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Produced by Juliet Sutherland, S. R. Ellison, Ted Garvin,
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team








A DOG OF FLANDERS

By Louisa De La Ramê

(Óuida)


_Illustrated In Color By_ Maria L. Kirk



ILLUSTRATIONS

NELLO, AWAKENED FROM HIS SLEEP, RAN TO HELP WITH THE REST

THEN LITTLE NELLO TOOK HIS PLACE BESIDE THE CART

NELLO DREW THEIR LIKENESS WITH A STICK OF CHARCOAL

THE PORTALS OF THE CATHEDRAL WERE UNCLOSED AFTER THE MIDNIGHT MASS

A DOG OF FLANDERS

A STORY OF NÖEL

[Illustration]


Nello and Patrasche were left all alone in the world.

They were friends in a friendship closer than brotherhood. Nello was
a little Ardennois - Patrasche was a big Fleming. They were both of the
same age by length of years, yet one was still young, and the other was
already old. They had dwelt together almost all their days: both were
orphaned and destitute, and owed their lives to the same hand. It
had been the beginning of the tie between them, their first bond of
sympathy; and it had strengthened day by day, and had grown with
their growth, firm and indissoluble, until they loved one another very
greatly. Their home was a little hut on the edge of a little village - a
Flemish village a league from Antwerp, set amidst flat breadths of
pasture and corn-lands, with long lines of poplars and of alders bending
in the breeze on the edge of the great canal which ran through it. It
had about a score of houses and homesteads, with shutters of bright
green or sky-blue, and roofs rose-red or black and white, and walls
white-washed until they shone in the sun like snow. In the centre of the
village stood a windmill, placed on a little moss-grown slope: it was
a landmark to all the level country round. It had once been painted
scarlet, sails and all, but that had been in its infancy, half a century
or more earlier, when it had ground wheat for the soldiers of Napoleon;
and it was now a ruddy brown, tanned by wind and weather. It went
queerly by fits and starts, as though rheumatic and stiff in the joints
from age, but it served the whole neighborhood, which would have thought
it almost as impious to carry grain elsewhere as to attend any other
religious service than the mass that was performed at the altar of the
little old gray church, with its conical steeple, which stood opposite
to it, and whose single bell rang morning, noon, and night with that
strange, subdued, hollow sadness which every bell that hangs in the Low
Countries seems to gain as an integral part of its melody.

Within sound of the little melancholy clock almost from their birth
upward, they had dwelt together, Nello and Patrasche, in the little hut
on the edge of the village, with the cathedral spire of Antwerp rising
in the north-east, beyond the great green plain of seeding grass and
spreading corn that stretched away from them like a tideless, changeless
sea. It was the hut of a very old man, of a very poor man - of old Jehan
Daas, who in his time had been a soldier, and who remembered the wars
that had trampled the country as oxen tread down the furrows, and who
had brought from his service nothing except a wound, which had made him
a cripple.

When old Jehan Daas had reached his full eighty, his daughter had
died in the Ardennes, hard by Stavelot, and had left him in legacy her
two-year-old son. The old man could ill contrive to support himself,
but he took up the additional burden uncomplainingly, and it soon
became welcome and precious to him. Little Nello - -which was but a pet
diminutive for Nicolas - throve with him, and the old man and the little
child lived in the poor little hut contentedly.

It was a very humble little mud-hut indeed, but it was clean and white
as a sea-shell, and stood in a small plot of garden-ground that yielded
beans and herbs and pumpkins. They were very poor, terribly poor - many a
day they had nothing at all to eat. They never by any chance had enough:
to have had enough to eat would have been to have reached paradise at
once. But the old man was very gentle and good to the boy, and the boy
was a beautiful, innocent, truthful, tender-hearted creature; and they
were happy on a crust and a few leaves of cabbage, and asked no more of
earth or heaven; save indeed that Patrasche should be always with them,
since without Patrasche where would they have been?

For Patrasche was their alpha and omega; their treasury and granary;
their store of gold and wand of wealth; their bread-winner and minister;
their only friend and comforter. Patrasche dead or gone from them, they
must have laid themselves down and died likewise. Patrasche was body,
brains, hands, head, and feet to both of them: Patrasche was their very
life, their very soul. For Jehan Daas was old and a cripple, and Nello
was but a child; and Patrasche was their dog.

[Illustration]

A dog of Flanders - yellow of hide, large of head and limb, with
wolf-like ears that stood erect, and legs bowed and feet widened in the
muscular development wrought in his breed by many generations of hard
service. Patrasche came of a race which had toiled hard and cruelly from
sire to son in Flanders many a century - slaves of slaves, dogs of the
people, beasts of the shafts and the harness, creatures that lived
straining their sinews in the gall of the cart, and died breaking their
hearts on the flints of the streets.

Patrasche had been born of parents who had labored hard all their
days over the sharp-set stones of the various cities and the long,
shadowless, weary roads of the two Flanders and of Brabant. He had been
born to no other heritage than those of pain and of toil. He had been
fed on curses and baptized with blows. Why not? It was a Christian
country, and Patrasche was but a dog. Before he was fully grown he had
known the bitter gall of the cart and the collar. Before he had entered
his thirteenth month he had become the property of a hardware-dealer,
who was accustomed to wander over the land north and south, from the
blue sea to the green mountains. They sold him for a small price,
because he was so young.

This man was a drunkard and a brute. The life of Patrasche was a life of
hell. To deal the tortures of hell on the animal creation is a way which
the Christians have of showing their belief in it. His purchaser was
a sullen, ill-living, brutal Brabantois, who heaped his cart full with
pots and pans and flagons and buckets, and other wares of crockery and
brass and tin, and left Patrasche to draw the load as best he might,
whilst he himself lounged idly by the side in fat and sluggish ease,
smoking his black pipe and stopping at every wineshop or café on the
road.

Happily for Patrasche - or unhappily - he was very strong: he came of an
iron race, long born and bred to such cruel travail; so that he did
not die, but managed to drag on a wretched existence under the brutal
burdens, the scarifying lashes, the hunger, the thirst, the blows,
the curses, and the exhaustion which are the only wages with which the
Flemings repay the most patient and laborious of all their four-footed
victims. One day, after two years of this long and deadly agony,
Patrasche was going on as usual along one of the straight, dusty,
unlovely roads that lead to the city of Rubens. It was full midsummer,
and very warm. His cart was very heavy, piled high with goods in
metal and in earthenware. His owner sauntered on without noticing him
otherwise than by the crack of the whip as it curled round his quivering
loins. The Brabantois had paused to drink beer himself at every wayside
house, but he had forbidden Patrasche to stop a moment for a draught
from the canal. Going along thus, in the full sun, on a scorching
highway, having eaten nothing for twenty-four hours, and, which was far
worse to him, not having tasted water for near twelve, being blind with
dust, sore with blows, and stupefied with the merciless weight which
dragged upon his loins, Patrasche staggered and foamed a little at the
mouth, and fell.

He fell in the middle of the white, dusty road, in the full glare of
the sun; he was sick unto death, and motionless. His master gave him the
only medicine in his pharmacy - kicks and oaths and blows with a cudgel
of oak, which had been often the only food and drink, the only wage and
reward, ever offered to him. But Patrasche was beyond the reach of any
torture or of any curses. Patrasche lay, dead to all appearances,
down in the white powder of the summer dust. After a while, finding
it useless to assail his ribs with punishment and his ears with
maledictions, the Brabantois - deeming life gone in him, or going so
nearly that his carcass was forever useless, unless indeed some one
should strip it of the skin for gloves - cursed him fiercely in farewell,
struck off the leathern bands of the harness, kicked his body aside into
the grass, and, groaning and muttering in savage wrath, pushed the cart
lazily along the road up-hill, and left the dying dog for the ants to
sting and for the crows to pick.

It was the last day before Kermesse away at Louvain, and the Brabantois
was in haste to reach the fair and get a good place for his truck of
brass wares. He was in fierce wrath, because Patrasche had been a strong
and much-enduring animal, and because he himself had now the hard task
of pushing his charette all the way to Louvain. But to stay to look
after Patrasche never entered his thoughts: the beast was dying and
useless, and he would steal, to replace him, the first large dog that he
found wandering alone out of sight of its master. Patrasche had cost him
nothing, or next to nothing, and for two long, cruel years had made him
toil ceaselessly in his service from sunrise to sunset, through summer
and winter, in fair weather and foul.

He had got a fair use and a good profit out of Patrasche: being human,
he was wise, and left the dog to draw his last breath alone in the
ditch, and have his bloodshot eyes plucked out as they might be by the
birds, whilst he himself went on his way to beg and to steal, to eat and
to drink, to dance and to sing, in the mirth at Louvain. A dying dog, a
dog of the cart - why should he waste hours over its agonies at peril of
losing a handful of copper coins, at peril of a shout of laughter?

Patrasche lay there, flung in the grass-green ditch. It was a busy road
that day, and hundreds of people, on foot and on mules, in wagons or in
carts, went by, tramping quickly and joyously on to Louvain. Some saw
him, most did not even look: all passed on. A dead dog more or less - it
was nothing in Brabant: it would be nothing anywhere in the world.

[Illustration]

After a time, among the holiday-makers, there came a little old man who
was bent and lame, and very feeble. He was in no guise for feasting: he
was very poorly and miserably clad, and he dragged his silent way slowly
through the dust among the pleasure-seekers. He looked at Patrasche,
paused, wondered, turned aside, then kneeled down in the rank grass and
weeds of the ditch, and surveyed the dog with kindly eyes of pity. There
was with him a little rosy, fair-haired, dark-eyed child of a few years
old, who pattered in amidst the bushes, for him breast-high, and stood
gazing with a pretty seriousness upon the poor, great, quiet beast.

Thus it was that these two first met - the little Nello and the big
Patrasche.

The upshot of that day was, that old Jehan Daas, with much laborious
effort, drew the sufferer homeward to his own little hut, which was a
stone's throw off amidst the fields, and there tended him with so much
care that the sickness, which had been a brain seizure, brought on by
heat and thirst and exhaustion, with time and shade and rest passed
away, and health and strength returned, and Patrasche staggered up again
upon his four stout, tawny legs.

Now for many weeks he had been useless, powerless, sore, near to death;
but all this time he had heard no rough word, had felt no harsh touch,
but only the pitying murmurs of the child's voice and the soothing
caress of the old man's hand.

In his sickness they too had grown to care for him, this lonely man and
the little happy child. He had a corner of the hut, with a heap of
dry grass for his bed; and they had learned to listen eagerly for his
breathing in the dark night, to tell them that he lived; and when he
first was well enough to essay a loud, hollow, broken bay, they laughed
aloud, and almost wept together for joy at such a sign of his sure
restoration; and little Nello, in delighted glee, hung round his rugged
neck with chains of marguerites, and kissed him with fresh and ruddy
lips.

So then, when Patrasche arose, himself again, strong, big, gaunt,
powerful, his great wistful eyes had a gentle astonishment in them that
there were no curses to rouse him and no blows to drive him; and
his heart awakened to a mighty love, which never wavered once in its
fidelity whilst life abode with him.

But Patrasche, being a dog, was grateful. Patrasche lay pondering long
with grave, tender, musing brown eyes, watching the movements of his
friends.

Now, the old soldier, Jehan Daas, could do nothing for his living but
limp about a little with a small cart, with which he carried daily the
milk-cans of those happier neighbors who owned cattle away into the
town of Antwerp. The villagers gave him the employment a little out of
charity - more because it suited them well to send their milk into the
town by so honest a carrier, and bide at home themselves to look after
their gardens, their cows, their poultry, or their little fields. But it
was becoming hard work for the old man. He was eighty-three, and Antwerp
was a good league off, or more.

Patrasche watched the milk-cans come and go that one day when he had got
well and was lying in the sun with the wreath of marguerites round his
tawny neck.

The next morning, Patrasche, before the old man had touched the cart,
arose and walked to it and placed himself betwixt its handles, and
testified as plainly as dumb show could do his desire and his ability
to work in return for the bread of charity that he had eaten. Jehan Daas
resisted long, for the old man was one of those who thought it a foul
shame to bind dogs to labor for which Nature never formed them. But
Patrasche would not be gainsaid: finding they did not harness him, he
tried to draw the cart onward with his teeth.

At length Jehan Daas gave way, vanquished by the persistence and the
gratitude of this creature whom he had succored. He fashioned his cart
so that Patrasche could run in it, and this he did every morning of his
life thenceforward.

When the winter came, Jehan Daas thanked the blessed fortune that had
brought him to the dying dog in the ditch that fair-day of Louvain; for
he was very old, and he grew feebler with each year, and he would ill
have known how to pull his load of milk-cans over the snows and through
the deep ruts in the mud if it had not been for the strength and the
industry of the animal he had befriended. As for Patrasche, it seemed
heaven to him. After the frightful burdens that his old master had
compelled him to strain under, at the call of the whip at every step, it
seemed nothing to him but amusement to step out with this little light
green cart, with its bright brass cans, by the side of the gentle old
man who always paid him with a tender caress and with a kindly word.
Besides, his work was over by three or four in the day, and after that
time he was free to do as he would - to stretch himself, to sleep in the
sun, to wander in the fields, to romp with the young child, or to play
with his fellow-dogs. Patrasche was very happy.

Fortunately for his peace, his former owner was killed in a drunken
brawl at the Kermesse of Mechlin, and so sought not after him nor
disturbed him in his new and well-loved home.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

A few years later, old Jehan Daas, who had always been a cripple, became
so paralyzed with rheumatism that it was impossible for him to go out
with the cart any more. Then little Nello, being now grown to his sixth
year of age, and knowing the town well from having accompanied his
grandfather so many times, took his place beside the cart, and sold the
milk and received the coins in exchange, and brought them back to their
respective owners with a pretty grace and seriousness which charmed all
who beheld him.

The little Ardennois was a beautiful child, with dark, grave, tender
eyes, and a lovely bloom upon his face, and fair locks that clustered to
his throat; and many an artist sketched the group as it went by him - the
green cart with the brass flagons of Teniers and Mieris and Van Tal,
and the great tawny-colored, massive dog, with his belled harness that
chimed cheerily as he went, and the small figure that ran beside him
which had little white feet in great wooden shoes, and a soft, grave,
innocent, happy face like the little fair children of Rubens.

Nello and Patrasche did the work so well and so joyfully together that
Jehan Daas himself, when the summer came and he was better again, had no
need to stir out, but could sit in the doorway in the sun and see them
go forth through the garden wicket, and then doze and dream and pray
a little, and then awake again as the clock tolled three and watch for
their return. And on their return Patrasche would shake himself free of
his harness with a bay of glee, and Nello would recount with pride the
doings of the day; and they would all go in together to their meal of
rye bread and milk or soup, and would see the shadows lengthen over the
great plain, and see the twilight veil the fair cathedral spire; and
then lie down together to sleep peacefully while the old man said a
prayer. So the days and the years went on, and the lives of Nello and
Patrasche were happy, innocent, and healthful. In the spring and summer
especially were they glad. Flanders is not a lovely land, and around
the burgh of Rubens it is perhaps least lovely of all. Corn and colza,
pasture and plough, succeed each other on the characterless plain in
wearying repetition, and save by some gaunt gray tower, with its peal
of pathetic bells, or some figure coming athwart the fields, made
picturesque by a gleaner's bundle or a woodman's fagot, there is no
change, no variety, no beauty anywhere; and he who has dwelt upon the
mountains or amidst the forests feels oppressed as by imprisonment with
the tedium and the endlessness of that vast and dreary level. But it
is green and very fertile, and it has wide horizons that have a certain
charm of their own even in their dulness and monotony; and among the
rushes by the water-side the flowers grow, and the trees rise tall and
fresh where the barges glide with their great hulks black against the
sun, and their little green barrels and vari-colored flags gay against
the leaves. Anyway, there is greenery and breadth of space enough to be
as good as beauty to a child and a dog; and these two asked no better,
when their work was done, than to lie buried in the lush grasses on the
side of the canal, and watch the cumbrous vessels drifting by and bring
the crisp salt smell of the sea among the blossoming scents of the
country summer.

True, in the winter it was harder, and they had to rise in the darkness
and the bitter cold, and they had seldom as much as they could have
eaten any day, and the hut was scarce better than a shed when the nights
were cold, although it looked so pretty in warm weather, buried in a
great kindly clambering vine, that never bore fruit, indeed, but which
covered it with luxuriant green tracery all through the months of
blossom and harvest. In winter the winds found many holes in the walls
of the poor little hut, and the vine was black and leafless, and the
bare lands looked very bleak and drear without, and sometimes within the
floor was flooded and then frozen. In winter it was hard, and the snow
numbed the little white limbs of Nello, and the icicles cut the brave,
untiring feet of Patrasche.

But even then they were never heard to lament, either of them. The
child's wooden shoes and the dog's four legs would trot manfully
together over the frozen fields to the chime of the bells on the
harness; and then sometimes, in the streets of Antwerp, some housewife
would bring them a bowl of soup and a handful of bread, or some kindly
trader would throw some billets of fuel into the little cart as it went
homeward, or some woman in their own village would bid them keep a share
of the milk they carried for their own food; and they would run over
the white lands, through the early darkness, bright and happy, and burst
with a shout of joy into their home.

So, on the whole, it was well with them, very well; and Patrasche,
meeting on the highway or in the public streets the many dogs who toiled
from daybreak into nightfall, paid only with blows and curses, and
loosened from the shafts with a kick to starve and freeze as best they
might - Patrasche in his heart was very grateful to his fate, and thought
it the fairest and the kindliest the world could hold. Though he was
often very hungry indeed when he lay down at night; though he had to
work in the heats of summer noons and the rasping chills of winter
dawns; though his feet were often tender with wounds from the sharp
edges of the jagged pavement; though he had to perform tasks beyond his
strength and against his nature - yet he was grateful and content: he did
his duty with each day, and the eyes that he loved smiled down on him.
It was sufficient for Patrasche.

[Illustration]

There was only one thing which caused Patrasche any uneasiness in his
life, and it was this. Antwerp, as all the world knows, is full at every
turn of old piles of stones, dark and ancient and majestic, standing
in crooked courts, jammed against gateways and taverns, rising by the
water's edge, with bells ringing above them in the air, and ever and
again out of their arched doors a swell of music pealing. There they
remain, the grand old sanctuaries of the past, shut in amidst the
squalor, the hurry, the crowds, the unloveliness, and the commerce of
the modern world, and all day long the clouds drift and the birds circle
and the winds sigh around them, and beneath the earth at their feet
there sleeps - RUBENS.

And the greatness of the mighty Master still rests upon Antwerp, and
wherever we turn in its narrow streets his glory lies therein, so that
all mean things are thereby transfigured; and as we pace slowly through
the winding ways, and by the edge of the stagnant water, and through the
noisome courts, his spirit abides with us, and the heroic beauty of his
visions is about us, and the stones that once felt his footsteps and
bore his shadow seem to arise and speak of him with living voices. For
the city which is the tomb of Rubens still lives to us through him, and
him alone.

It is so quiet there by that great white sepulchre - so quiet, save only
when the organ peals and the choir cries aloud the Salve Regina or the
Kyrie Eleison. Sure no artist ever had a greater gravestone than that
pure marble sanctuary gives to him in the heart of his birthplace in the
chancel of St. Jacques.

Without Rubens, what were Antwerp? A dirty, dusky, bustling mart, which
no man would ever care to look upon save the traders who do business on
its wharves. With Rubens, to the whole world of men it is a sacred name,
a sacred soil, a Bethlehem where a god of Art saw light, a Golgotha
where a god of Art lies dead.

O nations! closely should you treasure your great men, for by them alone
will the future know of you. Flanders in her generations has been wise.
In his life she glorified this greatest of her sons, and in his death
she magnifies his name. But her wisdom is very rare.

Now, the trouble of Patrasche was this. Into these great, sad piles of
stones, that reared their melancholy majesty above the crowded roofs,
the child Nello would many and many a time enter, and disappear through
their dark arched portals, whilst Patrasche, left without upon the
pavement, would wearily and vainly ponder on what could be the charm
which thus allured from him his inseparable and beloved companion. Once
or twice he did essay to see for himself, clattering up the steps with
his milk-cart behind him; but thereon he had been always sent back again
summarily by a tall custodian in black clothes and silver chains of
office; and fearful of bringing his little master into trouble, he
desisted, and remained couched patiently before the churches until such
time as the boy reappeared. It was not the fact of his going into them
which disturbed Patrasche: he knew that people went to church: all


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