Our Friend the Dog
| OUR FRIEND |
Author of "THE LIFE OF THE BEE," etc.
ALEXANDER TEIXEIRA DE MATTTOS
DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
Copyright, 1903, by
The Century Co.
Copyright, 1904, by
Dodd, Mead & Company
Published, October, 1913
OUR FRIEND THE DOG
I have lost, within these last few days, a little bull-dog. He had justcompleted the sixth month of his brief existence. He had no history. Hisintelligent eyes opened to look out upon the world, to love mankind,then closed again on the cruel secrets of death.
The friend who presented me with him had given him, perhaps[Pg 4] byantiphrasis, the startling name of Pelléas. Why rechristen him? For howcan a poor dog, loving, devoted, faithful, disgrace the name of a man oran imaginary hero?
Pelléas had a great bulging, powerful forehead, like that of Socrates orVerlaine; and, under a little black nose, blunt as a churlish assent, apair of large hanging and symmetrical chops, which made his head a sortof massive, obstinate, pensive and[Pg 5] three-cornered menace. He wasbeautiful after the manner of a beautiful, natural monster that hascomplied strictly with the laws of its species. And what a smile ofattentive obligingness, of incorruptible innocence, of affectionatesubmission, of boundless gratitude and total self-abandonment lit up, atthe least caress, that adorable mask of ugliness! Whence exactly didthat smile emanate? From the ingenuous and melting eyes? From the[Pg 6] earspricked up to catch the words of man? From the forehead that unwrinkledto appreciate and love, or from the stump of a tail that wriggled at theother end to testify to the intimate and impassioned joy that filled hissmall being, happy once more to encounter the hand or the glance of thegod to whom he surrendered himself?
Pelléas was born in Paris, and I had taken him to the country. His bonnyfat paws, shapeless [Pg 7]and not yet stiffened, carried slackly through theunexplored pathways of his new existence his huge and serious head,flat-nosed and, as it were, rendered heavy with thought.
For this thankless and rather sad head, like that of an overworkedchild, was beginning the overwhelming work that oppresses every brain atthe start of life. He had, in less than five or six weeks, to get intohis mind, taking shape within it, an[Pg 8] image and a satisfactoryconception of the universe. Man, aided by all the knowledge of his ownelders and his brothers, takes thirty or forty years to outline thatconception, but the humble dog has to unravel it for himself in a fewdays: and yet, in the eyes of a god, who should know all things, wouldit not have the same weight and the same value as our own?
It was a question, then, of studying the ground, which can[Pg 9] be scratchedand dug up and which sometimes reveals surprising things; of casting atthe sky, which is uninteresting, for there is nothing there to eat, oneglance that does away with it for good and all; of discovering thegrass, the admirable and green grass, the springy and cool grass, afield for races and sports, a friendly and boundless bed, in which lieshidden the good and wholesome couch-grass. It was a question, also, oftaking promiscuously[Pg 10] a thousand urgent and curious observations. It wasnecessary, for instance, with no other guide than pain, to learn tocalculate the height of objects from the top of which you can jump intospace; to convince yourself that it is vain to pursue birds who fly awayand that you are unable to clamber up trees after the cats who defy youthere; to distinguish between the sunny spots where it is delicious tosleep and the patches of shade[Pg 11] in which you shiver; to remark withstupefaction that the rain does not fall inside the houses, that wateris cold, uninhabitable and dangerous, while fire is beneficent at adistance, but terrible when you come too near; to observe that themeadows, the farm-yards and sometimes the roads are haunted by giantcreatures with threatening horns, creatures good-natured, perhaps, and,at any rate, silent, creatures who allow you to sniff at them[Pg 12] a littlecuriously without taking offence, but who keep their real thoughts tothemselves. It was necessary to learn, as the result of painful andhumiliating experiment, that you are not at liberty to obey all nature'slaws without distinction in the dwelling of the gods; to recognize thatthe kitchen is the privileged and most agreeable spot in that divinedwelling, although you are hardly allowed to abide in it because of thecook, who is a considerable,[Pg 13] but jealous power; to learn that doors areimportant and capricious volitions, which sometimes lead to felicity,but which most often, hermetically closed, mute and stern, haughty andheartless, remain deaf to all entreaties; to admit, once and for all,that the essential good things of life, the indisputable blessings,generally imprisoned in pots and stewpans, are almost alwaysinaccessible; to know how to look at them with laboriously-acquiredindifference[Pg 14] and to practise to take no notice of them, saying toyourself that here are objects which are probably sacred, since merelyto skim them with the tip of a respectful tongue is enough to let loosethe unanimous anger of all the gods of the house.
And then, what is one to think of the table on which so many thingshappen that cannot be guessed; of the derisive chairs on which one isforbidden to sleep; of the plates and dishes [Pg 15]that are empty by thetime that one can get at them; of the lamp that drives away the dark?...How many orders, dangers, prohibitions, problems, enigmas has one not toclassify in one's overburdened memory!... And how to reconcile all thiswith other laws, other enigmas, wider and more imperious, which onebears within one's self, within one's instinct, which spring up anddevelop from one hour to the other, which come from the depths of[Pg 16] timeand the race, invade the blood, the muscles and the nerves and suddenlyassert themselves more irresistibly and more powerfully than pain, theword of the master himself, or the fear of death?
Thus, for instance, to quote only one example, when the hour of sleephas struck for men, you have retired to your hole, surrounded by thedarkness, the silence and the formidable solitude of the night. All issleep[Pg 17] in the master's house. You feel yourself very small and weak inthe presence of the mystery. You know that the gloom is peopled withfoes who hover and lie in wait. You suspect the trees, the passing windand the moonbeams. You would like to hide, to suppress yourself byholding your breath. But still the watch must be kept; you must, at theleast sound, issue from your retreat, face the invisible and bluntlydisturb the imposing silence of the[Pg 18] earth, at the risk of bringing downthe whispering evil or crime upon yourself alone. Whoever the enemy be,even if he be man, that is to say, the very brother of the god whom itis your business to defend, you must attack him blindly, fly at histhroat, fasten your perhaps sacrilegious teeth into human flesh,disregard the spell of a hand and voice similar to those of your master,never be silent, never attempt to escape, never[Pg 19] allow yourself to betempted or bribed and, lost in the night without help, prolong theheroic alarm to your last breath.
There is the great ancestral duty, the essential duty, stronger thandeath, which not even man's will and anger are able to check. All ourhumble history, linked with that of the dog in our first strugglesagainst every breathing thing, tends to prevent his forgetting it. Andwhen, in our safer dwelling-places of to-day,[Pg 20] we happen to punish himfor his untimely zeal, he throws us a glance of astonished reproach, asthough to point out to us that we are in the wrong and that, if we losesight of the main clause in the treaty of alliance which he made with usat the time when we lived in caves, forests and fens, he continuesfaithful to it in spite of us and remains nearer to the eternal truth oflife, which is full of snares and hostile forces.[Pg 21]
But how much care and study are needed to succeed in fulfilling thisduty! And how complicated it has become since the days of the silentcaverns and the great deserted lakes! It was all so simple, then, soeasy and so clear. The lonely hollow opened upon the side of the hill,and all that approached, all that moved on the horizon of the plains orwoods, was the unmistakable enemy.... But to-day you can no longertell....[Pg 22] You have to acquaint yourself with a civilization of which youdisapprove, to appear to understand a thousand incomprehensiblethings.... Thus, it seems evident that henceforth the whole world nolonger belongs to the master, that his property conforms tounintelligible limits.... It becomes necessary, therefore, first of allto know exactly where the sacred domain begins and ends. Whom are you tosuffer, whom to stop?... There is[Pg 23] the road by which every one, even thepoor, has the right to pass. Why? You do not know; it is a fact whichyou deplore, but which you are bound to accept. Fortunately, on theother hand, here is the fair path which none may tread. This path isfaithful to the sound traditions; it is not to be lost sight of; for byit enter into your daily existence the difficult problems of life.
Would you have an example? You are sleeping peacefully in[Pg 24] a ray of thesun that covers the threshold of the kitchen with pearls. Theearthenware pots are amusing themselves by elbowing and nudging oneanother on the edge of the shelves trimmed with paper lace-work. Thecopper stewpans play at scattering spots of light over the smooth whitewalls. The motherly stove hums a soft tune and dandles three saucepansblissfully dancing; and, from the little hole that lights up its inside,defies the good dog[Pg 25] who cannot approach, by constantly putting out athim its fiery tongue. The clock, bored in its oak case, before strikingthe august hour of meal time, swings its great gilt navel to and fro;and the cunning flies tease your ears. On the glittering table lie achicken, a hare, three partridges, besides other things which are calledfruits—peaches, melons, grapes—and which are all good for nothing. Thecook guts a big silver fish[Pg 26] and throws the entrails (instead of