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Our Dogs
by [?]

“The misery of keeping a dog, is his dying so soon; but to be sure, if he lived for fifty years, and then died, what would become of me?”–SIR WALTER SCOTT.

“There is in every animal’s eye a dim image and gleam of humanity, a flash of strange light through which their life looks out and up to our great mystery of command over them, and claims the fellowship of the creature if not of the soul.”–RUSKIN.

To Sir Walter and Lady Trevelyan’s
glum and faithful
with much regard.

I was bitten severely by a little dog when with my mother at Moffat Wells, being then three years of age, and I have remained “bitten” ever since in the matter of dogs. I remember that little dog, and can at this moment not only recall my pain and terror–I have no doubt I was to blame–but also her face; and were I allowed to search among the shades in the cynic Elysian fields, I could pick her out still. All my life I have been familiar with these faithful creatures, making friends of them, and speaking to them; and the only time I ever addressed the public, about a year after being bitten, was at the farm of Kirklaw Hill, near Biggar, when the text, given out from an empty cart in which the ploughmen had placed me, was “Jacob’s dog,” and my entire sermon was as follows:–“Some say that Jacob had a black dog (the o very long), and some say that Jacob had a white dog, but I (imagine the presumption of four years!) say Jacob had a brown dog, and a brown dog it shall be.”

I had many intimacies from this time onwards–Bawtie, of the inn; Keeper, the carrier’s bull-terrier; Tiger, a huge tawny mastiff from Edinburgh, which I think must have been an uncle of Rab’s; all the sheep dogs at Callands–Spring, Mavis, Yarrow, Swallow, Cheviot, etc.; but it was not till I was at college, and my brother at the High School, that we possessed a dog.


Was the most utterly shabby, vulgar, mean-looking cur I ever beheld: in one word, a tyke. He had not one good feature except his teeth and eyes, and his bark, if that can be called a feature. He was not ugly enough to be interesting; his color black and white, his shape leggy and clumsy; altogether what Sydney Smith would have called an extraordinarily ordinary dog; and, as I have said, not even greatly ugly, or, as the Aberdonians have it, bonnie wi’ ill-fauredness. My brother William found him the centre of attraction to a multitude of small blackguards who were drowning him slowly in Lochend Loch, doing their best to lengthen out the process, and secure the greatest amount of fun with the nearest approach to death. Even then Toby showed his great intellect by pretending to be dead, and thus gaining time and an inspiration. William bought him for twopence, and as he had it not, the boys accompanied him to Pilrig Street, when I happened to meet him, and giving the twopence to the biggest boy, had the satisfaction of seeing a general engagement of much severity, during which the twopence disappeared; one penny going off with a very small and swift boy, and the other vanishing hopelessly into the grating of a drain.

Toby was for weeks in the house unbeknown to any one but ourselves two and the cook, and from my grandmother’s love of tidiness and hatred of dogs and of dirt, I believe she would have expelled “him whom we saved from drowning,” had not he, in his straightforward way, walked into my father’s bedroom one night when he was bathing his feet, and introduced himself with a wag of his tail, intimating a general willingness to be happy. My father laughed most heartily, and at last Toby, having got his way to his bare feet, and having begun to lick his soles and between his toes with his small rough tongue, my father gave such an unwonted shout of laughter, that we–grandmother, sisters, and all of us–went in. Grandmother might argue with all her energy and skill, but as surely as the pressure of Tom Jones’ infantile fist upon Mr. Allworthy’s forefinger undid all the arguments of his sister, so did Toby’s tongue and fun prove too many for grandmother’s eloquence. I somehow think Toby must have been up to all this, for I think he had a peculiar love for my father ever after, and regarded grandmother from that hour with a careful and cool eye.