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The Father of the Dog

A vocation as a veterinary surgeon has its fair share of highs and lows. It is a privilege to be able to assist animals and those who care for them but there are also those occasions when sadly the time comes when it is no longer possible to do more. At this point it is both a blessing and a painful duty sometimes to be able to offer help by means of a final act of kindness.

Here is an account by HV Morton of just such a heart rending situation as he illustrates both the pleasure and the pain which we willingly enjoy and endure when we take an animal into our hearts.

It is from Chapter 8 of “In The Steps of the Master”, first published in 1934. Early in the chapter Morton describes how he came across a dog, a Saluki, lying in the dust in the village of Banias, dying of hunger. Unable to walk, she was covered in flies. Morton writes “… her eyes were lost in a world of unutterable pain… I had never in my life seen an animal in such a ghastly condition”.

Angered and profoundly moved but unable to help her himself Morton instead prevails upon “a nice, gentle Arab in an old suit of khaki” whose job it was to sweep out the shrine at El Kedir, and gives him ten shillings to look after the dog and try to restore her to health. He promises to return then departs to continue his travels with mixed feelings as to whether he has acted for the best.

Sometime later, having thought of the starving Saluki of Banias every day since, to the bewilderment of his driver, he disrupts his intended route and makes a return visit, desperate for news of her:

In the Steps of the Master

… as soon as I appeared the whole village gathered round, but not with the grim, hard expression which terrifies nervous tourists: they were all laughing and smiling, and a cry went up “Abu kelb, Abu kelb!” which means “Father of the dog.”

The Arab is a great hand-shaker. I went round the group shaking hands, telling the driver to ask them how the dog was.

“Come and see, O Abu Kelb!” was the reply.

And a crowd of bare-legged little children went running up between the mud walls announcing the great and spectacular news that “Abu kelb, the father of the dog,” had returned.

I was led to the squalid little hovel behind the mud walls. The crowd was so great that we had to shut the gate, but the children climbed up on the wall to watch. A white mare was tethered in the yard. A douanier, whom I had not seen before, came out of the house, dressed in a pair of khaki breeches and a grey army shirt. He shook me warmly by the hand, explaining in French that he was a lodger in the house, but had unfortunately been out on duty when I had been there before. Now, however, how happy he was to make my acquaintance! How glad he was that I had come back…

All the time the douanier bubbled with affability and I gazed round for the dog, but could not see her. My heart sank. So she was dead! Perhaps it was just as well. But I was too familiar with the habits of the Arabs to ask any questions. All would be known in time.

The douanier, it appeared, was an Armenian from Aleppo. He had a great affection for England. He had learnt English from a priest at a mission school in Aleppo. Ah, if some day he could go to London! He would like that very much… So he rattled on. Then the crowd parted and the man who sweeps out the shrine of El Kedir came up with the Saluki.

I could hardly believe my eyes. She could stand! Her hind legs trembled woefully and her tail, bare and mangy, was still well down. But her eyes had lost the fear of death, although they were still full of pain.

The Arab had made her a little coat from a pair of khaki trousers and he had bound up the wounds on her forelegs with pieces of rag. The Armenian explained that he had bathed her wounds with wine and oil the remedy which the Good Samaritan used on the wounded traveller.

The dog seemed to know in some way that I was the cause of her present well-being and she did something which completely finished me. She walked up to me and just rested her bruised muzzle on my knee. I decided at that moment that, grotesque and blown out with starvation as she was, wounded, mangy and sore, I would somehow take her home with me to England.

I thought how extraordinary it is that a show of interest and a little money can make so much difference to any living thing. The poor creature that a week ago had been stoned and kicked about was now a feature of the village. She was the protege of the rich, mad, Englishman.

I asked the Armenian what would happen if I did not take her away.

“This man,” he replied, pointing to the Arab; “will look after her as long as you pay, but when you stop paying he will turn her loose, because he is too poor to buy food for her.”

I told him of my intention of taking the dog to Jerusalem. He shook his head. The Palestine Customs would not allow her to enter in her present condition. But if I got an order from the Government? I suggested. Yes, it might be done.

So we agreed that they should continue the feeding and the bathing of the dog, and I handed out some more baksheesh.

“That is the name of the dog,” I explained. “I shall call her ‘Baksheesh’ ”

This was a joke that everybody understood!

I went off, promising that I would either call again at Banias or send someone in my name to take “Baksheesh” into Palestine. And as I went off I heard the children shout ing “Abu kelb!”

Weeks later I got a letter which read:

My dear friend, Mr. Morton, I am verry glade I get a great satisfaction by this relation which commenced with a dog. You can be able for its hospitality. I brought a big jar of sea water from Sidon by which I wash it evry day, morning and evening. Now it is better than bifore. I hope that we will not forget ourselves, and I am allways redy to execute your commissions. Excuse me for my mistakes, be cause the last war of Turkey in 1930 wich resulted after two years with all Christchen immegration has destroyed our futur and high life. God be with you till we meet.

JOHN.”

It was from the excellent Customs Officer at Banias. So he was bathing the dog with water from Sidon.

That sounded excellent.

In a few days I was able, through the kindness of the Palestine Government, to get poor “Baksheesh” through the Customs and into the kennels of the S.P.C.A. in Jerusalem, an organization that, although dying for lack of money, is striving hard to make the Arab understand that animals can feel and suffer.

The report was encouraging. I saw myself taking “Baksheesh” for walks in Hyde Park and for long tramps over the Sussex Downs. Then one day I received a letter saying that she was dead. She was too weak to stand treatment.

“Knowing how much you cared,” wrote Mrs. Reynolds, a member of the Society, “I have buried her in my own garden, where you can think of her sleeping among the rock flowers.”

When I was near Banias again I made a detour to thank John for all his kindness. The Arabs and the children crowded round my car with cries of “Abu kelb!” looking and peering into the car for “Baksheesh.” I told them she was dead.

“It is the will of Allah!” they said.

And they looked at me with the respectful sympathy due to any man who tries to defy the inscrutable will of God. Even John, the Good Samaritan, said it was a good thing, and that when I went to Aleppo he would give me two much finer dogs. Even he did not understand that the crucified eyes of poor “Baksheesh” had marked her out from all the other dogs upon this earth.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor,
Glastonbury, Somerset, England (Originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.217).

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Filed under HV Morton, Literature, Quotations, Travel

Judging a book by its cover

Middle EastMiddle East” – a challenging example of photogravure
(or so I am reliably informed!), before and after restoration.

Over a year ago, during one of my HV Morton internet trawls I stumbled across a website called “Reprojackets” which immediately grabbed my attention, as I was whisked, courtesy of google, to their HV Morton section.

I discovered the website offered high quality reproductions of classic book jackets. At the time, in the gallery, there were two HV Morton jackets – C W Bacon’s 1964 “A Traveller in Italy” and Fred E Taylor’s jacket for the eariest editions of “In Search of England” – both of which amazed me. I have always loved much of the artwork associated with HVM’s publications, and the idea of having them restored and refreshed to their original vibrancy quite took my breath away (you can tell I don’t get out much!).

1949 Morton CallEngland smallGregory Brown’s “railway-poster”-style cover to “The Call of England
– now restored to its original vibrancy.

I decided I would like to have one for myself and, after prizing up the loose floorboard under my bed, I was in the process of dusting off my wallet and wondering whether groats were still legal tender when, to my surprise, I received an email from John Whythe, the proprietor of the Reprojackets website himself!

John, it turns out, is a very pleasant and learnéd man who hails from Abergavenny, in Wales. The reason he had got in touch was regarding his recent purchase of a very early copy of “In Search of England” which he suspected was something special. I was able to help by putting him in touch with Peter Devenish and Kenneth Fields and it was quickly confirmed that John had in fact bagged that holy of holies, a first edition “In Search of England”. After that, our correspondence continued and, on realising my interest in his project, John enlisted me as a willing recruit, to help by scanning some HVM jackets for him. This was a bit of an experiment as up to that point he had done all the scanning himself, from his own copies.

iSoEBefore and after – Brian Cook’s 1939 cover to “In Search of England
– radiant colours once again

Since then I have sent John a steady trickle of scanned jackets – enormous, highly detailed 600dpi TIFF pictures – and have watched in amazement as he has restored them to the condition they were in when new, whole layers of colour and detail, previously obscured, are revealed – and his gallery has expanded.

John has an real eye for detail as he painstakingly strips the digital image of each jacket down to its component shapes and colours and then carefully builds them back up again anew after patching and repairing any defects caused by the passing of years. The final touch is to add a Reprojackets identifier logo – unobtrusive but unmissable – to ensure there is no confusion between copy and original. John has been kind enough to send me a couple of examples of his finished work; they are quite exquisite and I intend to frame them.

1941-4 Morton London smallAF Kersting’s atmospheric waterscape from the cover of the 1946 edition of “HV Morton’s London

You can see the process in action as John has presented a restoration sequence on his website here, and an animation here.

John is also very knowledgeable in all things bibliographic and has educated me on such things as the difference between a “printing” and an “edition” and also on various types of fonts – it was he who supplied the information about the unusual ligatures in the Caslon font employed in some of HVM’s early works (see HVM Literary Notes – No.124).

1928 Morton Land Vikings 1560 smallOne of my favourites – the highly collectible cover to “Land of the Vikings

So, if you have a spare moment, I would urge you to hop along and have a look at John Whythe’s meticulous and sympathetic restorations of, not just Morton’s works, but those of other authors too, from Hugh Lofting to PG Wodehouse and Arthur Ransome to JRR Tolkien.

The artwork for me is a significant part of the “Morton experience”, if you will, and it is a delight to be able to view it in something like the condition it must have been when it first appeared on book sellers’ shelves in the 1920’s and 30’s. I have several covers ready “in the pipeline” ready to send to John, including the “Scotland…” covers; AE Cox’s series for Morton’s middle east travelogues and “Our Fellow Men“; and the minimalist “Land of the Vikings” – and I’m greatly looking forward to seeing resored them to their original glory in future projects.

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
23 June 2014
This article was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.168

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Filed under Artwork, HV Morton, Websites