by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
"See here, you'd best lose the bitch—till tomorrow, anyway.
She ain't the sight to please a strict man, like your dad, on the
Sabbath day. What's more, she won't heal for a fortni't, not to
deceive a Croolty-to-Animals Inspector at fifty yards; an' with any
man but me she'll take a month."
My friend Yorkshire Dick said this, with that curious gypsy
intonation that turns English into a foreign tongue if you forget the
words and listen only to the voice. He was squatting in the
sunshine, with his back against an oak sapling, a black cutty under
his nose, and Meg, my small fox-terrier, between his thighs.
In those days, being just fifteen, I had taken a sketch-book and put
myself to school under Dick to learn the lore of Things As They Are:
and, as part of the course, we had been the death of a badger that
It was one of those days in autumn when the dews linger in the shade
till noon and the blackberry grows too watery for the connoisseur.
On the ridge where we loafed, the short turf was dry enough, and the
sun strong between the sparse saplings; but the paths that zigzagged
down the thick coppice to right and left were soft to the foot, and
streaked with the slimy tracks of snails. A fine blue mist filled
the gulf on either hand, and beneath it mingled the voices of streams
and of birds busy beside them. At the mouth of each valley a thicker
column of blue smoke curled up like a feather—that to the left
rising from the kitchen chimney of my father's cottage, that to the
right from the encampment where Dick's bouillon was simmering above
a wood fire.
Looking over Dick's shoulder along the ridge I could see, at a point
where the two valleys climbed to the upland, a white-washed building,
set alone, and backed by an undulating moorland dotted with
clay-works. This was Ebenezer Chapel; and my father was its deacon.
Its one bell had sounded down the ridge and tinkled in my ear from
half-past ten to eleven that morning. Its pastor would walk back and
eat roast duck and drink three-star brandy under my father's roof
after service. Bell and pastor had spoken in vain, as far as I was
concerned; but I knew that all they had to say would be rubbed in
with my father's stirrup-leather before nightfall.
"'Tis pretty sport," said Dick, "but it leaves traces."
Between us the thin red soil of the ridge was heaped in mounds, and
its stain streaked our clothes and faces. On one of these mounds lay
a spade and two picks, a pair of tongs, an old sack, dyed in its
original service of holding sheep's reddle, and, on the sack, the
carcase of our badger, its grey hairs messed with blood about the
snout. This carcase was a matter of study not only to me, who had my
sketch-book out, but to a couple of Dick's terriers tied up to a
sapling close by—an ugly mongrel, half fox-half bull-terrier, and a
Dandie Dinmont—who were straining to get at it. As for Dick, he
never lifted his eyes, but went on handling Meg.
He had the gypsy's secret with animals, and the poor little bitch
hardly winced under his touch, though her under-lip was torn away,
and hung, like a red rag, by half an inch of flesh.
We had dug and listened and dug again for our badger, all the
morning. Then Dick sent his mongrel in at the hole, and the mongrel
had come forth like a projectile and sat down at a distance,
bewailing his lot. After him the Dandie went in and sneaked out
again with a fore-paw bitten to the bone. And at last Meg stepped in
grimly, and stayed. For a time there was dead silence, and then as
we pressed our ears against the turf and the violets, that were just
beginning their autumnal flowering, we heard a scuffling underground
and began to dig down to it, till the sweat streamed into our eyes.
Now Dick's wife had helped us to bring up the tools, and hung around
to watch the sport—an ugly, apathetic woman, with hair like a
horse's tail bound in a yellow rag, a man's hips, and a skirt of old
sacking. I think there was no love lost between her and Dick,
because she had borne him no children. Anyway, while Dick and I were
busy, digging like niggers and listening like Indians—for Meg didn't
bark, not being trained to the work, and all we could hear was a
thud, thud now and then, and the hard breathing of the grapple—all
of a sudden the old hag spoke, for the first time that day—
"S'trewth, but I've gripped!"
Looking up, I saw her stretched along the side of the turf, with her
head resting on the lip of the badger's hole and her right arm
inside, up to the arm-pit. Without speaking again, she began to work
her body back, like a snake, the muscles swelling and sinking from
shoulder to flank in small waves. She had the strength of a horse.
Inch by inch she pulled back, while we dug around the mouth of the
hole, filling her mouth and eyes with dirt, until her arm came to
light, then the tongs she held; and then Dick spat out a mighty
"It's the dog she's got!"
So it was. The woman had hold of Meg all the time, and the game
little brute had held on to the badger. Also the badger had held
her, and when at last his hold slipped, she was a gruesome sight.
She looked round, reproachfully, shook the earth out of her eyes and
went in again without a sound. And Dick picked up a clod and threw
it in his wife's face, between the eyes. She cursed him, in a
perfunctory way, and walked off, down the wood, to look after her
But now, Meg having pinned her enemy again, we soon dug them out: and
I held the sack while Dick took the badger by the tail and dropped
him in. His teeth snapped, a bare two inches from my left hand, as
he fell. After a short rest, he was despatched. The method need not
be described. It was somewhat crude, and in fact turned me not a
"One o'clock," Dick observed, glancing up at the sun, and resuming
his care of Meg. "What're ye trying to do, youngster?"
"Trying to put on paper what a badger's like when he's dead. If only
I had colours—"
"My son, there's a kind of man afflicted with an itch to put all he
sees on paper. What's the use? Fifty men might sit down and write
what the grey of a badger's like; and they can't, because there's no
words for it. All they can say is that 'tis badger's-grey—which
means nought to a man that hasn't seen one; and a man that has
don't want to be told. Same with your pencils and paints. Cast your
head back and look up—how deep can you see into the sky?"
"Ay, and every mile shining to the eye. I've seen pictures in my
time, but never one that made a dab of paint look a mile deep.
Besides, why draw a thing when you can lie on your back and look up
I was about to answer when Dick raised his head, with a queer
alertness in his eyes. Then he vented a long, low whistle, and went
on binding up Meg's jaw.
Immediately after, there was a crackling of boughs to the left and my
father's head appeared above the slope, with the red face of the
pastor behind it. We were caught.
On the harangue that followed I have no wish to dwell. My father and
the pastor pitched it in by turns, while Dick went on with his
surgery, his mouth pursed up for a soundless whistle. The
prosecution had it all its own way, and I felt uncomfortably sure
about the sentence.
But at last, to our amazement, Dick, having finished the bandaging,
let Meg go and advanced. He picked up my sketch-book.
"Gentlemen both," said he, "I've been listening respectful to your
talk about God and his wrath, and as a poor heathen I'd like to know
your idea of him. Here's a pencil and paper. Will you be kind
enough to draw God? that I may see what he's like."
The pastor's jaw dropped. My father went grey with rage. Dick stood
a pace back, smiling; and the sun glanced on the gold rings in his
"No, sirs. It ain't blasphemy. But I know you can't give me a
notion that won't make him out to be a sort of man, pretty much like
yourselves—two eyes, a nose, mouth, and beard perhaps. Now my wife
says there's points about a woman that you don't reckon into your
notion; and my dog says there's more in a tail than most men
"You foul-tongued poacher—" broke out my father.
"Now you're mixing matters up," Dick interrupted, blandly; "I poach,
and that's a crime. I've shown your boy to-day how men kill badgers,
and maybe that's wrong. But look here, sir—I've taught him some
things besides; the ways of birds and beasts, and their calls; how to
tell the hour by sun and stars; how to know an ash from a beech, of a
pitch-dark night, by the sound of the wind in their tops; what herbs
will cure disease and where to seek them; why some birds hop and
others run. Sirs, I come of an old race that has outlived books and
pictures and meeting-houses: you belong to a new one and a cock-sure,
and maybe you're right. Anyhow, you know precious little of this
world, whatever you may of another."
He stopped, pushed a hand through his coarse black hair, and, as if
suddenly tired, resumed the old, sidelong gypsy look that he had been
straightening with an effort.
"Your boy'll believe what you tell him: he's got the strength in his
blood. Take him home and don't beat him too hard."
He glanced at me with a light nod, untied his dogs, shouldered his
tools, and slouched away down the path, to sleep under his accustomed
tree that night and be off again, next day, travelling amongst men
and watching them with his weary ironical smile.