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A vain setter.
From Pussy and Doggy Tales by Edith Nesbit.
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Age Rating 4 to 6.
OURS is one of the most ancient and noble families in the land, and I
contend that family pride is an exalted sentiment. I still hold to this
belief, in spite of all the sufferings that it has brought upon me.
My father, whose ancestor came over with the Conqueror, has taken prizes
at many a county show; and my mother, the handsomest of her sex, took
one prize, and would have taken more, but for the unfortunate accident
of having her tail cut off in a door.
I early determined to be worthy of my high breeding and undoubted
descent. A setter should have long, silky ears. I made my brother pull
mine gently for an hour at a time. In order to lengthen them, I combed
their fringes with my paws.
My father's brow is lofty and narrow. The unfortunate accident which
removed my mother from public life, suggested to me a way of cultivating
our most famous family characteristic. I used to place my head between
the doorpost and the door, while my brother leaned gently against the
latter, so as to press my skull to the requisite shape. My legs, I knew,
ought to be straight. I never indulged in any of those field-sports, to
which my brother early turned a light-hearted attention; for I knew
that undue exercise tends to curve the legs.
My tail was my special care. Regardless of comfort, I twisted myself
into the shape of a capital O, and, holding the end of my tail gently,
but firmly, in my teeth, I stretched myself and it.
So much pains devoted to such a noble object could not be thrown away. I
became the handsomest setter in the three counties.
My brother, in the meantime, grew expert in the coarse sporting
exercises to which he devoted his energies. He had no pride. He tramped
the mud of the fields; he tore his ears in bramble bushes; and I have
seen him so far lose all sense of our family's dignity as to grovel at
the feet of his master, and raise one of his paws, to indicate that
birds were near--common birds; I believe they are called partridges.
"You might as well," I said to him bitterly--"you might as well have
been born a pointer."
"Why not?" he said. "I know a pointer," he went on, laughing in his
merry, careless way--"I know a pointer who lives at the Pines Farm. A
capital fellow he is."
"My dear boy," I said, "just come and squeeze my head in the door a
little, will you? and let me tell you that for one of our family to
associate with a pointer is social ruin--common, coarse, smooth-coated
persons, related, I should suppose, to the vulgar plum-pudding dog."
My brother only laughed; but he was a good-natured fellow, and pinched
my head in the door until my forehead could stand the strain no longer.
I was sent to the Crystal Palace Dog Show; and, as I looked round on the
hundreds of dogs of all families and nationalities, I breathed a sigh
of contentment, and blessed the fate that had made me, in this England
of ours, a well-born English setter. My brother was not at the Show, of
course; but I think even he would have admired me if he could have seen
how far superior I was to all about me. Of course, I took the first
prize. My mission was fulfilled: my family pride was satisfied. The
judges unanimously pronounced me to be the most perfect and beautiful
sporting dog in the whole Show. My master, wild with delight, patted my
silky forehead, and then turned aside to talk with a stout gentleman in
I thought of what my life would be--one long, joyous round of shows,
applause, pats on the head from a grateful master, delicious food and
But my master's base nature--his ancestors came over with George and
the Hanoverians--struck all my hopes to the ground. I woke from my
dream of triumph to find myself sold to the stout man in gaiters.
I never saw my brother again. I was never able to tell my fond and
doting mother that I, like her, had taken a prize. I was never able to
chat with my father over a bone, comparing with him experiences of the
show bench. The stout, gaitered man took me away into a far country.
The next morning he took me out into the fields, and looked at me from
time to time, as if he expected me to do something. Unwilling to
disappoint him, I sat down and began my usual exercise for lengthening
my tail. He at once struck me violently. We went a little farther, and I
noticed that he looked more and more displeased; but I could not imagine
what it could be that so distressed him. Presently one of those common
partridge birds had the impertinence to fly out close to me. I caught it
at once, and looked round for applause. There only came another shower
"What's the good of your taking prizes," he said, "if you're such an
idiot in the field?--might as well have a greyhound."
"I wish you had," I said under my breath.
I spent a week in torment, and then it occurred to me that this
low-born, gaitered person would have been better pleased with my
brother. So I tried to recall the tricks with which my brother had
particularly aggravated me; and, the next time I smelt a partridge, I
lay down, as I had seen my brother do, and lifted a foolish foot. I was
rewarded with a pat and encouragement.
I have now sunk entirely to my brother's level. My master pronounces me
to be a most excellent sporting dog. But I shall never forget the blows
and angry words that were necessary to make me renounce my ideal of what
a setter should be; and deep in my heart I still cherish, with
passionate devotion, my views on duty, and my honourable family pride.