Private Learoyd’s Story

by Rudyard Kipling

[a short tale]

FAR from the haunts of Company Officers who insist upon kit-inspections, far from keen-nosed Sergeants who sniff the pipe stuffed into the bedding-roll, two miles from the tumult of the barracks, lies the Trap. It is an old dry well, shadowed by a twisted pipal tree and fenced with high grass. Here, in the years gone by, did Private Ortheris establish his depot and menagerie for such possessions, dead and living, as could not safely be introduced to the barrack-room. Here were gathered Houdin pullets, and fox-terriers of undoubted pedigree and more than doubtful ownership, for Ortheris was an inveterate poacher and pre-eminent among a regiment of neat-handed dog-stealers.Never again will the long lazy evenings return wherein Ortheris, whistling softly, moved surgeon-wise among the captives of his craft at the bottom of the well; when Learoyd sat in the niche, giving sage counsel on the management of ‘tykes,’ and Mulvaney, from the crook of the overhanging pipal, waved his enormous boots in benediction above our heads, delighting us with tales of Love and War, and strange experiences of cities and men.

Ortheris—landed at last in the ‘little stuff’ bird-shop ‘for which your soul longed; Learoyd—back again in the smoky, stone-ribbed North, amid the clang of the Bradford looms; Mulvaney—grizzled, tender, and very wise Ulysses, sweltering on the earthworks of a Central India line—judge if I have forgotten old days in the Trap! …

Orth’ris, as allus thinks he knaws more than other foaks, said she wasn’t a real laady, but nobbut a Hewrasian. Ah don’t gainsay as her culler was a bit doosky like. But she was a laady. Why, she rode iv a carriage, an’ good ’osses, too, an’ her ’air was that oiled as you could see your faice in it, an’ she wore di’mond rings an’ a goold chain, an’ silk an’ satin dresses as mun ha’ cost a deal, for it isn’t a cheap shop as keeps enough o’ one pattern to fit a figure like hers. Her naame was Mrs. DeSussa, an’ t’ waay I coom to be acquainted wi’ her was along iv our Colonel’s Laady’s dog Rip.

Ah’ve seen a vast o’ dogs, but Rip was t’ prettiest picter iv a cliver fox-tarrier ’at iver I set eyes on. He cud do owt yo’ like but speeak, an’ t’ Colonel’s Laady set more store by him than if he hed been a Christian. She hed bairns iv her awn, but they was i’ England, and Rip seemed to get all t’ coodlin’ an’ pettin’ as belonged to a bairn by good rights.

But Rip wor a bit on a rover, an’ hed a habit o’ breakin’ out o’ barricks like and trottin’ round t’ plaice as if he were t’ Cantonment Magistrate coom round inspectin’. The Colonel leathers him once or twice, but Rip didn’t care an’ kept on gooin’ his rounds, wi’ his taail a-waggin’ as if he were flag-signallin’ to t’ world at large ’at he was ‘gettin’ on nicely, thank yo’, and how’s yo’sen?’ An’ then t’ Colonel, as was noa sort iv a hand wi’ a dog, tees him oop. A real clipper iv a dog, an’ it’s noa wonder yon laady, Mrs. DeSussa, should tek a fancy tiv him. Theer’s one o’ t’ Ten Commandments says yo’ maun’t cuvvet your neebor’s ox nor his jackass, but it doesn’t say nowt about his tarrier dogs, an’ happen thot’s t’ reason why Mrs. DeSussa cuvveted Rip, tho’ she went to church reg’lar along wi’ her husband, who was soa mich darker ’at if he hedn’t such a good coaat tiv his back yo’ might ha’ called him a black man and nut tell a lee nawther. They said he addled his brass i’ jute; an’ he’d a rare lot on it.

Well, yo’ see, when they teed Rip oop, t’ poor awd lad didn’t enjoy very good ’ealth. Soa t’ Colonel’s Laady sends for me as ’ad a naame for bein’ knowledgeable about a dog, an’ axes what’s ailin’ wi’ him.

‘Why,’ says I, ‘he’s getten t’ mopes, an’ what he wants is his libbaty an’ coompany like t’ rest on us; wal happen a rat or two ’ud liven him oop. It’s low, mum,’ says I, ‘is rats, but it’s t’ nature iv a dog. An’ soa’s coottin’ round an’ meetin’ another dog or two an’ passin’ t’ time o’ day, an’ hevvin’ a bit on a turn-up wi’ him like a Christian.’

Soa she says her dog maun’t niver fight an’ noa Christians iver fought.

‘Then what’s a soldier for?’ says I; an’ I explains to her t’ contrairy qualities iv a dog, ’at, when yo’ coom to think on’t, is one o’ t’ curusest things as is. For they larn to behave theirsens like gentlemen born, fit for t’ fost o’ coompany—they tell me t’ Widdy hersen is fond iv a good dog and knaws one when she sees it as well as onnybody: then on t’ other hand a-tewin’ round after cats an’ gettin’ mixed oop i’ all manners o’ blackguardly street-rows, an’ killin’ rats, an’ fightin’ like divils.

T’ Colonel’s Laady says: ‘Well, Learoyd, I doan’t agree wi’ yo’, but yo’re right in a way o’ speeakin’, an’ Ah should like yo’ to tek Rip out a-walkin’ wi’ yo’ sometimes; but yo’ maun’t let him fight, nor chaase cats, nor do nowt ’orrid.’ An’ them was her very wods.

Soa Rip an’ me gooes out a-walkin’ o’ evenin’s, he bein’ a dog as did credit tiv a man, an’ I catches a lot o’ rats an’ we hed a bit iv a match on in an awd dry swimmin’-bath at back o’ t’ cantonments, an’ it was none so long afore he was as bright as a button again. He hed a waay o’ flyin’ at them big yaller pariah dogs as if he was a harrow offan a bow, an’ though his weight were nowt, he tuk ’em so suddint-like they rolled ovver like skittles in a halley, an’ when they coot he stretched after ’em as if he were rabbit-runnin’. Saame wi’ cats when he cud get t’ cat agaate o’ runnin’.

One evenin’, him an’ me was trespassin’ ovver a compound wall after one of them mongooses ’at he’d started, an’ we was busy grubbin’ round a prickle-bush, an’ when we looks oop there was Mrs. DeSussa wi’ a parasel ovver her shoulder, a-watchin’ us. ‘Oh my!’ she sings out. ‘There’s that lovelee dog! Would he let me stroke him, Mister Soldier?’

‘Ay, he would, mum,’ says I, ‘for he’s fond o’ laadies’ coompany. Coom here, Rip, an’ speeak to this kind laady.’ An’ Rip, seein’ ’at t’ mongoose hed getten clean awaay, cooms oop like t’ gentleman he was, niver a hauporth shy nor okkord.

‘Oh, you beautiful—you prettee dog!’ she says, clippin’ an’ chantin’ her speech in a waay them sooart has o’ their awn; ‘I would like a dog like you. You are so verree lovelee—so awfullee prettee,’ an’ all thot sort o’ talk, ’at a dog o’ sense mebbe thinks nowt on, tho’ he’ll bide it by reason o’ his breedin’.

An’ then I meks him joomp ovver my swaggercane, an’ shek hands, an’ beg, an’ lie dead, an’ a lot o’ them tricks as laadies teeaches dogs, though I doan’t haud wi’ it mysen, for it’s mekkin’ a fool o’ a good dog to do such-like.

An’ at lung length it cooms out ’at she’d been thrawin’ sheep’s eyes, as t’ sayin’ is, at Rip for many a daay. Yo’ see, her childer was grown up, an’ she’d nowt mich to do, an’ wor allus fond iv a dog. Soa she axes me if I’d tek somethin’ to drink. An’ we gooes into t’ drawn-room wheer her ’usband was a-settin’. They meks a gurt fuss ovver t’ dog an’ I has a bottle o’ aale an’ he gev me a handful o’ cigars.

Soa Ah coomed awaay, but t’ awd lass sings out: ‘Oh, Mister Soldier, please coom again and bring that prettee dog.’

Ah didn’t let on to t’ Colonel’s Laady about Mrs. DeSussa, an’ Rip he says nowt nawther; an’ I gooes again, an’ ivry time there was a good drink an’ a handful o’ good smooakes. An’ Ah telled t’ awd lass a heeap more about Rip than Ah’d ever heeard. How he tuk t’ fost prize at Lunnon dog-show an’ cost thotty-three pounds fower shillin’ from t’ man as bred him; ’at his own brother was t’ propputty o’ t’ Prince o’ Wailes, an’ ’at he had a pedigree as long as a Dook’s. An’ she lapped it all oop an’ wor niver tired o’ admirin’ him. But when t’ awd lass took to givin’ me money an’ Ah seed ’at she wor gettin’ fair fond about t’ dog, Ah began to suspicion summat. Onnybody may give a soldier t’ price iv a pint in a friendly waay an’ theer’s no ’arm done, but when it cooms to five rupees slipt into your hand, sly like, why, it’s what t’ ’lectioneerin’ fellows calls bribery an’ corruption. Specially when Mrs. DeSussa thrawed hints how t’ cold weather would soon be ovver, an’ she wor gooin’ to Munsoorie Pahar an’ we wor gooin’ to Rawalpindi, an’ she would niver see Rip onny more onless somebody she knawed on would be kind tiv her.

Soa I tells Mulvaaney an’ Orth’ris all t’ taale thro’, beginnin’ to end.

‘’Tis larceny that wicked ould laady manes,’ says t’ Irishman. ‘’Tis felony she is sejucin’ ye into, my frind Learoyd, but I’ll purtect your innocence. I’ll save ye from the wicked wiles av that wealthy ould woman, an’ I’ll go wid ye this evenin’ an’ spake to her the wurruds av truth an’ honesty. But, Jock,’ says he, waggin’ his heead, ‘’Twas not like ye to kape all that good dhrink an’ thim fine cigars to yo’sen, while Orth’ris here an’ me have been prowlin’ round wid throats as dry as lime-kilns, and nothin’ to smoke but Canteen plug. ’Twas a dhirty thrick to play on a comrade, for why should you, Learoyd, be balancin’ yo’sen on the butt av a satin chair, as if Terence Mulvaney was not the aquil av anybody who thrades in jute!’

‘Let alone me,’ sticks in Orth’ris, ‘but that’s like life. Them wot’s really fitted to decorate society get no show, while a blunderin’ Yorkshireman like you——’

‘Nay,’ says I, ‘it’s none o’ t’ blunderin’ Yorkshireman she wants; it’s Rip. He’s t’ gentleman this journey.’

Soa t’ next daay, Mulvaaney an’ Rip an’ me gooes to Mrs. DeSussa’s, an’ t’ Irishman bein’ a strainger she wor a bit shy at fost. But yo’ve heeard Mulvaaney talk, an’ yo’ may believe as he fairly bewitched t’ awd lass wal she let out ’at she wanted to tek Rip awaay wi’ her to Munsoorie Pahar. Then Mulvaaney changes his tune an’ axes her solemn-like if she’d thowt o’ t’ consequences o’ gettin’ two poor but honest soldiers sent t’ Andamning Islands. Mrs. DeSussa began to cry, so Mulvaaney turns round oppen t’ other tack and smooths her down, allowin’ ’at Rip ’ud be a vast better off in t’ Hills than down i’ Bengal, an’ ’twor a pity he shouldn’t go wheer he was so well beliked. And soa he went on, backin’ an’ fillin’ an’ workin’ up t’ awd lass wal she felt as if her life worn’t worth nowt if she didn’t hev t’ dog.

Then of a suddint he says: ‘But ye shall have him, marm, for I’ve a feelin’ heart, not like this could-blooded Yorkshireman. But ’twill cost ye not a penny less than three hundher rupees.

‘Don’t yo’ believe him, mum,’ says I. ‘T’ Colonel’s Laady wouldn’t tek five hundred for him.’

‘Who said she would?’ says Mulvaaney. ‘’Tis not buyin’ him I mane, but for the sake o’ this kind, good laady, I’ll do what I never dreamt to do in my life. I’ll stale him!’

‘Don’t saay steeal,’ says Mrs. DeSussa; ‘he shall hev the happiest home. Dogs often get lost, yo’ know, and then they stray, an’ he likes me an’ I like him as I niver liked a dog yet, an’ I must hev him. If I got him at t’ last minute I cud carry him off to Munsoorie Pahar and nobody would niver knaw.’

Now an’ again Mulvaaney looked acrost at me, an’ tho’ I could mek nowt o’ what he was after, I concluded to tek his leead.

‘Well, mum,’ I says, ‘I never thowt to coom down to dog-steealin’, but if my comraade sees how it cud be done to oblige a laady like yo’sen, I’m nut t’ man to hod back, tho’ it’s a bad business I’m thinkin’, an’ three hundred rupees is a poor set-off again t’ chance iv them Damning Islands as Mulvaaney talks on.’

‘I’ll mek it three-fifty,’ says Mrs. DeSussa. ‘Only let me hev t’ dog!’

So we let her persuade us, an’ she teks Rip’s measure theer an’ then, an’ sent to Hamilton’s to order a silver collar again’ t’ time when he was to be her verree awn, which was to be t’ daay she set off for Munsoorie Pahar.

‘Sitha, Mulvaaney,’ says I, when we was out side, ‘yo’re niver goin’ to let her hev Rip!’

‘An’ wud ye disappoint a poor old woman?’ says he. ‘She shall have a Rip.’

‘An’ wheer’s he to come thro’?’ says I.

‘Learoyd, my man,’ he sings out, ‘you’re a pretty man av your inches an’ a good comrade, but your head is made av duff. Isn’t our frind Orth’ris a Taxidermist, an’ a rale artist wid his cliver white fingers? An’ fwhat’s a Taxidermist but a man who can thrate shkins? Do ye mind the white dog that belongs to the Canteen Sargint, bad cess to him—he that’s lost half his time an’ snarlin’ the rest? He shall be lost for good now; an’ do ye mind that he’s the very spit in shape an’ size av the Colonel’s, barrin’ that his tail is an inch too long, an’ he has none av the colour that divarsifies the rale Rip, an’ his timper is that av his masther an’ worse? But fwhat is an inch on a dog’s tail? An’ fwhat to a professional like Orth’ris is a few ringstraked shpots av black, brown, an’ white? Nothin’ at all, at all.’

Then we meets Orth’ris, an’ that little man, bein’ sharp as a needle, seed his waay through t’ business in a minute. An’ he went to work a-practisin’ ’air-dyes the very next daay, beginnin’ on some white rabbits he hed, an’ then he drored all Rip’s markin’s on t’ back of a white Commissariat bullock, so as to get his ’and in an’ be sure of his cullers; shadin’ off brown into black as nateral as life. If Rip hed a fault it was too mich markin’, but it was straingely reg’lar, an’ Orth’ris settled himsen to make a fost-rate job on it when he got haud o’ t’ Canteen Sargint’s dog. Theer niver was sich a dog as thot for bad timper, an’ it did nut get noa better when his tail hed to be fettled a inch an’ a haalf shorter. But they may talk o’ theer Royal Academies as they like. I niver seed a bit o’ animal paintin’ to beat t’ copy as Orth’ris made iv Rip’s marks, wal t’ picter itself was snarlin’ all t’ time an’ tryin’ to get at Rip standin’ theer to be copied as good as goold.

Orth’ris allus hed as much conceit on himsen as would lift a balloon, an’ he wor so pleeased wi’ his sham Rip he wor for tekkin’ him to Mrs. DeSussa before she went awaay. But Mulvaaney an’ me stopped thot, knowin’ Orth’ris’s work, though niver so cliver, was nobbut skin-deep.

An’ at last Mrs. DeSussa fixed t’ daay for startin’ to Munsoorie Pahar. We was to tek Rip to t’ staashun i’ a basket an’ hand him ovver just when they was ready to start, an’ then she’d give us t’ brass—as wor ’greed upon.

An’ my wod! It wor high time she wor off, for them ’air-dyes upon t’ cur’s back took a vast iv paintin’ to keep t’ reet culler, tho’ Orth’ris spent a matter o’ seven rupees six annas i’ t’ best drooggist shops i’ Calcutta.

An’ t’ Canteen Sargint was lookin’ for ’is dog everywheer; an’, wi’ bein’ teed oop, t’ beast’s timper got waur nor ever.

It wor i’ t’ evenin’ when t’ train started thro’ Howrah, an’ we ’elped Mrs. DeSussa wi’ about sixty boxes, an’ then we gev her t’ basket. Orth’ris, for pride iv his work, axed us to let him coom along wi’ us, an’ he cudn’t help liftin’ t’ lid an’ showin’ t’ cur as he lay coiled oop.

‘Oh!’ says t’ awd lass; ‘the beautee! How sweet he looks!’ An’ just then t’ beauty snarled an’ showed his teeth, so Mulvaaney shuts down t’ lid an’ says: ‘Ye’ll be careful, marm, whin ye tek him out. He’s disaccustomed to travellin’ by t’ railway, an’ he’ll be sure to want his rale mistress an’ his frind Learoyd, so ye’ll make allowance for his feelin’s at fost.’

She would do all thot an’ more for the dear, good Rip, an’ she would nut oppen t’ basket till they were miles awaay, for fear onnybody should recognise him, an’ we wor real good an’ kind soldier-men, we wor, an’ she honds me a bundle o’ notes, an’ then cooms oop a few of her relations an’ friends to say goodbye—nut more than seventy-five there wasn’t—an’ we coots awaay . . . .

What coom to t’ three hundred an’ fifty rupees? Thot’s what I can scarcelins tell yo’, but we melted it—we melted it. It was share an’ share alike, for Mulvaaney said: ‘If Learoyd got hoult av Mrs. DeSussa first, sure ’twas I that remimbered the Sargint’s dog just in the nick av time, an’ Orth’ris was the artist av janius that made a work av art out av that ugly piece av ill-natur’. Yet, by way av a thank-offerin’ that I was not led into felony by that wicked ould woman, I’ll send a thrifle to Father Victor for the poor people he’s always beggin’ for.’

But me an’ Orth’ris, he bein’ Cockney an’ I bein’ pretty far north, did nut see it i’ t’ saame waay. We’d getten t’ brass, an’ we meaned to keep it. An’ soa we did—for a short time.

Noa, noa, we niver heeard a wod more o’ t’ awd lass. Our Rig’mint went to Pindi, an t Canteen Sargint he got himself another tyke insteead o’ t’ one ’at got lost so reg’lar, an’ wor lost for good at last.