I know a fool of a dog who pretends that he is a Cocker Spaniel, and is convinced that the world revolves round him wonderingly. The sun rises so it may shine on his glossy morning coat; it sets so his master may know that it is time for the evening biscuit; if the rain falls it is that a fool of a dog may wipe on his mistress’s skirt his muddy boots. His day is always exciting, always full of the same good things; his night a repetition of his day, more gloriously developed. If there be a sacred moment before the dawn when he lies awake and ponders on life, he tells himself confidently that it will go on for ever like this–a life planned nobly for himself, but one in which the master and mistress whom he protects must always find a place. And I think perhaps he would want a place for me, too, in that life, who am not his real master but yet one of the house. I hope he would.
What Chum doesn’t know is this: his master and mistress are leaving him. They are going to a part of the world where a fool of a dog with no manners is a nuisance. If Chum could see all the good little London dogs, who at home sit languidly on their mistress’s lap, and abroad take their view of life through a muff much bigger than themselves; if he could see the big obedient dogs who walk solemnly through the Park carrying their master’s stick, never pausing in their impressive march unless it be to plunge into the Serpentine and rescue a drowning child, he would know what I mean. He would admit that a dog who cannot answer to his own name and pays but little more attention to “Down, idiot,” and “Come here, fool,” is not every place’s dog. He would admit it, if he had time. But before I could have called his attention to half the good dogs I had marked out he would have sat down beaming in front of a motor-car … and then he would never have known what now he will know so soon–that his master and mistress are leaving him.
It has been my business to find a new home for him. This is harder than you think. I can make him sound lovable, but I cannot make him sound good. Of course, I might leave out his doubtful qualities, and describe him merely as beautiful and affectionate; I might … but I couldn’t. I think Chum’s habitual smile would get larger, he would wriggle the end of himself more ecstatically than ever if he heard himself summed up as beautiful and affectionate. Anyway, I couldn’t do it, for I get carried away when I speak of him and I reveal all his bad qualities.
“I am afraid he is a snob,” I confessed to one woman of whom I had hopes. “He doesn’t much care for what he calls the lower classes.”
“Oh?” she said.
“Yes, he hates badly dressed people. Corduroy trousers tied up at the knee always excite him. I don’t know if any of your family–no, I suppose not. But if he ever sees a man with his trousers tied up at the knee he goes for him. And he can’t bear tradespeople; at least not the men. Washerwomen he loves. He rather likes the washing-basket too. Once, when he was left alone with it for a moment, he appeared shortly afterwards on the lawn with a pair of–well, I mean he had no business with them at all. We got them away after a bit of a chase, and then they had to go to the wash again. It seemed rather a pity when they’d only just come back. Of course, I smacked his head for him; but he looks so surprised and reproachful when he’s done wrong that you never feel it’s quite his fault.”
“I doubt if I shall be able to take him after all,” she said. “I’ve just remembered—-“
I forget what it was she remembered, but it meant that I was still without a new home for Chum.
“What does he eat?” somebody else asked me. It seemed hopeful; I could see Chum already installed.
“Officially,” I said, “he lives on puppy biscuits; he also has the toast-crusts after breakfast and an occasional bone. Privately, he is fond of bees. I have seen him eat as many as six bees in an afternoon. Sometimes he wanders down to the kitchen-garden and picks the gooseberries; he likes all fruit, but gooseberries are the things he can reach best. When there aren’t any gooseberries about he has to be content with the hips and haws from the rose-trees. But really you needn’t bother, he can eat anything. The only thing he doesn’t like is whitening. We were just going to mark the lawn one day, and while we were busy pegging it out he wandered up and drank the whitening out of the marker. It is practically the only disappointment he has ever had. He looked at us, and you could see that his opinion of us had gone down. ‘What did you put it there for, if you didn’t mean me to drink it?’ he said reproachfully. Then he turned and walked slowly and thoughtfully back to his kennel. He never came out till next morning.”
“Really?” said my man. “Well, I shall have to think about it. I’ll let you know.”
Of course, I knew what he meant.
With a third dog-lover to whom I spoke the negotiations came to grief, not apparently because of any fault of Chum’s, but because, if you will believe it, of my shortcomings. At least I can suppose nothing else. For this man had been enthusiastic about him. He had revelled in the tale of Chum’s wickedness; he had adored him for being so conceited. He had practically said that he would take him.
“Do,” I begged. “I’m sure he’d be happy with you. You see, he’s not everybody’s dog; I mean, I don’t want any odd man whom I don’t know to take him. It must be a friend of mine, so that I shall often be able to see Chum afterwards.”
“So that–what?” he asked anxiously.
“So that I shall often be able to see Chum afterwards. Week-ends, you know, and so on. I couldn’t bear to lose the silly old ass altogether.”
He looked thoughtful; and, when I went on to speak about Chum’s fondness for chickens, and his other lovable ways, he changed the subject altogether. He wrote afterwards that he was sorry he couldn’t manage with a third dog. And I like to think he was not afraid of Chum–but only of me.
But I have found the right man at last. A day will come soon when I shall take Chum from his present home to his new one. That will be a great day for him. I can see him in the train, wiping his boots effusively on every new passenger, wriggling under the seat and out again from sheer joy of life; I can see him in the taxi, taking his one brief impression of a world that means nothing to him; I can see him in another train, joyous, eager, putting his paws on my collar from time to time and saying excitedly, “What a day this is!” And if he survives the journey; if I can keep him on the way from all the delightful deaths he longs to try; if I can get him safely to his new house, then I can see him—-
Well, I wonder. What will they do to him? When I see him again, will he be a sober little dog, answering to his name, careful to keep his muddy feet off the visitor’s trousers, grown up, obedient, following to heel round the garden, the faithful servant of his master? Or will he be the same old silly ass, no use to anybody, always dirty, always smiling, always in the way, a clumsy, blundering fool of a dog who knows you can’t help loving him? I wonder….
Between ourselves, I don’t think they can alter him now…. Oh, I hope they can’t.
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