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A Yellow Dog
by [?]

I never knew why in the Western States of America a yellow dog should be proverbially considered the acme of canine degradation and incompetency, nor why the possession of one should seriously affect the social standing of its possessor. But the fact being established, I think we accepted it at Rattlers Ridge without question. The matter of ownership was more difficult to settle; and although the dog I have in my mind at the present writing attached himself impartially and equally to everyone in camp, no one ventured to exclusively claim him; while, after the perpetration of any canine atrocity, everybody repudiated him with indecent haste.

“Well, I can swear he hasn’t been near our shanty for weeks,” or the retort, “He was last seen comin’ out of YOUR cabin,” expressed the eagerness with which Rattlers Ridge washed its hands of any responsibility. Yet he was by no means a common dog, nor even an unhandsome dog; and it was a singular fact that his severest critics vied with each other in narrating instances of his sagacity, insight, and agility which they themselves had witnessed.

He had been seen crossing the “flume” that spanned Grizzly Canyon at a height of nine hundred feet, on a plank six inches wide. He had tumbled down the “shoot” to the South Fork, a thousand feet below, and was found sitting on the riverbank “without a scratch, ‘cept that he was lazily givin’ himself with his off hind paw.” He had been forgotten in a snowdrift on a Sierran shelf, and had come home in the early spring with the conceited complacency of an Alpine traveler and a plumpness alleged to have been the result of an exclusive diet of buried mail bags and their contents. He was generally believed to read the advance election posters, and disappear a day or two before the candidates and the brass band– which he hated–came to the Ridge. He was suspected of having overlooked Colonel Johnson’s hand at poker, and of having conveyed to the Colonel’s adversary, by a succession of barks, the danger of betting against four kings.

While these statements were supplied by wholly unsupported witnesses, it was a very human weakness of Rattlers Ridge that the responsibility of corroboration was passed to the dog himself, and HE was looked upon as a consummate liar.

“Snoopin’ round yere, and CALLIN’ yourself a poker sharp, are ye! Scoot, you yaller pizin!” was a common adjuration whenever the unfortunate animal intruded upon a card party. “Ef thar was a spark, an ATOM of truth in THAT DOG, I’d believe my own eyes that I saw him sittin’ up and trying to magnetize a jay bird off a tree. But wot are ye goin’ to do with a yaller equivocator like that?”

I have said that he was yellow–or, to use the ordinary expression, “yaller.” Indeed, I am inclined to believe that much of the ignominy attached to the epithet lay in this favorite pronunciation. Men who habitually spoke of a “YELLOW bird,” a “YELLOW-hammer,” a “YELLOW leaf,” always alluded to him as a “YALLER dog.”

He certainly WAS yellow. After a bath–usually compulsory–he presented a decided gamboge streak down his back, from the top of his forehead to the stump of his tail, fading in his sides and flank to a delicate straw color. His breast, legs, and feet–when not reddened by “slumgullion,” in which he was fond of wading–were white. A few attempts at ornamental decoration from the India-ink pot of the storekeeper failed, partly through the yellow dog’s excessive agility, which would never give the paint time to dry on him, and partly through his success in transferring his markings to the trousers and blankets of the camp.

The size and shape of his tail–which had been cut off before his introduction to Rattlers Ridge–were favorite sources of speculation to the miners, as determining both his breed and his moral responsibility in coming into camp in that defective condition. There was a general opinion that he couldn’t have looked worse with a tail, and its removal was therefore a gratuitous effrontery.