Fairest of darkie daughters|
Was Dinah Doe!
After the War, the two men joined forces on four thousand pounds capital; a dozen young veterans of Messines; a lease of some sheds in a London suburb, and a collection of second-hand lathes and stampers. They gave out that they were ready to make anything for anybody.
A South African mine-manager asked about a detachable arrangement on a drill-head, which he could not buy in open market for less than four shillings and sevenpence wholesale. Marden considered the drawings, cut down the moving parts a half. Burnea made an astonished machine undertake strange duties, and by the time he had racked it to bits, they were delivering the article at one shilling and tenpence. A newly opened mine on a crest of the Andes, where llamas were, for the moment, cheaper than lorries, needed metal stiffenings and clips for pack-saddles (drawing enclosed). The first model went back in a month. In another fortnight the order was filled, with improvements. At the end of their first year, an Orinoco dredging concern, worried over some barges which did not handle auriferous sludge as they ought; and a wild-cat proposition on a New Guinea beach where natives treated detonating capsules with contempt; were writing their friends that you could send Burnea and Marden the roughest sketches of what you wanted, because they understood them.
So the firm flourished. The young veterans drove the shifts ten hours a day; the versatile but demoralised machinery was displaced by sterner stuff; and their third year’s profits ran into five figures. Then Burnea, who had the financial head, died of pulmonary trouble, a by-product of gas-poison, and left Marden his share of the Works, plus thirty-six thousand pounds all on fixed deposit in a Bank, because the head of one of its branches had once been friendly with him in a trench. The Works were promptly enlarged, and Marden worked fourteen hours a day instead of twelve, and, to save time, followed Burnea’s habit of pushing money which he did not need into the same Bank at the same meek rate of interest. But, for the look of the thing, he hired a genuine financial secretary, who was violently affected when John explained the firm’s theory of investments, and recommended some alterations which Marden was too busy to attend to. Six months later, there fell on him three big contracts, which surpassed his dreams of avarice. At this point he took what sleep was forced on him in a cot in Burnea’s old office. At this point, too, Jerry Floyd, ex-Sergeant of Sappers at Messines, and drawing eighteen pounds a week with irregular bonuses, struck loudly.
‘What’s the matter with your job, Jerry?’ John asked.
‘‘Tain’t a job—that’s all. My machines do everything for me except strike. I’ve got to do that,’ said Jerry with reproach.
‘Soft job. Stick to it,’ John counselled.
‘Stick to bloomin’ what? Turnin’ two taps and fiddlin’ three levers? Get a girl to do it for you. Repetition-work! I’m fed up!’
‘Take ten days’ leave, you fool,’ said John; which Jerry did, and was arrested for exceeding the speed-limit through angry gipsies at Brough horse-fair. John Marden went to bed behind his office as usual, and—without warning—suffered a night so memorable that he looked up the nearest doctor in the Directory, and went to see him. Being inarticulate, except where the Works were concerned, he explained that he felt as though he had got the hump—was stale, fed-up, and so forth. He thought, perhaps, he might have been working a bit too hard; but he said not a word of the horror, the blackness, the loss of the meaning of things, the collapses at the end, the recovery and retraversing of the circle of that night’s Inferno; nor how it had waked up a certain secret dread which he had held off him since demobilisation.
‘Can’t you rest a bit?’ asked the doctor, whose real interests were renal calculi.
‘I’ve never tried.’
‘Haven’t you any hobbies or—friends, then?’
‘Except the Works, none.’
‘Nothing—more important in your life?’
John’s face was answer enough. ‘No! No! But what’ll I do? What’ll I do?’ he asked wildly. ‘I—I have never been like this before!’
‘I’ll give you a sedative, but you must slack off, and divert your mind. Yes! That’s it. Divert your mind.’
John went back to the Works, and strove to tell his secretary something about the verdict. The man was perfunctorily sympathetic, but what he wanted John to understand (he seemed at the other end of the world as he spoke) was that, owing to John’s ignorance of finance, the whole of the Works stood as John’s personal property. So that, if John died, they would be valued and taxed thirty or forty ’er cent for death-duties, and that would cripple things badly. Not a minute should be lost before turning the concern into a chain of companies. He had the scheme drafted. It would need but a couple of days’ study. John looked at the papers, listened to the explanation, stared at a calendar on the wall, and heard himself speaking as from the bottom of a black, cold crater:
‘It don’t mean anything—half a million or three quarters or—or—or anything. Oh sorry! It’s gone up like the Ridge, and I’m a dud, you know.’
Then he returned to his expensive flat, which the same secretary had taken for him a year before, and prepared to do nothing for a month except to think upon the night he had passed in Burnea’s old office, and to expect, and get, others like it. A few men came—once each—grinned at him, told him to buck up, and went on to their own concerns. He was ministered to by his ex-batman, Corporal Vincent Shingle, systematically a peculator, intermittently a drunkard, and emphatically a liar. Twice—once underground, where he had penetrated with a thermos full of hot coffee, and a piece of gallery had sat down on him; and once at Bailleul, when the lunatics of the local asylum were let out, and he was chased by a homicidal maniac with a thigh-bone—Marden had saved Shingle’s life. Twice—once out of the crumbling rim of a crater; and once by the slack of his breeches, when a whiff of gas dropped him over the mouth of a shaft—he had saved Marden’s. Therefore, he came along with the rest of the Messines’ veterans to the Works, whence Jerry Floyd kicked him into space at the end of the first month. Upon this, he returned to John Marden’s personal service and the study of John’s private correspondence and most intimate possessions. As he explained to Probert, the janitor of the flats, the night after the doctor had spoken
‘The ’ole game of gettin’-on is to save your bloke trouble. ’E don’t know it, but I do ’is ’ome work for ’im while ’e makes money for me at ’is office. Na-o! ’E don’t spend it on me. That I ’ave to do meself. But I don’t grudge the labour.’
‘Then what’s ’e been seein’ the doctor about?’ said Probert, who had an impure mind.
‘’Cause ’e’s got what Jerry Floyd ’ad. ’E’s fed up with repetition-work and richness. I’ve watched it comin’ on. It’s the same as we used to ’ave it in the War—but t’other way round. You can’t mistake.’
‘What’s goin’ to ’appen?’
‘Gawd knows! I’m standin’ to. The doctor ’as told ’im to lie off everythin’ for a month—in one motion. If you stop runnin’ machinery without slowin’ ’er down, she’ll lift ’erself off the bedplate. I’ve seen so with pumps.’
But machinery suddenly arrested has no resources in itself. Human mechanism under strain finds comfort in a drink or two. Running about in cars with no definite object bored John Marden as much as drumming under the clouds in aeroplanes; theatres made him think impotently of new gadgets for handling the scenery, or extracting opera-glasses from their clips; cards and golf ended in his counting the pips in his hand, or the paces between shot and shot; whereas drinks softened the outlines of things, if not at once, then after a little repetition-work.
The result came when a Fear leaped out of the goose-fleshed streets of London between the icy shop-fronts, and drove John to his flat. He argued that it must have been a chill, and fortified himself against it so resolutely that an advertisement, which had caught the tail-end of his eye, stood up before him in the shape of a full-sized red and white bullock, dancing in a tea-cup. It was succeeded a few days later by a small dog, pressed against the skirting-board of his room—an inky, fat horror with a pink tongue, crouched in the attitude of a little beast he had often watched at Mr. William’s fashionable West End pet-shop, where dogs lived in excelsior-floored cubicles, appealing to the passers-by. It began. as a spreading blurr, which morning after morning became more definite. It was better than the ox in the tea-cup, till it was borne in on John Marden one dawn that, if It crawled out into the centre of the room, the Universe would crash down on him. He wondered till he sweated, dried and broke out again, what would happen to him then, and how suicides were judged. After a drink or two, he became cunning and diplomatic with—of all experts in the world—his batman, to whom he told the tale of a friend who ‘saw things.’ The result was tabulated that afternoon in the basement, where Shingle and Probert were drinking his whisky.
‘Well,—now we’re arrivin’ at objective A,’ said Shingle. ‘I knew last week ’e’d begun seein’ ’em, ’cause ’e couldn’t turn ’is eyes out o’ corners. O’ course, ’e says it’s overtook a friend of ’is.’
‘Reasonable enough,’ said Probert. ‘We all keep that friend.’
‘Let’s get down to figures,’ Shingle went on. ‘Two bottles is ’is week’s whack. An’ we know ’e don’t use cocktails. Well; that don’t make much more’n four drinks a day. You can’t get nothin’ special on that issue—not in nature.’
‘Women also?,’ Probert suggested.
‘Be-e damned! I know there ain’t. No. It’s a black dawg. That’s neither ’ere nor there. But, if it comes out into the room, ‘is pore friend ’ll go off ’is rocker. That is objective B.’
‘Ye-es,’ said Probert. ‘I’ve ’ad ’em too. What about it?’
‘I’m askin’ you if reel dawgs are allowed in the flats. Are they?’ said Shingle.
Probert dismissed the matter loftily.
‘As between us!’ he began. ‘Don’t stay awake for it! I’ve sanctioned kittens in two flats this spring. What’s the game?’
‘’Air o’ the dog that bit ’im,’ Shingle answered. ‘I mean ’is pore friend!’
‘What about small-arms in ’is possession,’ said Probert. ‘You know.’
‘On’y ’is pistol, an’ ’e’ll ’ave a proper ’unt for that. Now mind you don’t go back on what you said about keepin’ dawgs ’ere.’
Shingle went off, dressed in most items out of his master’s wardrobe, with the pawnticket for his master’s revolver in his pocket.
John’s state was less gracious. He was walking till he should tire himself out and his brain would cease to flinch at every face that looked so closely at him because he was going mad. If he walked for two hours and a half without halt, round and round the Parks, he might drug his mind by counting his paces till the rush of numbers would carry on awhile after he finished. At seven o’clock he re-entered the flat, and stared at his feet, while he raced through numbers from eleven thousand up. When he lifted his eyes, the black Thing he expected was pressed against the skirting-board. The tonic the doctor had prescribed stood on a table. He drew the cork with his teeth, and gulped down to the first mark on the glass. He fancied he heard small, thumping sounds. Turning, it seemed to him that the Thing by the wall was working outwards.
Then there were two John Mardens—one dissolved by terror; the other, a long way off, detached, but as much in charge of him as he used to be of his underground shift at Messines.
‘It’s coming out into the room,’ roared the first. ‘Now you’ve got to go mad! Your pistol—before you make an exhibition of yourself!’
‘Call it, you fool! Call it! ‘ the other commanded.
‘Come along! Good dog! Come along!’ John whispered.
Slowly, ears pressed to head, the inky blurr crawled across the parquet on to the rug.
‘Go-ood doggie. Come along, then!’ John held out a clenched fist and felt, he thought, a touch of hell-fire that would have sent him through the window, except for the second John, who said:—
‘Right! All right! A cold nose is the sign of a well dog. It’s all right! It’s alive!’
‘No. It’s come alive!’ shouted the first. ‘It’ll grow like the bullock in the cup! Pistol, you!’
‘No—no—alive! Quite alive!’ the other interrupted. ‘It’s licking your fist, and—nff!—it’s made a mess in the corner—on the polished three-eighth-inch oak-parquet, set on cement with brick archings. Shovel!—Not pistol! Get the shovel, you ass!’
Then, John Marden repeated aloud:
‘Yes. It’s made a mess. I’ll get the shovel—shovel—steel—nickel-handled—one. Oh, you filthy little beast!’
He reached among the fire-irons and did what was necessary. The small thing, flat, almost, as a postage-stamp, crawled after him. It was sorry, it whimpered. Indeed, it had been properly brought up, but circumstances had been too much for it, and it apologised—on its back. John stirred it with a toe. Feeling its amends had been accepted, it first licked and then rapturously bit his shoe.
‘It’s a dog right enough,’ said John. He lifted a cracked voice and called aloud:
‘There is a dog here! I mean there’s a dog here.’
As he remembered himself and leaned towards the bell-push, Shingle entered from the bedroom, where he had been laying out dinner-kit, with a story of some badly washed shirts that seemed on his mind.
‘But there’s a dog—’ said John.
Oh, yes! Now that John mentioned it, a pup had arrived at 5.15 P.M.—brought over from the dog-shop by Mr. Wilham himself who, having observed Captain Marden’s interest in his windows, had taken the liberty of sending on approval—price fifteen guineas—one Dinah, jet black Aberdeen of the dwarf type, aged five months and a fortnight, with pedigree attached to Mr. Wilham’s letter (on the mantelpiece, left when Mr. Wilham found Captain Marden was not at home, sir) and which would confirm all the above statements. Shingle took his time to make everything clear, speaking in a tone that no man of his acquaintance had ever heard. He broke back often to the badly washed shirts, which somehow. John found comforting. The pup ceased to grovel.
‘Wilham was right about ’er breedin’. Not a white ’air on ’er! An’ look at ’er boo-som frills!’ said Shingle voluptuously.
Dinah, ears just prickable, sat on the floor between them, looking like a bandy-legged bat.
‘But one can’t keep dogs in these flats. It’s forbidden, isn’t it?’ John asked.
‘Me an’ the janitor ’ll arrange that. Probert’ll come in ’andy to take ’er walks, too.’ Shingle mused aloud.
‘But I don’t know anything about dogs.’
‘She’ll look after all that. She’s a bitch, you see, sir. An’ so that’ll be all right.’
Shingle went back to the evening-kit.
John and Dinah faced each other before the fire. His feet, as he sat, were crossed at the ankles. Dinah moved forward to the crotch thus presented, jammed her boat-nosed head into it up to the gullet, pressed down her chin till she found the exact angle that suited her, tucked her forelegs beneath her, grunted, and went to sleep, warm and alive. When John moved, she rebuked him, and Shingle, ten minutes later, found him thus immobilised.
‘H’sh!’ said John.
But Dinah was awake and said so.
‘Oh! That’s it, is it?’ Shingle grinned. ‘She knows ’oo’s what already.’
‘How d’you mean?’ John asked.
‘She knows where I come in. She’s yours. I’ve got to look after ’er. That’s all. ’Tisn’t as if she was a dog-pup.’
‘Yes, but what am I to do about her?’
‘We-ell, o’ course, you must be careful you don’t mix up with others. She’s just the right age for distemper. She’ll ’ave to be took out on the lead. An’ then there’ll be ’er basket an’ sundries.’
John Marden did not attend, because in the corner, close to the skirting-board, lay That Other, who had borne him company for the past few days.
‘She—looks like a good ratter,’ he stammered.
‘I’d forgot that. ’Ere! Young lady!’ said Shingle, following the line of John’s eye. ‘’Ave you ever ’eard anything about rats?’
Dinah rose at once and signified that she had—lots.
‘That’s it, then! Rrrats! Rrats, ducky! Rrrout ’em out! ‘
She in turn followed the hint of Shingle’s hand, scuttled to the corner indicated, and said what she would have done had enemies been present. When she trotted back, That Other took shape again behind her, but John felt relieved.
‘Now about dinner, sir!’ said Shingle. ‘It’s ’er first night at ’ome. ’Twouldn’t do to disappoint ’er, would it?’
‘Bring something up here then,’ said John. ‘I’ll dress now.’
On Shingle’s departure he rose and, followed by an interested Dinah, trod, not for the first time, firmly in the corners of his room. Then he went to dress. Dinah backed against the bath, the wisdom of centuries in her little solemn mask, till John’s fluttering shirt-tails broke it all up. She leaped, grabbed them, and swung into John’s calves. John kicked back. She retired under the bulge of the porcelain and told him what she thought of him. He sat down and laughed. She scolded till he dropped a stud, and the two hunted for it round the cork mat, and he was just able to retrieve it from between her teeth. Both sat down to meat, a little warm and dishevelled. That Other watched them, but did not insist, though Dinah backed into him twice.
‘I’ve made a temp’ry collar and lead off Probert. I’ll take ’er for ’er last walk,’ Shingle announced when he had cleared away.
‘You will not,’ said John. ‘Give ’em to me.’
The upshot was some strenuous exercise in the Mall, when Dinah, to whom night and London were new, lassoed John twice and a stranger once, besides nearly choking when she was snatched from under the wheels of a car. This so saddened her that she sat down, and had to be brought home, languidly affectionate, in a taxi. As John said, the adventure showed she would not be afraid of cars.
‘There’s nothin’ that young woman’s afraid of, ’cept not bein’ made much of,’ Shingle replied. ‘Green ’ud suit ’er better than red in collars. But I expect you’ll do your own buyin’, sir.’
‘I will. You get the dog-biscuit,’ said John.
‘Puppy-biscuit!’ said Shingle, deeply shocked, and he mentioned the only brand. ‘A pup’s like a child—all stummick.’
Going to bed was a riot. Dinah had no intention of being left out, and when John moved a foot, tried to chew down to it through the blankets till she was admitted. Shingle, with the shaving-water, would have given her her walk before breakfast next morning; but John took the duty, and she got muddy and had to be cleaned and dried on her return. Then, at Shingle’s reminder, came the shopping expedition. John bought a green collar for Sunday, and a red for weekdays; two ditto leads; one wicker basket with green baize squab; two brushes; one toothed comb and one curry; and—Shingle sent him out again for these—pills, alterative, tonic, and antithelmintic. Ungrateful Dinah chewed the basket’s varnished rim, ripped the bowels out of the squab, nipped Marden’s inexperienced fingers as he gave her her first pill, and utterly refused to be brushed.
‘Gawd!’ said the agile Shingle, who was helping. ‘Mother used to say a child was a noosance. Twins ain’t in it with you, Dinah. An’ now I suppose you’ll ’ave to show ’em all off in your car.’
John’s idea had been a walk down the Mall, but Shingle dwelt on the dangers of distemper and advised Richmond Park in, since rain was likely, the limousine. Dinah condescended a little when it came round, but hopped up into the right-hand seat, and gave leave to get under way. When they reached the Park she was so delighted that she clean forgot her name, and John chivvied her, shouting till she remembered. Shingle had put up a lunch, for fear, he explained, of hotels where ladies brought infectious Pekes, flown over for them by reprobate lovers in the Air Service; and after a couple of hours bounding through bracken, John appreciated the half-bottle of Burgundy that went with it. On their return, all Dinah’s wordly pose dropped. ‘I am,’ she sniffed, ‘but a small pup with a large nose. Let me rest it on your breast and don’t you stop loving me for one minute.’ So John slept too, and the chauffeur trundled them back at five o’clock.
‘Pubs?’ Probert demanded out of a corner of his mouth when John had gone indoors.
‘Not in ther least,’ said Shingle. ‘Accordin’ to our taxi-man’—(Shingle did not love John’s chauffeur)—‘Women and Song was ’is game. ’E says you ought to ’ave ’eard ’im ’owling after ’er. ’E’ll be out in his own Hizzer-Swizzer in a week.’
‘That’s your business. But what about my commission on the price? You don’t expect me to sanction dawgs ’ere for nothin’? Come on! It’s all found money for you.’
John went drowsily up in the lift and finished his doze. When he waked, That Other was in his corner, but Shingle had found two tennis balls, with which Dinah was playing the Eton Wall Game by herself up and down the skirting-board—pushing one with her nose, patting the other along with her paws, right through That Other’s profiles.
‘That shows she’s been kitten-trained,’ said Shingle. ‘I’ll bring up the janitor’s and make sure.’
But the janitor’s kitten had not been pup-trained and leaped on the table, to make sure. Dinah followed. It took all hands ten minutes to clear up the smashed glass of siphon, tumbler, and decanter, in case she cut her feet. The aftermath was reaped by a palpitating vacuum-cleaner, which Dinah insisted was hostile.
When she and John and That Other in the corner sat it out after dinner, she discovered gifts of conversation. In the intervals of gossip she would seek and nose both balls about the room, then return to John’s foot, lay her chin over it, and pick up where she had left off, in eloquent whimperings.
‘Does she want anything?’ he asked Shingle.
‘Nothin’, excep’ not to be out of your mind for a minute. ’Ow about a bone now, Dinah?’ Out came her little pink tongue, sideways, there was a grunt and a sneeze, and she pirouetted gaily before the serving-man.
‘Come downstairs, then,’ he said.
‘Bring it up here!’ said John, sweeping aside Shingle’s views on Bokhara rugs. This was messy—till Dinah understood that bones must be attended to on newspapers spread for that purpose.
These things were prelude to a month of revelations, in which Dinah showed herself all that she was, and more, since she developed senses and moods for John only. She was by turns, and in places, arrogant, imbecile, coy, forthcoming, jealous, exacting, abject, humourous, or, apparently, stone-cold, but in every manifestation adorable, and to be attended to before drinks. Shingle, as necessary to her comfort, stood on the fringe of her favours, but John was her Universe. And for her, after four weeks, he found himself doing what he had never done since Messines. He sang sentimental ditties—on his awful topnotes Dinah would join in—such as:—
‘Oh, show me a liddle where to find a rose|
To give to ma honey chi-ile!
Oh, show me a liddle where my love goes
An’ I’ll follow her all de while!’
At which she would caper, one ear up and one a quarter down. Then:—
‘Ma love she gave me a kiss on de mouf,|
An’ how can I let her go-o?
And I’ll follow her norf, and I’ll follow her souf
Because I love her so!’
‘’Oo-ooo I Oooo!’ Dinah would wail to the ceiling.
And then came calamity, after a walk in the Green Park, and Shingle said:—‘I told you so.’ Dinah went off her feed, shivered, stared, ran at the nose, grew gummy round the eyes, and coughed.
‘Ye-es,’ said Shingle, rubbing his chin above her. ‘The better the breed, the worse they cop it. Oh, damn the ’ole Air Force! It’ll be a day-and-night job, I’m thinkin’. Look up a Vet in the Directory? Gawd! No! This is distemper. I know a Canine Specialist and——’
He went to the telephone without asking leave.
The Canine Specialist was duly impressed by John and his wealth, and more effectively by Shingle. He laid down rules of nursing and diet which the two noted in duplicate, and split into watches round the clock.
‘She ’as worked like a charm ’itherto,’ Shingle confided to Probert, whose wife cooked for Dinah’s poor appetite. ‘She’s jerked ’im out of ’isself proper. But if anythin’ ’appens to ’er now, it’ll be all Messines over again for ’im.’
‘Did ’e cop it bad there, then?’
‘Once, to my knowledge. I ’eard ’im before ’e went underground prayin’ that ’is cup might parse. It ’ad come over ’im in an ’eap. Ye-es! It ’appens—it ’appens, as mother used to say when we was young.’
‘Then it’s up to you to see nothing happens this time.’
“Looks it! But she’s as jealous as a school teacher over ’im. Pore little bitch! Ain’t it odd, though? She knows ’ow to play Weepin’ Agnes with ’im as well as a woman! But she’s cured ’im of lookin’ in corners, an’ ’e’s been damnin’ me something like ’olesome.’
John, indeed, was unendurably irritable while Dinah’s trouble was increasing. He slept badly at first, then too heavily, between watches, and fussed so much that Shingle suggested Turkish baths to recover his tone. But Dinah grew steadily worse, till there was one double watch which Shingle reported to Probert as a ‘fair curiosity.’ ‘I ’eard ’im Our Fatherin’ in the bath-room when ’e come off watch and she ’adn’t conked out.’
Presently there was improvement, followed by relapse, and grave talk of possible pneumonia. That passed, too, but left a dreadful whimpering weakness, till one day she chose to patter back to life with her scimitar tail going like an egg-whisk. During her convalescence she had discovered that her sole concern was to love John Marden unlimitedly; to follow him pace by pace when he moved; to sit still and worship him when he stopped; to flee to his foot when he took a chair; to defend him loudly against enemies, such as cats and callers; to confide in, cherish, pet, cuddle, and deify without cease; and, failing that, to mount guard over his belongings. Shingle bore it very well.
‘Yes, I know you!’ he observed to her one morning when she was daring him to displace John’s pyjamas from their bed. ‘I’d be no good to you unless I was a puppy-biscuit. An’ yet I did ’ave an’ ’and in pullin’ you through, you pukka little bitch, you.’
For some while she preferred cars to her own feet, and her wishes were gratified, especially in the Hizzer-Swizzer which, with John at the wheel—you do not drink when you drive Hizzer-Swizzers—suited her. Her place was at his left elbow, nose touching his sleeve, until the needle reached fifty, when she had to throw it up and sing aloud. Thus, she saw much of summer England, but somehow did not recover her old form, in spite of Shingle’s little doses of black coffee and sherry.
John felt the drag of the dull, warm days too and went back to the Works for half a week, where he sincerely tried to find out what his secretary meant by plans for reorganisation. It sounded exactly like words, but conveyed nothing. Then he spent a night like that first one after Jerry Floyd had struck, and tried to deal with it by the same means; but found himself dizzily drunk almost before he began.
‘The fuse was advanced,’ Shingle chuckled to Probert. ‘’E was like a boy with ’is first pipe. An’ a virgin’s ’ead in the mornin’! That shows the success of me treatment. But a man ’as to think of ’is own interests once-awhile. It’s time for me Bank ’Oliday.’
‘You an’ your ’olidays. Ain’t your bloke got any will of ’is own?’
‘Not yet. ’E’s still on the dole. ’Urry your Mrs. P. up with our medical comforts.’
That was Dinah’s beef-tea, and very good. But if you mix with it a few grains of a certain stuff, little dogs won’t touch it.
‘She’s off ’er feed again,’ said Shingle despairingly to John, whose coaxings were of no avail.
‘Change is what you want,’ said Shingle to her under his breath. ‘’Tain’t fair to keep a dawg in town in summer. I ain’t sayin’ anythin’ against the flat.’
‘What’s all that?’ said John. Shingle’s back was towards him.
‘I said I wasn’t sayin’ anythin’ against the flat, sir. A man can doss down anywhere——’
‘Doss? I pay eight hundred a year for the thing!’
‘But it’s different with dawgs, sir, was all I was going to remark. Furniture’s no treat to them.’
‘She stays with me,’ John snapped, while Dinah tried to explain how she had been defrauded of her soup.
‘Of course she stays—till she conks out.’ Shingle removed the bowl funereally. . . .
‘No, I ’ave not pulled it off at one go,’ he said to Probert. ‘If you ’ad jest finished with seein’ dawgs in corners, you wouldn’t want to crash into society at a minute’s notice, either. You’d think a bit before’and an’ look round for a dry dug-out. That’s what we’re doin’.’
Two days later, he dropped a word that he had a sister in the country, married to a cowkeeper, who took in approved lodgers. If anyone doubted the merits of the establishment, the Hizzer-Swizzer could get there in two hours, and make sure. It did so, and orders were given for the caravan to start next day, that not a moment might be lost in restoring Dinah.
She hopped out into a world of fields full of red and white bullocks, who made her (and John) flinch a little; and rabbits always on the edge of being run down. There was, too, a cat called Ginger, evidently used to dogs; and a dusty old collie, Jock, whom she snapped into line after five abject minutes.
‘It suits ’er,’ Shingle pronounced. ‘The worst she’ll catch off Jock is fleas. Fairy Anne! I’ve brought the Keatings.’
Dinah left Jock alone. Ginger, who knew all about rats and rabbits, was more to her mind, and those two ladies would work together along the brookside on fine, and through the barns on wet, mornings, chaperoned by John and a nobby stick. She was bitten through the nose at her first attempt, but said nothing about it at the time, nor when she laid out the disinterred corpse in his bedroom—till she was introduced to iodine.
The afternoons were given to walks which began with a mighty huntress before her lord, standing on hind legs at every third bound to overlook the tall September grass, and ended with a trailing pup, who talked to John till he picked her up, laid her across his neck, a pair of small feet in each hand, and carried her drowsily licking his right cheek.
For evenings, there were great games. Dinah had invented a form of ‘footer’ with her tennis ball. John would roll it to her, and she returned it with her nose, as straight as a die, till she thought she had lulled him into confidence. Then angle and pace would change, and John had to scramble across the room to recover and shoot it back, if possible past her guard. Or she would hide (cheating like a child, the while) till he threw it into a corner, and she stormed after it, slipped, fetched up against the skirting-board and swore. Last of all came the battle for the centre of the bed; the ferocious growling onsets; the kisses on the nose; the grunt of affectionate defeat and the soft jowl stretched out on his shoulder.
With all these preoccupations and demands, John’s days slipped away like blanks beneath a stamping-machine. But, somehow, he picked up a slight cold one Sunday, and Shingle, who had been given the evening off with a friend, had reduced the neglected whisky to a quarter bottle. John eked it out with hot water, sugar, and three aspirins, and told Dinah that she might play with Ginger while he kept himself housed.
He was comfortably perspiring at 7 P.M., when he dozed on the sofa, and only woke for Sunday cold supper at eight. Dinah did not enter with it, and Shingle’s sister, who had small time-sense, said that she had seen her with Ginger mousing in the wash-house ‘just now.’ So he did not draw the house for her till past nine; nor finish his search of the barns, flashing his torch in all corners, till later. Then he hurried to the kitchen and told his tale.
‘She’ve been wired,’ said the cowman. ‘She’ve been poaching along with Ginger, an’ she’ve been caught in a rabbit-wire. Ginger wouldn’t never be caught—twice. It’s different with dogs as cats. That’s it. Wired.’
‘Where, think you?’
‘All about the woods somewhere—same’s Jock did when ’e were young. But ’e give tongue, so I dug ’im out.’
At the sound of his name, the old ruffian pushed his head knee-high into the talk.
‘She’d answer me from anywhere,’ said John.
‘Then you’d best look for her. I’d go with ’e, but it’s foot-washin’s for me to-night. An’ take you a graf’ along. I’ll tell Shingle to sit up till you come back. ’E ain’t ’ome yet.’
Shingle’s sister passed him a rabbiting-spade out of the wash-house, and John went forth with three aspirins and some whisky inside him, and all the woods and fields under the stars to make choice of. He felt Jock’s nose in his hand and appealed to him desperately.
‘It’s Dinah! Go seek, boy! It’s Dinah! Seek!’
Jock seemed unconcerned, but he slouched towards the brook, and turned through wet grasses while John, calling and calling, followed him towards a line of hanging woods that clothed one side of the valley. Stumps presently tripped him, and John fell several times but Jock waited. Last, for a long while, they quartered a full-grown wood, with the spotlight of his torch making the fallen stuff look like coils of half-buried wire between the Lines. He heard a church clock strike eleven as he drew breath under the top of the rise, and wondered a little why a spire should still be standing. Then he remembered that this was England, and strained his ears to make sure that his calls were not answered. The collie nosed ground and moved on, evidently interested. John thought he heard a reply at last; plunged forward without using his torch, fell, and rolled down a steep bank, breathless and battered, into a darkness deeper than that of the woods. Jock followed him whimpering. He called. He heard Dinah’s smothered whine—switched on the light and discovered a small cliff of sandstone ribbed with tree-roots. He moved along the cliff towards the sound, till his light showed him a miniature canon in its face, which he entered. In a few yards the cleft became a tunnel, but—he was calling softly now—there was no doubt that Dinah lay somewhere at the end. He held on till the lowering roof forced him to knees and elbows and, presently, stomach. Dinah’s whimper continued. He wriggled forward again, and his shoulders brushed either side of the downward-sloping way. Then every forgotten or hardly-held-back horror of his two years’ underground-work returned on him with the imagined weight of all earth overhead.
A handful of sand dropped from the roof and crumbled between his neck and coat-collar. He had but to retire an inch or two and the pressure would be relieved, and he could widen the bottlenecked passage with his spade; but terror beyond all terrors froze him, even though Dinah was appealing somewhere a little ahead. Release came in a spasm and a wrench that drove him backward six feet like a prawn. Then he realised that it would be all to do again, and shook as with fever.
At last his jerking hand steadied on the handle of the spade. He poked it ahead of him, at halfarm’s length, and gingerly pared the sides of the tunnel, raking the sand out with his hands, and passing it under his body in the old way of the old work, till he estimated, by torchlight, that he might move up a little without being pinned again. By some special mercy the tunnel beyond the section he had enlarged grew wider. He followed on, flashed once more, and saw Dinah, her head pressed close to the right-hand side of it, her white-rimmed eyes green and set.
He pushed himself forward over a last pit of terror, and touched her. There was no wire, but a tough, thumb-shaped root, sticking out of the sand-wall, had hooked itself into her collar, sprung backwards and upwards, and locked her helplessly by the neck. His fingers trembled so at first that he could not follow the kinks of it. He shut his eyes, and humoured it out by touch, as he had done with wires and cables deep down under the Ridge; grabbed Dinah, and pushed himself back to the free air outside.
There he was sick as never he had been in all his days or nights. When he was faintly restored, he saw Dinah sitting beside Jock, wondering why her Lover—King—and God did all these noisy things.
On his feet at last, he crawled out of the sandpit that had been a warren, badger’s holt, and foxes’ larder for generations, and wavered homeward, empty as a drum, cut, bruised, bleeding, streaked with dirt and raffle that had caked where the sweat had dried on him, knees bending both ways, and eyes unable to judge distance. Nothing in his working past had searched him to these depths. But Dinah was in his arms, and it was she who announced their return to the stilllighted farm at the hour of 1 A.M.
Shingle opened the door, and without a word steered him into the wash-house, where the copper was lit. He began to explain, but was pushed into a tub of very hot water, with a blanket that came to his chin, and a drink of something or other at his lips. Afterwards he was helped upstairs to a bed with hot bricks in it, and there all the world, and Dinah licking his nose, passed from him for the rest of the night and well into the next day again. But Shingle’s sister was shocked when she saw his torn and filthy clothing thrown down in the wash-house.
‘’Looks as if ’e’d been spending a night between the Lines, don’t it?’ her brother commented. ‘’Asn’t ’alf sweated either. Three hours of it, Marg’ret, an’ rainin’ on an’ off. Must ’ave been all Messines with ’im till ’e found ’er.’
‘An’ ’e done it for ’is dog! What wouldn’t ’e do for ’is woman!’ said she.
‘Yes. You would take it that way. I’m thinkin’ about ’im.’
‘Ooh! Look at the blood. ’E must ’ave cut ’isself proper.’
‘I went over ’im for scratches before breakfast. Even the iodine didn’t wake ’im. ’Got ’is tray ready?’
Shingle bore it up, and Dinah’s impenitent greeting of him roused her master.
‘She wasn’t wired. She knew too much for that,’ were John’s first words. ‘She was hung up by her collar in an old bury. Jock showed me, an’ I got her out. I fell about a bit, though. It was pitch-black; quite like old times.’
He went into details between mouthfuls, and Dinah between mouthfuls corroborated.
‘So, you see, it wasn’t her fault,’ John concluded.
‘That’s what they all say,’ Shingle broke in unguardedly.
‘Do they? That shows they know Ginger. Dinah, you aren’t to play with Ginger any more. Do you hear me?’
She knew it was reproof, as she flattened beneath the hand that caressed it away.
‘Oh, and look here, Shingle,’ John sat up and stretched himself. ‘It’s about, time we went to work again. Perhaps you’ve noticed I have not been quite fit lately?’
‘What with Dinah and all?—ye-es, sir—a bit,’ Shingle assented.
‘Anyhow, I’ve got it off the books now. It’s behind me.’
‘Very glad to ’ear it. Shall I fill the bath?’
‘No. We’ll make our last night’s boil do for to-day. Lay out some sort of town-kit while I shave. I expect my last night’s rig is pretty well expended, isn’t it?’
‘There ain’t one complete scarecrow in the ’ole entire aggregate.’
‘’Don’t wonder. Look here, Shingle, I was underground a full half-hour before I could get at her. I should have said there wasn’t enough money ’top of earth to make me do that over again. But I did. Damn it—I did! Didn’t I, Dinah? “Oh, show me a liddle where to find a rose.” Get off the bed and fetch my slippers, young woman! “To give to ma honey chi-ile.” No; put ’em down; don’t play with ’em!’
He began to strop his razor, always a mystery to Dinah. ‘Shingle, this is the most damnable Government that was ever pupped. Look here! If I die to-morrow, they take about a third of the cash out of the Works for Death-duties, counting four per cent. interest on the money from the time I begin to set. That means one-third of our working capital, which is doing something, will be dug out from under us, so’s these dam’ politicians can buy more dole-votes with it. An’ I’ve got to waste my thinkin’ time, which means making more employment—(I say, this razor pulls like a road-scraper)—I’ve got to knock off my payin’ work and spend Heaven knows how many days reorganising into companies, so that we shan’t have our business knocked out if I go under. It’s the time I grudge, Shingle. And we’ve got to make that up too, Dinah!’
The rasp of the blade on the chin set her tail thumping as usual. When he was dressed, she went out to patronise Jock and Ginger by the barn, where Shingle picked her up later, with orders to jump into the Hizzer-Swizzer at once and return to duty. She made her regulation walk round him, one foot crossing the other, and her tongue out sideways.
‘Yes, that’s all right, Dinah! You’re a bitch You’re all the bitch that ever was, but you’re a useful bitch. That’s where you ain’t like some of ’em. Now come and say good-bye to your friends.’
He took her to the kitchen to bid farewell to the cowman and his wife. The woman looked at her coldly as she coquetted with the man.
‘She’ll get ’er come-uppance one of these days,’ she said when the car was reported.
‘What for? She’s as good a little thing as ever was. ’Twas Ginger’s fault,’ said the cowman.
‘I ain’t thinkin’ of her,’ she replied. ‘I’m thinkin’ she may ’ave started a fire that someone else’ll warm at some fine day. It ’appens—it ’appens—as mother used to say when we was all young.’