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Dogs Of Boytown

CHAPTER XIV
THE COMING OF TATTERS

After the unfortunate episode that resulted in the accident to Rags, it was as though a cloud rested over Camp Britches. There was no heart for merrymaking. And when at last the sad news came of Rags's death, it seemed as though all the joy had gone out of life. If you have never been a boy, you do not know how quickly a mood of hilarious jollity can be followed by one of deep depression. The plan had been to continue in camp for four or five days more, and some of the boys had been begging for a longer extension of the time, but now no one seriously objected when Alfred and Horace proposed breaking camp and going home. Every boy in camp had loved Rags next to his own dog, and even Moses went about in an atmosphere of melancholy.

Sadly they hauled down Jimmie's humorous ensign and pulled up the tent pegs. It seemed like a different crowd of boys from that which had so joyously arrived in the wagons but two short weeks before.

On a sunny hillside half a mile south of the brickyard there grew, at the edge of the woods, a beautiful 216 little grove of dogwoods, which in May was always a fairyland of snowy blossoms that almost seemed to float in the air. In this peaceful spot it was decided to bury the poor, broken body of Rags. I doubt if there has ever been a funeral in Boytown that was attended by more sincere mourners. Harry Barton and Monty Hubbard spent an afternoon, immediately after their return from camp, making a simple little casket of white wood which they stained a cherry color. It did not seem fitting that so gay a little dog as Rags should be laid to rest in a black one. They lined it with soft flannel, and Jimmie himself, trying hard not to cry, placed the stiff little body inside, still wearing the old, worn collar, and nailed down the top. Theron Hammond and Ernest Whipple were appointed to act as bearers.

The Camp Britches boys were not the only ones who joined in that sorrowful little procession to the dogwood grove. Jimmie's mother was there, quietly weeping, for she had loved Rags like another child, and with her were two or three of her neighbors. Mr. Fellowes closed up his store and silently joined them, and there was a little knot of girls with mournful faces, who had also known Rags and loved him. Mr. and Mrs. Hartshorn came over from Willowdale and, leaving their car in the town, followed the little casket on foot with the rest.

217 There was no clergyman present to read Scripture or to pray, but I think the mourners were none the less devout. The whole ceremony, in fact, was carried through in almost utter silence. It had been thought best not to bring dogs who might not behave themselves, but Mike and Hamlet were there, for they could be depended upon, and it seemed fitting that Rags's canine friends as well as his human friends should be represented.

A grave was dug in the sand and the little casket was lowered into it. Beside it Jimmie placed the battered tin dish that Rags had used and a much-chewed ladder rung that had been his favorite plaything. The girls threw in some flowers and then the earth was shoveled in again and the little company returned home.

I hope the loyal soul of Rags was where it could look down and see that his old friends cared and had come to do him honor. At least his life had been a happy one and free from any guile. And he was not soon forgotten. Not long afterward there appeared at the head of the little mound beneath the dogwoods a simple headstone, the gift of Mrs. Hartshorn, and on it were inscribed these words:

HERE LIES RAGS
The Best-Loved Dog
in Boytown.

218 For some little time the cloud remained over Boytown and there was little disposition to take any active part in canine affairs. But youthful spirits cannot long remain depressed, and as the autumn days approached, one of the boys of Boytown, at least, discovered a new interest in connection with dog ownership. That was Ernest Whipple.

For some time Sam Bumpus had been talking, somewhat vaguely, of the possibility of testing out the powers of Romulus in the field trials, and Mr. Hartshorn himself had occasionally mentioned this. Ernest subscribed to a popular kennel paper, and early in September he began reading about the All-American trials to be held at Denbigh, North Dakota, and other similar events. The names of famous dogs were mentioned, both pointers and setters, and there was much speculation in the paper as to the prospects of winning. The thing fascinated Ernest, but it was all a bit unintelligible to him. He wanted to learn more about this sport that seemed to be followed by such a large and enthusiastic number of people, and to find out the way of getting Romulus into it. So one day he and Jack took their dogs and walked to Willowdale, for the express purpose of getting the desired information.

Tom Poultice was the first person they encountered, and he confessed himself to be rather ignorant as to the conduct of American field trials.

219 "I've seen many of them in Hengland," said he, "and a great game it is. Get a bunch of fine bird dogs out in the fields in the fine weather, with a big crowd following them, and maybe a bit of wagering going on be'ind the judges' backs, and the dogs all eager to be after the birds, and every one of them in the pink, and you've got a fine sport, men. The dogs seem to know, too, and they go in for all's in it. But just 'ow they run the trials over 'ere, I can't say. You'd better ask Mr. 'Artshorn. 'E used to own bird dogs once, and I'll warrant 'e's been all through it."

They found Mr. Hartshorn in his den, but he very gladly laid aside the work he was doing and asked good-naturedly what the trouble was now.

"We've come to ask you to tell us about field trials," said Ernest.

"Well, that's a rather big contract," laughed Mr. Hartshorn. "I suppose I could talk about field trials all night. I've seen some thrilling contests in my time. Just what is it you would like to know?"

"We want to know what a field trial is, how it is run, and what the dogs do," said Ernest.

"Well," said Mr. Hartshorn, "a field trial is more than a mere race. It's a real sport in which all the powers of a bird dog are brought into play. It's a competition on actual game—prairie chickens or quail, 220 usually. The dogs are sent out to find the game and point, with the judges and handlers and the gallery, as the spectators are called, following. In the big trials there are three or more separate events. One is called the Derby stake, for dogs under two years of age. Then there is the All-Age stake, which is the biggest one. Finally there is the Championship stake, for dogs specially qualified, and the winning of that brings with it the highest honors in the bird-dog world.

"The order of running is decided by lot, and the dogs are put down in pairs. They start off after the birds and work for a stated length of time, after which the judges decide which of the two dogs won, the decision being based on speed, form, steadiness, bird-work, and everything else that goes to make up the bird dog's special power. Then these winners are tried together until the best and the second best, called the runner-up, are chosen in each of the stakes. It takes a good dog to win one of these stakes, for he has to run more than once and his work must be consistent. Purses are offered by the clubs as prizes, amounting to several hundred dollars at the big events.

"Occasionally there are other stakes, such as novice stakes and events in which dogs are handled only by their owners. In the big events the great dogs are usually handled by professionals, who take the dogs right 221 down the circuit and win all the prizes they can. The trials begin in September in Manitoba and North Dakota, on prairie chicken, and are followed by big and small events in the Middle Western states, Pennsylvania, and finally in the South. The biggest of all is held in December or January at Grand Junction, Tennessee, every year. Here the All-America Field Trial Club holds its classic event, in which the winner of the Championship stake is pronounced the amateur champion of the United States for one year, winning also a large purse and a handsome silver trophy."

"Have you ever seen one of those trials?" asked Jack.

"Several times," said Mr.Hartshorn. "I have seen some of the most famous pointers and setters that ever lived run at Grand Junction and win their deathless laurels."

"I suppose Romulus wouldn't stand a chance there," said Ernest, a bit wistfully.

"Perhaps not, at first," said Mr.Hartshorn, "though you never can tell. It's a pretty expensive matter, getting a dog ready and putting him through one of those trials, even though the prizes are large. But there are smaller ones, and it is possible to try a dog out nearer home the first time, with less risk and expense. During the spring there are many trials held by local clubs throughout the East."

222 "Couldn't Romulus be entered in one of those?" asked Ernest.

"I don't know why not," said Mr. Hartshorn. "I'll look it up and let you know. Meanwhile, tell Sam Bumpus what you're up to and have him keep Romulus in shape this winter."

"I suppose Remus couldn't run," said Jack.

"I'm afraid not, my boy," said Mr. Hartshorn, kindly. "Nose is one of the prime requisites, and Remus hasn't the nose, as you know."

"I don't care," said the loyal Jack. "I'd rather win at a bench show, anyway."

When Ernest told Sam Bumpus about the plan, that worthy was much interested. He made a special trip all the way to Willowdale to consult Mr. Hartshorn, and between them they worked out a plan. Sam was enthusiastic now as to the superior abilities of Romulus as a bird dog, and he presently took him in hand for special training to improve his form and the other qualities that count in the trials. Off and on all winter Sam took the dog out, patiently and persistently drilling him. Sometimes Ernest went along and he was amazed by the intelligence and speed which his good dog displayed. When spring came again Sam announced that there was nothing more that he could do to improve the form and capacity of Romulus.

223 "I'll back him against any bird dog in the state of Connecticut," said he, proudly.

But before I tell how it fared with Romulus at the trials, I have one episode to relate, the only happening of that winter which needs to be recorded. For the rest, the weeks passed without any momentous event, with the boys in whom we are interested growing ever a little older and wiser. And this particular thing was not of great importance, perhaps. It did not greatly affect the boy-and-dog life of Boytown. But it did affect Jimmie Rogers, and Jimmie, since the death of Rags, had been the one lonely, pathetic figure in the group. It would be a shame not to tell of the thing that happened to him.

One day in early December Dick Wheaton appeared on Main Street, dragging a forlorn-looking little dog by a string. He was a smooth-coated dog of the terrier type, a rich chocolate brown in color, with an active body and a good face and head, but anybody could see he was only a mongrel. No one knew where he had come from and Dick did not take the trouble to tell where he had found him.

In his present state the dog showed none of the alert, eager character of the well-born terrier. He held his tail between his legs and he cringed abjectly. This seemed to amuse Dick Wheaton. He made little rushes at the dog and laughed to see the terror in 224 his eyes. He found entertainment in tapping the dog's toes with his foot and watching him pull back on the string. Wearying of this, he began maltreating the helpless animal more cruelly.

Mr. Fellowes saw all this from the window of his store, and his blood boiled within him. Unable to stand it any longer, he started out of his shop to protest, when he saw Jimmie Rogers come running along.

There could be no doubt as to Jimmie's purpose. His lips were tight set and his eyes were blazing. He came close up to Dick and seized his arm.

"Quit that!" cried Jimmie between his clenched teeth.

Dick was taller and heavier than Jimmie and he was not unaccustomed to bullying boys of Jimmie's size. He shook off the hand and grinned insolently.

"What's the matter with you, Mr. Humane Society?" he asked.

"I'll show you, if you don't leave that dog alone," said Jimmie.

For answer, Dick gave the string a jerk. It was tied tightly around the dog's neck, and it hurt.

"Whose dog is this, I'd like to know," said Dick in a taunting tone.

Jimmie wasted no more breath in words. He snatched the string out of Dick's hand and faced him defiantly. Dick, now angry in his turn, made a lunge 225 for the string. Mr. Fellowes couldn't see who struck the first blow, but in a moment the two boys were fighting desperately, Jimmie making up in fire and determination for what he lacked in size and strength.

Mr. Fellowes felt that he was called upon to interfere. It would hardly do to let a fight like this go on right in front of his shop, on the sidewalk of Main Street. Besides, other people were hurrying up and it might end in serious trouble.

Just then Dick managed to break free long enough to give the poor dog a vicious and entirely uncalled-for kick, as though he were in this way scoring an advantage over his opponent. The little terrier rolled over and over on the sidewalk, yelping in pain and terror. Then he found his footing and dashed blindly into Mr. Fellowes's legs.

The shopkeeper stooped and picked up the frightened little stray and took him into the store, where he did his best to soothe and comfort him, and it was wonderful how promptly the little chap responded and licked the kind man's hand. It may have been the first time he had ever tasted the milk of human kindness, but instinctively he understood and looked up confidently into this stranger's eyes with an expression of gratitude.

Meanwhile, a little knot of men and boys had gathered out in front of the shop. It so happened that 226 they were persons who would rather witness a fight than stop it, or it may have been that there were some of them who hoped that for once Dick Wheaton would get his deserts. At any rate, it was a real fight, with no quarter, and it would have been a cold-blooded person indeed who could not admire the pluck of Jimmie Rogers. His nose was bleeding and his breath came in sobbing gasps, but he kept at it with unabated fury. Three times Dick Wheaton threw him, and three times he jumped to his feet and went for Dick.

The fighting of boys is no more to be encouraged than the fighting of dogs, but there seem to be times in the affairs of boys as well as of men when nothing but fighting will serve. The only way to cure a bully is to thrash him, and if anyone ever had a justifiable motive for fighting it was Jimmie Rogers.

At length Dick's blows appeared to be growing weaker. Jimmie, unable often to reach his face, had been pummelling him consistently on the vulnerable spot at the lower end of the breastbone, regardless of the punishment he himself received, and these tactics were beginning to tell on Dick's wind. His lips were parted, his eyes staring, and his face took on a strange mottled look. He began to strike out weakly and to concern himself chiefly with parrying Jimmie's troublesome blows and protecting his stomach.

227 With lowered guard, Dick staggered uncertainly backward, and Jimmie, rushing in, dealt him a smashing blow on the mouth that sent him reeling. Tripping over the door stone of Mr. Fellowes's store, he fell heavily, and lay there, with his arm crooked over his face, awaiting he knew not what final coup de grace in an attitude of abject surrender.

Men rushed in now, but Jimmie was satisfied. He shook off their hands and walked, somewhat unsteadily, into the store, and Mr. Fellowes closed the door behind him. Someone picked Dick up.

"Well, I guess you've had enough," said this unsympathetic person.

Dick Wheaton slunk off home without replying.

Mr. Fellowes did not refer to the fight. He did not think it proper to praise Jimmie, for he did not believe in boys fighting, but he could not resist a feeling of proud satisfaction.

"Want to see the dog?" he asked.

"Yes," said Jimmie in a tremulous voice. He was almost crying with weariness and he was doing his best to wipe the blood off his face and brush the dust off his clothes.

"Let me help you," said Mr. Fellowes, kindly.

While he was bathing Jimmie's face, the boy felt a pair of little paws reaching up on his leg, and a cold little nose thrust into his hand. He stooped down and 228 patted the little head. The tail came out from between the dog's legs and wagged joyfully. Impulsively Jimmie caught him up and hugged him close. It seemed a long time to Jimmie Rogers since he had felt the moist caress of a loving tongue, and the thing went straight to his lonely heart.

During all the fighting he had steadfastly held back the tears of pain or anger, but now, weakened as he was by his exertions and the after effects of excitement, he burst into tears, burying his face in the little dog's warm, soft coat.

"Oh, little dog, little dog, you're going to be mine!" he cried.

Mr. Fellowes said not a word. While caring for the dog during the fight, he had been thinking what a fine thing it would be to keep him, to fill the place so long left vacant by the death of his Bounce. But now, as he watched Jimmie, he made the sacrifice. This should be Jimmie's dog. The boy had fairly won him. Mr. Fellowes understood how he felt; he, too, had lost a dog. So he merely stroked the dog's head and said, "What shall you call him?"

"Tatters," said Jimmie, and still carrying the dog tenderly in his arms, he started out of the shop. At the door he turned back, with the flash in his eye again. "And I'd like to see anybody try to take him away from me," he said.

229 "I guess nobody will," said Mr. Fellowes, smiling, and Jimmie bore his burden proudly home.

It was wonderful what a change a few days of kindness and good feeding wrought in Tatters. He never became the favorite that Rags had been, but he was a good dog, not without excellences and wisdom of his own, and Jimmie loved him. And the change that came over Jimmie was hardly less marked. With another dog for his own he was himself again, and everyone rejoiced with him. On Christmas Day Mr. Fellowes saw to it that the dogs' Santa Claus presented Tatters with a fine new collar.


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