Sirius, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 14

Tan-Y-Voel

THOMAS’S death affected the female members of the Trelone family very deeply. The two boys were away at the war, but Tamsy and Plaxy both came home to spend a week or so with their mother. Sirius at a later date told me that Tamsy was superficially more distressed than Plaxy. She wept a good deal, and by her too demonstrative sympathy she increased rather than assuaged the emotional strain that inevitably fell upon Elizabeth. Plaxy, on the other hand, was strangely cold and awkward. With a pale face, and an almost sullen expression, she occupied herself mainly with housework, leaving her mother and sister to dwell upon the past. One day Tamsy unearthed from Thomas’s chest of drawers a dilapidated handkerchief-case which Plaxy as a child had made and given to her father on his birthday. With swimming eyes Tamsy brought this relic to her sister, obviously expecting it to be a stimulus to sweet sorrow. Plaxy turned away, muttering, “Oh, for God’s sake, don’t!” Then, unaccountably, and with a look almost of fury, she rushed at Sirius and gave him so brusque a hug that he wondered whether it was meant as a caress or as the opening of a wrestling bout. I mention this incident because it suggests that Plaxy’s relations with her father were in fact rather complex and emotional.

As for Sirius himself, his very real grief, he told me, was mingled with a new deep sense of independence. His canine nature lamented the loss of his master, and he was haunted by memories of Thomas’s affectionate guidance; yet his human intelligence now breathed more freely. At last he was his own master, not literally perhaps, but emotionally. At last he would be master of his fate and captain of his soul. Sometimes the thought frightened him; for he had grown up in complete emotional dependence on Thomas’s ultimate authority over him. Even when he stood out for his own will, he did so always in the hope of persuading Thomas to agree with him, never with any depth of intention to resist the will of his revered creator. And so, now that Thomas was gone, his creature was torn between anxious self-distrust and a strange new decisiveness.

But though Sirius was now emotionally freed from Thomas, he was destined to be for a while bound more closely than ever to his foster-mother.

Though Thomas’s death was a heavy blow to Elizabeth, she would not let it crush her. She carried on with her normal life, looking after the three little evacuees, digging and planting in the garden, helping Sirius with the sheep; for Pugh had grown very rheumatic and found the outlying pastures almost inaccessible. Plaxy had offered to give up teaching and settle down at home, but Elizabeth would not hear of it. “The child must live her own life,” she said.

Inevitably Elizabeth became more and more devoted to Sirius, who was the supreme achievement of Thomas’s creative power, and also her own adopted child. Indeed Sirius now seemed more to her than her own children, who were independent, and in no further need of her help. But Sirius constantly needed her more than ever. Once when she found him struggling to repair a wire fence with his teeth, he had cried out, “Oh for hands! At night I dream of hands.” She answered, “My hands belong to you till I die.” Between the dog and the middle-aged woman a very close, affectionate, but not entirely happy relationship developed. Elizabeth had always maintained towards her children a friendly detachment towards which they had readily responded. Sirius also she had formerly treated in the same way. But now, her devotion to her husband combined with maternal hunger to fix her attention obsessively upon Sirius. Helping him became her constant passion. Now that Pugh was partially incapacitated, and skilled labour was so hard to obtain, her help was valuable. But Sirius came to find it rather tiresome. She was too anxious to help, and too full of suggestions, which he tended to reject if he could find any plausible excuse for doing so. It was strange and tragic, and entirely unexpected, that a woman formerly so quiet-hearted and so unpossessive should in middle age have become so clinging. I cannot account for the change. It is easy to point to influences in her life making for neurosis, but why should they have taken effect so late, and so extravagantly as they were destined to do? How frail a thing is the human spirit, even at its best!

Elizabeth showed an unwelcome inclination to take part in the actual management of the farm, and particularly all contacts with the outside world. Sirius strongly disliked this, not only because she had insufficient experience and sometimes made bad mistakes, but also because he was anxious to accustom the local population to dealing with him direct, and it was his ambition to play an active part in the common life of the district. Already he had earned respect. Not only the local papers but the great national dailies had referred to “the brilliant man-dog of North Wales.” Only the paper shortage and the over-mastering interest of warfare had prevented them from using him for a stunt. Consequently he had been able to make himself known in the neighbourhood by personal contact without attracting too much attention from the rest of the country. Intellectuals of one sort or another did visit him now and then with introductions from the laboratory; and these visits he greatly enjoyed, because they enabled him to keep in touch with movements of contemporary cultural life. He never gave up his intention of playing a part in that life as soon as the farm had been fully developed and regularized.

To return to Elizabeth. Perhaps out of loyalty to Thomas, who had always been extravagantly fearful of publicity, she did her utmost to keep Sirius from the public eye, and indeed from all social contacts. When at last she sent away her three little evacuee children in order to devote all her time to the farm, Sirius was torn between satisfaction at the prospect of having more help and fear of increased interference; and between affection and an exasperation which kindness forbade him to express. Why was it that one who had always been so tactful and detached in her relations had suddenly turned so difficult? He put it down to overwork and the emotional strain of losing her husband. No doubt advancing age had also something to do with it. Only when one or other of her own children was at home did she return almost to her normal self. Then Sirius would feel with relief that he was no longer the apple of her eye, and would be able to devote himself to his own affairs without having to consider her.

It was in the autumn of 1941 that Elizabeth fell ill. Her heart was tired, but Dr. Huw Williams told her that there was nothing seriously wrong with it. She had merely overstrained it, and must take things easy for a few weeks. Sirius saw the doctor to his car, and asked him whether he had told the truth or merely said what would comfort the patient. After Sirius had repeated the question several times, the doctor understood, and assured him that he had spoken the truth, and emphasized the need for a long rest. In a week Elizabeth refused to stay in bed any longer, and insisted on taking up light jobs on the farm. This led to another collapse, and the whole cycle was repeated several times in spite of Sirius’s strong protest. It was obvious that Elizabeth would work herself to death. She seemed to be impelled by some obscure passion for self-expression through self-destruction in service of Sirius. The perplexed dog could not keep a constant watch over her unless he gave up his work entirely. In despair he wrote to Tamsy, but she had just had her second baby; she could find no one to look after her family and free her to nurse her mother. Sirius and Mrs. Pugh took turns with the invalid; but when at last Elizabeth was taken more seriously ill, and the doctor’s optimism had given way to exasperation and despair, it was suggested to Elizabeth that she had better have a real rest in a nursing home. She rejected the idea with

scorn. Very reluctantly Sirius now summoned Plaxy.

For several weeks Sirius and Plaxy and Mrs. Pugh kept a close watch on Elizabeth. The common task drew the girl and the dog closer to one another than they had ever been before. They were often together, but seldom alone together. This frequent compresence and infrequent intimacy generated in each a great longing for unrestrained talk, and an increasing sensibility towards each other’s slightest changes of mood. Both, of course, were mainly and anxiously concerned with the patient. Some exasperation was inevitable, but was tempered and indeed almost wholly silenced by the strong affection which both had felt for her since their infancy. Both were put to strain by the necessity of sacrificing their own urgent activities, perhaps for a very long time. Each knew that the other was strained, and the two were drawn closer by that knowledge.

Under Plaxy’s firm and loving treatment Elizabeth made good progress; but as her health improved she became increasingly restless. One day she insisted on dressing and going downstairs. It so happened that on the table there was an unopened newspaper. She picked it up and opened it. “BRITISH CRUISER SUNK,” said the main headline. It was the ship on which Maurice was serving. Owing to the fact that the Germans were the first to announce the sinking, the Admiralty had been forced to break their rule and publish the information before the next of kin had been told of the casualties. The shock of the news, and the suspense that followed it, killed Elizabeth before word came through that her son was among the survivors.

Plaxy, though “scarcely human,” though cat-like and fay, was human enough to have deep feelings for her mother, who had always shown special affection for her youngest child, and yet had built up with her an even freer, happier relationship than with the elder children; for she had learnt by her own past mistakes with them. Elizabeth’s death therefore hit Plaxy hard. Sirius too was greatly distressed, on his own account, and still more on hers. For himself, he was again strangely perplexed by this business of death. The dead Elizabeth kept talking to him. And it was not the Elizabeth that had just died, the over-strained and difficult Elizabeth; it was Elizabeth as she was in her prime. Again and again, with variations, she made or seemed to make a very intelligent contribution to his thoughts. She said, “Don’t puzzle your old head about it so! Minds like ours just aren’t clever enough to understand, and whichever way you decide you’re sure to be wrong. Don’t believe I still exist, for that would be false to your intellect; but don’t refuse the feeling of my presence in the universe, for that would be blind.”

Shared grief and common responsibility tended to bring Plaxy and Sirius into an ever closer intimacy. They now sank exhausted into mutual dependence. And there was much work to do together. With the aid of the family solicitor and a representative of the laboratory, they had to wind up the Trelone affairs. Obviously the house must be sold. But the decision to surrender the home in which they had been brought up together was momentous both to girl and dog, for it meant severing the remaining tangible link between them. They spent many hours of many days sorting out the contents of the house. All the furniture had to go, save the few pieces that Tamsy wanted for her own house, and the fewer that were to be given to Sirius, who must now be re-established at Caer Blai. Books, crockery, kitchen utensils, clothes, all the multifarious possessions of the dead parents, had to be sorted out. The property of the absent children must be separated from the rest, and packed up and dispatched. Plaxy’s own and Sirius’s own things must be collected and sorted. A great bonfire of sheer rubbish was made every morning, and carefully extinguished at night, because of the black-out. Photographs of the parents themselves, of their parents and relatives, of the four children and Sirius at all ages, of super-sheep-dogs, of holiday expeditions, of Sirius at work with sheep, all had to be looked at by dog and girl together, squatting on the floor of the dismantled sitting-room. All had to be talked over, laughed over, sighed over, and finally assigned either to the rubbish pile or to the collection of things too good to destroy.

When the labour was over, when the furniture was all gone, when there was nothing in the house but a few packing cases not yet dispatched and the few crocks and scraps which the two had been using for their meals; when the floors were bare board and the house was the mere shell of a home, Plaxy prepared a final meal for the two of them. It was lunch. She was to leave by train early in the afternoon, and he was to begin at once to catch up with arrears of work at the farm. They sat together on the floor of the empty sitting-room, and ate almost in silence. They had as a matter of course settled down in the spot by the fireplace where they had so often sat together during the past two decades. The old soft hearth-rug had gone. They sat on Plaxy’s mackintosh, spread on the floor boards. She leaned against a packing case instead of the vanished couch. The solemn little picnic was soon finished. Sirius had licked out the last drop of his last bowl of tea. Plaxy had stubbed her cigarette-end in her saucer. Both sat silent.

Suddenly Plaxy said, “I have been thinking hard,” And he, “So it seems, oh wise woman.” “I’ve been thinking about us,” she continued. “Mother was useful on the farm, wasn’t she?” He agreed, and wondered how they would manage without her. “The new land-girl,” he added, “is not a patch on the last. She tries to keep her hands soft.” “Suppose,” said Plaxy, looking hard at her toe, “well — would you like it if I stayed to help you?” Sirius was licking a cut on his paw. He stopped to say. “Wouldn’t I just! But that’s impossible.” He went on licking. “Well,” said Plaxy, “why shouldn’t I, if I want to? And I have decided that I do want to, very much. I don’t want to go, I want to stay, if you’ll let me.” He stopped licking, and looked up at her. “You can’t stay. It’s all arranged. And you don’t really want to stay. But it’s nice of you to think you do.” “But, Sirius, sweet, I do really want to, not for always, but for the present. I have thought it all out, right here. We’ll rent Tan-y-Voel.” This was the labourer’s cottage on Pugh’s land, where later I was to discover them. “It’ll be fine,” she cried brightly; then with sudden shyness, for he was gazing at her sadly, she added, “Or wouldn’t you like it?” He reached out and nuzzled into her neck. “You needn’t ask,” he said, “but you have a life of your own to lead. You can’t give it all up for a dog.” “But,” she answered, “I am sick of teaching, or rather trying to. I suppose I’m not really interested enough in the little brats. Perhaps I’m too interested in me. Anyhow, I want to live.” “Then what about Robert,” he said, “and being a mother, and all that?” She looked away and was silent for a while, then sighed. “He’s a dear. But — oh, I don’t know. Anyhow, we have agreed that I must be myself, and being myself just now means staying with you.”

In the end she had her way. They went straight off to tell the Pughs of the change, and announce that they intended to seize the empty cottage at once. Pugh was of course overjoyed, and with innocent mirth he remarked, “I congratulate you, Mr. Sirius, on your bride.” Plaxy coloured, and did not respond well to this sally; so that Pugh had to smooth matters over by saying, “Just an old farmer’s joke, Miss Plaxy. No offence, indeed.” Mrs. Pugh scolded him, “For shame, Llewelyn! You are a horrid old man, and you have a nasty mind like a bubbling black bog.” They all laughed.

Before the lorry came to transport the last load from Garth, Plaxy had opened one of the cases and taken out some bedding, towels and so on. She dumped the remaining crocks and pans into the one empty case. Together they made a list of essential furniture which must be fetched back from the store and sent to Tan-y-Voel. When the furniture removers returned, they were mildly annoyed at the change and the confusion, but Plaxy used all her charm, and they duly delivered the goods at the cottage.

Even a two-roomed cottage takes some settling into, and Plaxy spent most of the following day arranging their new life. She brushed out the two rooms, scrubbed the stone floors, cleaned the grate, improvised blackout curtains for the little windows, and bought such stores as were possible in war-time. In the evening Sirius returned from his work to find a smiling home and a smiling though rather exhausted Plaxy. The table was laid for her supper, and on the carpet beside her chair was Sirius’s customary “tablecloth” and bowl. Sirius had two distinct styles of feeding. In the wild he fed wild, on rabbits and hares and so on; in the house he was given porridge, soup, bread-and-milk, bones, crusts of bread, cake and a good deal of tea. At one time it had been very difficult to buy enough to feed him adequately, because of the rationing system; but Thomas had pulled wires and secured a special ration for him as a valuable experimental animal.

After the meal, when Plaxy had washed up, they sat together on the couch that had been rescued from the old home. They had been gay, but now a sadness settled on them. Sirius said, “This is not real. It is a very lovely dream. Presently I shall wake up.” And she, “Perhaps it will not last long, but it is real while it lasts. And there is a rightness in it. It had to be, to make us one in spirit for ever, whatever else may come. We shall he happy, never fear.” He kissed her cheek.

They were both tired after the day’s work, and very soon they were yawning. Plaxy lit a candle and put out the lamp. In the next room her familiar bed was awaiting her, and on the floor was Sirius’s old sleeping basket, a vast pan of wicker containing a circular mattress. Strange! They had been brought up together, child and puppy, sharing the same room; and even when they were grown up she had been thoroughly used to undressing before him without any self-consciousness; yet now, unexpectedly, she was shy.

At this point I cannot resist pausing to ask the reader a question. Does not Plaxy’s momentous decision to give up her career and live with Sirius need some explanation? Here was a young woman of outstanding charm, with many admirers, and one of them her accepted lover. She had taken up a teaching post which she filled with distinction, and in which she was finding a good opening for self-expression. Suddenly she gave up her work and practically broke off relations with her lover in order to join her life with the strange being who was her father’s most brilliant creation. Does it not seem probable that the underlying motive of this decision was the identification of Sirius with her father? Plaxy herself, now my wife, scorns this explanation, holding that it does not do justice to the power of Sirius’s own personality over her. Well, there is my theory, for what it is worth.

On the morning after the occupation of Tan-y-Voel, Plaxy began her apprenticeship on the farm. She cleaned out a pigsty, harnessed the horse, loaded muck into the cart and unloaded it on the manure heap. She also helped Sirius to attend to a sick sheep on the moor. Towards the end of the day she put in some hard work on the wilderness that was meant to be the cottage garden. In such style, with variations, the days passed. Her face took on the healthy glow that delighted me when in due season I discovered her. With mingled distress and pride she watched her hands go blistered, grime-ingrained, scratched, cut and hard. Mrs. Pugh taught her to milk. Pugh himself taught her to broadcast a field with oats, while the instrument which she insisted on calling the “sowing machine” was out of order. Always there were countless nameless jobs to do about the farm. Her main function, she said, was to save Sirius’s teeth, which were beginning to wear down with too much gripping of wood and iron. So far as possible he confined his attention to the sheep and the super-sheep-dogs, but there was no end to the number of small unexpected tasks which really called for hands but could most easily be disposed of at once by his own clumsy jaws. On the farm premises he was always, in spite of his painfully acquired skill with those unsuitable instruments, too pitifully handless. But on the moors he was in his clement. Plaxy greatly enjoyed the expeditions into the hills with Sirius and his canine pupils. Bounding through the bracken, he was a storm-tossed but seaworthy boat. Trotting around, giving orders to his pupils, he was a general and his charger all in one. When a sheep broke away and had to be retrieved, he would streak after it, belly to earth, like a torpedo.

In this new life there was almost no leisure, no time for reading, music, writing. Contact with the world beyond the hills was at a minimum. Expeditions to sheep sales were rare excitements. On these occasions both Sirius and Plaxy would accompany Pugh, she as Pugh’s unofficial land-girl. The bustle, the babble of Welsh voices, the clamour of sheep, the variety of human and canine types, the social atmosphere of the pubs, and of course the young men’s unconcealed admiration of this bright and humorously self-important, this forthcoming but rather queer land-girl (not in uniform)— all this Plaxy vastly enjoyed as a change from the seclusion of the farm.

Apart from these infrequent excursions, social intercourse was to be had only on expeditions to the village, and on visits to neighbouring farms to borrow or lend tools, or simply for friendly intercourse. Often Plaxy would tidy herself up and revert as far as possible to the gay young lady; and it was with deep peace of mind that she walked through the fields with the great sinewy beast at her side. With a careless, queenly self-confidence she accepted the inevitable admiration of the young farmers and shepherds, and sensed their puzzlement over her indefinable oddity.

After she had been with Sirius for several months, however, something happened which spoiled these social occasions for her. She was made to realize that, though she was so popular with many of the local people, there were some who were outraged by her living alone with the man-dog. Increasingly it was made difficult for her to be unselfconscious with Sirius in public. And her observed shyness with him fomented the salacious rumours.

The trouble began with a visit from a local nonconformist minister. This earnest young man took it upon himself to save Plaxy from damnation. He was simple enough to be impressed by the notion that Sirius was inspired by Satan, and he listened to the rumours of perverse relations between the dog and the girl. As the cottage lay within his sphere of responsibility, he felt it his duty to intervene. He timed his visit well. Plaxy had returned from the farm to prepare supper, and Sirius was still at work. Plaxy foresaw a late meal, but she treated the Reverend Mr. Owen Lloyd–Thomas with friendly ease. Indeed she made a point of being sweet to him, knowing that his good opinion counted. After beating about the bush for some time, he suddenly said, “Miss Trelone, it is my difficult duty as a minister of the Lord to speak to you on a very delicate matter. It is believed by simple people in the neighbourhood that your dog, or Mr. Pugh’s dog, is not merely an extraordinary animal but a spirit clothed in a dog’s flesh. And simple people, you know, sometimes go nearer to the truth than clever people. In spite of all the wonders of science, it may really be less false to say that the dog is possessed by a spirit than that it is just the work of man’s scientific skill. And if it is indeed possessed, then perhaps the spirit in the dog is of God, but perhaps it is of Satan. By their fruits ye shall know them.” He fell silent, cast a self-conscious glance at Plaxy, and fell to twisting the brim of his soft black hat. At last he continued, “It is felt by the neighbours, Miss Trelone, that for you to live alone with the animal is unseemly. It is believed that Satan has already snared you through the man-dog into sin. I do not know what the truth is. But I believe you are in danger. And as a minister I offer you advice. Change your way of living, even if only because it is an offence to the neighbours.”

According to the reverend young man’s reading of womanly nature, Plaxy should have blushed, either with innocent modesty or with guilty shame. If indeed she was guilty, then she might be expected either to confess with tears of penitence or to deny with self-righteous and unconvincing indignation. Her actual behaviour disconcerted him. For some time she just sat looking at him; then she rose and silently moved off into the minute larder. She came back with some potatoes, and sat down to peel them, saying, “Excuse me, won’t you, I must get the supper ready. We can talk while I do this. You see, I love Sirius. And to leave him alone now would be unkind. And it would hurt our love, because it would be a running away. Mr. Lloyd–Thomas, your religion is love. You must surely see that I can’t leave him.”

At that moment Sirius appeared in the doorway. He stood with his nostrils moving, to catch the smell of the visitor. Plaxy stretched out her arm to welcome him to her, and said. “Mr. Lloyd–Thomas thinks we ought not to live together, because you may be Satan dressed up as a dog, and perhaps you have taught me to live in sin.” She laughed. This was not a very tactful beginning, but tact had never been Plaxy’s strong suit. It is possible that if she had not made this remark their whole future would have been different. Lloyd–Thomas flushed, and said, “It is not good to jest about sin. I do not know whether you have done this thing, but I know now that your spirit is frivolous.” Sirius moved over to her, and she laid a hand on his back. He was still analysing the visitor’s smell. She felt the hair on his back rise against her hand. A very faint growl made her fear lest he should go wild. He advanced half a pace towards the cleric, but she clasped him round the neck with both arms. “Sirius!” she cried, “don’t be silly!” Lloyd–Thomas rose with careful dignity, saying, “This is not a good time for us to talk. Think over what I have said.” In the garden he turned, and saw through the open door Plaxy still holding Sirius. Girl and dog were staring at him. She bowed her head to the dog’s head, and laid her cheek to it.

When he had gone, Sirius said to Plaxy, “He smells as if he were in love with you. He smells a decent sort, really; but probably he would sooner see you dead than living in sin with me; just as McBane, I suspect, would rather see me dead than fail to squeeze every drop of information out of my body and mind. Morality and truth! The two most relentless divinities! I’m afraid we’re for it with Lloyd–Thomas sooner or later.”

Lloyd–Thomas’s sermons began to have obvious references to Plaxy and Sirius. He prayed for those who had been snared into unnatural vice. Some of his congregation were very receptive to the new minatory trend of his services. Little by little, among those who had no personal contact with Plaxy, there grew up a considerable movement of censure and indignation; and also anxiety, for would not the Lord punish the whole neighbourhood for harbouring the wicked couple? Fresh rumours seemed to sprout every day. Someone claimed that he had seen Plaxy swimming naked in a lonely llyn with the man-dog. This harmless story developed into unpublishable accounts of dalliance on the turf while they were basking in the sun before the bathe. A boy also reported that one Sunday he had peered through the hedge at Tan-y-Voel and seen Plaxy lying naked on the grass (“black as a nigger, she was, with the sun”), while the dog licked her from head to foot. The patriots and spy-hunters were also roused. It was affirmed that Sirius’s panniers contained a radio-set with which he signalled to enemy planes.

Sirius’s friends ridiculed these stories, or indignantly reprimanded those who spread them. Plaxy was still able to do her shopping in an atmosphere of friendly attentiveness. There were, however, a few unpleasant incidents. A village girl who worked for Mrs. Pugh on the farm was forbidden by her mother ever to enter Tan-y-Voel; and after a while she ceased to come to Caer Blai at all. Sometimes, when Plaxy entered a shop, conversation between shopkeeper and customers would suddenly cease. Some young hooligans, apparently in the hope of collecting evidence for scandal, haunted the spur of the moor overlooking the cottage. One evening, just before black-out time, a bold lad crept up to the window and peered into the lamp-lit room. Sirius with ferocious clamour chased him out of the garden and half-way to the main road.

These little incidents were of no great moment in themselves, but they were significant of a spreading movement of hostility. Plaxy began to be reluctant to go to the village. Both she and Sirius grew suspicious of callers. And between them there developed a rather tense emotional relationship, which alternated between reserve and tenderness.

Hitherto they had lived very happily. Their days were spent in hard work on the farm or away on the moors, often in cooperation upon the same task. Plaxy found a good deal to do in the cottage itself, cleaning and cooking, and there was always work in the little vegetable garden. The evenings they sometimes spent with the Pughs or at one or other of the neighbouring farms, where music often formed the medium of social intercourse. The musical Welsh were at first hostile to Sirius’s own unconventional creations, but his singing of human music won their applause. And in a few houses the more sensitive were becoming interested in his distinctively canine modes. But under the influence of scandal these social occasions were reduced. Far more often Plaxy and Sirius spent their evenings at home upon household chores, or singing in private the strange duets and solos that Sirius still occasionally conceived. Sometimes they would spend their evening with books. Sirius still took a deep delight in listening to prose and poetry read aloud by a good human voice. Often he would persuade Plaxy to read to him. And not infrequently he would suggest subtle modifications of tone or emphasis: for though his own reading was inevitably grotesque, his sensitive ear had detected many emotional cadences and changes of timbre, which human beings were apt to overlook until their attention was drawn to them.

As Plaxy and Sirius became more aware of the hostility and suspicion round about them, their relationship began to change. It became more passionate and less happy. Isolation, combined with contempt for the critics, drew girl and dog into closer intimacy, in fact into a manner of life which some readers may more easily condemn than understand. Plaxy herself, in spite of her fundamental joy in her love for Sirius, was increasingly troubled by a fear that she might irrevocably be losing touch with her own species, even that in this strange symbiosis with an alien creature she might he losing her very humanity itself. Sometimes, so she tells me, she would look at her own face in the little square mirror over the dressing-table, and feel a bewildering sense that it was not her face at all, but the face of the tyrant species that she had outraged. Then she would find herself in the same breath hating her unalterably human physiognomy and yet being half surprised and wholly thankful that it had not suffered a canine change.

This fear of ceasing to be human occasionally induced in her a dumb antagonism towards Sirius, which sprang not from any real sense of sin or even of indecorousness, for she was convinced that her behaviour was a fitting symbol of their deep spiritual union. No, the source of her infrequent fits of gloom was simply her consciousness of alienation from the world of normal human beings. The call of her kind was still strong in her, and she was tormented by her outlawry. The solemn taboos of humanity still dominated her through her unconscious nature, though consciously she had long since declared her independence of them. Once she said to Sirius, “I must indeed have become a bitch in a girl’s body, and so humanity has turned against me.” “No, no!” he answered. “You are always fully human, but just because you are also more than merely human, and I am more than merely canine, just because we are both in essence intelligent and sensitive beings, we can rise far above our differences, to reach across the gulf that separates us, and be together in this exquisite union of opposites.” Thus, in the rather naively formal diction that he was apt to use when he was speaking most earnestly, he tried to console her. In his mind there was no conflict over their intimacy. His love of her combined a dog’s devotion with human parity in comradeship, and blended the wolf’s over-mastering hunger with the respect of spirit for spirit.

At a later date both Plaxy and Sirius told me much about their life together at this time; but though after our marriage she urged me to publish all the facts for the light they throw on Sirius, consideration for her feelings and respect for the conventions of contemporary society force me to be reticent.

It was at such times that she would write those tortured letters to me, and by all sorts of devices contrived to have them posted far from home, lest I should track her down. For while she longed increasingly for human intimacy and human love, while she yearned to take up once more the threads of her life as a normal English girl, she clung with passion to the strange life and the strange love that fate had given her. It was clear from her letters that in the same breath she longed for me to take her away, and yet also dreaded the disruption of her life with Sirius.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30