Hit Or Miss.

A poem by Thomas Hood

"Twa dogs, that were na thrang at hame,
Forgather'd ance upon a time." - BURNS.

One morn - it was the very morn
September's sportive month was born -
The hour, about the sunrise, early;
The sky gray, sober, still, and pearly,
With sundry orange streaks and tinges
Through daylight's door, at cracks and hinges:
The air, calm, bracing, freshly cool,
As if just skimm'd from off a pool;
The scene, red, russet, yellow, laden,
From stubble, fern, and leaves that deaden,
Save here and there a turnip patch,
Too verdant with the rest to match;
And far a-field a hazy figure,
Some roaming lover of the trigger.
Meanwhile the level light perchance
Pick'd out his barrel with a glance;
For all around a distant popping
Told birds were flying off or dropping.
Such was the morn - a morn right fair
To seek for covey or for hare -
When, lo! too far from human feet
For even Ranger's boldest beat,
A Dog, as in some doggish trouble,
Came cant'ring through the crispy stubble,
With dappled head in lowly droop,
But not the scientific stoop;
And flagging, dull, desponding ears,
As if they had been soak'd in tears,
And not the beaded dew that hung
The filmy stalks and weeds among.

His pace, indeed, seem'd not to know
An errand, why, or where to go,
To trot, to walk, or scamper swift -
In short, he seem'd a dog adrift;
His very tail, a listless thing,
With just an accidental swing,
Like rudder to the ripple veering,
When nobody on board is steering.

So, dull and moody, canter'd on
Our vagrant pointer, christen'd Don;
When, rising o'er a gentle slope,
That gave his view a better scope,
He spied, some dozen furrows distant,
But in a spot as inconsistent,
A second dog across his track,
Without a master to his back;
As if for wages, workman-like,
The sporting breed had made a strike,
Resolv'd nor birds nor puss to seek,
Without another paunch a week!

This other was a truant curly,
But, for a spaniel, wondrous surely;
Instead of curvets gay and brisk,
He slouch'd along without a frisk,
With dogged air, as if he had
A good half mind to running mad;
Mayhap the shaking at his ear
Had been a quaver too severe;
Mayhap the whip's "exclusive dealing"
Had too much hurt e'en spaniel feeling,
Nor if he had been cut, 'twas plain
He did not mean to come again.

Of course the pair soon spied each other;
But neither seem'd to own a brother;
The course on both sides took a curve,
As dogs when shy are apt to swerve;
But each o'er back and shoulder throwing
A look to watch the other's going,
Till, having clear'd sufficient ground,
With one accord they turn'd them round,
And squatting down, for forms not caring,
At one another fell to staring;
As if not proof against a touch
Of what plagues humankind so much,
A prying itch to get at notions
Of all their neighbor's looks and motions.
Sir Don at length was first to rise -
The better dog in point of size,
And, snuffing all the ground between,
Set off, with easy jaunty mien;
While Dash, the stranger, rose to greet him,
And made a dozen steps to meet him -
Their noses touch'd, and rubb'd awhile
(Some savage nations use the style),
And then their tails a wag began,
Though on a very cautious plan,
But in their signals quantum suff.
To say, "A civil dog enough."

Thus having held out olive branches,
They sank again, though not on haunches,
But couchant, with their under jaws
Resting between the two forepaws,
The prelude, on a luckier day,
Or sequel, to a game of play:
But now they were in dumps, and thus
Began their worries to discuss,
The Pointer, coming to the point
The first, on times so out of joint.

"Well, Friend, - so here's a new September,
As fine a first as I remember;
And, thanks to such an early Spring,
Plenty of birds, and strong on wing."

"Birds!" cried the little crusty chap,
As sharp and sudden as a snap,
"A weasel suck them in the shell!
What matter birds, or flying well,
Or fly at all, or sporting weather,
If fools with guns can't hit a feather!"

"Ay, there's the rub, indeed,'" said Don,
Putting his gravest visage on;
"In vain we beat our beaten way,
And bring our organs into play,
Unless the proper killing kind
Of barrel tunes are play'd behind:
But when we shoot, - that's me and Squire -
We hit as often as we fire."

"More luck for you!" cried little Woolly,
Who felt the cruel contrast fully;
"More luck for you, and Squire to boot!
We miss as often as we shoot!"

"Indeed! - No wonder you're unhappy!
I thought you looking rather snappy;
But fancied, when I saw you jogging,
You'd had an overdose of flogging;
Or p'rhaps the gun its range had tried
While you were ranging rather wide."

"Me! running - running wide - and hit!
Me shot! what, pepper'd? - Deuce a bit!
I almost wish I had! That Dunce,
My master, then would hit for once!
Hit me! Lord, how you talk! why, zounds!
He couldn't hit a pack of hounds!"

"Well, that must be a case provoking.
What, never - but, you dog, you're joking!
I see a sort of wicked grin
About your jaw you're keeping in."

"A joke! an old tin kettle's clatter
Would be as much a joking matter.
To tell the truth, that dog-disaster
Is just the type of me and master,
When fagging over hill and dale,
With his vain rattle at my tail,
Bang, bang, and bang, the whole day's run,
But leading nothing but his gun -
The very shot I fancy hisses,
It's sent upon such awful misses!"

"Of course it does! But p'rhaps the fact is
Your master's hand is out of practice!"

"Practice? - No doctor, where you will,
Has finer - but he cannot kill!
These three years past, thro' furze and furrow,
All covers I have hunted thorough;
Flush'd cocks and snipes about the moors;
And put up hares by scores and scores;
Coveys of birds, and lots of pheasants; -
Yes, game enough to send in presents
To ev'ry friend he has in town,
Provided he had knock'd it down:
But no - the whole three years together,
He has not giv'n me flick or feather -
For all that I have had to do
I wish I had been missing too!"

"Well, - such a hand would drive me mad;
But is he truly quite so bad?"

"Bad! - worse! - you cannot underssore him;
If I could put up, just before him,
The great Balloon that paid the visit
Across the water, he would miss it!
Bite him! I do believe, indeed,
It's in his very blood and breed!
It marks his life, and, run all through it;
What can be miss'd, he's sure to do it.
Last Monday he came home to Tooting,
Dog-tir'd, as if he'd been a-shooting,
And kicks at me to vent his rage -
'Get out!' says he - 'I've miss'd the stage!'
Of course, thought I - what chance of hitting?
You'd miss the Norwich wagon, sitting!"

"Why, he must be the country's scoff!
He ought to leave, and not let, off!
As fate denies his shooting wishes,
Why don't he take to catching fishes?
Or any other sporting game,
That don't require a bit of aim?"

"Not he! - Some dogs of human kind
Will hunt by sight, because they're blind.
My master angle! - no such luck!
There he might strike, who never struck!
My master shoots because he can't,
And has an eye that aims aslant;
Nay, just by way of making trouble,
He's changed his single gun for double;
And now, as girls a-walking do,
His misses go by two and two!
I wish he had the mange, or reason
As good, to miss the shooting season!"

"Why yes, it must be main upleasant
To point to covey, or to pheasant,
For snobs, who, when the point is mooting,
Think letting fly as good as shooting!"

"Snobs! - if he'd wear his ruffled shirts,
Or coats with water-wagtail skirts,
Or trowsers in the place of smalls,
Or those tight fits he wears at balls,
Or pumps, and boots with tops, mayhap,
Why we might pass for Snip and Snap,
And shoot like blazes! fly or sit,
And none would stare, unless we hit.
But no - to make the more combustion,
He goes in gaiters and in fustian,
Like Captain Ross, or Topping Sparks,
And deuce a miss but some one marks!
For Keepers, shy of such encroachers,
Dog us about like common poachers!
Many's the covey I've gone by,
When underneath a sporting eye;
Many a puss I've twigg'd, and pass'd her -
I miss 'em to prevent my master!"

"And so should I, in such a case!
There's nothing feels so like disgrace,
Or gives you such a scurvy look -
A kick and pail of slush from Cook,
Clefsticks, or Kettle, all in one,
As standing to a missing gun!
It's whirr! and bang! and off you bound,
To catch your bird before the ground:
But no - a pump and ginger pop
As soon would get a bird to drop!
So there you stand, quite struck a-heap,
Till all your tail is gone to sleep;
A sort of stiffness in your nape,
Holding your head well up to gape;
While off go birds across the ridges,
First small as flies, and then as midges,
Cocksure, as they are living chicks,
Death's Door is not at Number Six!"

"Yes! yes! and then you look at master,
The cause of all the late disaster,
Who gives a stamp, and raps on oath
At gun, or birds, or maybe both;
P'rhaps curses you, and all your kin,
To raise the hair upon your skin!
Then loads, rams down, and fits new caps,
To go and hunt for more miss-haps!"

"Yes! yes! but, sick and sad, you feel
But one long wish to go to heel;
You cannot scent for cutting mugs -
Your nose is turning up, like Pug's;
You can't hold up, but plod and mope;
Your tail like sodden end of rope,
That o'er a wind-bound vessel's side
Has soak'd in harbor, tide and tide.
On thorns and scratches, till that moment
Unnoticed, you begin to comment;
You never felt such bitter brambles,
Such heavy soil, in all your rambles!
You never felt your fleas so vicious!
Till, sick of life so unpropitious,
You wish at last, to end the passage,
That you were dead, and in your sassage!"

"Yes! that's a miss from end to end!
But, zounds! you draw so well, my friend,
You've made me shiver, skin and gristle,
As if I heard my master's whistle!
Though how you came to learn the knack -
I thought your Squire was quite a crack!"

"And so he is! - He always hits -
And sometimes hard, and all to bits.
But ere with him our tongues we task,
I've still one little thing to ask;
Namely, with such a random master,
Of course you sometimes want a plaster?
Such missing hands make game of more
Than ever pass'd for game before -
A pounded pig - a widow's cat -
A patent ventilating hat -
For shot, like mud, when thrown so thick,
Will find a coat whereon to stick!"

"What! accidentals, as they're term'd?
No never - none - since I was worm'd -
Not e'en the Keeper's fatted calves, -
My master does not miss by halves!
His shot are like poor orphans, hurl'd
Abroad upon the whole wide world, -
But whether they be blown to dust,
As often-times I think they must,
Or melted down too near the sun,
What comes of them is known to none -
I never found, since I could bark,
A Barn that bore my master's mark!"

"Is that the case? - Why then, my brother,
Would we could swap with one another!
Or take the Squire, with all my heart,
Nay, all my liver, so we part!
He'll hit you hares - (he uses cartridge)
He'll hit you cocks - he'll hit a partridge;
He'll hit a snipe; he'll hit a pheasant;
He'll hit - he'll hit whatever's present;
He'll always hit, - as that's your wish -
His pepper never lacks a dish!"

"Come, come, you banter, - let's be serious;
I'm sure that I am half delirious,
Your picture set me so a-sighing -
But does he shot so well - shoot flying?"

"Shoot flying? Yes - and running, walking -
I've seen him shoot two farmers talking -
He'll hit the game, whene'er he can,
But failing that he'll hit a man, -
A boy - a horse's tail or head -
Or make a pig a pig of lead, -
Oh, friend! they say no dog as yet,
However hot, was known to sweat,
But sure I am that I perspire
Sometimes before my master's fire!
Misses! no, no, he always hits,
But so as puts me into fits!
He shot my fellow dog this morning,
Which seemed to me sufficient warning!"

"Quite, quite, enough! - So that's a hitter!
Why, my own fate I thought was bitter,
And full excuse for cut and run;
But give me still the missing gun!
Or rather, Sirius! send me this,
No gun at all, to hit or miss,
Since sporting seems to shoot thus double,
That right or left it brings us trouble!"

So ended Dash; - and Pointer Don
Prepared to urge the moral on;
But here a whistle long and shrill
Came sounding o'er the council hill,
And starting up, as if their tails
Had felt the touch of shoes and nails,
Away they scamper'd down the slope,
As fast as other pairs elope, -
Resolv'd, instead of sporting rackets,
To beg, or dance in fancy jackets;
At butchers' shops to try their luck;
To help to draw a cart or truck;
Or lead Stone Blind poor men, at most
Who would but hit or miss a post.

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