John Galsworthy.

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01':ASTS 7

so lightly, to run, literally run, up to the bars to sec
if perhaps — they were not there. Its face was as
intelligent as any dog's "

My friend muttered something I couldn't catch,
and then went on :

" That afternoon I took the drive for which one visits
that hotel, and it occurred to me to ask my chauffeur
what kind of hawk it was. ' Well,' he said, ' I ain't
just too sure what it is they've got caged up now ;
they changes 'em so often.'

" ' Do you mean,' I said, ' that they die in cap-
tivity ? '

" ' Yes,' he answered, ' them big birds soon gits
moulty and go off.' Well, when I paid my bill I went
up to the semblance of proprietor — it was one of those
establishments where the only creature responsible
is ' Co.' — and I said :

" ' I see you keep a hawk out there ? '

" ' Yes. Fine bird. Quite an attraction ! '

" ' People like to look at it ? '

" ' Just so. They're uncommon — that sort.'

" ' Well,' I said, ' I call it cruel to keep a hawk shut
up like that.'

" ' Cruel ? Why ? What's a hawk, anyway — cruel
devils enough ! '

" ' My dear sir,' I said, ' they earn their living just
like men, without caring for other creatures' sufferings.
You are not shut up, apparently, for doing that.
Good-bye.' "

As he said this, my friend looked at me, and
added :

" You think that was a lapse of taste. What would
yoii have said to a man who cloaked the cruelty of his


commercial instincts by blaming a hawk for being
what Nature had made him ? "

There was such feeling in his voice that I hesitated
long before answering.

" Well," I said, at last, " in England, anyway, we
only keep such creatures in captivity for scientific
purposes. I doubt if you could find a single instance
nowadays of its being done just as a commercial

He stared at me.

" Yes," he said, " we do it publicly and scientifically,
to enlarge the mind. But let me put to you this ques-
tion. Which do you consider has the larger mind — the
man who has satisfied his idle curiosity by staring at
all the caged animals of the earth, or the man who has
been brought up to feel that to keep such indomitable
creatures as hawks and eagles, wolves and panthers,
shut up, to gratify mere curiosity, is a dreadful thing ?"

To that singular question I knew not what to answer.
At last I said :

" I think you underrate the pleasure they give. We
English are so awfully fond of animals ! "


We had entered Battersea Park by now, and since
my remark about our love of beasts we had not spoken.
A wood-pigeon which had been strutting before us
just then flew up into a tree and began puffing out
its breast. Seeking to break the silence, I said :

" Pigeons are so complacent."

My friend smiled in his dubious way, and answered :


" Do you know the ' blue rock ' ? "

" No."

" Ah ! there j'^ou have a pigeon who has less com-
placency than any living thing. You see, it depends
on circumstances. Suppose, for instance, that we hap-
pened to keep Our Selves — perhaps the most com-
placent class of human beings — in a large space
enclosed by iron railings, feeding them up carefully,
until their natural instincts caused them to run up
and down at a considerable speed from side to side of
the enclosure. And suppose when we noticed that they
had attained the full speed and strength of their legs
we took them out, holding them gingerly in order
that they might not become exhausted by struggling,
and placed them in little tin compartments so dark
and stuffy that they would not care of their own accord
to stay there, and then stood back about thirty paces
with a shot gun and pressed a spring which let the tin
compartment collapse. And then, as each one of Our
Selves ran out, we let fly with the right barrel and
peppered him in the tail, whereon, if he fell, w^e sent
a dog out to fetch him in by the slack of his breeches,
and after holding him idly for a minute by the neck
we gave it a wring round ; or, if he did not fall, we
prayed Heaven at once and let fly with the left barrel.
Do you think in these circumstances Our Selves would
be complacent ? "

" Don't be absurd ! " I said.

" Very well," he replied, " I will come to ' blue
rocks ' — do you still maintain that they are so com-
placent as to deserve their fate ? "

" I don't know — I know nothing about their


" What the eyes do not swallow, the heart does
not throw up ! There are other places, but — have you
been to Monte Carlo ? "

" No, and I should never think of going there."

" Oh, well," he answered, " it's a great place ; but
there's just one little thing about it, and that's in the
matter of those ' blue rocks.' You'll agree, I suppose,
that one can't complain of people amusing themselves
in any way they like so long as they hurt no one but
themselves "

I caught him up : "I don't agree at all."

He smiled : " Yours is perhaps the English point
of view. Still "

" It's more important that they shouldn't hurt
themselves than that they shouldn't hurt pigeons, if
that's what you're driving at," I said.

" There wouldn't appear to you, I suppose, to be any
connection in the matter ? "

" I tell you," I repeated, " I know nothing about
pigeon-shooting ! "

He stared .very straight before him.

" Imagine," he said, " a blue sea, and a half-circle of
grass, with a low wall. Imagine on that grass five
traps, from which lead paths — like the rays of a star —
to the central point on the base of that half-circle.
And imagine on that central point a gentleman with
a double-barrelled gun, another man, and a retriever
dog. And imagine one of those traps opening, and a
little dazed gray bird (not a bit like that fellow you saw
just now) emerge and fly perhaps six yards. And
imagine the sound of the gun and the little bird
dipping in its flight, but struggling on. And imagine
the sound of the gun again and the little bird falling


to the ground and wriggling on along it. And imagine
the retriever dog run forward and pick it up and walk
slowly back with it, still quivering, in his mouth. Or
imagine, once in a way, the little bird drop dead as a
stone at the first sound. Or imagine again that it
winces at the shots, yet carries on over the boundary,
to fall into the sea. Or — but this very seldom —
imagine it wing up and out, unhurt, to the first freedom
it has ever known. My friend, the joke is this : To the
man who lets no little bird away to freedom comes
much honour, and a nice round sum of money ! Do
j^ou still think there is no connection ? "

" Well," I said, " it doesn't sound too sportsman-
like. And yet, I suppose, looking at it quite broadly,
it does minister in a sort of way to the law of the sur-
vival of the fittest."

" In which species — man or pigeon ? "

" The sportsman is necessary to the expansion of
Empire. Besides, you must remember that one docs
not expect high standards at Monte Carlo."

He looked at me. " Do you never read any sport-
ing paper ? " lie asked.

" No."

" Did you ever hunt the carted stag ? "

" No, I never did."

" Well, you've been coursing, anyway."

" Certainly ; but there's no comparing that with
pigeon- shooting."

" In coursing I admit," he said, " there's pleasure to
the dogs, and some chance for the hare, who, besides,
is not in captivity. Also that where there is no coursing

there arc few bares, in these days. And 3^et " ; he

seemed to fall into a reverie.


Then, looking at me in a queer, mournful sort of
way, he said suddenly :

" I don't wish to attack that sport, when there are
so many much worse, but by way of showing you how
liable all these things are to contribute to the improve-
ment of our species I will tell you a little experience
of my own. When I was at college I was in a rather
sporting set ; we hunted, and played at racing, and
loved to be ' au courant ' with all that sort of thing.
One year it so happened that the uncle of one of us
won the Waterloo Cup with a greyhound whose name
was — never mind. We became at once ardent lovers
of the sport of coursing, consumed by the desire to
hold a Waterloo Cup Meeting in miniature, with
rabbits for hares and our own terriers for greyhounds.
Well, we held it ; sixteen of us nominating our dogs.
Now kindly note that of those sixteen eight at least
were members of the aristocracy, and all had been at
public schools of standing and repute. For the pur-
poses of our meeting, of course, we required fifteen
rabbits caught and kept in bags. These we ordered of a
local blackguard, with a due margin over to provide
against such of the rabbits as might die of fright before
they were let out, or be too terrified to run after being
loosed. We made the fellow whose uncle had won the
Waterloo Cup judge, apportioned among ourselves
the other officers, and assembled— the judge on horse-
back, in case a rabbit might happen to run, say, fifty
yards. Assembled with us were many local cads, two
fourth-rate bookies, our excited, yapping terriers,
and twenty-four bagged rabbits. The course was
cleared. Two of us advanced, holding our terriers
by the loins ; the judge signed that he was ready ;


tlie first rabbit was turned down. It crept out ui the
bag, and squatted, close to the ground, with its ears
laid back. The local blackguard stirred it with his
foot. It crept two yards, and squatted closer. All
the terriers began shrieking tlieir little souls out, all
the cads began to yell, but the rabbit did not move —
its heart, you see, was broken. At last the local black-
guard took it up and wrung its neck. After that some
rabbits ran, and some did not, till all were killed !
The terrier of one of us was judged victor by him
whose uncle had won the Waterloo Cup ; and we
went back to our colleges to drink everybody's health.
Now, my friend, mark ! We were sixteen decent
youths, converted by infection into sixteen rabbit-
catching cads. Two of us are dead; but the rest of
us — what do we think of it now ? I tell you this
little incident, to confirm you in your feeling that
pigeon-shooting, coursing, and the like, tend to
improve our species, even here in England."


Before I could comment on my friend's narrative we
were spattered with mud by passing riders, and
stopped to repair the damage to our coats.

" Jolly for my new coat I " I said. " Do you notice,
by the way, that they are cutting men's tails longer
this spring ? More becoming to a fellow, I think."

He raised those quizzical eyebrows of his and
murmured :

" And horses' tails shorter. Did you see those that
passed just now ? "


" No."

" There were none ! "

" Nonsense ! " I said. " My dear fellow, you really
are obsessed about beasts ! They were just ordinary."

" Quite — a few scrubb}^ hairs, and a wriggle."

" Now, please," I said, " don't begin to talk of the
cruelty of docking horses' tails, and tell me a story of
an old horse in a pond."

" No," he answered, "for I should have to invent
that. What I was going to say was this : Which do
you think the greater fools in the matter of fashion —
men or wom.en ? "

"Oh! Women."

" Why ? "

" There's always some sense at the bottom of men's

" Even of docking tails ? "

" You can't compare it, anyway," I said, " with
such a fashion as the wearing of ' aigrettes.' That's
a cruel fashion if you like."

" Ah ! But you see," he said, " the women who
wear them are ignorant of its cruelty. If they were
not, they would never wear them. No gentlewoman
wears them, now that the facts have come out."

" What is that you say ? " I remarked.

He looked at me gravely.

" Do you mean to tell me," he asked, " that
any woman of gentle instincts, who knows that the
' aigrette,' as they call it, is a nuptial plume sported
by the white egret only during the nesting season — and
that, in order to obtain it, the mother-birds are shot,
and that, after their death, practically all their young
die from hunger and exposure — do you mean to tell


mc that any gentlewoman, knowing that, wears tlicm ?
Why ! most women are mothers themselves ! What
would they think of gods who shot women with babies
in arms for the sake of obtaining their white skins or
tlieir crop of hair to wear on their heads, eh ? "

" But, my dear fellow," I said, " you see these
plumes about all over the place ! "

" Only on people who don't mind wearing imitation

I gaped at him.

" You need not look at me like that," he said.
" A woman goes into a shop. She knows that real
' aigrettes ' mean killing mother-birds and starving all
their nestlings. Therefore, if she's a real gentlewoman
she doesn't ask for a real ' aigrette.' But still less does
she ask to be supplied with an imitation article so
good that people will take her for the wearer of the
real thing. I put it to you, would she want to be
known as an encourager of such a practice ? You can
never have seen a lady wearing an ' aigrette.' "

" What ! " I said. " What ? "

" So much for the woman who knows about
' aigrettes,' " he went on. " Now for the woman who
doesn't. Either, when she is told these facts about
' aigrettes ' she sets them down as ' hysterical stuff,'
or she is simply too ' out of it ' to know anything.
Well, she goes in and asks for an ' aigrette.' Do you
think they sell her the real thing — I mean, of course,
in England — knowing that it involves the shooting of
mother-birds at breeding time ? I put it to you :
Would they ? "

His inability to grasp the real issues astonished me,
and I said :


" You and I happen to have read the evidence about
' aigrettes ' and the opinion of the House of Lords'
Committee that the feathers of egrets imported into
Great Britain are obtained by kilKng the birds during
the breeding season ; but you don't suppose, do you,
that people whose commercial interests are bound up
with the selling of ' aigrettes ' are going to read it,
or believe it if they do read it ? "

" That," he answered, " is cynical, if you like. I
feel sure that, in England, people do not sell suspected
articles about which there has been so much talk and
inquiry as there has been about ' aigrettes ' without
examining in good faith into the facts of their origin.
No, believe me, none of the ' aigrettes ' sold in Eng-
land can have grown on birds."

" This is fantastic," I said. " Why ! if what you're
saying is true, then — then real ' aigrettes ' are all
artificial ; but that — that would be cheating ! "

" Oh, no ! " he said. " You see, ' aigrettes ' are in
fashion. The word ' real ' has therefore become par-
liamentary. People don't want to be cruel, but they
must have ' real aigrettes.' So, all these * aigrettes '
are ' real,' unless the customer has a qualm, and
then they are ' real imitation aigrettes.' We are a
highly-civilized people ! "

" That is very clever," I said, " but how about
the statistics of real egret plumes imported into this
country ? "

He answered like a flash : " Oh, those, of course,
are only brought here to be exported again at once to
countries where they do not mind confessing to
cruelty ; yes, all exported, except — well, those that
aren t !


" Oh ! " I said : "I sec ! Vou have been speak-
ing ironically all this time."

" Have you grasped that ? " he answered.
" Capital ! "

After that we walked in silence.

" The fact is," I said, presently, " ordinary people,
shopmen and customers alike, never bother their
heads about such things at all."

," Yes," he replied sadly, "they take the line of
least resistance. It is just that which gives Fashion
its chance to make such fools of them."

" You have yet to prove that it does make fools of

" I thought I had ; but no matter. Take horses' tails
— what's left of them — do you defend that fashion ? "

" Well," I said, "I "

" Would you if you were a horse ? "

" If you mean that I am a donkey ? "

" Oh, no ! Not at all ! "

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Online LibraryJohn GalsworthyA sheaf → online text (page 1 of 20)