True Dog Stories
Here’s something a little different from the world of deerhound histories.
From 1910, a book entitled True Dog Stories published by Harrap and printed by Turnbull and Spears in Edinburgh. This book is a compilation, brought together by a Lilian Gask and featuring True Stories About Dogs. The story sources coming from as far afield as The Glasgow Record, Daily Telegraph, Sporting Life, Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, Sydney Station Journal, Swindon Advertiser to name but a few.
Although not the usual historic Pictish / Celtic / Scottish deeround tale, the short tales are fantastic and fun, the titles immediately giving clue to content: ‘The Demon Dog’, ‘Upon the Grampian Hills’, ‘Bruno the Brave’, ‘A Noble Foe’ . . . you get the idea. There are also magnificent illustrations by E.S. and Dorothy Hardy, picture plates reflecting the style of the period.
The tale we concern ourselves with here is of Derrick the Deerhound, although I fear to letting a deerhound come and go as he pleases in a busy city like London, not the done thing. A reflection upon changed times I fear.
But let me say, deerhounds living with artists is not an unusual thing, one need only notice how often we are featured in art to realise this. Oh . . . and . . . my home is full of artists.
Enjoy the story . . .
“IT is no go, Derrick: - The public doesn’t want ‘em. and old Levy wouldn’t give me five pounds for the lot. I shall have to try stone breaking - it’s about all I’m fit for.”
The magnificent deerhound thus addressed got up slowly and stretched himself, looking with humorous sympathy into his master’s face, and then at the gems of art which lined the walls of the dusty studio. It was almost as if he knew as well as Lance did that when judiciously disposed of they represented succulent bones and scraps of meat, with comfortable quarters to sleep in when they tramped the country, while if they remained unsold he must be content with dog-biscuits and any rough shelter that might come their way. Derrick hated London, but for the sake of his master he endured it cheerfully, conscious, perhaps, that in the thronging crowds he met in his daily walks there might be a possible purchaser of the artist’s pictures.
“You put too much expression into them–that’s what is wrong, old chap!” drawled Rodney Merton as he strolled in some moments later, and found Lance gazing at his rejected landscapes. “That tree of yours” pointing to a solitary poplar standing against an evening sky “looks for all the world like a Burne-Jones’ maiden waiting for her fate, and I could swear you had painted an old man’s face grinning at her from the centre of that hedge. If you would go in for portraits you’d make a hit. You may take my word for it!” “‘Portraits?’” scoffed Lance, an ugly ‘sneer’ drawing down the corners of his firm young mouth. “Not for me, thank you! Browns life is a burden, since he tried that game, for every woman who sits there expects to be turned into a beauty, and when she’s satisfied, her friend, raise their eyebrow, and smile, and say they can’t see the likeness!”. “But he’s making a pile of money, and that’s what counts,” remarked Merton sagely. Too angry to reply, Lance kicked away a dilapidated footstool that Derrick sometimes condescended to play with, and straightened himself as if to cha1lenge Fate.
“I’ve something to do, if you haven’t.” he said grimly to his friend, who showed signs of prolonging the argument. and Merton left him to himself with a thump on his shoulder that was kindly intended, if somewhat ungraciously received.
Lance spent the day in carefully touching up one of the least” expressive” landscapes. As the short winter afternoon wore to a close, he wrapped a covering loosely round the still-wet canvas and took it off to “old Levy,” who, for all the prejudice against his nation, had been a friend to more than one needy young artist who had reached the end of his tether.
Lance Winthorpe was a favourite of “old Levy’s,” and, as the kindly Jew noted the young fellow’s sunken cheeks and haggard eyes, he departed from his usual custom and gave him some advice. The substance of this was the same as Merton’s-if he wanted to get on, he must give the public what it wanted, not what he thought it ought to want; and though Lance left the dingy little shop better off by a couple of sovereigns than when he entered it, his brow was gloomier than ever. Derrick walked by his side with downdrooped tail, knowing that something was wrong, and only recovered from his despondency as the fragrant odour of fried sausages, which Lance was cooking over a gas ring in the studio, reached his cager nostrils. He ate his share with extreme enjoyment, and settling himself at his master’s feet with a luxurious sigh, gazed at him wistfully, as if to ask why he was troubled, since they had food and warmth and a roof over their heads.
Long after the dog was slumbering peacefully, Lance stared into the fire, and the half-burnt coal took the shape of a long low room, with a wide hearth, by the side of which sat the two old people who had made such sacrifices that he might come to London and win success. As he looked at the dying embers, his grandfather’s face smiled up at him with that patient hope which is often the outcome of years of toil. It had worn the same expression the day that Lance had left them, full of high ambitions and dreams of fame.
“You have it in you, boy-our name will be a. great one yet!” the proud old man had said. “‘Art for Art’, sake,’ and the fest will come!”
Lance had answered with a gay laugh, for that was long before fear had chilled him. Had he not carried off the gold medal at a provincial Art School, amidst the plaudits of his fellow-students and his master’s unstinted praise 1 The latter had written in glowing terms of the striking promise his work had shown, and his grandfather, John Winthorpe, had lain awake through that night making plans for” the boy’s” future.
In days gone by the Winthorpes had held their heads with the best in the country, but hard times” had robbed them of their land, and now there was nothing left for Lancelot, the last of the old stock, save the rambling farm whose walls were crumbling under the stress of wind and rain. Wone than all, ill John Winthorpe’s mind, their richer neighbours, not one of whom could trace his descent further back than the last generation, would fain have patronised them; and patronage to a Winthorpe was worse than death.
But Lance would soon alter that, the old man thought, as he sold out the half share that-remained to him in a flourishing railway company, and rubbed up the old-fashioned watch that was to keep time for the young man when he had those important appointments that were sure to come. Lance should one day be a famous artist, as his master had prophesied, and all London would ring with his name.
This was more than two years ago. but the old folks hoped on still, for their faith in him was as great as ever, and Lance had not had the heart to tell them that he was a .. failure.” His cheerful letters gave them no hint of his necessities, and though his grandfather’s eyes were sometimes sad as he watched the sunset. he never failed to remind himself that Rome was not built in a day.
“’Twill be good for the youngster to have a bit of a struggle.” he said. “‘Light come, light go,’ and it isn’t the apple that drops into our lap that we set most store by.”
And meanwhile Lancelot worked and starved. determined that nothing should make him sell himself for the sake of money. ‘Art for Art’, sake,’ his grandfather had said; it should be that or nothing, and only the thought of the old man’s disappointment, and a certain grim determination which he inherited from his forbears, kept Lance from throwing down his palette and setting off to Canada.
Two sovereigns cannot last for ever, even when carefully expended, and before many mornings had passed, Derrick sniffed round in vain. Not so much as one of the despised dog-biscuits was to be found, and both he and his master had gone supperless to bed the night before.
“Cupboard’s empty, old fellow,” said Lancelot, laconically, setting it wide open, and Derrick, raising himself on his hind feet, poked his nose into each corner before he dropped down on all fours again, and made for the door. Even his dog had forsaken him, Lance thought gloomily, as he set out unattended with some of his remaining personal belongings in a parcel under his arm. There were very few left by this time, for he had found them more easy to raise money upon than pictures.
Some half an hour after his return, while he listlessly worked upon a windmill that Rodney Merton would certainly have declared to be more like a four-armed witch, Derrick gave his usual tap on the panels. Lance let him in without a glance, too sore at his desertion to notice him, but Derrick’s eager whine made him turn round. The beautiful creature was standing over a huge chunk of raw beef steak, waiting for the verdict upon his theft with dignified humility.
“You had nothing to eat, so I have brought you food,” his looks said for him. “Blame me if you will-it was not for myself I stole.” While Lance still stared, too surprised at first to take in the situation, a series of loud bangs at the door announced another arrival, and an angry woman, panting, and out of breath, pushed roughly by as Lance admitted her, and pointed accusingly at Derrick.
“Arrah thin!” she cried, “look at the face of him, the wicked thiefe! It’s meself as watched him hanging round for the last hour, and whin Mike turned his back to weigh Widow Malone a pound of scrag, he nips away wid the beef before oi could catch his tail!”
Derrick had not moved a muscle during her excited harangue, and above and beyond his vexation, Lance was conscious of an amazed appreciation of the grace of the dog’s attitude. That 10 noble an animal should have stooped to theft was only explainable by the depth of his love, and as he realised this his eyes grew misty.
“I’m sorry,” he said simply, turning to Derrick’s accuser. The dog thought l was hungry, and so he-stole for me. I will give you the cost of the meat he took, and it shall not happen again.”
He felt for his purse thankful that he had paid that early visit to the pawnbroker, but the warm hearted Irish woman had already forgotten her loss. “God bless him, the darlint!” she cried, throwing herself impulsively on her knees beside the dog and pressing his reluctant head against her bosom. “Shure, he did his best for his friend; what wan uv us could do more? Niver a bit did he ate himself, the craythur !” And to Derrick’s mystification and great distaste, she hugged him so closely that he was almost suffocated. It was with the greaten difficulty that Lance could persuade her to take the money, and she only did so on being assured that the dog should be allowed to eat his booty, “ivery bit uv it.”
When he and Derrick were once more alone the artist seized his palette, and placing the dog in the exact attitude in which he had stood while waiting for his verdict, Kt to work to paint him as if his life depended on it.
“ Stay as you are-don’t stir!” he commanded tersely, and Derrick obeyed.
Hour after hour went by. The bright spring sunshine streamed down on the dog’s head, making him blink his deepset, tender eyes, but except for this he made no movement. The shadows lengthened, and the artist still worked on ; when at last he threw down his brush, it was as if Derrick himself looked at him from the canvas. In the space of one brief day he had leapt the gulf that separated his ambition from its achievement, and he did not need Merton to tell him that the picture was his masterpiece.
With the first gleam of daylight he started work again, and Derrick once more mounted the little platform. With uncomplaining patience he did his master’s bidding, remaining mute as a statue as the hours slipped by, and only showing his weariness by his pathetic expression when Lancelot met his gaze. The same thing went on next day, and the next, until the deerhound’s limbs grew stiff from want of exercise, and he had no appetite for the dainty morsels on which he was now regaled. At last he showed his boredom in unmistakable fashion anxious as he was to finish his picture, Lance could not help smiling at the dog’s wide yawns, and the air of abject misery with which he resumed his pose after the brief intervals of rest allowed him.
“I’ve done my best for you-have pity, and let me go !” he entreated dumbly, and Lance felt almost a brute for requiring another sitting. “Just once more, old fellow!” he coaxed, as Derrick crawled wearily from the corner ill which he had taken refuge,” and I’ll never ask you to get up again!”
He had always declared that Derrick understood everything said to him, but even he was surprised at the effect of his words. With a joyful yelp, the dog sprang on to the little platform, placed himself in the right attitude, and stilling his wagging tail with a mighty effort, became as rigid as if carved in stone. Not a sign of distress did he show hereafter, though the sitting was a long one, and when at last it was completed, and Lance cried, “Down, Derrick! It’s finished!” he barked himself hoarse with delight. The noise he made drowned the sound of approaching footsteps, and did not cease until Lance admitted Claudius Barr, the great art critic, who had come to see the wonderful picture which had already made a stir among Lance’s friends. He praised so rarely that his approval was regarded as the hall-mark of success, and now, as he looked from the hollow-eyed young artist to the canvas on the easel, the sternness of his face softened.
“It’s the finest thing I have seen for a long time,” he said emphatically; and Lance knew that his struggles were over.
“The Verdict” was the picture of the year at the Academy, and the young man’s fortune was made. He had found his particular niche in the world of Art, and commissions to paint dogs crowded in upon him, The flying visit he paid to the dear old people who had always believed in him tilled their cup of delight, and they collected the glowing notices in the public press referring to “that rising artist, Lancelot Winthorpe” as if every word were precious.” True to his promise. Lance never suggested to Derrick that he should sit again, and from his place of honour at his master’s feet, in the spacious new studio they shared with Jackson Romer. The deerhound watched with lively sympathy the ordeal of those less fortunate dogs who were called upon to mount the hated platform.
“What a grand creature he is!” said Romer one afternoon. stooping to pat his splendid head. “I wish you would let me make a sketch of him.”
“All right.” Lance answered carelessly, forgetting for the moment what he had promised. “Platform. Derrick! Friend wants to paint your portrait.”
The deerhound sprang to his feet, staring at him in grieved surprise; then, with a mournful howl, dashed through the open doorway, and bounded away into the distance.
“I forgot-l told him I would never ask him to sit again!” cried Lance, more vexed with himself than he could say.
“He’ll be back in an hour or two,” said his friend consolingly, somewhat incredulous as to the reason of his flight, in spite of all Lance had to tell him of the great dog’s memory and intelligence. And his master hoped for the best, watching for him all that day, and for many succeeding ones. For Derrick did not return. Week after week went by, and Lance could obtain no tidings of him beyond the fact that a huge deerhound was said to be haunting the neighbourhood at twilight. Once or twice he was certain that he caught a glimpse of him lurking in the shadows of a huge block of flats at the end of the road, but he vanished like a flash at the approach of Lance, who called and whistled to no purpose.
The Summer waned, and was almost gone. Autumn came on apace, and young Romer did his best to persuade Lance to lay aside his work and come with him to the Devonshire moorlands, where the long wide stretches were aflame with heather, and the breath of the sea mingled its stinging sweetness with the fragrance of the pines. But although Lance was full of longing for the sight of his home, and hungered to hear his grandfather’s” ‘Well done!” he had not the heart to go back without the dog whose trust he had unwittingly betrayed.
“Perhaps I’ll come later on,” he said; and Romer was forced to leave town without him.
That evening Lance set the studio door wide open, and drew his chair over the threshold that he might enjoy the scent of the tall white lilies in the prim old-fashioned garden. The night wind whispered among the branches of the laburnum, and scattered its seeds on the sun-baked ground; the grasshoppers chirped to each other from the lawn, and a small brown song-thrush, disturbed from her slumbers by a prowling cat, gave a frightened cry and twittered to her mate. Suddenly a faint low whine reached Lance’s ears.
“Derrick!” he cried; and gaunt with hunger, and halt, and lame, his dog came back to him through the darkness. And now there was nothing left to mar his joy.