Pierrot’s first trip to Brussels was filled with wonderful experiences. Mère Marie, very brisk and fresh-looking, routed him out before daybreak. The polished copper cans, filled with last night’s creamy milk, she took from the cool water in which they stood and wiped them carefully. Then she brought up the low cart, with its two stout wheels and the framework slanting out from the sides, and set the cans in neatly with a round cheese and a firkin of butter. Luppe came up quietly, and Mère Marie fastened on his girth and collar, to which the reins were attached, and placing him between the shafts snapped on the traces.
All this, of course, Pierrot had observed many times before, but he was somewhat astonished when Mère Marie took down his own harness from its peg and buckled it on him. Then she led him over beside Luppe and hitched him outside the left-hand shaft, snapping the traces into a ring Gran’père had bolted to the front of the cart. It suddenly dawned upon Pierrot that he was to be taken out into the world, and he began to prance and wriggle in his excitement. Luppe turned about and nipped his ear and told him not to be silly. Then Mère Marie felt of all the cans to see if they were securely placed, pinned her little shawl across her breast, and gathered up the reins.
“Eui, Luppe! Eui, Pierrot!” she cried, and the dogs trotted out into the cool morning, Mère Marie walking rapidly beside the cart.
After a little while they met another woman with a milk-cart like Mère Marie’s coming out of a lane, and they all went along together, Mère Marie and the woman talking and laughing. Pierrot tried to pick an acquaintance with the other dog, but he appeared to be a surly fellow, and Pierrot was forced to give it up.
As dawn broke there appeared on the road other people with dogs and carts—women with milk and both men and women with fresh vegetables and fruit. Some of the market gardeners had larger carts with two or even three dogs, and a few of the lazy ones rode and nodded on their carts.
The Waterloo Road runs straight into the centre of Brussels, but Mère Marie and the other milkwomen did not take that route. They turned off into a cross-road to the right after a while and at length came to the broad, paved thoroughfare known as the Avenue Louise. The houses began to appear closer together and there was much stir and bustle on the road. Pierrot had never seen so many people before, and he found it all so interesting and exciting that it required the combined efforts of Luppe and Mère Marie to keep him going straight ahead.
It was nearly four o’clock when they started. A little more than an hour and a half later Pierrot found himself in the city itself, with houses stretching continuously down each side of the street. He might have been frightened but for the comforting proximity of Luppe and Mère Marie, who seemed not at all disturbed. It was growing noisy, too, and Pierrot was content to trot along very peacefully with his right side touching Luppe’s shaft.
Arriving at the corner of a street that crossed the avenue, they were halted by an officious Garde de Ville with fierce-looking moustaches. He wore a blue uniform with a silver band on his cap, and a terrifying sabre hung by his side. Behind him stood a very dejected woman with her dog and cart, waiting until he should find time to take her to the station. Perhaps he had found that her milk was not fresh or had been watered.
“Ho! Sta stil!” commanded Mère Marie, and the dogs stopped.
Then the officer proceeded to inspect Mère Marie’s cans and to test her milk. He examined the dogs for sores and the harness to see if it chafed, and required Mère Marie to show him Luppe’s drinking-bowl and the pieces of carpet for the dogs to lie on when resting. Finding everything as it should be—for Mère Marie was a careful milkwoman—he bade them pass on, and by six o’clock they were ready for business.
Mère Marie gave Luppe and Pierrot each a drink of water and a piece of hard dog cake, and after a little rest they started on their rounds. Most of Mère Marie’s customers were in the Quartier Louise, where many of the English people live, and she seemed to be very welcome here. As the sun rose higher Pierrot found it very pleasant standing in the shade of the big lime trees and chestnuts of the Avenue Louise while Mère Marie took her bright cans to the houses. Carriages and automobiles rolled by constantly, and pleasant people passed along the sidewalk, forming a fascinating pageant for Pierrot’s entertainment. When he became restless and felt an impulse to go on without Mère Marie, Luppe, who lost no opportunity to lie down and rest, firmly restrained him. On the whole, Pierrot behaved very well for his first lesson.
And then there were many, many other dogs to be seen. It had never occurred to Pierrot that there were so many dogs in the world, and he was surprised not to find them all more excited about it. Luppe apparently paid no attention to them.
Most noticeable were the large carts of the poultrymen from Malines and other outlying villages who gathered at the covered market in the Rue Duquesnoy. To most of these carts five large dogs were harnessed, one between the shafts and two on each side; sometimes a sixth was used beneath the cart with his tugs fastened to the axle. These poultrymen travel in the night (Malines is fifteen miles from Brussels) in order to be early at market, and frequently they fall asleep on their carts, leaving the dogs to trot along unguided. The intelligent animals not only keep up their steady pace without urging, but learn to avoid all difficulties of the road by their own initiative.
Then there were milkwomen and laundresses with carts much like Mère Marie’s, drawn by one dog or two. There were bakers and peddlers of fruit and vegetables, who mostly used high carts with their dogs hitched beneath. And there were noisy, shouting mussel vendors pushing their carts before them, with a dog hitched ahead to help.
Sometimes a poor man would pass with a nondescript cart laden with kindling-wood, garbage, or what-not, drawn by an undersized, underfed mongrel who was often hard put to it to drag his load, but for the most part the dogs were fine, big, strapping fellows used to their work, and apparently enjoying it.
The dog, as a matter of fact, is not only man’s closest four-footed friend, but when set to work is his most willing slave and helper. He is often intractable, but when he works at all he works with a will. Other animals that have been harnessed and trained to do man’s work—horse, elephant, camel, mule, burro, ox, or reindeer—labour for the most part with a sort of stolid indifference and resignation. With the exception of the most intelligent elephants and horses, the dog is the only quadruped who displays a genuine interest and joy in his work. Whether hauling a canal boat in France or a sled in Alaska, he puts his heart and brain into his task and works like a man.
It did not occur to either Pierrot or Luppe to question the justice of their position. Luppe, in fact, was happiest when between the shafts. And the whole discussion as to whether or not the chiens de trait are cruelly treated is more or less profitless, as it all depends on the master. Some of the owners are undoubtedly cruel, and very few of them have any real feeling for their dogs, but for the most part common sense demands good treatment; the owner is a fool who destroys the value of his own property by overwork or underfeeding, and for the most part the dogs are well fed and are kept in fine fettle for their work.
Belgium has been slow to enact prohibitory laws in these matters, but of late years a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been active, and in some of the cities one may occasionally observe placards reading, “Traitez les animaux avec douceur.” And for some years past there has been, in Brussels at least, police inspection of harness to see that it does not chafe the dogs, and drivers of sore, sick, or lame dogs are at least warned.
Before noon Mère Marie had visited all her customers and sold all her milk, and Luppe knew when the route was completed and exhibited a growing interest in the prospect of home and dinner.
As they clattered across the Grande Place they found many of the poultrymen also making ready for departure. Across the square a cry would be heard, “Eui, Vos! Eui, Sus!” And off would rattle another team on the road to Malines.
Pierrot was very weary when they reached home again, due to the excitement of new experiences as much as to the work done. He was very glad to curl up on his bed and dream of carts and dogs and people and rows of houses, and Mère Marie bade the children not to disturb him.
The next day Pierrot remained at home, but the day following he travelled again to Brussels with Mère Marie and Luppe, and thereafter for many days. Little by little Mère Marie and Luppe taught him the things a cart-dog should know, and gradually he ceased to be astonished and excited by the sights and noises and smells of the city, and when he reached home he was not so weary.
There came a day when old Luppe was evidently ailing, and Père Jean thought it would be a good time to try Pierrot alone with the cart. So the next morning Mère Marie awoke Henri very early and they hitched Pierrot in Luppe’s place between the shafts. Henri was to go along with Mère Marie to see that Pierrot did not run away while she was visiting her customers.
Old Luppe arose stiffly and shakily and came over to be harnessed as usual. Mère Marie pushed him gently aside, and Luppe stood for a moment looking surprised and hurt. Then his resentment against the usurper suddenly arose and he leaped at Pierrot’s throat.
Pierrot had never been in a fight before, but he was strong and active, and instinct told him how to defend himself. He shook Luppe off and then the two dogs grappled. Pierrot was hampered by shafts and harness, but he held his own and did not attempt the aggressive. Mère Marie sent Henri running for his father, and seizing a milk-yoke tried to separate the two dogs.
Both were bleeding about the mouth but were not seriously injured when Père Jean arrived on the scene. Mère Marie held Pierrot by his harness while Père Jean managed to drag Luppe off and tie him, snarling and scolding, in the dairy.
Then Mère Marie made haste to load her cart, and soon they started out upon the road. At the sound of the departing wheels Luppe set up a long, despairing howl. Pierrot trotted proudly along, affecting not to hear, but a great sadness welled up in Henri’s breast, and there were tears in the bright eyes of Mère Marie.
The journey to Brussels seemed very long and tiresome to Henri, but he trudged along manfully beside his mother, who sought to keep up his spirits with cheery talk about the city and the people there.
Henri had driven to Brussels several times with his father, but he had never before spent so much time in the streets, and he soon forgot his weariness in the interesting sights about him. For one thing, he noticed that many of the other dogs wore muzzles, and he asked his mother about it.
“That is because they are ugly,” said Mère Marie. “They snap at people who disturb them and they try to fight other dogs.”
“But Pierrot wears no muzzle,” said Henri.
“That is because he is gentle,” said Mère Marie. “If you make a friend of your dog, and never beat him except when he is very bad, and talk to him a great deal, he becomes very like a person and does not want to bite any one.”
The Belgian cart-dogs are naturally good-natured, but their life has made them generally combative. When their masters take the trouble to treat them as comrades from puppyhood, they become exceedingly devoted and affectionate. Such a dog was Pierrot. He did not know what it was to have an enemy, and his love for Père Jean and Mère Marie and Gran’père and Henri and wee Lisa had grown as naturally as his big muscles and rough coat.
Toward the middle of the forenoon Henri grew weary again and began sitting on the curb beside Pierrot whenever his mother left him. So Mère Marie decided that he needed a little diversion.
“See,” said she, “here are mes amies, les petites marchandes de journaux. You will make friends with them while Pierrot and I visit Madame Courtois. It is a quiet street and Pierrot will not run away. We will soon return.”
In a little round stall at the corner sat two pretty young girls sewing and chatting together behind their piles of magazines and newspapers. They looked up with smiles and greeted Mère Marie gayly as she approached. They, too, were from the South and spoke French rather than Flemish. Henri liked them at once.
“This is my little Henri,” said Mère Marie to the newsgirls, “and his legs have become fatigued. May he sit with you while I visit Madame Courtois?”
Both girls laughed merrily at nothing at all and made a place for Henri on the narrow bench between them, while Mère Marie and Pierrot started up a side street. One of the girls had dimples in her cheeks and the other had curly hair which blew about her ears.
“Where is the old dog to-day?” asked one of the girls.
“He is ill,” replied Henri.
“And the young dog has learned to take his place?”
Henri nodded very solemnly. “Oh, yes,” said he, “we have taught him.”
Whereat both girls laughed again.
Soon they were all very good friends and Henri was telling them all about Luppe and Pierrot and Medard and Lisa and Gran’père and the yellow bird in its wooden cage. When Mère Marie and Pierrot returned, Henri was feeling much rested but rather hungry, and one of the girls gave him a pear from her basket.
Henri turned and waved his hand to them as Mère Marie led him away, and the girls laughed and shouted after them: “Au revoir, Mère Marie! Au revoir, Henri! Au revoir, Monsieur le Chien!” And Henri laughed, too, for that was a very droll way to address Pierrot.
The cart was lighter going home, so Mère Marie allowed Henri to ride part of the way, and Pierrot trotted or walked steadily along like the willing worker he was getting to be.
That day Luppe was better, but Père Jean thought he had best have a good rest; so he was given a comfortable bed of straw in an unused stall in the little thatched stable, and Mère Marie and Henri and Pierrot went again to the city without him. And again Luppe howled at their departure and was very despondent all day.
One cannot say whether Luppe died of a broken heart or whether it was his advancing years and the rheumatism. Père Jean did not realize what it meant to Luppe to be deprived of his work in life; and, anyway, what else could he have done? The poor old dog failed rapidly. He would not eat, and he scarcely responded to the attentions which the whole family showered upon him. Only on the last day his eyes followed Gran’père about with dumb pleading in them; and when Gran’père at last knelt beside him, Luppe painfully dragged himself up into the old man’s arms, and, with a great sigh, died.
Mère Marie and Henri and Lisa all wept, Lisa the loudest, and Gran’père and Père Jean were both very quiet and sober. It is not fitting that a man should mourn a dog as he mourns a brother or even a cross old uncle, but sometimes a dying dog leaves just as deep a feeling of loss. Luppe, with all his little faults, had been one of the family for so long that home would never seem quite the same again without him.
They buried him under the grapevine, in a sheltered spot, and many a human grave has been watered by less genuine tears. Then Lisa brought blue cornflowers and red poppies and laid them on the little mound, and they all went silently back to the house.
Thus was old Luppe gathered to his fathers and young Pierrot reigned in his stead.