|The Insidious Letter|| Carlo
written by E. J. Pratt
|Review:Conrad:The Rescue (S.H.H.)|
|From The Canadian Forum, November 1920, p. 55|
"The dog that saved the lives of over ninety persons in that recent wreck, by swimming with a line from the sinking vessel to the shore, well understood the importance as well as the risk of his mission." — Extract from a Newfoundland paper.
I SEE no use in not confessing —
To trace your breed would keep me guessing,
It would indeed an expert puzzle
To match such legs with jet-black muzzle;
To make a mongrel, as you know,
It takes some fifty types or so,
And nothing in your height or length,
In stand or colour, speed or strength,
Could make me see how any strain
Could come from mastiff, bull, or Dane.
But, were I given to speculating
On pedigrees in canine rating,
I'd wager this — not from your size,
Not merely from your human eyes,
But from the way you held that cable
Within those gleaming jaws of sable.
Leaped from the taffrail of the wreck
With ninety souls upon its deck.
And with your cunning dog-stroke tore
Your path unerring to the shore —
Yes, stake my life, the way you swam,
That somewhere in your line a dam,
Shaped to this hour by God's own hand,
Had mated with a Newfoundland.
They tell me, Carlo, that your kind
Has neither conscience, soul, nor mind;
That reason is a thing unknown
To such as dogs; to man alone
The spark divine — he may aspire
To climb to heaven or even higher,
But God has tied around the dog
The symbol of his fate, the clog.
Thus, I have heard some preachers say —
Wise men and good, in a sort o' way —
Proclaiming from the sacred box
(Quoting from Butler and John Knox)
How freedom and the moral law
God gave to man, because He saw
A way to draw a line at root
Between the human and the brute.
And you were classed with things like bats,
Parrots and sand-flies and dock-rats,
Serpents and toads that dwell in mud,
And other creatures with cold blood
That sightless crawl in slime, and sink.
Gadsooks! It makes me sick to think
That man must so exalt his race
By giving dogs a servile place,
Prate of his transcendentalism,
While you save men by mechanism;
And when I told them how you fought
The demons of the storm, and brought
That life-line from the wreck to shore,
And saved those ninety souls or more,
They argued with such confidence, —
'Twas instinct, nature, or blind sense.
A man could know when he would do it,
You did it and never knew it.
And so, old chap, by what they say,
You live and die and have your day,
Like any cat or mouse or weevil
That have no sense of good and evil,
(Though sheep and goats, when they have died.
The Good Book says are classified)
But you, being neuter, go to — well,
Neither to heaven nor to hell.
I'll not believe it, Carlo, I
Will fetch you with me when I die,
And standing up at Peter's wicket,
Will urge sound reasons for your ticket;
I'll show him your life-saving label,
And tell him all about that cable,
The storm along the shore, the wreck,
The ninety souls upon the deck,
How one by one they came along,
The young and old, the weak and strong,
Pale women sick and tempest-tossed,
With children given up for lost,
I'd tell him more, if he would ask it —
How they tied a baby in a basket,
While a young sailor picked and able
Moved out to steady it on the cable;
And if he needed more recital
To admit a mongrel without title,
I'd get down low upon my knees,
And swear before the Holy Keys,
That judging by the way you swam.
Somewhere within your line a dam
Formed for the job by God's own hand,
Had littered for a Newfoundland.
I feel quite sure that if I made him
Give ear to that, I could persuade him
To open up the Golden Gate
And let you in; but should he state
That from your legs and height and speed
He still had doubts about your breed,
And called my story of the cable,
"A cunningly devised fable",
Like other rumours that you've seen
In Second Peter, one, sixteen,
I'd tell him (saving his high station)
I scorned his small adjudication,
And, where life, love, and death atone,
I'd move your case up to the Throne.
- E. J. Pratt