While the Billy Boils, by Henry Lawson

Two Dogs and a Fence

“Nothing makes a dog madder,” said Mitchell, “than to have another dog come outside his fence and sniff and bark at him through the cracks when he can’t get out. The other dog might be an entire stranger; he might be an old chum, and he mightn’t bark — only sniff — but it makes no difference to the inside dog. The inside dog generally starts it, and the outside dog only loses his temper and gets wild because the inside dog has lost his and got mad and made such a stinking fuss about nothing at all; and then the outside dog barks back and makes matters a thousand times worse, and the inside dog foams at the mouth and dashes the foam about, and goes at it like a million steel traps.

“I can’t tell why the inside dog gets so wild about it in the first place, except, perhaps, because he thinks the outside dog has taken him at a disadvantage and is ‘poking it at him;’ anyway, he gets madder the longer it lasts, and at last he gets savage enough to snap off his own tail and tear it to bits, because he can’t get out and chew up that other dog; and, if he did get out, he’d kill the other dog, or try to, even if it was his own brother.

“Sometimes the outside dog only smiles and trots off; sometimes he barks back good-humouredly; sometimes he only just gives a couple of disinterested barks as if he isn’t particular, but is expected, because of his dignity and doghood, to say something under the circumstances; and sometimes, if the outside dog is a little dog, he’ll get away from that fence in a hurry on the first surprise, or, if he’s a cheeky little dog, he’ll first make sure that the inside dog can’t get out, and then he’ll have some fun.

“It’s amusing to see a big dog, of the Newfoundland kind, sniffing along outside a fence with a broad, good-natured grin on his face all the time the inside dog is whooping away at the rate of thirty whoops a second, and choking himself, and covering himself with foam, and dashing the spray through the cracks, and jolting and jerking every joint in his body up to the last joint in his tail.

“Sometimes the inside dog is a little dog, and the smaller he is the more row he makes — but then he knows he’s safe. And, sometimes, as I said before, the outside dog is a short-tempered dog who hates a row, and never wants to have a disagreement with anybody — like a good many peaceful men, who hate rows, and are always nice and civil and pleasant, in a nasty, unpleasant, surly, sneering sort of civil way that makes you want to knock their heads off; men who never start a row, but keep it going, and make it a thousand times worse when it’s once started, just because they didn’t start it — and keep on saying so, and that the other party did. The short-tempered outside dog gets wild at the other dog for losing his temper, and says:

“‘What are you making such a fuss about? What’s the matter with you, anyway? Hey?’

“And the inside dog says:

“‘Who do you think you’re talking to? You ——! I’ll ——’ etc., etc., etc.

“Then the outside dog says:

“‘Why, you’re worse than a flaming old slut!’

“Then they go at it, and you can hear them miles off, like a Chinese war — like a hundred great guns firing eighty blank cartridges a minute, till the outside dog is just as wild to get inside and eat the inside dog as the inside dog is to get out and disembowel him. Yet if those same two dogs were to meet casually outside they might get chummy at once, and be the best of friends, and swear everlasting mateship, and take each other home.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38