Classic and Contemporary Poetry
THE HIRED MAN'S DOG-STORY, by JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY Poet's Biography
First Line: Dogs, I contend; its jes' about
Last Line: "how the other gits its livin'!"
Alternate Author Name(s): Johnson Of Boone, Benj. F.
Subject(s): Animals; Dogs; Fantasy
Twa dogs that were na thrang at hame Forgather'd ance upon a time.
DOGS, I contend; is jes' about
Nigh human -- git 'em studied out.
I hold, like us, they've got their own
Reasonin' powers 'at's theirs alone --
Same as their tricks and habits too,
Provin', by lots o' things they do,
That instinct's not the only thing
That dogs is governed by, i jing! --
And I'll say furder, on that line,
And prove it, that they's dogs aplenty
Will show intelligence as fine
As ary ten men out o' twenty!
Jevver investigate the way
Sheep-killin' dogs goes at it -- hey?
Well, you dig up the facts and you
Will find, first thing, they's always two
Dogs goes together on that spree
O' blood and puore dog-deviltry!
And, then, they always go at night --
Mind ye, it's never in daylight,
When folks is up and wide awake, --
No self-respectin' dogs'll make
Mistakes o' judgment on that score, --
And I've knowed fifty head or more
O' slaughtered sheep found in the lot,
Next morning the old farmer got
His folks up and went out to feed, --
And every livin' soul agreed
That all night long they never heerd
The bark o' dog ner bleat o' skeered
And racin', tromplin' flock o' sheep
A-skallyhootin' roun' the pastur',
To rouse 'em from their peaceful sleep
To that heart-renderin' disaster!
Well, now, they's actchul evidence
In all these facts set forth; and hence
When, by like facts, it has been foun'
That these two dogs -- colloguin' roun'
At night as thick as thieves -- by day
Don't go together anyway,
And, 'pearantly, hain't never met
Each other; and the facts is set
On record furder, that these smart
Old pards in crime lives miles apart --
Which is a trick o' theirs, to throw
Off all suspicion, don't you know! --
One's a town-dog -- belongin' to
Some good man, maybe -- er to you! --
And one's a country-dog, er "jay,"
As you nickname us thataway.
Well, now! -- these is the facts I' got
(And, mind ye, these is facts -- not guesses)
To argy on, concernin' what
Fine reasonin' powers dogs p'sesses.
My idy is, -- the dog lives in
The town, we'll say, runs up ag'in
The country-dog, some Saturday,
Under a' old farm-wagon, say,
Down at the Court-house hitchin'-rack. --
Both lifts the bristles on their back
And show their teeth and growl as though
They meant it pleasant-like and low,
In case the fight hangs fire. And they
Both wag then in a friendly way,
The town-dog sayin': -- "Seems to me,
Last Dimocratic jubilee,
I seen you here in town somewhere?"
The country-dog says: -- "Right you air! --
And right here's where you seen me, too,
Under this wagon, watchin' you!"
"Yes," says the town-dog, -- "and I thought
We'd both bear watchin', like as not."
And as he yawns and looks away,
The country-dog says, "What's your lay?"
The town-dog whets his feet a spell
And yawns ag'in, and then says, -- "Well,
Before I answer that -- Ain't you
A Mill Crick dog, a mile er two
From old Chape Clayton's stock-farm -- say?"
"Who told you?" says the jay-dog -- "hey?"
And looks up, real su'prised. "I guessed,"
The town-dog says -- "You tell the rest, --
How's old Chape's mutton, anyhow? --
How many of 'em's ready now --
How many of 'em's ripe enough fer use,
And how's the hot, red, rosy juice?"
"'Mm!" says the country-dog, "I think
I sort o' see a little blink
O' what you mean." And then he stops
And turns and looks up street and lops
His old wet tongue out, and says he,
Lickin' his lips, all slobbery,
"Ad-drat my melts! you're jes' my man! --
I'll trust you, 'cause I know I can!"
And then he says, "I'll tell you jes'
How things is, and Chape's carelessness
About his sheep, -- fer instance, say,
To-morry Chapes'll all be 'way
To Sund'y-meetin' -- and ag'in
At night." "At night? That lets us in! --
'Better the day'" -- the town-dog says --
"'Better the deed.' We'll pray; Lord, yes! --
May the outpourin' grace be shed
Abroad, and all hearts comforted
Accordin' to their lights!" says he,
"And that, of course, means you and me."
And then they both snarled, low and quiet --
Swore where they'd meet. And both stood by it!
Jes' half-past eight on Sund'y night,
Them two dogs meets, -- the town-dog, light
O' foot, though five mile' he had spanned
O' field, beech-wood and bottom-land.
But, as books says, -- we draw a veil
Over this chapter of the tale! . . .
Yit when them two infernal, mean,
Low, orn'ry whelps has left the scene
O' carnage -- chased and putt to death
The last pore sheep, -- they've yit got breath
Enough to laugh and joke about
The fun they've had, while they sneak out
The woods-way fer the old crick where
They both plunge in and wash their hair
And rench their bloody mouths, and grin,
As each one skulks off home ag'in --
Jes' innardly too proud and glad
To keep theirselves from kind o' struttin',
Thinkin' about the fun they'd had --
When their blame wizzens needed cuttin'!
Dogs is deliber't. -- They can bide
Their time till s'picions all has died.
The country-dog don't 'pear to care
Fer town no more, -- he's off somewhere
When the folks whistles, as they head
The team t'ards town. As I jes' said, --
Dogs is deliber't, don't forgit!
So this-here dog he's got the grit
To jes' deprive hisse'f o' town
For 'bout three weeks. But time rolls roun'! . . .
Same as they first met: -- Saturday --
Same Court-house -- hitch-rack -- and same way
The team wuz hitched -- same wagon where
The same jay-dog growls under there
When same town-dog comes loafin' by,
With the most innocentest eye
And giner'l meek and lowly style,
As though he'd never cracked a smile
In all his mortal days! -- And both
Them dogs is strangers, you'd take oath! --
Both keeps a-lookin' sharp, to see
If folks is watchin' -- jes' the way
They acted that first Saturday
They talked so confidentchully.
"Well" -- says the town-dog, in a low
And careless tone -- "Well, whatch you know?"
"'Know?'" says the country-dog -- "Lots more
Than some smart people knows -- that's shore!"
And then, in his dog-language, he
Explains how slick he had to be
When some suspicious folks come roun'
A-tryin' to track and run him down --
Like he'd had anything to do
With killin' over fifty head
O' sheep! "Jes' think! -- and me" -- he said,
"And me as innocent as you,
That very hour, five mile' away
In this town like you air to-day!"
"Ah!" says the town-dog, "there's the beauty
O' bein' prepared for what may be,
And washin' when you've done your duty! --
No stain o' blood on you er me
Ner wool in our teeth! -- Then," says he,
"When wicked man has wronged us so,
We ort to learn to be forgivin' --
Half the world, of course, don't know
How the other gits its livin'!"
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