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RAGS

We called him "Rags." He was just a cur,
But twice on the Western Line,
That little old bunch of faithful fur
Had offered his life for mine.

And all that he got was bones and bread,
Or the leavings of soldier grub,
But he'd give his heart for a pat on the head,
Or a friendly tickle and rub.

And Rags got home with the regiment,
And then, in the breaking away-
Well, whether they stole him, or whether he went,
I am not prepared to say.

But we mustard out, some to beer and gruel,
And some to sherry and shad,
And I went back to the Sawbones School,
Where I was still an undergrad.

One day they took us budding M. D.s
To one of those institutes
Where they demonstrate every new disease
By means of bisected brutes.

They had one animal tacked and tied
And slit like a full-dressed fish,
With his vitals pumping away inside
As pleasent as one might wish.

I stopped to look like the rest, of course,
And the beast's eyes leveled mine;
His short tail thumped with a feeble force,
And he uttered a tender whine.

It was Rags, yes, Rags! who was martyred there,
Who was quartered and crucified,
And he whined that whine which is doggish prayer
And he licked my hand-and died.

And I was no better in part nor whole
Than the gang I was found among,
And his innocent blood was on the soul
Which he blessed with his dying tongue.

Well! I've seen men go to courageous death
In the air, on sea, on land!
But only a dog would spend his breath
In a kiss for his murderer's hand.

And if there's no heaven for love like that,
For such four-legged fealty-well!
If I had any choice, I tell you flat,
I'll take my chance in hell.

-Edmund Vance Cooke



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