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The Jackal

( Originally Published 1918 )



'WHAT you have just told us, Uncle Paul,"

Jules remarked, "is not unlike what navigators tell us of the life of savages."

"Nevertheless," rejoined his uncle, "it is our own history, my friend; it is really a chapter of French history."

"I never read anything like it in my history-book."

"Your schoolbooks generally begin with the Frankish chief, Pharamond, at an epoch when civilization had already made considerable progress, and when agriculture and grazing had been known for a long time. My story goes back to a much earlier period, one almost lost in the darkness of the past, and shows us man in his painful beginnings, unskilled and almost wholly dependent on hunting for his food and clothing.

"In that state of extreme destitution in which the day's supply of food depended, above all, on fleetness of foot and quickness of scent, the dog was the most precious of acquisitions. With its aid, first the game fell more abundantly under the stone hatchet and flint-head arrow; then came the possibility of the herd, which, furnishing a reserve of food, freed man from the alternation of famine and abundance, and gave him leisure to devise means for the improvement of his condition. Then the ox was tamed, the horse mastered, the sheep domesticated, and finally came agriculture, preeminent source of our well-being. That is how the tattooed hunters of our country lost the barbarism of their habits and advanced from one stage of progress to another, until they became the cultivated race from which we are descended. First in Asia, then throughout all Europe, a similar development took place : every-where the dog was the first and most valuable of man's conquests, and everywhere the dog has represented the first element of progress. Without the dog, no such thing as human society, says an old book of the East, whence this most serviceable animal came. And the old book is a thousand times right, for without the dog the chase in old times would have been too little productive to satisfy the devouring hunger of a very thinly scattered population; without the dog, no herds or flocks, no assured food, and consequently no leisure, for the inexorable necessity of providing food would have occupied the whole time. Without leisure, no attempt at culture, no observations leading to the birth of science, no reflections bearing fruit in manufactures and commerce. The primitive mode of life was a hand-to-mouth existence, with a slice of broiled urns or elk to stay the cravings of hunger. A surfeit one day was followed by fasting the next; it all depended on the chances of the hunt. Hatchets continued to be fashioned out of stone, the tattooing of the body in blue went on, and at the entrance to the hut the enemy's head was still nailed as a horrible trophy of war."

I see," said Louis, "how immensely useful the dog has been and still is to us; so I should like to know at what time and by whom this valuable animal was trained for our service."

"No one could give a satisfactory answer to that question. The taming of the dog goes back to the earliest times and all remembrance of it is lost. There is the same deep obscurity as to its origin and the wild species from which it is descended. No-where has the dog been seen by travelers in its primitive state, in a state of complete independence. If some dogs are found leading a wild life, they are runaways; that is to say, dogs that have fled from domestic life to live as they please in desert regions. Such are those that burrow and hunt for themselves in the vast plains of South America. They are certainly descended from domestic dogs carried thither by Europeans; for at the time of its discovery, nearly four centuries ago, the New World had no dogs. All that can be affirmed is that the dog came to us from Asia already trained for man's use. Apparently Asia made a gift to Europe of the oldest known domestic animals, such as the ox, the ass, and the hen.

"On account of the almost infinite variety in respect to its coat, its shape, and its size, it is suspected that the dog is not derived from a single source but comes from various species that have been improved by man and profoundly modified in their characteristics by cross-breeding. Among these wild species to which is given the honor of being regarded as ancestors of the domestic dog, I will mention the jackal, which abounds in Africa as well as Asia.

`The jackal looks a little like the wolf, but is smaller and is harmless to man. Its coat is red, varied with white under the stomach and black on the back. It has a pointed muzzle and erect ears. Its timidity causes it to feed on the remnants left over by animals bolder and stronger than itself. When the gorged lion abandons its half-devoured prey, the jackals, crouching in the neighborhood and waiting until his lordship has finished, hasten up in companies to the disdained carcass and clean it to the bone. For the same reason the jackal frequents in troops the outskirts of villages and encampments in the hope of finding garbage and carrion. In the daytime it stays quietly in its den among the rocks, but at nightfall it issues forth in quest of food with a sort of sharp howling that continues all night. There is nothing so disagreeable as the nocturnal concert of a band of jackals prowling around dwellings. One of them begins with a cry something like argee in a very piercing and prolonged tone. Scarcely has it finished when a second takes up the refrain and improves upon it; then a third and a fourth, until the whole band has joined in, producing a veritable charivari composed of a mixed chorus of discordant howls. After this musical feat, solos are in order again, interspersed with choral productions; and so it goes on until daybreak. Such is the infernal music that awaits the sleeper every night."

"Oh, what disagreeable neighbors!" exclaimed Jules. "If the dog had kept any of those detestable habits it would be a very troublesome animal, useful though it is."

"The dog shows not seldom, it must be admitted, a mania for making the night hideous; but it cannot be reproached with anything comparable to the jackal's concert. The dog has two cries, without counting those that are secondary. One of the two is natural, the howl ; the other artificial, the bark. Is it necessary to point out to you the difference between the two '"

"I know what you mean, Uncle," Jules was quick to reply. "The dog howls when it gives a long, wild cry, so mournful and terrifying in the night it barks when it gives those short, jerky yelps. It howls from fright, sadness, ennui; it barks with joy and pleasure."

"Yes, that is it. I told you, then, that howling is the dog's natural voice. In it can be found, but with a very different action of the throat and a less sharp tone, something of the jackal's cry. As for the bark, it is an artificial utterance; that is to say, it has been acquired. Dogs that have gone back to the wild state, as for example those of South America, can no longer bark. Deserters from civilization, they have lost the language and are reduced to their primitive howling, which they share with the jackal and the wolf."

"And how does a dog learn to bark when it is with us?"

"It learns by hearing its fellows, the other dogs, bark. If it were brought up far from its own kind, it would never know how to bark, any more than we could speak our language if we had never heard it spoken. Well, the jackal also can acquire the habit of barking by education. Placed in company with the dog, which by its example initiates it into a new language, it barks at first badly, then a little better, then well, and in a short time the scholar almost equals the master.

"The primitive species, if it really is the jackal, must have, as you see, undergone profound changes affecting even its most inveterate habits, to become the domestic dog. It must have lost its habit of nocturnal prowling, forgotten its predilection for concerts of ear-piercing cries, learned to bark, and, what is far more difficult, exchanged its timidity for boldness. Another improvement was indispensable. The jackal gives forth from all over its body a strong fishy smell. To become the companion of man and to live in his home, the animal had to be rid of this infection. That is what the progress of time has done almost completely: today the dog has scarcely any odor except when warm from rapid hunting; but it is likely, in view of its presumed origin, that in the beginning the dog was not precisely a bouquet of roses beside its master. Doubtless it was denied access to the hut, which it would have infected with its odor, and was relegated to a distant spot outside in the open air.

"Those are not all the jackal's defects. It is true the animal is easily tamed, but without acquiring the docility and attachment of the dog. When pressed by hunger, it is gentle and caressing toward the master who gives it something to eat; when satiated, it shows its teeth and tries to bite if any one reaches out to take hold of it. Children, whom dogs so love to play with, do not gain its confidence any more than grown people. Whoever should try to pull its tail in play would certainly get bitten."

"Our Medor has a much better disposition," said Emile; "the more pranks I play with him, the better he likes it. I 'd a good deal rather play with him than with a stinking jackal."

"Medor owes his excellent qualities, particularly his honest, dogged patience, to the extraordinary pains taken during long centuries to improve his breed; but certainly the primitive dog must have been a pretty rough playmate for little boys. He did not allow any one to pull his mustache, did not give the paw, did not play dead with four legs in the air, did not wait for the command to jump and snap the crust of bread placed on the tip of his nose. The jackal, docile only when hungry, shows you what could be expected from Medor's surly ancestors."

"Then even with much care the tame jackal never acquires the dog's gentleness?" queried Louis.

"Never. Some, more tractable than others, grow a little more gentle, but without ever becoming entirely submissive. They always retain something of their primitive wildness and cannot be left wholly free without committing misdeeds or even running away from home."

"If thorough taming is impossible, I don't see how the dog can come from the jackal."

"Complete domestication does not take place so quickly as you think, my dear friend. A long succession of individuals is necessary, transmitting from one to another the desired aptitudes, and increasing them by turning to account such gain as may be noted in the best examples of each new generation. Let us assume that in ancient times man had taken into his keeping the half-tamed jackal, such as we could today possess ourselves of. However surly it may remain, the animal will be better after several years' education than it was at the beginning. With continued care the good qualities acquired, though weak, will, as we say of the snow-ball, increase by rolling. In fact it is a rule, as well with beasts as with us, that the son inherits the father's qualities, good or bad. Thus the jackal's little ones, brought up with man, will from their birth be half-tamed, as were their parents. As character is far from being the same in a whole family, some will be wilder, others more submissive. The first are rejected, the second kept, as soon as it is possible to recognize this diversity of disposition. Here, then, the sons, with continued training, become superior to the fathers. The same care, the same selection, in the third generation, will insure increased progress in the grandchildren. The acquired improvement will be transmitted by inheritance to the great-grandchildren, these will still further add to it, and it will be inherited by their descendants, or, if not by all, at least by some. These latter will be raised in preference to the others. However slight the progress from one generation to the next, it will continually be added to by the intervention of man who always selects for breeding purposes the most promising offspring, until, little by little, in course of time the beast that was intractable in the beginning at last becomes docile.

"This onward march, which is kept up by accumulating in the animal, through inheritance, the qualities desired, by always picking out the individual possessing these qualities in the highest degree, is called selection, meaning choice or sorting. The method of selection, which to-day still renders the greatest service to the perfecting of species, has doubtless played an important part in the domestication of the dog; but that alone is not what has made the dog such as we now have him. The astonishing variety of dogs can only be explained by the multiplex origin of the animal and the crossing of the various breeds. I have just told you of one species, the common jackal, which is suspected to be one of the dog's ancestors. To finish what I have to say on this exceedingly obscure question, I will add a few words concerning a second species.

"There is found in the mountains of Abyssinia a jackal with very slender body, an arched abdomen, long and narrow head, long, upward-curling tail —in short, a veritable greyhound in every respect except that it has erect instead of drooping ears. Everything induces belief that this jackal is the progenitor of our greyhound.

"I will end with this conclusion of one of our most learned masters on the origin of domestic animals : 'Existing in great numbers in Asia, where, history tells us, the dog was first domesticated, jackals commonly live within reach of human habitations, to which they sometimes make their way of their own accord. They are eminently sociable, are easily tamed, and become attached to their masters. They associate freely with the dog. Finally, and this trait dispels my last lingering doubt as to their kinship, they resemble in the highest degree, both in shape and in color, and even in voice where they have learned to bark, the least modified of the canine species. In several countries the resemblance between jackals and dogs is so striking that it has led all travelers who have had an opportunity to compare these animals on the spot to the same conclusion : the jackal and the dog represent respectively the parent stock and the scion, and are to be found reunited again in various parts of Asia and Africa.'"



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