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A vain setter.

From Pussy and Doggy Tales by Edith Nesbit.
Age Rating 4 to 6.

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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 gaiters. 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 first prizes. 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 of blows. "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.


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