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The Black Godmother
by [?]

Sitting out on the lawn at tea with our friend and his retriever, we had been discussing those massacres of the helpless which had of late occurred, and wondering that they should have been committed by the soldiery of so civilised a State, when, in a momentary pause of our astonishment, our friend, who had been listening in silence, crumpling the drooping soft ear of his dog, looked up and said, “The cause of atrocities is generally the violence of Fear. Panic’s at the back of most crimes and follies.”

Knowing that his philosophical statements were always the result of concrete instance, and that he would not tell us what that instance was if we asked him–such being his nature–we were careful not to agree.

He gave us a look out of those eyes of his, so like the eyes of a mild eagle, and said abruptly: “What do you say to this, then? . . . I was out in the dog-days last year with this fellow of mine, looking for Osmunda, and stayed some days in a village–never mind the name. Coming back one evening from my tramp, I saw some boys stoning a mealy-coloured dog. I went up and told the young devils to stop it. They only looked at me in the injured way boys do, and one of them called out, ‘It’s mad, guv’nor!’ I told them to clear off, and they took to their heels. The dog followed me. It was a young, leggy, mild looking mongrel, cross–I should say–between a brown retriever and an Irish terrier. There was froth about its lips, and its eyes were watery; it looked indeed as if it might be in distemper. I was afraid of infection for this fellow of mine, and whenever it came too close shooed it away, till at last it slunk off altogether. Well, about nine o’clock, when I was settling down to write by the open window of my sitting-room–still daylight, and very quiet and warm–there began that most maddening sound, the barking of an unhappy dog. I could do nothing with that continual ‘Yap yap!’ going on, and it was too hot to shut the window; so I went out to see if I could stop it. The men were all at the pub, and the women just finished with their gossip; there was no sound at all but the continual barking of this dog, somewhere away out in the fields. I travelled by ear across three meadows, till I came on a hay-stack by a pool of water. There was the dog sure enough–the same mealy-coloured mongrel, tied to a stake, yapping, and making frantic little runs on a bit of rusty chain; whirling round and round the stake, then standing quite still, and shivering. I went up and spoke to it, but it backed into the hay-stack, and there it stayed shrinking away from me, with its tongue hanging out. It had been heavily struck by something on the head; the cheek was cut, one eye half-closed, and an ear badly swollen. I tried to get hold of it, but the poor thing was beside itself with fear. It snapped and flew round so that I had to give it up, and sit down with this fellow here beside me, to try and quiet it–a strange dog, you know, will generally form his estimate of you from the way it sees you treat another dog. I had to sit there quite half an hour before it would let me go up to it, pull the stake out, and lead it away. The poor beast, though it was so feeble from the blows it had received, was still half-frantic, and I didn’t dare to touch it; and all the time I took good care that this fellow here didn’t come too near. Then came the question what was to be done. There was no vet, of course, and I’d no place to put it except my sitting-room, which didn’t belong to me. But, looking at its battered head, and its half-mad eyes, I thought: ‘No trusting you with these bumpkins; you’ll have to come in here for the night!’ Well, I got it in, and heaped two or three of those hairy little red rugs landladies are so fond of, up in a corner; and got it on to them, and put down my bread and milk. But it wouldn’t eat–its sense of proportion was all gone, fairly destroyed by terror. It lay there moaning, and every now and then it raised its head with a ‘yap’ of sheer fright, dreadful to hear, and bit the air, as if its enemies were on it again; and this fellow of mine lay in the opposite corner, with his head on his paw, watching it. I sat up for a long time with that poor beast, sick enough, and wondering how it had come to be stoned and kicked and battered into this state; and next day I made it my business to find out.”