The Ranch by Stewart Edward White
Chapter X. The Medium-Size Game
Against many attacks and accusations of uselessness cast at her dachshunds, Mrs. Kitty had always stoutly opposed the legend of "medium-size game." The dachshunds may look like bologna sausages on legs, ran the gist of her argument; and they may progress like rather lively measuring worms; and the usefulness of their structure may seem to limit itself to a facility for getting under furniture without stooping, but--Mrs. Kitty's eloquence always ended by convincing herself, and she became very serious--but that is not the dogs' fault. Rather it is the fault of their environment to which they have been transplanted. Back in their own native vaterland they were always used for medium-sized game. And what is more they are good at it! Come here, Pete, they shan't abuse you!
Coyotes and bobcats are medium-size game, someone ventured to point out.
Not at all, medium-size game should live in holes, like badgers. Dachshunds are evidently built for holes. They are long and low, and they have spatulate feet for digging, and their bandy legs enable them to throw the dirt out behind them. Their long, sharp noses are like tweezers to seize upon the medium-size game. In short, by much repetition, a legend had grown up around the dachshunds, a legend of fierceness inhibited only by circumstances, of pathetic deprivation of the sports of their native land. If only we could have a badger, we could almost hear them say to each other in dog language, a strong, morose, savage badger! Alas! we are wasting our days in idleness, our talents rust from disuse! Finally, Uncle Jim remained the only frankly skeptical member.
At this time there visited the ranch two keen sportsmen whom we shall call Charley and Tommy; as also several girls. We burst on the assembled multitude with our news. Immediately a council of war was called. After the praetors and tribunes of the people had uttered their opinions, Uncle Jim arose and spoke as follows:
"Here is your chance to make good," said he, addressing Mrs. Kitty. "Those badger hounds of yours, according to you, have just been fretting for medium-size game. Well, here's some. Bring out the whole flock, and let's see them get busy."
The proposition was received with a shout of rapture Uncle Jim smiled grimly.
"Well, they'll do it!" cried Mrs. Kitty, with spirit.
Preparations were immediately under way. In half an hour the army debouched from the ranch and strung out single file across the plain.
First came Uncle Jim and myself in the two-wheeled cart as scouts and guides.
Followed the General in his surrey. The surrey had originally been intended for idle dalliance along country lanes. In the days of its glory it had been upholstered right merrily, and around its flat top had dangled a blithesome fringe. Both the upholstery and fringe were still somewhat there. Of the glory that was past no other reminder had persisted. The General sat squarely in the middle of the front seat, very large, erect, and imposing, driving with a fine military disregard of hummocks or the laws of equilibrium. In or near the back seat hovered a tiny Japanese boy to whom the General occasionally issued short, sharp, military comments or commands.
Then came Mrs. Kitty and the ponies with Carrie beside her. Immediately astern of the pony cart followed a three-seated carry-all with assorted guests. This was flanked by the Captain and Charley as outriders. The rear was closed by the Invigorator rilled with dachshunds. Their pointed noses poked busily through the slats of the cage, and sniffed up over the edge of the wagon box.
The rear, did I say? I had forgotten Mithradates Antikamia Briggs. The latter polysyllabic person was a despised, apologetic, rangy, black-and-white mongrel hound said to have belonged somewhere to a man named Briggs. I think the rest of his name was intended as an insult. Ordinarily Mithradates hung around the men's quarters where he was liked. Never had he dared seek either solace or sympathy at the doors of the great house; and never, never had he remotely dreamed of following any of the numerous hunting expeditions. That would have been lese-majesty, high treason, sublime impudence, and intolerable nuisance to be punished by banishment or death. Mithradates realized this perfectly; and never did he presume to raise his eyes to such high and shining affairs.
But to-day he followed. Nobody was subsequently able to explain why Mithradates Antikamia should on this one occasion so have plucked up heart. My private opinion is that he saw the dachshunds being taken, and, in his uncultivated manner, communed with himself as follows:
"Well, will you gaze on that! I don't pretend to be in the same class with Old Ben or Young Ben, or even of the fox terriers; but if I'm not more of a dog than that lot of splay-footed freaks, I'll go bite myself! If they're that hard up for dogs, I'll be cornswizzled if I don't go myself!"
Which he did. We did not want him; this was distinctly the dachshunds' party, and we did not care to have any one messing in. The Captain tried to drive him back. Mithradates Antikamia would not go. The Captain dismounted and tried force. Mithradates shut both eyes, crouched to the ground, and immediately weighed a half ton. When punished he rolled over and held all four paws in the air. The minute the Captain turned his back, after stern admonitions to "go home!" and "down, charge!" and the like, Mithradates crawled slowly forward to the waiting line, ducking his head, wrinkling his upper lips ingratiatingly, and sneezing in the most apologetic tones. Finally we gave it up.
"But," we "saved our face," "you'll have to behave when we get there!"
So, as has been said, Mithradates Antikamia Briggs brought up the rear.
Arrived at the tree the whole procession drew into a half circle. We unblocked the opening, and the Invigorator was driven to a spot beneath it so each person could take his turn at standing on the seat and peering down the hole. The eyes still glowed like balls of fire.
Next the dachshunds were lifted up one by one and given a chance to smell at the game. This was to make them keen. Held up by means of a hand held either side their chests, they curled up their hind legs and tails and seemed to endure. Mrs. Kitty explained that they had never been so far off the ground in their lives, and so were naturally preoccupied by the new sensation. This sounded reasonable, so we placed them on the ground. There they sat in a circle looking up at our performances, a solemn and mild interest expressing itself in their lugubrious countenances. A dachshund has absolutely no sense of humour or lightness of spirits. He never cavorts.
By sounding carefully with a carriage whip we determined the depth of the hole, and proceeded to cut through to the bottom. This was quite a job, for the oak was tough, and the position difficult. Tommy had ascended the tree, and proclaimed loudly the first signs of daylight as the axe bit through. Mine happened to be the axe work; so when I had finished a neat little orifice, I swung up beside Tommy, and the Invigorator drove out of the way.
My elevated position was a good one; and as Tommy was peering eagerly down the hole, I had nothing to do but survey the scene.
The rigs were drawn up in a semi-circle twenty yards away. Next the horses' heads stood the drivers of the various vehicles, anxious to miss none of the fun. The dachshunds sat on their haunches, looking up, and probably wondering why their friend, Tommy, insisted on roosting up a tree. The Captain and Charley were immediately below, engaged in an earnest effort to poke the 'coon into ascending the hole. Tommy was reporting the result of these efforts from above. The General, his feet firmly planted, had unlimbered a huge ten-bore shotgun, so as to be ready for anything. Uncle Jim stood by, smoking his pipe. Mithradates Antikamia Briggs sat sadly apart.
The poking efforts accomplished little. Occasionally the 'coon made a little dash or scramble, but never went far. There was a great deal of talking, shouting, and advice.
At last Uncle Jim, knocking the ashes from his pipe, moved into action. He plucked a double handful of the tall, dry grass, touched a match to it, and thrust it in the nick.
Without the slightest hesitation the 'coon shot out at the top!
Now just at that moment Tommy happened to be leaning over for a right good look down the hole. He received thirty pounds or so of agitated 'coon square in the chest. Thereupon he fell out of the tree incontinently, with the 'coon on top of him.
We caught our breath in horror. Although we could plainly see that Tommy was in no degree injured by his short fall, yet we all realized that it was going to be serious to be mixed up with a raging, snarling beast fight of twenty-two members. When the dachshunds should pounce on their natural prey, the medium-size game, poor Tommy would be at the bottom of the heap. Several even started forward to restrain the dogs, but stopped as they realized the impossibilities.
Tommy and the 'coon hit with a thump. The dachshunds took one horrified look; then with the precision of a drilled manoeuvre they unanimously turned tail and plunged into the tall grass. From my elevated perch I could see it waving agitatedly as they made their way through it in the direction of the distant ranch.
For a moment there was astounded silence. Then there arose a shriek of delight. The Captain rolled over and over and clutched handfuls of turf in his joy. The General roared great salvos of laughter. Tommy, still seated where he had fallen, leaned weakly against the tree, the tears coursing down his cheeks. The rest of the populace lifted up their voices and howled. Even Uncle Jim, who rarely laughed aloud, although his eyes always smiled, emitted great Ho! ho!'s. Only Mrs. Kitty, dumb with indignation, stared speechless after that wriggling mess of fugitives.
The occasion was too marvellous. We enjoyed it to the full. Whenever the rapture sank somewhat, someone would gasp out a half-remembered bit of Mrs. Kitty's former defences.
"Their long, sharp noses are like tweezers to seize the game!" declaimed Charley, weakly. [Spasm by the audience.]
"Their spatulate feet are meant for digging," the Captain took up the tale. [Another spasm.]
"Their bandy legs enabled them to throw the dirt out behind them--as they ran," suggested Tommy.
"If only they could have had a badger they'd have beaten all records!" we chorused.
And then finally we wiped our eyes and remembered that there used to be a 'coon. At the same time we became conscious of a most unholy row in the offing: the voice of Mithradates Antikamia.
"If you people want your 'coon," he was remarking in a staccato and exasperated voice, "you'd better come and lend a hand. I can't manage him alone! The blame thing has bitten me in three places already. Of course, I like to see people have a good time, and I hope you won't curtail your enjoyment on my account; but if you've had quite enough of those made-in-Germany imitations, perhaps you'll just stroll over and see what one good American-built DOG can do!"