We were yarning after dinner, and, whether because three of us were fishermen, or simply that we were all English, our yarns were taking a competitive turn. The queerest thing seen during the War was the subject of our tongues, and it was not till after several tit-bits had been digested that Mallinson, the painter, ill and ironical, blue-eyed, and with a fair pointed beard, took his pipe out of his mouth, and said:
"Well, you chaps, what I saw last week down in Kent takes some beating. I'd been sketching in a hay-field, and was just making back along the top hedge to the lane when I heard a sound from the other side like a man's crying. I put my eye to a gap, and there, about three yards in, was a grey-haired bloke in a Norfolk jacket and flannel trousers, digging like a fiend, and crying like a baby—blowing, and gasping and sobbing, tears and sweat rolling down into his beard like rivers. He'd plunge his pick in, scratch, and shovel, and hack at the roots as if for dear life—he was making the hole too close to the hedge, of course—and all the time carrying on like that. I thought he must be digging his own grave at least. Suddenly he put his pick down, and there just under the hedge I saw a dead brown dog, lying on its side, all limp. I never see a dead animal myself, you know, without a bit of a choke; they're so soft, and lissom; the peace, and the pity—a sort of look of: "Why—why—when I was so alive?" Well, this elderly Johnny took a good squint at it, to see if the hole was big enough, then off he went again, sobbing and digging like a fiend. It was really a bit too weird, and I mouched off. But when I'd gone about half a mile, I got an attack of the want-to-knows, came back, and sneaked along the hedge. There he was still, but he had finished, and was having a mop round, and putting the last touches to a heap of stones. I strolled up, and said:
'Hot work, Sir, digging, this weather!'
He was a good-looking old grey-beard, with an intellectual face, high forehead and all that.
'I'm not used to it,' he said, looking at his blisters.
'Been burying a dog? Horrid job that!—favourite, I'm afraid.'
He seemed in two minds whether to shut me up and move off, but he didn't.
'Yes,' he said; 'it's cut me up horribly. I never condemned a creature to death before. And dogs seem to know.'
'Ah! They're pretty uncanny,' I said, for I wasn't going to let on, of course, that I had seen him.
'I wouldn't have done it but for the War,' he muttered; 'but she stole eggs, poor thing; you couldn't break her of it. She ate three times as much as any other dog, too, and in spite of it was always a perfect skeleton—something wrong inside. The sort of dog, you know, no one would take, or treat decently if they did. Bad habits of every kind, poor dear. I bought her because she was being starved. But she trusted me, that's why I feel so like a murderer. When the Vet and I were in the yard discussing her, she knew there was something wrong—she kept looking at my face. I very nearly went back on it; only, having got him out on purpose, I was ashamed to. We brought her down here, and on the way she found the remains of a rabbit about a week old—that was one of her accomplishments—bringing me the most fearful offal. She brought it up wagging her tail—as much as to say: 'See—I am some use!' The Vet tied her up here and took his gun; she wagged her tail at that, too; and I ran away. When the shot came, my own little spaniel fawned on me—they are uncanny—licked me all over, never was so gushing, seemed saying: 'What awful power you have! I do love you! You wouldn't do that to me, would you? We've got rid of that other one, though!' When I came back here to bury the poor thing, and saw her lying on her side so still, I made a real fool of myself. I was patting her an hour ago, talking to her as if she were a human being. Judas!'"
Mallinson put his pipe back into his mouth. "Just think of it!" he said: "The same creatures who are blowing each other to little bits all the time, bombing babies, roasting fellow creatures in the air and cheering while they roast, working day and night to inflict every imaginable kind of horror on other men exactly like themselves—these same chaps are capable of feeling like that about shooting a wretched ill cur of a dog, no good to anybody. There are more things in Heaven and Earth—!" And he relit his pipe, which had gone out.
His yarn took the prize.
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