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Chapter 19

THE DOGS.

I soon discovered that we were hunting lions with the assistance of the dogs; not that the dogs were hunting lions. They had not lost any lions, not they! My mental pictures of the snarling, magnificent king of beasts surrounded by an equally snarling, magnificent pack vanished into thin air.

Our system was to cover as much likely country as we could, and to let the dogs have a good time. As I have before indicated, they were thoroughly doggy dogs, and interested in everything--except able-bodied lions. None of the stick-at-your-heels in their composition. They ranged far and wide through all sorts of cover, seeking what they could find in the way of porcupines, mongoose, hares, birds, cats, and whatever else should interest any healthy-minded dog. If there happened to be any lions in the path of these rangings, the dogs retired rapidly, discreetly, and with every symptom of horrified disgust. If a dog came sailing out of a thicket, ki-yi-ing agitatedly, and took up his position, tail between his legs, behind his master, we knew there was probably a lion about. Thus we hunted lions with dogs.

But in order to be fair to these most excellent canines, it should be recorded that they recovered a certain proportion of their nerve after a rifle had been fired. They then returned warily to the--not attack--reconnaissance. This trait showed touching faith, and was a real compliment to the marksmanship of their masters. Some day it will be misplaced. A little cautious scouting on their part located the wounded beast; whereupon, at a respectful distance, they lifted their voices. As a large element of danger in case of a wounded lion is the uncertainty as to his whereabouts, it will be seen that the dogs were very valuable indeed. They seemed to know exactly how badly hit any animal might happen to be, and to gauge their distance accordingly, until at last, when the quarry was hammered to harmlessness, they closed in and began to worry the nearly lifeless carcass. By this policy the dogs had a lot of fun hunting on their own hook, preserved their lives from otherwise inevitable extinction, and were of great assistance in saving their masters' skins.

One member of the pack, perhaps two, were, however, rather pathetic figures. I refer to the setters, Wayward and Girlie. Ranger, Ruby, Ben, and Nero scampered merrily over the landscape after anything that stirred, from field mice to serval cats. All was game to their catholic tastes; and you may be sure, in a country like Africa, they had few dull moments. But Wayward and Girlie had been brought up in a more exclusive manner. Their early instincts had been supplemented by a rigorous early training. Game to them meant birds, and birds only. Furthermore, they had been solemnly assured by human persons in whom they had the utmost confidence, that but one sequence of events was permissible or even thinkable in the presence of game. The Dog at first intimation by scent must convey the fact to the Man, must proceed cautiously to locate exactly, must then stiffen to a point which he must hold staunchly, no matter how distracting events might turn out, or how long an interval might elapse. The Man must next walk up the birds; shoot at them, perhaps kill one, then command the Dog to retrieve. The Dog must on no account move from his tracks until such command is given. All the affair is perfectly simple; but quite inflexible. Any variation in this procedure fills the honest bird dog's mind with the same horror and dismay experienced by a well-brought-up young man who discovers that he has on shoes of the wrong colour. It isn't done, you know.

Consider, then, Wayward and Girlie in a country full of game birds. They quarter wide to right, then cross to left, their heads high, their feather tails waving in the most approved good form. When they find birds they draw to their points in the best possible style; stiffen out--and wait. It is now, according to all good ethics, up to the Man. And the Man and his companions go right on by, paying absolutely no attention either to the situation or one's own magnificent piece of work! What is one to conclude? That our early training is all wrong? that we are at one experience to turn apostate to the settled and only correct order of things? Or that our masters are no gentlemen? That is a pretty difficult thing, an impossible thing, to conclude of one's own master. But it leaves one in a fearful state mentally; and one has no idea of what to do!

Wayward was a perfect gentleman, and he played the game according to the very best traditions. He conscientiously pointed every bird he could get his nose on. Furthermore he was absolutely staunch, and held his point even when the four non-bird dogs rushed in ahead of him. The expression of puzzlement, grief, shock, and sadness in his eyes deepened as bird after bird soared away without a shot. Girlie was more liberal-minded. She pointed her birds, and backed Wayward at need, but when the other dogs rushed her point, she rushed too. And when we swept on by her, leaving her on point, instead of holding it quixotically, as did Wayward, until the bird sneaked away, she merely waited until we were out of sight, and then tried to catch it. Finally Captain D. remarked that, lions or no lions, he was not going to stand it any longer. He got out a shotgun, and all one afternoon killed grouse over Wayward, to the latter's intense relief. His ideals had been rehabilitated.


Stewart Edward White

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