perceived was necessary, and stood under my hand, trembling, whimpering, thrilling in every fibre, his nose on my knee, his liquid eyes fixed on my face with such an intensity of adoring love as I never saw in any other pair. If the pressure was relaxed for a moment, he leaped like a steel spring in an india-rubber ball, because he could not help himself, and if I ventured to look at him he yelped with delight; but he quieted down by degrees, lay on my skirt, leaning against it in a way to drag the gathers out, licked my fingers, and was quite happy.

To please us both he was allowed to stay to dinner, and by this time he was so far restored to his sober senses that he went to others beside me to ask for food; and the confidence with which he begged from each in turn showed that parents and children were all his trusted friends-that this home, unlike the last, was an ideal home for a being of his persuasion, the unattainable paradise of the average dog. This is my one comfort when I think of Toby now.

Having other engagements, I was obliged to say good-bye to my entertainers immediately after the mid-day meal. But it was generally felt that, in spite of his calmer demeanour, there must be no good-byes to him. Stratagem was resorted to, together with tit-bits of roast beef to lure him to a part of the house whence he could not see me go; and as soon as the coast was clear I made off with all speed, taking care that no door should creak, no gate click, no tip-toe footstep leave an echo behind me.

Alas! he heard. No, he did not hear-he knew. I was not fairly into the roadway before he began to shriek with all his might, and now the shrieks were as full of anguish as they had previously been full of joy. I never heard anything so heart-thrilling, so heart-breaking in my life. He was again shut up, and even his strength was not equal to tearing down the walls that held him, though I am sure he did his best. I wonder sometimes whether he hurt himself in that paroxysm of despairing fury, how long it lasted, and what he thought when he was let out and found that I had not answered his cry, but left him without a word.

All the way down the street, and down the next street, and into the third, as far as the air-waves carried, I heard his voice at the same pitch. I stood still again and again, agonised by the sound, and now I cannot imagine how I resisted it. I was hundreds of miles from home; I was staying in the sort of house that one cannot easily take liberties with; and, at the end of a holiday, my purse was almost empty; besides, Toby was no longer my dog, whatever might have been his views to the contrary, and I knew that his reappearance with me on my return to my family would be objected to in the strongest manner. These trivial circumstances overcame the impulse of my heart, and I passed on.

It is years and years ago, but I have never forgiven myself, and never shall. Whenever I think of it-only I cannot bear to think of it-I suffer pangs of regret and remorse acute enough to bring tears to my eyes and make me miserable for a whole day. It sounds silly, I know, but the fact remains. Oh, what things we would do-and not do-if we could have our time over again! I am not so rich that I can afford to throw money away, but I would give many hard-earned pounds to reverse that deed. How readily he would have been given back to me, and suffered to re-establish himself in his old home, had I properly represented, and myself properly realised at the right moment, that our two hearts were set on it; but I let the chance slip, and-his people leaving soon afterwards for parts unknown-never had another.

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