The Strand, December 1915 [II. He Moves in Society]
T was one of those things which are really nobody’s fault. It was not the chauffeur’s fault, and it was not mine. I was having a friendly turn-up with a pal of mine on the side-walk: he ran across the road: I ran after him: and the car came round the corner and hit me. It must have been going pretty slow, or I should have been killed. As it was, I just had the breath knocked out of me. You know how you feel when the butcher catches you just as you are edging out of the shop with a bit of meat. It was like that.
I wasn’t taking much interest in things for awhile, but when I did I found that I was the centre of a group of three—the chauffeur, a small boy, and the small boy’s nurse.
The small boy was very well dressed, and looked delicate. He was crying.
“Poor doggie,” he said. “Poor doggie.”
“It wasn’t my fault, Master Peter,” said the chauffeur, respectfully. “He run out into the road before I saw him.”
“That’s right,” I put in, for I didn’t want to get the man into trouble.
“Oh, he’s not dead,” said the small boy. “He barked.”
“He growled,” said the nurse. “Come away, Master Peter. He might bite you.”
Women are trying sometimes. It is almost as if they deliberately misunderstood.
“I won’t come away. I’m going to take him home with me and send for the doctor to come and see him. He’s going to be my dog.”
This sounded all right. Goodness knows, I am no snob, and can rough it when required, but I do like comfort when it comes my way, and it seemed to me that this was where I got it. And I liked the boy. He was the right sort.
The nurse, a very unpleasant woman, had to make objections.
“Master Peter! You can’t take him home, a great, rough, fierce, common dog! What would your mother say?”
“I’m going to take him home,” repeated the child, with a determination which I heartily admired, “and he’s going to be my dog. I shall call him Fido.”
There’s always a catch in these good things. Fido is a name I particularly detest. All dogs do. There was a dog called Fido that I knew once, and he used to get awfully sick when we shouted it out after him in the street. No doubt there have been respectable dogs called Fido, but to my mind it is a name like Aubrey or Clarence. You may be able to live it down, but you start handicapped. However, one must take the rough with the smooth, and I was prepared to yield the point.
“If you wait, Master Peter, your father will buy you a beautiful, lovely dog——”
“I don’t want a beautiful, lovely dog. I want this dog.”
The slur did not wound me. I have no illusions about my looks. Mine is an honest, but not a beautiful face.
“It’s no use talking,” said the chauffeur, grinning. “He means to have him. Shove him in, and let’s be getting back, or they’ll be thinking His Nibs has been kidnapped.”
So I was carried to the car. I could have walked, but I had an idea that I had better not. I had made my hit as a crippled dog, and a crippled dog I intended to remain till things got more settled down.
The chauffeur started the car off again. What with the shock I had had and the luxury of riding in a motor-car, I was a little distrait, and I could not say how far we went. But it must have been miles and miles, for it seemed a long time afterwards that we stopped at the biggest house I have ever seen. There were smooth lawns and flower-beds and men in overalls and fountains and trees and, away to the right, kennels with about a million dogs in them, all pushing their noses through the bars and shouting. They all wanted to know who I was and what prizes I had won, and then I realized that I was moving in high society.
I let the small boy pick me up and carry me into the house, though it was all he could do, poor kid, for I was some weight. He staggered up the steps and along a great hall, and then let me flop on the carpet of the most beautiful room you ever saw. The carpet was a yard thick.
There was a woman sitting in a chair, and as soon as she saw me she gave a shriek.
“I told Master Peter you would not be pleased, m’lady,” said the nurse, who seemed to have taken a positive dislike to me, “but he would bring the nasty brute home.”
“He’s not a nasty brute, mother. He’s my dog, and his name’s Fido. John ran over him in the car, and I brought him home to live with us. I love him.”
This seemed to make an impression. Peter’s mother looked as if she were weakening.
“But, Peter, dear, I don’t know what your father will say. He’s so particular about dogs. All his dogs are prize-winners, pedigree dogs. This is such a mongrel.”
“A nasty, rough, ugly, common dog, m’lady,” said the nurse, sticking her oar in in an absolutely uncalled-for way.
Just then a man came into the room.
“What on earth?” he said, catching sight of me.
“It’s a dog Peter has brought home. He says he wants to keep him.”
“I’m going to keep him,” corrected Peter firmly.
I do like a child that knows his own mind. I was getting fonder of Peter every minute. I reached up and licked his hand.
“See! He knows he’s my dog, don’t you, Fido? He licked me.”
“But, Peter, he looks so fierce.” This, unfortunately, is true. I do look fierce. It is rather a misfortune for a perfectly peaceful dog. “I’m sure it’s not safe your having him.”
“He’s my dog, and his name’s Fido. I’m going to tell cook to give him a bone.”
His mother looked at his father, who gave rather a nasty laugh.
“My dear Helen,” he said, “ever since Peter was born, ten years ago, he has not asked for a single thing, to the best of my recollection, which he has not got. Let us be consistent. I don’t approve of this caricature of a dog, but, if Peter wants him, I suppose he must have him.”
“Very well. But, the first sign of viciousness he shows, he shall be shot. He makes me nervous.”
So they left it at that, and I went off with Peter to get my bone.
After lunch he took me to the kennels to introduce me to the other dogs. I had to go, but I knew it would not be pleasant, and it wasn’t. Any dog will tell you what these prize-ribbon dogs are like. Their heads are so swelled they have to go into their kennels backwards.
It was just as I had expected. There were mastiffs, terriers, poodles, spaniels, bulldogs, sheep-dogs, and every other kind of dog you can imagine, all prize-winners at a hundred shows, and every single dog in the place just shoved his head back and laughed himself sick. I never felt so small in my life, and I was glad when it was over and Peter took me off to the stables.
I was just feeling that I never wanted to see another dog in my life, when a terrier ran out, shouting. As soon as he saw me, he came up inquiringly, walking very stiff-legged, as terriers do when they see a stranger.
“Well,” I said, “and what particular sort of a prize-winner are you? Tell me all about the ribbons they gave you at the Crystal Palace and let’s get it over.”
He laughed in a way that did me good.
“Guess again!” he said. “Did you take me for one of the nuts in the kennels? My name’s Jack, and I belong to one of the grooms.”
“What!” I cried. “You aren’t Champion Bowlegs Royal or anything of that sort? I’m glad to meet you.”
So we rubbed noses, as friendly as you please. It was a treat meeting one of one’s own sort. I had had enough of those high-toned dogs who look at you as if you were something the garbage-man had forgotten to take away.
“So you’ve been talking to the swells, have you?” said Jack.
“He would take me,” I said, pointing to Peter.
“Oh, you’re his latest, are you? Then you’re all right—while it lasts.”
“How do you mean, while it lasts?”
“Well, I’ll tell you what happened to me. Young Peter took a great fancy to me once. Couldn’t do enough for me for a while. Then he got tired of me, and out I went. You see, the trouble is that, while he’s a perfectly good kid, he has always had everything he wanted since he was born, and he gets tired of things pretty easy. It was a toy railway that finished me. Directly he got that, I might not have been on the earth. It was lucky for me that Dick, my present old man, happened to want a dog to keep down the rats, or goodness knows what might not have happened to me. They aren’t keen on dogs here, unless they’ve pulled down enough blue ribbons to sink a ship, and mongrels like you and me—no offence—don’t last long. I expect you noticed that the grown-ups didn’t exactly cheer when you arrived.”
“They weren’t chummy.”
“Well, take it from me, your only chance is to make them chummy. If you do something to please them, they might let you stay on, even though Peter was tired of you.”
“What sort of thing?”
“That’s for you to think out. I couldn’t find one. I might tell you to save Peter from drowning. You don’t need a pedigree to do that. But you can’t drag the kid to the lake and push him in. That’s the trouble. A dog gets so few opportunities. But take it from me, if you don’t do something within two weeks to make yourself solid with the adults, you can make your will. In two weeks Peter will have forgotten all about you. It’s not his fault. It’s the way he has been brought up. His father has all the money on earth, and Peter’s the only child. You can’t blame him. All I say is, look out for yourself. Well! I’m glad to have met you. Drop in again when you can. I can give you some good ratting, and I have a bone or two put away. So long.”
It worried me badly what Jack had said. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. If it hadn’t been for that, I should have had a great time, for Peter certainly made a lot of fuss of me. He treated me as if I were the only friend he had.
And in a way I was. When you are the only son of a man who has all the money in the world, it seems that you aren’t allowed to be like an ordinary kid. They coop you up as if you were something precious that would he contaminated by contact with other children. In all the time that I was at the house, I never met another child. Peter had everything in the world, except someone of his own age to go round with, and that made him different from any of the kids I had known.
He liked talking to me. I was the only person round who really understood him. He would talk by the hour, and I would listen with my tongue hanging out and nod now and then.
It was worth listening to, what he used to tell me. He told me the most surprising things. I didn’t know, for instance, that there were any Red Indians in England, but he said there was a chief named Big Cloud who lived in the rhododendron bushes by the lake. I never found him, though I went carefully through them one day. He also said that there were pirates on the island on the lake. I never saw them either.
What he liked telling me about best was the city of gold and precious stones which you came to if you walked far enough through the woods at the back of the stables. He was always meaning to go off there some day, and, from the way he described it, I didn’t blame him. It was certainly a pretty good city. It was just right for dogs, too, he said, having bones and liver and sweet cake there and everything else a dog could want. It used to make my mouth water to listen to him.
We were never apart. I was with him all day, and I slept on the mat in his room at night. But all the time I couldn’t get out of my mind what Jack had said. I nearly did once, for it seemed to me that I was so necessary to Peter that nothing could separate us; but, just as I was feeling safe, his father gave him a toy aeroplane which flew when you wound it up. The day he got it, I might not have been on the earth. I trailed along, but he hadn’t a word to say to me.
Well, something went wrong with the aeroplane the second day, and it wouldn’t fly, and then I was in solid again; but I had done some hard thinking and I knew just where I stood. I was the newest toy, that’s what I was, and something newer might come along at any moment, and then it would be the finish for me. The only thing for me was to do something to impress the adults, just as Jack had said.
Goodness knows I tried. But everything I did turned out wrong. There seemed to be a fate about it. One morning, for example, I was trotting round the house early, and I met a fellow I could have sworn was a burglar. He wasn’t one of the family, and he wasn’t one of the servants, and he was hanging round the house in a most suspicious way. I chased him up a tree, and it wasn’t till the family came down to breakfast two hours later that I found that he was a guest who had arrived overnight, and had come out early to enjoy the freshness of the morning and the sun shining on the lake, he being that sort of man. That didn’t help me much.
Next, I got in wrong with the boss, Peter’s father. I don’t know why. I met him out in the park with another man, both carrying bundles of sticks and looking very serious and earnest. Just as I reached him, the boss lifted one of the sticks and hit a small white ball with it. He had never seemed to want to play with me before, and I took it as a great compliment. I raced after the ball, which he had hit quite a long way, picked it up in my mouth, and brought it back to him. I laid it at his feet and smiled up at him.
“Hit it again,” I said.
He wasn’t pleased at all. He said all sorts of things and tried to kick me, and that night, when he thought I was not listening, I heard him tell his wife that I was a pest and would have to be got rid of. That made me think.
And then I put the lid on it. With the best intentions in the world I got myself into such a mess that I thought the end had come.
It happened one afternoon in the drawing-room. There were visitors that day—women; and women seem fatal to me. I was in the background, trying not to be seen, for, though I had been brought in by Peter, the family never liked my coming into the drawing-room. I was hoping for a piece of cake and not paying much attention to the conversation, which was all about somebody called Toto, whom I had not met. Peter’s mother said Toto was a sweet little darling, he was; and one of the visitors said Toto had not been at all himself that day, and she was quite worried. And a good lot more about how all that Toto would ever take for dinner was a little white meat of chicken, chopped up fine. It was not very interesting, and I had allowed my attention to wander.
And just then, peeping round the corner of my chair to see if there were any signs of cake, what should I see but a great beastly brute of a rat. It was standing right beside the visitor drinking milk out of a saucer, if you please!
I may have my faults, but procrastination in the presence of rats is not one of them. I didn’t hesitate for a second. Here was my chance. If there is one thing women hate, it is a rat. Mother always used to say, “If you want to succeed in life, please the women. They are the real bosses. The men don’t count.” By eliminating this rodent, I should earn the gratitude and esteem of Peter’s mother, and, if I did that, it did not matter what Peter’s father thought of me.
The rat hadn’t a chance to get away. I was right on to him. I got hold of his neck, gave him a couple of shakes, and chucked him across the room. Then I ran across to finish him off.
Just as I reached him, he sat up and barked at me. I was never so taken aback in my life. I pulled up short and stared at him.
“I’m sure I beg your pardon, sir,” I said, apologetically. “I thought you were a rat.”
And then everything broke loose. Somebody got me by the collar, somebody else hit me on the head with a parasol, and somebody else kicked me in the ribs. Everybody talked and shouted at the same time.
“Poor, darling Toto!” cried the visitor, snatching up the little animal. “Did the great savage brute try to murder you?”
“So absolutely unprovoked!”
“He just flew at the poor little thing!”
It was no good my trying to explain. Any dog in my place would have made the same mistake. The creature was a toy-dog of one of those extraordinary breeds—a prize-winner and champion, and so on, of course, and worth his weight in gold. I would have done better to bite the visitor than Toto. That much I gathered from the general run of the conversation, and then having discovered that the door was shut, I edged under the sofa. I was embarrassed.
“That settles it!” said Peter’s mother. “The dog is not safe. He must be shot.”
Peter gave a yell at this, but for once he didn’t swing the vote an inch.
“Be quiet, Peter,” said his mother. “It is not safe for you to have such a dog. He may be mad.”
Women are very unreasonable.
Toto, of course, wouldn’t say a word to explain how the mistake arose. He was sitting on the visitor’s lap, shrieking about what he would have done if they hadn’t separated us.
Somebody felt cautiously under the sofa. I recognized the shoes of Weeks, the butler. I suppose they had rung for him to come and take me, and I could see that he wasn’t half liking it. I was sorry for Weeks, who was a friend of mine, so I licked his hand, and that seemed to cheer him up a whole lot.
“I have him now, madam,” I heard him say.
“Take him to the stables and tie him up, Weeks, and tell one of the men to bring his gun and shoot him. He is not safe.”
A few minutes later I was in an empty stall, tied up to the manger.
It was all over. It had been pleasant while it lasted, but I had reached the end of my tether now. I don’t think I was frightened, but a sense of pathos stole over me. I had meant so well. It seemed as if good intentions went for nothing in this world. I had tried so hard to please everybody, and this was the result—tied up in a dark stable, waiting for the end.
The shadows lengthened in the stable-yard, and still nobody came. I began to wonder if they had forgotten me, and presently, in spite of myself, a faint hope began to spring up inside me that this might mean that I was not to be shot after all. Perhaps Toto at the eleventh hour had explained everything.
And then footsteps sounded outside, and the hope died away. I shut my eyes.
Somebody put his arms round my neck and my nose touched a warm cheek. I opened my eyes. It was not the man with the gun, come to shoot me. It was Peter. He was breathing very hard, and he had been crying.
“Quiet!” he whispered.
He began to untie the rope.
“You must keep quite quiet, or they will hear us, and then we shall be stopped. I’m going to take you into the woods, and we’ll walk and walk until we come to the city I told you about that’s all gold and diamonds, and we’ll live there for the rest of our lives, and no one will be able to hurt us. But you must keep very quiet.”
He went to the stable gate and looked out. Then he gave a little whistle to me to come after him. And we started out to find the city.
The woods were a long way away, down a hill of long grass and across a stream; and we went very carefully, keeping in the shadows and running across the open spaces. And every now and then we would stop and look back, but there was nobody to be seen. The sun was setting, and everything was very cool and quiet.
Presently we came to the stream and crossed it by a little wooden bridge, and then we were in the woods, where nobody could see us.
I had never been in the woods before, and everything was very new and exciting to me. There were squirrels and rabbits and birds, more than I had ever seen in my life, and little things that buzzed and flew and tickled my ears. I wanted to rush about and look at everything, but Peter called to me, and I came to heel. He knew where we were going, and I didn’t, so I let him lead.
We went very slowly. The wood got thicker and thicker, the farther we got into it. There were bushes that were difficult to push through, and long branches, covered with thorns, that reached out at you and tore at you when you tried to get away. And soon it was quite dark, so dark that I could see nothing, not even Peter, though he was so close. We went slower and slower, and the darkness was full of queer noises. From time to time Peter would stop, and I would run to him and put my nose in his hand. At first he patted me, but after awhile he did not pat me any more, but just gave me his hand to lick, as if it was too much for him to lift it. I think he was getting very tired. He was quite a small boy and not strong, and we had walked a long way.
It seemed to be getting darker and darker. I could hear the sound of Peter’s footsteps, and they seemed to drag as he forced his way through the bushes. And then quite suddenly he sat down without any warning, and when I ran up I heard him crying.
I suppose there are lots of dogs who would have known exactly the right thing to do, but I could not think of anything except to put my nose against his cheek and whine. He put his arm round my neck, and for a long time we stayed like that, saying nothing. It seemed to comfort him, for after a time he stopped crying.
I did not bother him by asking about the wonderful city where we were going, for he was so tired. But I could not help wondering if we were near it. There was not a sign of any city, nothing but darkness and odd noises and the wind singing in the trees. Curious little animals, such as I had never smelt before, came creeping out of the bushes to look at us. I would have chased them, but Peter’s arm was round my neck, and I could not leave him. But when something that smelt like a rabbit came so near that I could have reached out a paw and touched it, I turned my head and snapped; and then they all scurried back into the bushes and there were no more noises.
There was a long silence. Then Peter gave a great gulp.
“I’m not frightened,” he said. “I’m not!”
I shoved my head closer against his chest. There was another silence for a long time.
“I’m going to pretend we have been captured by brigands,” said Peter at last. “Are you listening? There were three of them, great big men with beards, and they crept up behind me and snatched me up and took me out here to their lair. This is their lair. One was called Dick, the others’ names were Ted and Alfred. They took hold of me and brought me all the way through the wood till we got here, and then they went off, meaning to come back soon. And while they were away, you missed me and tracked me through the woods till you found me here. And then the brigands came back, and they didn’t know you were here, and you kept quite quiet till Dick was quite near, and then you jumped out and bit him and he ran away. And then you bit Ted and you bit Alfred, and they ran away, too. And so we were left all alone, and I was quite safe, because you were here to look after me. And then——And then——”
His voice died away, and the arm that was round my neck went limp, and I could hear by his breathing that he was asleep. His head was resting on my back, but I didn’t move. I wriggled a little closer to make him as comfortable as I could, and then I went to sleep myself.
I didn’t sleep very well. I had funny dreams all the time thinking those little animals were creeping up close enough out of the bushes for me to get a snap at them without disturbing Peter.
If I woke once, I woke a dozen times, but there was never anything there. The wind sang in the trees and the bushes rustled, and far away in the distance the frogs were calling.
And then I woke once more with the feeling that this time something really was coming through the bushes. I lifted my head as far as I could, and listened. For a little while nothing happened, and then, straight in front of me, I saw lights. And there was a sound in the undergrowth.
It was no time to think about not waking Peter. This was something definite, something that had to be attended to quick. I was up with a jump, yelling. Peter rolled off my back and woke up, and he sat there listening, while I stood with my front paws on him and shouted at the men. I was bristling all over. I didn’t know who they were or what they wanted, but the way I looked at it was that anything could happen in those woods at that time of night, and, if anybody was coming along to start something, he had got to reckon with me.
Somebody called “Peter! Are you there, Peter?”
There was a crashing in the bushes, the lights came nearer and nearer, and then somebody said, “Here he is!” and there was a lot of shouting. I stood where I was, ready to spring if necessary, for I was taking no chances.
“Who are you?” I shouted. “What do you want?”
A light flashed in my eyes.
“Why, it’s that dog!”
Somebody came into the light, and I saw it was the boss. He was looking very anxious and scared, and he scooped Peter up off the ground and hugged him tight.
Peter was only half-awake. He looked up at the boss drowsily, and began to talk about brigands and Dick and Ted and Alfred, the same as he had said to me. There wasn’t a sound till he had finished. Then the boss spoke.
“Kidnappers! I thought as much. And the dog drove them away!”
For the first time in our acquaintance he actually patted me.
“Good old man!” he said.
“He’s my dog,” said Peter, sleepily, “and he isn’t to be shot.”
“He certainly isn’t, my boy,” said the boss. “From now on he’s the honoured guest. He shall wear a gold collar and order what he wants for dinner. And now let’s be getting home. It’s time you were in bed.”
Mother used to say, “If you’re a good dog, you will be happy. If you’re not, you won’t.” But it seems to me that in this world it is all a matter of luck. When I did everything I could to please people, they wanted to shoot me, and when I did nothing except run away, they brought me back and treated me better than the most valuable prize-winner in the kennels. It was puzzling at first, but one day I heard the boss talking to a friend who had come down from the city.
The friend looked at me, and said, “What an ugly mongrel! Why on earth do you have him about? I thought you were so particular about your dogs.”
And the boss replied, “He may be a mongrel, but he can have anything he wants in this house. Didn’t you hear how he saved Peter from being kidnapped?”
And out it all came about the brigands.
“The kid called them brigands,” said the boss. “I suppose that’s how it would strike a child of that age. But he kept mentioning the name Dick, and that put the police on the scent. It seems there’s a kidnapper well known to the police all over the country as Dick the Snatcher. It was almost certainly that scoundrel and his gang. How they spirited the child away, goodness knows, but they managed it, and the dog tracked them and scared them off. We found him and Peter together in the woods. It was a narrow escape, and we have to thank this animal here for it.”
What could I say? It was no more use trying to put them right than it had been when I mistook Toto for a rat. Peter had gone to sleep that night pretending about the brigands to pass the time, and he had woken up believing in them. He was that sort of child. There was nothing that I could do about it.
Round the corner, as the boss was speaking, I saw the kennel-man coming with a plate in his hand. It smelt fine, and he was headed straight for me.
He put the plate down before me. It was liver, which I love.
“Yes,” went on the boss, “if it hadn’t been for him, Peter would have been kidnapped and scared half to death and I should be poorer, I suppose, by whatever the scoundrels had chosen to hold me up for.”
I am an honest dog, and hate to obtain credit under false pretences, but—liver is liver. I let it go at that.
The familiar subtitle “II: He Moves in Society” was added when the two Mixer stories were collected in The Man with Two Left Feet; the original appearance in the Strand had only the title “The Mixer” and lacked any indication that it was the second of two parts.
Typo corrected: removed apostrophe in “know’s”, page 730, column 2, paragraph 2.