Stories of Childhood by Various


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Page 2

This man was a drunkard and a brute. The life of Patrasche was a life of
hell. To deal the tortures of hell on the animal creation is a way which
the Christians have of showing their belief in it. His purchaser was a
sullen, ill-living, brutal Brabantois, who heaped his cart full with
pots and pans and flagons and buckets, and other wares of crockery and
brass and tin, and left Patrasche to draw the load as best he might,
whilst he himself lounged idly by the side in fat and sluggish ease,
smoking his black pipe and stopping at every wineshop or cafe on the

Happily for Patrasche--or unhappily--he was very strong: he came of an
iron race, long born and bred to such cruel travail; so that he did not
die, but managed to drag on a wretched existence under the brutal
burdens, the scarifying lashes, the hunger, the thirst, the blows, the
curses, and the exhaustion which are the only wages with which the
Flemings repay the most patient and laborious of all their four-footed
victims. One day, after two years of this long and deadly agony,
Patrasche was going on as usual along one of the straight, dusty,
unlovely roads that lead to the city of Rubens. It was full midsummer,
and very warm. His cart was very heavy, piled high with goods in metal
and in earthenware. His owner sauntered on without noticing him
otherwise than by the crack of the whip as it curled round his quivering
loins. The Brabantois had paused to drink beer himself at every wayside
house, but he had forbidden Patrasche to stop a moment for a draught
from the canal. Going along thus, in the full sun, on a scorching highway,
having eaten nothing for twenty-four hours, and, which was far worse to
him, not having tasted water for nearly twelve, being blind with dust,
sore with blows, and stupefied with the merciless weight which dragged
upon his loins, Patrasche, for once, staggered and foamed a little at
the mouth, and fell.

He fell in the middle of the white, dusty road, in the full glare of the
sun: he was sick unto death, and motionless. His master gave him the
only medicine in his pharmacy,--kicks and oaths and blows with a cudgel
of oak, which had been often the only food and drink, the only wage and
reward, ever offered to him. But Patrasche was beyond the reach of any
torture or of any curses. Patrasche lay, dead to all appearances, down
in the white powder of the summer dust. After a while, finding it
useless to assail his ribs with punishment and his ears with
maledictions, the Brabantois--deeming life gone in him, or going so
nearly that his carcass was forever useless, unless indeed some one
should strip it of the skin for gloves--cursed him fiercely in farewell,
struck off the leathern bands of the harness, kicked his body heavily
aside into the grass, and, groaning and muttering in savage wrath,
pushed the cart lazily along the road up hill, and left the dying dog
there for the ants to sting and for the crows to pick.

It was the last day before Kermesse away at Louvain, and the Brabantois
was in haste to reach the fair and get a good place for his truck of
brass wares. He was in fierce wrath, because Patrasche had been a strong
and much-enduring animal, and because he himself had now the hard task
of pushing his charette all the way to Louvain. But to stay to look
after Patrasche never entered his thoughts: the beast was dying and
useless, and he would steal, to replace him, the first large dog that he
found wandering alone out of sight of its master. Patrasche had cost him
nothing, or next to nothing, and for two long, cruel years he had made
him toil ceaselessly in his service from sunrise to sunset, through
summer and winter, in fair weather and foul.

He had got a fair use and a good profit out of Patrasche: being human,
he was wise, and left the dog to draw his last breath alone in the ditch,
and have his bloodshot eyes plucked out as they might be by the birds,
whilst he himself went on his way to beg and to steal, to eat and to
drink, to dance and to sing, in the mirth at Louvain. A dying dog, a dog
of the cart,--why should he waste hours over its agonies at peril of
losing a handful of copper coins, at peril of a shout of laughter?

Patrasche lay there, flung in the grass-green ditch. It was a busy road
that day, and hundreds of people, on foot and on mules, in wagons or in
carts, went by, tramping quickly and joyously on to Louvain. Some saw
him, most did not even look: all passed on. A dead dog more or less,--it
was nothing in Brabant: it would be nothing anywhere in the world.

After a time, amongst the holiday-makers, there came a little old man
who was bent and lame, and very feeble. He was in no guise for feasting:
he was very poorly and miserably clad, and he dragged his silent way
slowly through the dust amongst the pleasure-seekers. He looked at
Patrasche, paused, wondered, turned aside, then kneeled down in the rank
grass and weeds of the ditch, and surveyed the dog with kindly eyes of
pity. There was with him a little rosy, fair-haired, dark-eyed child of
a few years old, who pattered in amidst the bushes, that were for him
breast-high, and stood gazing with a pretty seriousness upon the poor
great, quiet beast.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 5th Jun 2020, 22:45