Cobwebs from an Empty Skull, by Ambrose Bierce

The Following Dorg.

Dad Petto, as everybody called him, had a dog, upon whom he lavished an amount of affection which, had it been disbursed in a proper quarter, would have been adequate to the sentimental needs of a dozen brace of lovers. The name of this dog was Jerusalem, but it might more properly have been Dan-to-Beersheba. He was not a fascinating dog to look at; you can buy a handsomer dog in any shop than this one. He had neither a graceful exterior nor an engaging address. On the contrary, his exceptional plainness had passed into a local proverb; and such was the inbred coarseness of his demeanour, that in the dark you might have thought him a politician.

If you will take two very bandy-legged curs, cut one off just abaft the shoulders, and the other immediately forward of the haunches, rejecting the fore-part of the first and the rear portion of the second, you will have the raw material for constructing a dog something like Dad Petto’s. You have only to effect a junction between the accepted sections, and make the thing eat.

Had he been favoured with as many pairs of legs as a centipede, Jerusalem would not have differed materially from either of his race; but it was odd to see such a wealth of dog wedded to such a poverty of leg. He was so long that the most precocious pupil of the public schools could not have committed him to memory in a week.

It was beautiful to see Jerusalem rounding the angle of a wall, and turning his head about to observe how the remainder of the procession was coming on. He was once circumnavigating a small out-house, when, catching sight of his own hinder-quarters, he flew into a terrible rage. The sight of another dog always had this effect upon Jerusalem, and more especially when, as in this case, he thought he could grasp an unfair advantage. So Jerusalem took after that retreating foe as hard as ever he could hook it. Round and round he flew, but the faster he went, the more his centrifugal force widened his circle, until he presently lost sight of his enemy altogether. Then he slowed down, determined to accomplish his end by strategy. Sneaking closely up to the wall, he moved cautiously forward, and when he had made the full circuit, he came smack up against his own tail. Making a sudden spring, which must have stretched him like a bit of India-rubber, he fastened his teeth into his ham, hanging on like a country visitor. He felt sure he had nailed the other dog, but he was equally confident the other dog had nailed him; so the problem was simplified to a mere question of endurance — and Jerusalem was an animal of pluck. The grim conflict was maintained all one day — maintained with deathless perseverance, until Dad Petto discovered the belligerent and uncoupled him. Then Jerusalem looked up at his master with a shake of the head, as much as to say: “It’s a precious opportune arrival for the other pup; but who took him off me?”

I don’t think I can better illustrate the preposterous longitude of this pet, than by relating an incident that fell under my own observation. I was one day walking along the highway with a friend who was a stranger in the neighbourhood, when a rabbit flashed past us, going our way, but evidently upon urgent business. Immediately upon his heels followed the first instalment of Dad Petto’s mongrel, enveloped in dust, his jaws distended, the lower one shaving the ground to scoop up the rabbit. He was going at a rather lively gait, but was some time in passing. My friend stood a few moments looking on; then rubbed his eyes, looked again, and finally turned to me, just as the brute’s tail flitted by, saying, with a broad stare of astonishment:

“Did you ever see a pack of hounds run so perfectly in line? It beats anything! And the speed, too — they seem fairly blended! If a fellow didn’t know better, he would swear there was but a single dog!”

I suppose it was this peculiarity of Jerusalem that had won old Petto’s regard. He liked as much of anything as he could have for his money; and the expense of this creature, generally speaking, was no greater than that of a brief succinct bull pup. But there were times when he was costly. All dogs are sometimes “off their feed”— will eat nothing for a whole day but a few ox-tails, a pudding or two, and such towelling as they can pick up in the scullery. When Jerusalem got that way, which, to do him justice, was singularly seldom, it made things awkward in the near future. For in a few days after recovering his passion for food, the effect of his former abstemiousness would begin to reach his stomach; but of course all he could then devour would work no immediate relief. This he would naturally attribute to the quality of his fare, and would change his diet a dozen times a day, his menu in the twelve working hours comprising an astonishing range of articles, from a wood-saw to a kettle of soft soap — edibles as widely dissimilar as the zenith and the nadir, which, also, he would eat. So catholic an appetite was, of course, exceptional: ordinarily Jerusalem was as narrow and illiberal as the best of us. Give him plenty of raw beef, and he would not unsettle his gastric faith by outside speculation or tentative systems.

I could relate things of this dog by the hour. Such, for example, as his clever device for crossing a railway. He never attempted to do this endwise, like other animals, for the obvious reason that, like every one else, he was unable to make any sense of the time-tables; and unless he should by good luck begin the manoeuvre when a train was said to be due, it was likely he would be abbreviated; for of course no one is idiot enough to cross a railway track when the time-table says it is all clear — at least no one as long as Jerusalem. So he would advance his head to the rails, calling in his outlying convolutions, and straightening them alongside the track, parallel with it; and then at a signal previously agreed upon — a short wild bark — this sagacious dog would make the transit unanimously, as it were. By this method he commonly avoided a quarrel with the engine.

Altogether he was a very interesting beast, and his master was fond of him no end. And with the exception of compelling Mr. Petto to remove to the centre of the State to avoid double taxation upon him, he was not wholly unprofitable; for he was the best sheep-dog in the country: he always kept the flock well together by the simple device of surrounding them. Having done so, he would lie down, and eat, and eat, and eat, till there wasn’t a sheep left, except a few old rancid ones; and even those he would tear into small spring lambs.

Dad Petto never went anywhere without the superior portion of Jerusalem at his side; and he always alluded to him as “the following dorg.” But the beast finally became a great nuisance in Illinois. His body obstructed the roads in all directions; and the Representative of that district in the National Congress was instructed by his constituents to bring in a bill taxing dogs by the linear yard, instead of by the head, as the law then stood. Dad Petto proceeded at once to Washington to “lobby” against the measure. He knew the wife of a clerk in the Bureau of Statistics; armed with this influence he felt confident of success. I was myself in Washington, at the time, trying to secure the removal of a postmaster who was personally obnoxious to me, inasmuch as I had been strongly recommended for the position by some leading citizens, who to their high political characters superadded the more substantial merit of being my relations.

Dad and I were standing, one morning, in front of Willard’s Hotel, when he stooped over and began patting Jerusalem on the head. All of a sudden the smiling brute sprang open his mouth and bade farewell to a succession of yells which speedily collected ten thousand miserable office-seekers, and an equal quantity of brigadier-generals, who, all in a breath, inquired who had been stabbed, and what was the name of the lady.

Meantime nothing would pacify the pup; he howled most dismally, punctuating his wails with quick sharp shrieks of mortal agony. More than an hour — more than two hours — we strove to discover and allay the canine grievance, but to no purpose.

Presently one of the hotel pages stepped up to Mr. Petto, handing him a telegraphic dispatch just received. It was dated at his home in Cowville, Illinois, and making allowance for the difference in time, something more than two hours previously. It read as follows:

“A pot of boiling glue has just been upset upon Jerusalem’s hind-quarters. Shall I try rhubarb, or let it get cold and chisel it off?

“P.S. He did it himself, wagging his tail in the kitchen. Some Democrat has been bribing that dog with cold victuals. — PENELOPE PETTO.”

Then we knew what ailed “the following dorg.”

I should like to go on giving the reader a short account of this animal’s more striking personal peculiarities, but the subject seems to grow under my hand. The longer I write, the longer he becomes, and the more there is to tell; and after all, I shall not get a copper more for pourtraying all this length of dog than I would for depicting an orbicular pig.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31