“Don’t go inside! Stay there, on guard!”
And with a rush (despite her pain-racked state) Desdemona ran down the slope in obedience to an imperative natural call. A few seconds later and she stood drinking eagerly, quickly, beside the dew-pond. But for all her haste and her parched throat and aching body, the mother bitch was careful not to wet her coat, since that might have made their bed chilly for the pups. Returning hotfoot, she found Finn immovable beside the mouth of the cave, a formidable sentry.
But while yet distant some ten or twelve yards, Desdemona heard a whimper from within-sides (doubtless a pup had turned over on its back and forgotten how to roll round again); and accordingly her weary limbs must lift her up the steep slope almost at a bound, leaving her no time for thanks to Finn, and care for nothing but her little ones.
To see her lower herself again to make of her aching body a nest and bulwark for the pups was to see a really beautiful study of animal motherhood. The deep wrinkles of her long forehead were all twisted from the pains of the night; but not by one hair’s-breadth did she miscalculate the place for her descent to earth, or the nice disposition of her body to secure the maximum of comfort and shelter for her brood.
If her mate looked for any companionable attention now, he looked in vain. Each of the five young ones must be scrupulously washed and groomed once more to make up for the neglect of the past few minutes. And by that time they were greedily pounding at her dugs for another meal. However, Finn understood now; and as sentry he spent the rest of the forenoon by the cave.
THE LONE MOTHER
Through many, many generations past the forebears of the Lady Desdemona had been wont at all such crises in their lives as she was now experiencing to receive the closest and most unremitting human care and supervision. In the Shaws breeding-kennels, for example, there would always be at such times an abundance of fresh warm milk, clean, warm bedding for the new arrivals and their mother, and every other sort of comfort and attention which men-folk have devised for the benefit of the aristocrats among dog-folk.
Thus, if the alliance between the Lady Desdemona and the great champion of her race, Windle Hercules, had been consummated, a foster-mother would have been held in readiness to share the task of nursing her family when it came. Two or three pups would have been left with Desdemona; the others would have been taught to derive their nutriment and nursing from some plebeian little shepherd bitch, specially bereaved of her own offspring for this purpose. But in the cave on the Downs, and in the aftermath of the runaway match of Finn and Desdemona, no human eye saw Desdemona’s family, and no human care played any part in its rearing. Now, since we are all, in greater or less measure, the product of our respective environments, and as for centuries before her time Desdemona’s ancestors had been accustomed to the fostering care of humankind, she and her family must have been profoundly affected by the peculiar circumstances of her first maternal experiences.