It is Chum’s birthday to-morrow and I am going to buy him a little whip for a present, with a whistle at the end of it. When I next go into the country to see him I shall take it with me and explain it to him. Two day’s firmness would make him quite a sensible dog. I have often threatened to begin the treatment on my very next visit, but somehow it has been put off; the occasion of his birthday offers a last opportunity.
It is rather absurd, though, to talk of birthdays in connection with Chum, for he has been no more than three months old since we have had him. He is a black spaniel who has never grown up. He has a beautiful astrachan coat which gleams when the sun is on it; but he stands so low in the water that the front of it is always getting dirty, and his ears and the ends of his trousers trail in the mud. A great authority has told us that, but for three white hairs on his shirt (upon so little do class distinctions hang), he would be a Cocker of irreproachable birth. A still greater authority has sworn that he is a Sussex. The family is indifferent–it only calls him a Silly Ass. Why he was christened Chum I do not know; and as he never recognises the name it does not matter.
When he first came to stay with us I took him a walk round the village. I wanted to show him the lie of the land. He had never seen the country before and was full of interest. He trotted into a cottage garden and came back with something to show me.
“You’ll never guess,” he said. “Look!” and he dropped at my feet a chick just out of the egg.
I smacked his head and took him into the cottage to explain.
“My dog,” I said, “has eaten one of your chickens.”
Chum nudged me in the ankle and grinned.
“Two of your chickens,” I corrected myself, looking at the fresh evidence which he had just brought to light.
“You don’t want me any more?” said Chum, as the financial arrangements proceeded. “Then I’ll just go and find somewhere for these two.”
And he picked them up and trotted into the sun.
When I came out I was greeted effusively.
“This is a wonderful day,” he panted, as he wriggled his body. “I didn’t know the country was like this. What do we do now?”
“We go home,” I said, and we went.
That was Chum’s last day of freedom. He keeps inside the front gate now. But he is still a happy dog; there is plenty doing in the garden. There are beds to walk over, there are blackbirds in the apple-tree to bark at. The world is still full of wonderful things. “Why only last Wednesday,” he will tell you, “the fishmonger left his basket in the drive. There was a haddock in it, if you’ll believe me, for Master’s breakfast, so of course I saved it for him. I put it on the grass just in front of his study window, where he’d be sure to notice it. Bless you, there’s always something to do in this house. One is never idle.”
And even when there is nothing doing he is still happy, waiting cheerfully upon events until they arrange themselves for his amusement. He will sit for twenty minutes opposite the garden bank, watching for a bumble bee to come out of its hole. “I saw him go in,” he says to himself, “so he’s bound to come out. Extraordinary interesting world.” But to his inferiors (such as the gardener) he pretends that it is not pleasure but duty which keeps him. “Don’t talk to me, fool. Can’t you see that I’ve got a job on here?”
Chum has found, however, that his particular mission in life is to purge his master’s garden of all birds. This keeps him busy. As soon as he sees a blackbird on the lawn he is in full cry after it. When he gets to the place and finds the blackbird gone he pretends that he was going there anyhow; he gallops round in circles, rolls over once or twice, and then trots back again. “You didn’t really think I was such a fool as to try to catch a blackbird?” he says to us. “No, I was just taking a little run–splendid thing for the figure.”
And it is just Chum’s little runs over the beds which call aloud for firmness–which, in fact, have inspired my birthday present to him. But there is this difficulty to overcome first. When he came to live with us, an arrangement was entered into (so he says) by which one bed was given to him as his own. In that bed he could wander at will, burying bones and biscuits, hunting birds. This may have been so, but it is a pity that nobody but Chum knows definitely which is the bed.
“Chum, you bounder,” I shout, as he is about to wade through the herbaceous border.
He takes no notice; he struggles through to the other side. But a sudden thought strikes him, and he pushes his way back again.
“Did you call me?” he says.
“How dare you walk over the flowers?”
He comes up meekly.
“I suppose I’ve done something wrong,” he says, “but I can’t think what.”
I smack his head for him. He waits until he is quite sure I have finished and then jumps up with a bark, wipes his paws on my trousers and trots into the herbaceous border again.
“Chum!” I cry.
He sits down in it and looks all round him in amazement.
“My own bed!” he murmurs. “Given to me!”
I don’t know what it is in him which so catches hold of you. His way of sitting, a reproachful statue, motionless outside the window of whomever he wants to come out and play with him–until you can bear it no longer, but must either go into the garden or draw down the blinds for one day; his habit when you are out, of sitting up on his back legs and begging you with his front paws to come and do something–a trick entirely of his own invention, for no one would think of teaching him anything; his funny nautical roll when he walks, which is nearly a swagger, and gives him always the air of having just come back from some rather dashing adventure; beyond all this there is still something. And whatever it is, it is something, which every now and then compels you to bend down and catch hold of his long silky ears, to look into his honest eyes and say—-
“You silly old ass! You dear old silly old ass!”