Love Me, Love My Dog
P G Wodehouse
After five minutes of silent and intense thought, John Barton gave out the statement that the moonlight on the terrace was pretty. Aline Ellison said, "Yes, very pretty."
"But, I say, by Jove," said the voice behind them, "you should see some of the moonlight effects on the Mediterranean, Barton. You really should. They would appeal to you. There is nothing like them, is there, Miss Ellison?"
Homicidal feelings surged up within John's bosom. This was the fourth time that day that Lord Bertie Fendall had interrupted just as he got Aline alone. It was maddening. Man, in his dealings with the more attractive of the opposite sex, is either a buzzer or a thinker. John was a thinker. In ordinary circumstances a tolerable conversationalist, he became, when in the presence of Aline Ellison, a thinker of the most pronounced type, practically incapable of speech. What he wanted was time. He was not one of your rapid wooers, who meet a girl at dinner on Monday, give her their photograph on Tuesday morning, and propose on Tuesday afternoon. It took him a long while to get really started. He was luggage, not express. But he had perseverance, and, provided the line was kept clear, was bound to get somewhere in the end.
The advent of Lord Bertie had blocked the line. From the moment when Mr. Keith, their host, had returned from London bringing with him the son and heir of the Earl of Stockleigh, John's manoeuvres had received a check. Until then he had had Aline to himself, and all that had troubled him had been his inability to speak. He had gone dumbly round the links with her, rowed her silently on the lake, and sat by in mute admiration while she played waltz tunes after dinner. It had not been unmixed happiness, but at least there had been no competition. But in Lord Bertie he had a rival, and a rival who was a buzzer. Lord Bertie had the gift of conversation, and a course of travel had provided him with material for small-talk. Aline, her father being rich and her mother a sort of female Ulysses, had gone over much of the ground which Lord Bertie had covered; and the animation with which she exchanged views of European travel with him made John moist with agony. John was no fool, but he had never penetrated farther into the heart of the Continent than Paris; and in conversations dealing with the view from the summit of the Jungfrau, or the paintings of obscure Dagoes in Florentine picture-galleries, this handicapped him.
On the present occasion he accepted defeat with moody resignation. His opportunity had gone. The conversation was now dealing with Monte Carlo, and Lord Bertie had plainly come to stay. His high-pitched voice rattled on and on. Aline seemed absorbed.
With a muttered excuse John turned into the house. It was hard. To- morrow he was leaving for London owing to the sudden illness of his partner. True, he would be coming back in a week or so, but in that time the worst would probably have happened. He went to bed so dispirited that, stubbing his toe against a chair in the dark, he merely sighed.
As he paced the terrace after breakfast, waiting for the motor, Keggs, the Keiths' butler, approached.
At the beginning of his visit Keggs had inspired John with an awe amounting at times to positive discomfort. John was a big, broad- shouldered young man, and his hands and feet were built to scale. But no hands and feet outside of a freak museum could have been one half as large as his seemed to be in the earlier days of his acquaintanceship with Keggs. He had suffered terribly under the butler's dignified gaze, until one morning the latter, with the air of a high priest conferring with an underling on some point of ritual, had asked him whether, in his opinion, he would be doing rightly in putting his shirt on Mumblin' Mose in a forthcoming handicap, as he had been advised to do by a metropolitan friend who claimed to be in the confidence of the trainer. John, recovering from the shock, answered in the affirmative; and a long and stately exchange of ideas on the subject of Current Form ensued. At dinner, a few days later, the butler, leaning over John to help him to sherry, murmured softly:
"Romped 'ome, sir, thanking /you/, sir," and from that moment had intimated by his manner that John might consider himself promoted to the rank of an equal and a friend.
"Excuse me, sir," said the butler, "but Frederick, who 'as charge of your packing, desired me to ask you what arrangements you wished made with regard to the dog, sir."
The animal in question was a beautiful bulldog, Reuben by name. John had brought him to the country at the special request of Aline, who had met him in London and fallen an instant victim to his rugged charms.
"The dog?" he said. "Oh, yes. Tell Frederick to put his leash on. Where is he?"
"Gruffling at 'is lordship, sir," said Keggs, tranquilly, as if he were naming some customary and recognized occupation for bulldogs.
"Gruffling at--? What!"
" 'Is Lordship, sir, 'ave climbed a tree, and Reuben is at the foot, gruffling at 'im, very fierce."
" 'Is lordship, sir," continued Keggs, " 'as always been uncommon afraid of dogs, from boy'ood up. I 'ad the honour to be employed has butler some years ago by 'is father, Lord Stockleigh, and was enabled at that time to observe Lord 'Erbert's extreme aversion for animals of that description. 'Is huneasiness in the presence of even 'er ladyship's toy Pomeranian was 'ighly marked and much commented on in the servants' 'all."
"So you had met Lord Herbert before?"
"I was butler at the Castle a matter of six years, sir."
"Well," said John, with some reluctance, "I suppose we must get him out of that tree. Fancy being afraid of old Reuben! Why, he wouldn't hurt a fly."
" 'E 'ave took an uncommon dislike to 'is lordship, sir," said Keggs.
"Where's the tree?"
"At the lower hend of the terrace, sir. Beyond the nood statoo, sir."
John ran in the direction indicated, his steps guided by an intermittent sound as of one gargling. Presently he came in view of the tree. At the foot, with his legs well spread and his massive head raised, stood Reuben. From a branch some little distance above the ground peered down the agitated face of Lord Bertie Fendall. His lordship's aristocratic pallor was intensified. He looked almost green.
"I say," he called, as John appeared, "do for Heaven's sake take that beastly dog away. I've been up here the dickens of a time. It isn't safe with that animal about. He's a bally menace."
Reuben glancing over his shoulder recognized his master, and, having no tail to speak of, wagged his body in a welcoming way. He looked up at Lord Bertie, and back again at John. As clearly as if he had spoken the words his eye said, "Come along, John. You and I are friends. Be a sportsman and pull him down out of that."
"Take the brute away!" cried his lordship.
"He's quite good-natured, really. He doesn't mean anything. He won't hurt you."
"He won't get the bally chance," replied Lord Bertie, with acerbity. "Take him away."
John stooped and grasped the dog's collar.
"Come on, Reuben, you old fool," he said. "We shall be missing that train."
The motor was already at the door when he got back. Mr. Keith was there, and Aline.
"Too bad, Barton," said Mr. Keith, "your having to break your visit like this. You'll come back, though? How soon, do you think?"
"Inside of two weeks, I hope," said John. "Hammond has had these influenza attacks before. They never last long. Have you seen Reuben's leash anywhere?"
Aline Ellison uttered a cry of anguish.
"Oh, you aren't taking Reuben, Mr. Barton! You can't! You mustn't! Mr. Keith, don't let him. Come to auntie, Reuben, darling. Mr. Barton, if you take my precious Reuben away I'll never speak to you again."
John looked at her, and gulped.
He cleared his throat.
What he wanted to say was: "Miss Ellison, your lightest wish is law. I love you--not with the weak two-by-four imitation of affection such as may be offered to you by certain knock-kneed members of the Peerage, but with a great, broad, deep, throbbing love such as the world has never known. Take Reuben. You have my heart, my soul; shall I deny you a dog? Take Reuben. And when you look upon him, think, if but for a moment, of one who, though far away, is thinking, thinking always of you. Miss Ellison, good-bye!"
What he said was: "Er, I----"
And that, mind you, was pretty good going for John.
Oh, thank you!" cried Aline. "Thank you so much, Mr. Barton. It's perfectly sweet of you, and I'll take such care of him. I won't let him out of my sight for a minute."
". . ." said John, brightly.
Mathematicians among my readers do not need to be informed that ". . ." is the algebraical sign representing a blend of wheeze, croak, and hiccough.
And the motor rolled off.
It was about an hour later that Lord Bertie Fendall, finding Aline seated under the shade of the trees, came to a halt beside her.
"Barton went off in the car just now, didn't he?" he inquired, casually.
"Yes," said Aline.
Lord Bertie drew a deep breath of relief. At last he could walk abroad without the feeling that at any moment that infernal dog might charge out at him from round the next corner. With a light heart he dropped into a chair beside Aline, and began to buzz.
"Do you know, Miss Ellison--"
A short cough immediately behind him made him look round. His voice trailed off. His eyeglass fell with a jerk and bounded on the end of its cord. He sprang to his feet.
"Oh, there you are, Reuben," said Aline. "Here, come here. What have you been doing to your nose? It's all muddy. Aren't you fond of dogs, Lord Herbert? I love them."
"Eh? I beg your pardon?" said his lordship, revolving warily on his own axis, as the animal lumbered past him. "Oh, yes. Yes. That is to say--oh, yes. Very."
Aline was removing the mud from Reuben's nose with the corner of her pocket-handkerchief.
"Don't you think you can generally tell a man's character by whether dogs take to him or not? They have such wonderful instinct."
"Wonderful," agreed his lordship, meeting Reuben's rolling eye and looking hastily away.
"Mr. Barton was going to take Reuben with him, but that would have been silly for such a short while, wouldn't it?"
"Yes. Oh, yes," said Lord Bertie. "I suppose," he went on, "he will spend most of his time in the stables and so on, don't you know? Not in the house, I mean, don't you know, what?"
"The idea!" cried Aline, indignantly. "Reuben's not a stable dog. I'm never going to let him out of my sight."
"No?" said Lord Bertie a little feverishly. "No? Oh, no. Quite so."
"There!" said Aline, giving Reuben a push. "Now you're tidy. What were you saying, Lord Herbert?"
Reuben moved a step forward, and wheezed slightly.
"Excuse me, Miss Ellison," said his lordship. "I've just recollected an important--there's a good old boy!--an important letter I meant to have written. Excuse me!"
The announcement of his proposed departure may have been somewhat abrupt, but at any rate no fault could be found with his manner of leaving. It was ceremonious in the extreme. He moved out of her presence backwards, as if she had been royalty.
Aline saw him depart with a slightly aggrieved feeling. She had been in the mood for company. For some reason which she could not define she was conscious of quite a sensation of loneliness. It was absurd to think that John's departure could have caused this. And yet somehow it did leave a blank. Perhaps it was because he was so big and silent. You grew used to his being there just as you grew used to the scenery, and you missed him when he was gone. That was all. If Nelson's column were removed, one would feel lonely in Trafalgar Square.
Lord Bertie, meanwhile, having reached the smoking-room, where he proposed to brood over the situation with the assistance of a series of cigarettes, found Keggs there, arranging the morning papers on a side-table. He flung himself into an arm-chair, and, with a scowl at the butler's back, struck a match.
"I 'ope your lordship is suffering no ill effects from the adventure?" said Keggs, finishing the disposal of the papers.
"What?" said Lord Bertie, coldly. He disliked Keggs.
"I was alluding to your lordship's encounter with the dog Reuben this morning."
Lord Bertie started.
"What do you mean?"
"I observed that your lordship 'ad climbed a tree to elude the animal."
"You saw it?"
"Then why the devil, you silly old idiot," demanded his lordship explosively, "didn't you come and take the brute away?"
It had been the practice in the old days, both of Lord Bertie and of his father, to address the butler in moments of agitation with a certain aristocratic vigour.
"I 'ardly liked to interfere, your lordship, beyond informing Mr. Barton. The animal being 'is."
Lord Bertie flung his cigarette out of the window, and kicked a foot- stool. Keggs regarded these evidences of an overwrought soul sympathetically.
"I can appreciate your lordship's hemotion," he said, "knowin' 'ow haverse to dogs your lordship 'as always been. It seems only yesterday," he continued, reminiscently, "that your lordship, then a boy at Heton, 'ome for the 'olidays, handed me a package of Rough on Rats, and instructed me to poison 'er ladyship your mother's toy Pomeranian with it."
Lord Bertie started for the second time since he had entered the room. He screwed his eyeglass firmly into his eye, and looked keenly at the butler. Keggs's face was expressionless. Lord Bertie coughed. He looked round at the door. It was closed.