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An essay by John Brown

The Mystery Of Black And Tan

Title:     The Mystery Of Black And Tan
Author: John Brown [More Titles by Brown]

"The reader must remember that my work is
concerning the_ aspects _of things only."

We,--the _Sine Qua Non_, the Duchess, the Sputchard, the Dutchard, the Ricapicticapic, Oz and Oz, the Maid of Lorn, and myself,--left Crieff some fifteen years ago, on a bright September morning, soon after daybreak, in a gig. It was a morning still and keen: the sun sending his level shafts across Strathearn, and through the thin mist over its river hollows, to the fierce Aberuchil Hills, and searching out the dark blue shadows in the corries of Benvorlich. But who and how many are "we?" To make you as easy as we all were, let me tell you we were four; and are not these dumb friends of ours persons rather than things? is not their soul ampler, as Plato would say, than their body, and contains rather than is contained? Is not what lives and wills in them, and is affectionate, as spiritual, as immaterial, as truly removed from mere flesh, blood, and bones, as that soul which is the proper self of their master? And when we look each other in the face, as I now look in Dick's, who is lying in his "corny" by the fireside, and he in mine, is it not as much the dog within looking from out his eyes--the windows of his soul--as it is the man from his?

The _Sine Qua Non_, who will not be pleased at being spoken of, is such an one as that vain-glorious and chivalrous Ulric von Huetten--the Reformation's man of wit, and of the world, and of the sword, who slew Monkery with the wild laughter of his _Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum_--had in his mind when he wrote thus to his friend Fredericus Piscator (Mr. Fred. Fisher), on the 19th May 1519, "_Da mihi uxorem, Friderice, et ut scias qualem, venustam, adolescentulam, probe educatam, hilarem, verecundam, patientem._" "_Qualem_," he lets Frederic understand in the sentence preceding, is one "_qua cum ludam, qua jocos conferam, amoeniores et leviusculas fabulas misceam, ubi sollicitudinis aciem obtundam, curarum aestus mitigem_." And if you would know more of the _Sine Qua Non_, and in English, for the world is dead to Latin now, you will find her name and nature in Shakspeare's words, when King Henry the Eighth says, "go thy ways."

_The Duchess_, alias all the other names till you come to the _Maid of Lorn_, is a rough, gnarled, incomparable little bit of a terrier, three parts Dandie-Dinmont, and one part--chiefly in tail and hair--cocker: her father being Lord Rutherfurd's famous "Dandie," and her mother the daughter of a Skye, and a light-hearted Cocker. The Duchess is about the size and weight of a rabbit; but has a soul as big, as fierce, and as faithful as had Meg Merrilies, with a nose as black as Topsy's; and is herself every bit as game and queer as that delicious imp of darkness and of Mrs. Stowe. Her legs set her long slim body about two inches and a half from the ground, making her very like a huge caterpillar or hairy _oobit_--her two eyes, dark and full, and her shining nose, being all of her that seems anything but hair. Her tail was a sort of stump, in size and in look very much like a spare foreleg, stuck in anywhere to be near. Her color was black above and a rich brown below, with two dots of tan above the eyes, which dots are among the deepest of the mysteries of Black and Tan.

This strange little being I had known for some years, but had only possessed about a month. She and her pup (a young lady called _Smoot_, which means smolt, a young salmon), were given me by the widow of an honest and drunken--as much of the one as of the other--Edinburgh street-porter, a native of Badenoch, as a legacy from him and a fee from her for my attendance on the poor man's death-bed. But my first sight of the Duchess was years before in Broughton Street, when I saw her sitting bolt upright, begging, imploring, with those little rough four leggies, and those yearning, beautiful eyes, all the world, or any one, to help her master, who was lying "mortal" in the kennel. I raised him, and with the help of a ragged Samaritan, who was only less drunk than he, I got Macpherson--he held from Glen Truim--home; the excited doggie trotting off, and looking back eagerly to show us the way. I never again passed the Porters' Stand without speaking to her. After Malcolm's burial I took possession of her; she escaped to the wretched house, but as her mistress was off to Kingussie, and the door shut, she gave a pitiful howl or two, and was forthwith back at my door, with an impatient, querulous bark. And so this is our second of the four; and is she not deserving of as many names as any other Duchess, from her of Medina Sidonia downwards?

A fierier little soul never dwelt in a queerer or stancher body; see her huddled up, and you would think her a bundle of hair, or a bit of old mossy wood, or a slice of heathery turf, with some red soil underneath but speak to her, or give her a cat to deal with, be it bigger than herself, and what an incarnation of affection, energy, and fury--what a fell unquenchable little ruffian.

_The Maid of Lorn_ was a chestnut mare, a broken down racer, thorough-bred as Beeswing, but less fortunate in her life, and I fear not so happy _occasione mortis_: unlike the Duchess, her body was greater and finer than her soul; still she was a ladylike creature, sleek, slim, nervous, meek, willing, and fleet. She had been thrown down by some brutal half-drunk Forfarshire laird, when he put her wildly and with her wind gone, at the last hurdle on the North Inch at the Perth races. She was done for and bought for ten pounds by the landlord of the Drummond Arms, Crieff, who had been taking as much money out of her, and putting as little corn into her as was compatible with life, purposing to run her for the Consolation Stakes at Stirling. Poor young lady, she was a sad sight--broken in back, in knees, in character, and wind--in everything but temper, which was as sweet and all-enduring as Penelope's or our own Enid's.

Of myself, the fourth, I decline making any account. Be it sufficient that I am the Dutchard's master, and drove the gig.

It was, as I said, a keen and bright morning, and the S. Q. N. feeling chilly, and the Duchess being away after a cat up a back entry, doing a chance stroke of business, and the mare looking only half breakfasted, I made them give her a full feed of meal and water, and stood by and enjoyed her enjoyment. It seemed too good to be true, and she looked up every now and then in the midst of her feast, with a mild wonder. Away she and I bowled down the sleeping village, all overrun with sunshine, the dumb idiot man and the birds alone up, for the ostler was off to his straw. There was the S. Q. N. and her small panting friend, who had lost the cat, but had got what philosophers say is better--the chase. "_Nous ne cherchons jamais les choses, mais la recherche des choses_," says Pascal. The Duchess would substitute for _les choses_--_les chats_. Pursuit, not possession, was her passion. We all got in, and off set the Maid, who was in excellent heart, quite gay, pricking her ears and casting up her head, and rattling away at a great pace.

We baited at St. Fillans, and again cheered the heart of the Maid with unaccustomed corn--the S. Q. N., Duchie, and myself, going up to the beautiful rising ground at the back of the inn, and lying on the fragrant heather looking at the Loch, with its mild gleams and shadows, and its second heaven looking out from its depths, the wild, rough mountains of Glenartney towering opposite. Duchie, I believe, was engaged in minor business close at hand, and caught and ate several large flies and a humble-bee; she was very fond of this small game.

There is not in all Scotland, or as far as I have seen in all else, a more exquisite twelve miles of scenery than that between Crieff and the head of Lochearn. Ochtertyre, and its woods; Benchonzie, the head-quarters of the earthquakes, only lower than Benvorlich; Strowan; Lawers, with its grand old Scotch pines; Comrie, with the wild Lednoch; Dunira; and St. Fillans, where we are now lying, and where the poor thoroughbred is tucking in her corn. We start after two hours of dreaming in the half sunlight, and rumble ever and anon over an earthquake, as the common folk call these same hollow, resounding rifts in the rock beneath, and arriving at the old inn at Lochearnhead, have a _tousie_ tea. In the evening, when the day was darkening into night, Duchie and I,--the S. Q. N. remaining to read and rest,--walked up Glen Ogle. It was then in its primeval state, the new road non-existent, and the old one staggering up and down and across that most original and Cyclopean valley, deep, threatening, savage, and yet beautiful--

"Where rocks were rudely heaped, and rent
As by a spirit turbulent;
Where sights were rough, and sounds were wild,
And everything unreconciled;"

with flocks of mighty boulders, straying all over it. Some far up, and frightful to look at, others huddled down in the river, _immane pecus_, and one huge unloosened fellow, as big as a manse, up aloft watching them, like old Proteus with his calves, as if they had fled from the sea by stress of weather, and had been led by their ancient herd _altos visere montes_--a wilder, more "unreconciled" place I know not; and now that the darkness was being poured into it, those big fellows looked bigger, and hardly "canny."

Just as we were turning to come home--Duchie unwillingly, as she had much multifarious, and as usual fruitless hunting to do--she and I were startled by seeing a dog _in_ the side of the hill, where the soil had been broken. She barked and I stared; she trotted consequentially up and snuffed _more canino_, and I went nearer: it never moved, and on coming quite close I saw as it were the _image_ of a terrier, a something that made me think of an idea unrealized; the rough, short, scrubby heather and dead grass, made a color and a coat just like those of a good Highland terrier--a sort of pepper and salt this one was--and below, the broken soil, in which there was some iron and clay, with old gnarled roots, for all the world like its odd, bandy, and sturdy legs. Duchie seemed not so easily unbeguiled as I was, and kept staring, and snuffing, and growling, but did not touch it,--seemed afraid. I left and looked again, and certainly it was very odd the _growing_ resemblance to one of the indigenous, hairy, low-legged dogs, one sees all about the Highlands, terriers, or earthy ones.

We came home, and told the S. Q. N. our joke. I dreamt of that visionary terrier, that son of the soil, all night; and in the very early morning, leaving the S. Q. N. asleep, I walked up with the Duchess to the same spot. What a morning! it was before sunrise, at least before he had got above Benvorlich. The loch was lying in a faint mist, beautiful exceedingly, as if half veiled and asleep, the cataract of Edinample roaring less loudly than in the night, and the old castle of the Lords of Lochow, in the shadow of the hills, among its trees, might be seen

"Sole sitting by the shore of old romance."

There was still gloom in Glen Ogle, though the beams of the morning were shooting up into the broad fields of the sky. I was looking back and down, when I heard the Duchess bark sharply, and then give a cry of fear, and on turning round, there was she with as much as she had of tail between her legs, where I never saw it before, and her small Grace, without noticing me or my cries, making down to the inn and her mistress, a hairy hurricane. I walked on to see what it was, and there in the same spot as last night, in the bank, was a real dog--no mistake; it was not, as the day before, a mere surface or _spectrum_, or ghost of a dog; it was plainly round and substantial; it was much developed since eight P.M. As I looked, it moved slightly, and as it were by a sort of shiver, as if an electric shock (and why not?) was being administered by a law of nature; it had then no tail, or rather had an odd amorphous look in that region; its eye, for it had one--it was seen in profile--looked to my profane vision like (why not actually?) a huge blaeberry (_vaccinium Myrtillus_, it is well to be scientific) black and full; and I thought,--but dare not be sure, and had no time or courage to be minute,--that where the nose should be, there was a small shining black snail, probably the _Limax niger_ of M. de Ferussac, curled up, and if you look at any dog's nose you will be struck with the typical resemblance, in the corrugations and moistness and jetty blackness of the one to the other, and of the other to the one. He was a strongly-built, wiry, bandy, and short-legged dog. As I was staring upon him, a beam--Oh, first creative beam!--sent from the sun--

"Like as an arrow from a bow,
Shot by an archer strong"--

as he looked over Benvorlich's shoulder, and piercing a cloudlet of mist which clung close to him, and filling it with whitest radiance, struck upon that eye or berry, and lit up that nose or snail: in an instant he sneezed (the _nisus (sneezus?) formativus_ of the ancients); that eye quivered and was quickened, and with a shudder--such as a horse executes with that curious muscle of the skin, of which we have a mere fragment in our neck, the _Platysma Myoides_, and which doubtless has been lessened as we lost our distance from the horse-type--which dislodged some dirt and stones and dead heather, and doubtless endless beetles, and, it may be, made some near weasel open his other eye, up went his tail, and out he came, lively, entire, consummate, _warm_, wagging his tail, I was going to say like a Christian, I mean like an ordinary dog. Then flashed upon me the solution of the _Mystery of Black and Tan_ in all its varieties: the body, its upper part gray or black or yellow according to the upper soil and herbs, heather, bent, moss, &c.; the belly and feet, red or tan or light fawn, according to the nature of the deep soil, be it ochrey, ferruginous, light clay, or comminuted mica slate. And wonderfullest of all, the DOTS of TAN above the eyes--and who has not noticed and wondered as to the philosophy of them?--_I saw made_ by the two fore feet, wet and clayey, being put briskly up to his eyes as he sneezed that genetic, vivifying sneeze, and leaving their mark, forever.

He took to me quite pleasantly, by virtue of "natural selection," and has accompanied me thus far in our "struggle for life," and he, and the S. Q. N., and the Duchess, and the Maid, returned that day to Crieff, and were friends all our days. I was a little timid when he was crossing a burn lest he should wash away his feet, but he merely colored the water, and every day less and less, till in a fortnight I could wash him without fear of his becoming a _solution_, or fluid extract of dog, and thus resolving the mystery back into itself.

The mare's days were short. She won the Consolation Stakes at Stirling, and was found dead next morning in Gibb's stables. The Duchess died in a good old age, as may be seen in the history of "Our Dogs." The S. Q. N., and the parthenogenesic earth-born, the _Cespes Vivus_--whom we sometimes called Joshua, because he was the Son of None (Nun), and even Melchisedec has been whispered, but only that, and Fitz-Memnon, as being as it were a son of the Sun, sometimes the Autochthon {autochthonos}; (indeed, if the relation of the _coup de soleil_ and the blaeberry had not been plainly causal and effectual, I might have called him _Filius Gunni_, for at the very moment of that shudder, by which he leapt out of non-life into life, the Marquis's gamekeeper fired his rifle up the hill, and brought down a stray young stag,) these two are happily with me still, and at this moment she is out on the grass in a low easy-chair, reading Emilie Carlen's _Brilliant Marriage_, and Dick is lying at her feet, watching, with cocked ears, some noise in the ripe wheat, possibly a chicken, for, poor fellow, he has a weakness for worrying hens, and such small deer, when there is a dearth of greater. If any, as is not unreasonable, doubt me and my story, they may come and see Dick. I assure them he is well worth seeing.

[The end]
John Brown's essay: The Mystery Of Black And Tan