“What-o’ Benno! A word with yeh,” cried the Don.
“Can’t be did,” replied Mr. Dickson; “important engagement. Got a date with a bunch iv frill.”
“Ga-art! What of it? Len’s a hand ’n’ I’ll buy the beer.”
Benno did not care for beer, but he hadn’t the courage to confess it. The pretence of an undying devotion to ‘pints’ and ‘pots’ was one of the most cherished affectations of his class.
“Now yer talkin’,” said the clerk. “That’s me little weakness. Yeh could lure me from a harem with the smell iv a cork on a day like this.”
Mr. Dickson crossed the road with a proper show of avidity. Nicholas Don removed his hat, scooped honest perspiration from his brow, and hurled the moisture at the dog.
“Whew, ain’t she er corker?” said the carter. “’N’ I’ve pulley-hauled this ’ere cart-horse spaniel all the way from Spats’s privit residence. I was jist tryin’ t’ make up me mind whether I’d go further ’r curl up here ’n’ die when yer gills drifts in. Fer the love iv mother, Benno, stir ’im up aft ’n’ save me life.”
Our Mr. Dickson examined the animal closely, accurately, with the wise air of a dog-fancier. He felt the tyke’s cars, measured his tail, and inspected his teeth. “Er carriage dog,” he said, speaking as a man whose judgment was final, “but he ain’t pure bred. Yiv bin done in, Nicky, if yeh give more in a quid fer ’im.”
“A quid!” cried the Don. “Me give twenty deener fer a batch iv calamity like that—in me sober moments too? Garn, who’s dippy? This is a public nuisance I’m commissioned t’ do away with. Fer months past he’s bin makin’ hisself particularly objectionable to Odgson’s people, runnin’ steeplechases with the hens, moppin’ up the breakfas’ milk, sweatin’ the famb’ly cat, ’n’ breakin’ in ’n’ dossin’ on the best beds. So Spats instructed me nibs t’ destroy the brute, ’n’ slid me a dollar. That was this mornin’. Now I’m on me way, but I can’t buy poison deadly enough fer a tough like this without a witness. If ye’ll come along we’ll dope Tiny, ’n’ then chop up the dollar.”
“I’m with yeh,” said Mr. Dickson, setting his straw on the back of his head. “You pull ’n’ l’ll push.”
So while Nicholas Don towed with the rope over his shoulder, Mr. Benjamin Dickson prompted the dog behind, and progress again set in. At the shop of Squills and Beegin, chemists, Nicholas explained his need. He wanted something fatal to dogs. “Somethin’ sudden,” he said. “You mustn’t give him time t’ think, or he’ll pull out. He’s ez strong ez a camel ’n’ has the digestion iv an alligator.”
Even while Don was giving his order the dog began to revolve. He turned round three times, and then sat up, stiff and hard with all his hair bristling, and snapped viciously at the atmosphere.
Benno retreated to a corner. Nicholas fell back. The chemist seemed concerned. There was a wild look in Carlo’s eye, and froth oozed from the corners of his mouth. He snapped right and left, and then started to revolve again. He increased his pace, spinning after the manner of a playful collie humorously chasing his own tail. But there was no frivolity about this dog—he whirled in a sort of frenzy. His pace increased till the characteristics of a dog were lost in a sort of revolving pattern.
“Stop him! Hold him!” yelled the chemist.
“That be jiggered fer a yarn,” retorted Nicholas Don, and he climbed on a chair.
“He ain’t no dog o’ mine,” protested Benno, disclaiming all responsibility.
“I gave him a dose this mornin” explained the Don, “all I had, but it didn’t seem t’ do him no good; so I thought I’d fit him here with a fatal charge. Evidently proccedin’s has just begun. Look out!”
Benno followed Don in a dash for the counter. The dog had changed his manoeuvres. He was now racing round the walls of the shop, chopping at things as he passed. He overturned the chairs, and brought down a small show-stand with a crash. The chemist joined Don and Dickson on the counter.
“Stop him!” stuttered Squills. “He’ll wreck the shop. For Heaven’s sake, stop him!”
“Stop yer Aunt Martha,” retorted Nicholas, bitterly. “’Ow in thunder ’m I goin’ t’ stop him? Lorblime, he’d bite the leg off yeh!”
Carlo made frantic excursions up the wall. He bit madly. The froth flew from him, but he made no sound till he got among the crockery. He had to swarm over the counter to do that, and he crashed into a show case by the way, floundered out, and tore about a cwt. of phials off the shelves. For two minutes he raged up and down behind the scenes, overturning gallons of physic. Then he took the counter in a leap again, revolved three times, and stiffened out in the middle of the floor, and there was a great silence for thirty seconds.
“Jimmy Gee!” murmured Nicholas, gazing at the ruin, “here’s a tub iv trouble.”
“Mind,” protested Benno feebly, “he ain’t no dog iv mine, ’n’ I can prove it.” Benno edged towards the door. Nicholas seemed disposed to follow, but the chemist wouldn’t hear of it.
“No, you don’t,” he said intervening, “who’s to pay for all this?”
The discussion that followed was conducted with a good deal of warmth, but eventually Squills agreed to try his claim on Odgson and Co., 11 Pepper-lane, City, before going to legal extremes with Nicholas Don and Mr. Dickson. A more or less unsatisfactory conclusion having been arrived at, the friends again turned to depart.
“Here, here, hold hard,” said Squills, “what about the dog?”
“We throw the dog in,” said the Don, with a lamentable attempt at levity.
“You do not! I like your cast-iron cheek, hauling your infernal mongrel in here to die, and wanting to leave the corpse on my hands. You’ll hike it out of this, or I’ll call the police.”
“Come along, Benno,” said Nick, hopelessly; “take a holt. Grab his rudder.”
Nicholas Don gripped the carcase by the neck. Benno took it by the tail. The two marched out with their burden, and laboured down the street. It was a trying task they had in hand, and most ignominious.
No young man of the superior classes with a proper respect for himself, cares to be seen passing through town bearing the loathly carcase of a dog, and it must not be forgotten that Benno was a clerk and a man with a position to maintain. He felt degraded. People passed remarks. Two or three small boys raised a “hoy!” Then a ragamuffinly football team, passing in a van, discovered the hapless pair with the cadaver, and they yelled like demons.
“’Ello, Ned! Gettin’ ’ome with the week’s meat?” roared a hardened barracker, and the van passed with howls of laughter and a volley of insults.
Benno dropped his end of the dog. “Jimmy Jee!” he wailed, “here’s a sweet thing yiv let me in fer. What iv I got t’ do with yer blighted dog? This is where I duck out.”
“Oh, come, I say, ez a man iv honour, yeh can’t do that,” answered Nicholas Don reproachfully. “Yer in this now. Yiv got t’ see it through.”
“Didn’t I tell yeh I’ve got a meet? A bloke can’t keep a lady waitin”’
“Don’t have it on yer mind,” said the Don, with great decision. His manner implied that he would regard the dereliction of Benno as a personal affront calling for instant action.
At this point a fat policeman arrived on the scene. He regarded the three with grave suspicion. “What is it y’ ’ave there?” said he.
“What is it!” retorted the Don, with bitterness. “Come closer, Charles, ’n’ inspect. It’s ther missin’ jewels.”
“No lip, me son,” said the Law. The constable placed a foot on the dog, and pushed it inquisitively. “It’s a dog,” he said, “a dead wan.”
“No use, Benno,” murmured the Don in despair, “yeh can hide nothin’ from a cunnin’ devil like this. We own up,” he added, addressing the officer, “it’s a dorg all right, ’n’ it’s permanently dead.”
“D’ yeh know,” said the policeman severely, “I could run yiz in fer hem’ in possession of property raysonably supposed to have been stolen? Take it out o’ this.”
“But where in ’ell ‘re we t’ take it?” cried Nicholas.
“Devil a man o’ me knows. Try th’ Zoo. If yeh lave it round th’ town yer li’ble to penalties made ’n’ provided.”
The pair resumed their burden and their march. A few boys who had been drawn to them tagged behind with an air of lively expectation. A hansom driver yelled something in passing to the effect that they might try it boiled, and a publican asked them if they were taking it home for the cat. Most of the passing strangers had something funny to say. All grinned. Benno dropped his end again.
“’Ere, ’ere!” he said. “Gimme the ’ead end; it’s less ridiculous.”
“Lorblime! the pride iv him!” commented the Don; but he consented to the change.
“By the way,” asked the clerk, “what are we goin’ t’ do with him?”
“Dunno,” answered Nicholas, hopelessly. A bright idea struck him. “D’ yeh want a dorg?” he said, addressing one of the expectant small boys. “A beautiful dorg,” he added persuasively; “brings sticks outer the water ’n’ steals chickens.”
“Garn!” said the grimy youth, “he’s dead.”
“Oh, no he ain’t,” Nicholas assured him; “he’s only fainted.”
But the boys were not enterprising. They refused to take over the dog even when assured that his hide and bones were worth seven shillings. Nicholas Don and Mr. Dickson next tried to put the corpse on a tram, with the idea of delivering it at the Zoo, but were hounded off by an infuriated conductor.
Nicholas had another inspiration when passing a hay and corn store. “I got it,” he said. “I’ll dip in here ’n’ buy a sack. P’raps we’ll be able t’ leave him round somewhere if he’s disguised.”
Nicholas dipped in. Benno guarded the dog for five minutes, and then the usual policeman arrived and urged him to move on with the offensive remains. Mr. Dickson explained, and the officer entered the store to hasten the Don’s efforts, but returned presently with important information. Don was not there. The villainous Nicholas had sneaked out by a back way, leaving Benno in sole possession of the dog’s body. Dickson’s fury was frightful to see. He used language that would have got him ten hours had not the policeman been a man of sentiment and sympathy.
“Annyway, ye must shift th’ cor-r-rpse,” said the constable. He added, confidentially: “’N’ I wouldn’t be kapin’ him by me too long this warum weather.”
The policeman purchased a chaff-bag with Benno’s money, and assisted the indignant and harassed clerk to push the dog in. The animal had stiffened, and it was not easy to bag him. Fifty-seven people watched the operation with great interest. Fifteen of them followed Benno some distance as he tottered away with his bag of dog. The policeman was careful to see the cadaver off his beat.
Mr. Dickson arrived before a pub in a side street, hot and despairing. He dropped his bag, and, entering the bar with a stagger, called for a long shandy. He drank deeply, and was refreshed and consoled. His magnificent brain got to work. Here was a chance to break with that horrible dog. He would escape by the side door, as Nicholas had done, leaving the defunct tyke to the corporation. Benno finished his drink, and was making for the safe exit, when a policeman entered from the street.
“Hi, you!” cried the Law. “There’s a bit of a dog waiting. Don’t forget the dog.” He gripped Benno, and led him into the street. The dog was there, lying stark and stiff on the pavement. Benno uttered a wail of pure anguish. Somebody had stolen the bag!
From the publican Benjamin Dickson purchased another sack, and went on again, staggering under his woeful burden. That policeman also saw him off his beat. Another policeman saw him carefully the whole length of the next beat.
Never had Benno met so many policeman. Several times he tried to rid himself of the canine incubus, but he failed in his purpose. Once when he dropped the deceased among a lot of cases in a yard behind an ironmongery, and fled, a splenetic man chased him up the lane, captured him, and skull-dragged him all the way back. Benno was forced to take up the sack of remains again, and was then kicked off the premises. The coward kicked Benno with the child in his arms—kicked him nine times.
Blessed release came all in a moment Benno came upon a doctor’s motor standing unguarded, and a desperate idea struck him. Made reckless by his misery, he marched boldly to the motor, dropped the body into the back compartment and walked away. Turning the first corner trepidation seized him, and he ran a mile.
Terrible was Benno’s scorn, bitter his reproaches when he confronted Nicholas Don at the warehouse on Monday morning.
“It’s no use buckin’ up, Benno,” said the Don. “I wasn’t responsible fer me actions. I had a kind iv kidney fit in the ’ay ’n’ corn, ’n’ the blokes carried me t’ the pub fer stimulants. Anyway cut it out; I got troubles enough iv me own. Wait till Spats sees the bill from Squills. Jimmy Jee, won’t he pig-jump!”
Nicholas was correct in his anticipations. Odgson was furious when the chemist’s account came to hand. He went at the Don in a series of hops, barking. There were flecks of froth on his whiskers.
But this was not the end. Nicholas came upstairs to Benno on the Tuesday afternoon, looking like a man haunted.
“’Ell ’n’ Tommy!” he said, “here’s a blighted mess. That dorg we killed—”
“We killed!” interrupted Benno, in a squeal. “We killed! Oh, I like that, I don’t think. We killed!”
“Well,” continued the Don, waiving Benno’s repudiation, “it appears it’s the wrong dorg.”
“The wrong—” Benno was unequal to the occasion. He collapsed mentally.
“The wrong dorg! The dorg what’s bin givin’ Odgson’s people all the troub’ ez turned up agin’, ’n’ he’s sweatin’ the cat ’n’ sleepin’ on the beds same ez heretofore. It turns out the dorg we killed belonged to Packthro, Odgson’s neighbour, ’n’ he was a Great Dane, ’n’ worth twenty quid. At any rate, Packthro’s rushin’ you ’n’ me fer twenty quid compensation.”
Benno’s small face was very while. His body was as limp as a damp duster. He stared at Nicholas in stupid dismay.
“Blime! Don’t perch there like a paralytic hen,” yelled the Don. “What yer goin’ t’ do about it?”
Benno opened his mouth feebly. “Twenty quid!” he whispered. “Twen’——” Then he fell off his high stool and lap huddled upon the floor.