Sirius, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 4

Youth

IN the foregoing chapter I should have written only about Sirius as a puppy, but in dealing with his disabilities and powers I was inevitably led on to speak of his later life. His serious musical adventures, for instance, did not begin till puppyhood was well over. I must now concentrate more definitely on his adolescence and early maturity, preparing the way for an account of that part of his life with which my own life became for a while closely entangled.

Already in adolescence Sirius was larger than most sheep-dogs. But though tall, he was at this time very slight and lanky, and it was often said that he had “overgrown his strength.” He was also far from courageous. His caution in his encounters with other dogs was increased by his discovery in sundry minor brawls that his large cranium made his head unwieldy and his seizing of his opponent rather less slick than it might have been. This weakness was largely overcome when he reached full maturity, for constant exercise developed the muscles of his neck sufficiently to cope with his extra weight of head. In youth, however, he was no match for the smaller but more experienced collies that tended the sheep. One of these, unfortunately a near neighbour, formed a habit of persecuting Sirius whenever possible. There came a day when he was ignominiously chased home by this animal, who bore the appropriate name Diawl Du, black devil. It was the school-girl Plaxy who seized the yard broom and drove off the black devil with blows and shrill curses. Later Sirius heard Plaxy telling her mother about the incident. She ended the story with, “I’m afraid poor Sirius hasn’t much spunk.” Sirius did not know the word “spunk,” but he detected in Plaxy’s voice, which she intended to be merely amused, a note of deep mortification. He sneaked off to find a dictionary. With some trouble and much use of his wet tongue for turning the “India paper” pages he found the word; and he didn’t like the idea that Plaxy thought him lacking in spunk. For “spunk” according to the Oxford Concise Dictionary meant “courage, mettle, spirit, anger,” and was connected with “spark.” Somehow he must regain Plaxy’s respect, but how?

That same day Plaxy seemed to turn her attention away from Sirius towards the young cat, Trix, successor to Tommy. This impulse to make much of cats was a common reaction with her when she was at all alienated from Sirius. She would cuddle Trix in front of him and remark on her lovely tortoise-shell coat or her dainty nose. Also, Sirius noted, she would become strangely catlike herself, sitting about in lofty silence and indolence, “hugging herself,” as he sometimes put it.

Shortly after his defeat by Diawl Do, Sirius got himself into serious disgrace over Trix. The cat was contemplating a leap into Plaxy’s lap when Sirius lost control of himself and attacked his minute rival with noisy rage. She arched her back and stood firm, slashing Sirius’s face, so that he retreated, yelping. Plaxy’s scream turned into a laugh. Reviling Sirius for a bully and a coward, she snatched up Trix and lavished endearments on her. Sirius slunk away in shame and misery.

A fortnight later it was remarked in the family that Sirius had developed an unexpected craze for worrying an old spade-handle which had been lying in the outhouse. Whenever possible he would persuade some sturdy human being, preferably Maurice, who was home from boarding school, to join in the game. Boy and dog would hang on to opposite ends of the piece of ash and swing hither and thither about the garden, each trying to shake off his opponent. Towards the end of the holidays Maurice remarked, “Sirius is getting damned strong. You can’t tear the thing from him; you can’t twist it from him.” All this time Sirius had been carefully avoiding Diawl Du, but at last he felt ready. Though he was confident that his grip was much more powerful than it had been, and his head movements quicker and more precise, he would not trust to physical powers alone; cunning must be his mainstay. His strategy was planned with great care. He studied his chosen battle-ground, and rehearsed the crucial action which was to give him victory in the very scene of his former discomfiture, and under the eyes of Plaxy.

One afternoon when Plaxy had returned from school he hurried over to Glasdo, the farm where Diawl Du lived, and ostentatiously hung about till his enemy issued like a black avalanche from the farmyard gate. Sirius at once took to his heels, bolting for home. To reach the front door of Garth, which was ostensibly his objective, he had to make a right-angled turn through the yard gate. (Garth, it will be remembered, was an old farm-house.) As he checked himself to do this and swing through the gate, he glanced behind to see that Diawl Du was at the correct distance. Then he raced round the yard in a great curve, arriving back at the gate, but at right angles to his original course through it, and hidden from Diawl Du by the wall. At that moment the collie swerved through the gate in pursuit, and Sirius with great momentum crashed into him on the left flank. Diawl Du rolled over with Sirius on top of him. Sirius gripped his throat, his teeth finding a much firmer hold than on the hard old spade handle. He hung on desperately, fearing that if he once let go the superior skill of the other dog would be his undoing. The collie’s throttled screams and Sirius’s own continuous muffled growl soon brought out the inmates of the house. Out of the corner of his eye, as he rolled over and over with his enemy, Sirius caught sight of Plaxy. The warm blood seeped into his mouth and threatened to choke him, but he hung on, coughing for breath. The saltness and odour of Diawl Du’s blood, he afterwards said, turned him mad. Some pent up energy and fury in him was released for the first time. At the height of the struggle the thought flashed upon him, “This is real life, this is what I am for, not all that human twaddle.” He gripped and tugged and worried, while Diawl Du’s struggles became weaker, and the horrified human beings did their best to loosen his grip. They beat him, they threw pepper in his face so that he sneezed violently, but he did not let go. They fell upon him in a mass to hold him quiet while they tried to prise his jaws open with a stick. His own blood mixed with the collie’s in his mouth, and he was surprised at the different flavour of it. Nothing that the family could do made him loosen his grip. Plaxy, desperate with horror, did her best to force her hands into his mouth. Then suddenly beside herself, she screamed. At last Sirius let go, and Diawl Du lay inert on the ground.

The victor stalked away, licking his blood-slippery lips, his spine still bristling. After taking a drink at the trough under the yard pump, he lay down with his chin on his paws to watch the proceedings. Elizabeth sent the children into the house for warm water, disinfectants, bandages, while she examined the wound. Presently Plaxy was holding the unconscious dog’s head, while Elizabeth applied a large cotton-wool pad and wound the bandage round his neck. After a while Diawl Du showed signs of life, moving his head slightly in Plaxy’s hands. He produced the ghost of a growl, which ended in a whimper. Then they carried him inside and laid him before the kitchen fire with a drink of water beside him.

No one took any notice of Sirius, who still lay in the yard, stiff and sore; triumphant, but also rather bewildered and resentful. If she wanted him to have spunk, why didn’t she come and praise him and pet him?

Presently Elizabeth came and started up the little car. When she had backed it into the road, she went in and, with Maurice’s help, brought out Diawl Du in her arms, while the others prepared a place for him on the back seat of the car. When he was comfortably laid on a rug on the seat, she drove off to Glasdo.

The children turned towards Sirius. “Gosh!” said Maurice, “you’ve done it this time!” And Tamsy, “They’ll have you shot as a dangerous animal.” Giles contributed, “It was just murder.” Plaxy said nothing but “Oh, Sirius!” He stared at her in silence, trying to analyse her tone of voice. Mainly it spoke reproach, and horror. But there was something else in it, perhaps exultation at his prowess, perhaps mere human superiority. Anyhow, what did he care? He lay still for a little longer with chin on paws, staring at Plaxy. At that moment Trix, the cat, came and rubbed herself against Plaxy’s legs. Plaxy picked her up and hugged her. Sirius rose, his back once more bristling, and with a low noise between a snort and a growl he stalked with conscious dignity out through the gate.

The fight with Diawl Du was a turning point in the career of Sirius. He had tasted victory. He had got his own back. Never again would he be cowed by half-wit persecutors. But something more had happened than a calculated triumph. His deeper nature, his unconscious nature, had found expression. He had discovered something far more satisfying than human sophistication. These thoughts were not clear in his mind at the time; but looking back on the incident from a much later period, this was the form that he gave them.

Elizabeth warned him that, if he attempted murder again, there might be serious trouble. “Remember,” she said, “to outsiders you are only a dog. You have no legal rights at all. If someone decides that you are a nuisance and shoots you, he won’t be had up for murder; he’ll merely get into trouble for destroying a bit of our property. Besides,” she added, “how could you do it? It was horrible, just animal.” Sirius gave no response to this taunt; but taunt he felt it to be. He could both smell and hear her contemptuous hostility. Probably some suppressed and unacknowledged hate for her canine foster-child had found a sudden outlet. Sirius saw the folly and danger of his action clearly enough, but her last remark filled him with rage. In his heart he said, “To hell with them all!” Outwardly he gave no sign that he was even listening. He was sitting in front of the kitchen fire, and after Elizabeth’s taunt he cocked up a hind leg and carefully, ostentatiously, groomed his private parts, a habit which he often used with great effect to annoy his women folk.

As the months piled up into years Sirius’s self-confidence in relation to other dogs was greatly augmented. His increasing weight and strength combined with superior intelligence to give him not only freedom from persecution but acknowledged superiority over all the sheep-dogs of the countryside, who were all much smaller than the young Alsatian. His combination of size and cunning put him in a class apart. As for “spunk,” the truth seems to be that throughout his life he remained at heart a timid creature who rose to a display of boldness only in desperation or when the odds were favourable, or on those rare occasions when the dark god of his blood took possession of him.

I cannot deal with his relations with animals of his own biological type without giving some account of his sexual adventures. Long before the fight with Diawl Du he had begun to be perplexedly interested in any bitch in heat that he happened to come across. Mostly they would have nothing to do with him, regarding him, presumably, as an overgrown puppy. But there was one large and rather elderly black bitch who seemed to find the callow young giant very attractive. With her he periodically indulged in a great deal of desultory love play. Thomas observed the antics of the couple with keen interest, because it soon became obvious that Sirius lacked the ordinary dog’s intuitive aptitude for making full use of his opportunities. The two animals would race around, tumbling over one another in mock battle, obviously relishing the delectable contact of their bodies. But after a while Sirius would stand about foolishly wagging his tail, wondering what to do next. This aimlessness was of course a normal stage in the sexual development of dogs, but normally it soon led to copulation. Sirius, however, who as it happened had never observed another canine pair copulating, seemed permanently at a loss. It was not till he came upon his own beloved in the act of being taken by another dog, far younger than himself but more instinctive and more physiologically mature, that he discovered what it was that his body wanted to do.

Henceforth his amours were brought to a point in the normal manner. Physiologically he was still merely in the “school-boy” phase, and not very attractive to mature bitches. Nor was sex at this stage an obsessive passion with him. It was more important as a symbol of maturity than as an end in itself. Its natural seductiveness was much enhanced by its being “the done thing” for grown-up dogs. In comparison with Plaxy and even the elder children Sirius seemed sexually precocious, simply because his unrestricted amours afforded him experience and technique, while to the children everything of the sort remained for a long while almost unexplored territory.

In one respect Sirius found his love affairs miserably unsatisfactory, throughout his life. For the beloved of the hour, however delectable in odour and appearance and in bodily contact, was invariably from his point of view something less than a half-wit. She could not speak, she could not understand his spoken endearments. She could not share the adventures of his wakening mind. And when her heat was over she became devastatingly frigid and unattractive. The fragrance was gone; the moron mentality remained.

Thomas was greatly interested in Sirius’s accounts of his love affairs; about which, by the way, he showed no reticence. To the question, “What is it that attracts you in her?” young Sirius could only reply, “She smells so lovely.” Later in life he was able to say more. Some years later I myself discussed the matter with him, and he said, “Of course it’s mostly the luscious smell of her. I can’t possibly make you understand the power of it, because you humans are so bad at smells. It’s as though your noses were not merely feeble but colour-blind. But think of all that your poets have ever said about the delectable curves and colours of the beloved, and how her appearance seems to express a lovely spirit (often deceptively), and then imagine the whole thing done in terms of fragrance. Morwen’s fragrance when she wants me is like the scent of the morning, with a maddening tang in it for which there are no words. It is the scent of a very gentle and fragrant spirit, but unfortunately the spirit of Morwen is nine-tenths asleep, and always will be. But she smells like what she would be if she were really awake.”

“But what about her appearance?” I said. “Doesn’t that attract you?” “It attracts me a lot,” he replied, “but ordinary dogs take little notice of it. With them it’s smell that counts, and of course the touch of her, too. But it’s the smell that enthrals one, the maddening, stinging, sweet smell, that soaks right through your body, so that you can’t think of anything else day or night. But her looks? Yes I certainly do care about her looks. She’s so sleek and slim and slick. Also her looks help a lot to express the spirit that she might have been if she had been properly awake, like me. But then you see I have been made to notice appearances so much by being with you sharp-eyed creatures. All the same, even for me her voice is really more important than her looks. She can’t talk, of course; but she can say the sweetest, tenderest things with the tone and rhythm of her voice. Of course she doesn’t really and clearly mean them. She says in her sleep, so to speak, things that she would mean if she were awake.”

But to return to Sirius’s adolescence. Elizabeth had brought up her children in the modern tradition. Living in the country they were bound to learn a bit about sex from watching beasts and birds. But since there was none of the still very common guiltiness attached to sex in their minds, their interest in sex was very desultory, and they took a surprisingly long time to tumble to it. When Sirius achieved his first love affair, the two younger members of the family, who were not yet at boarding school, suspected nothing; but presently he began to talk about it with obvious pride. Elizabeth had to use all her tact and humour to establish the convention that what was perfectly right and proper for Sirius was not to be indulged in by human children until they were grown up; and that anyhow one didn’t talk about these things outside the family; and above all, not in Wales. The whole affair, she confessed to Thomas, was really rather awkward, and she only hoped she hadn’t done more harm than good.

Plaxy had of course already had numerous childhood romances. Very early in her schooldays she had been violently in love with a little Welsh girl at the village school. Whether this should be regarded as a sexual sentiment or not, it was certainly an obsession. Sirius, for the first time in his life, found himself unwanted. Plaxy suddenly had no time for the games they used to play when school and homework were over; for she had always promised to do something with Gwen. She would not let him come with her when she went out with her friend, for (she said) Gwen would soon find out that Sirius could talk; and it was the whole family’s most sacred taboo that outsiders must not discover yet that Sirius was something more than a super-sheep-dog. This was the secret which they had learnt to cherish as a tribal mystery. No one but the six members of the family knew about it, except Kate, who had long ago been accepted into the tribe. The other two members of the domestic staff, Mildred the nursemaid and the local girl, had both been regretfully dismissed in order that the secret might not be endangered. Sirius therefore saw the force of Plaxy’s argument; but something in her voice told him that she was glad to have such a plausible excuse for leaving him behind. The sudden loss of Plaxy’s companionship and confidence weighed heavily on the puppy. He did nothing but mope about the house and garden waiting for her return. When she arrived he treated her with effusive affection, but in her response there was often a note of absentmindedness or even indifference.

After a while this early romance faded out, and Sirius was reinstated. But other romances followed. When she was twelve Plaxy lost her heart to the local blacksmith’s boy, Gwilim, who was eighteen. This was a one-sided affair, and Plaxy saw little of him. She made Sirius her confidant, and he comforted her by protesting that Gwilim must be stupid not to love such a nice girl. Once he said, “Anyhow, Plaxy, I love you.” She hugged him and said, “Yes, I know, and I love you. But I do love Gwilim. And you see he’s my kind, and you’re not. I love you differently; not less, but differently.”

It was while Plaxy was pining for her brawny young blacksmith that Sirius himself began to be seriously interested in the females of his own kind. Suddenly Plaxy found that her faithful confidant, who had always been ready to listen and sympathize, save during brief hunting expeditions, was no longer available. Often when she came back from school he was nowhere to be found. He failed to turn up either for homework or games or even meals. Or if he was present, he was mentally far away, and perfunctory in his sympathy. Once when she was telling him how marvellously Gwilim swung the hammer on to the red-hot iron, and how he smiled at her afterwards, Sirius suddenly sprang to his feet, stood for a moment sniffing the air, then bolted. Bitterly mortified, she said to herself, “He’s not a real friend, after all. He’s just a brute beast.” (This expression she had recently learnt at school.) “He doesn’t really understand, he doesn’t really care.” All this she knew to be quite untrue.

After her intermittent and always unrequited passion for Gwilim had dragged on for eighteen months, causing her much sweet sorrow and self-importance, she happened to come one day upon Sirius in the very act of love with his fragrant darling of the moment. On one occasion recently she had seen two dogs behaving in this odd way, but she had not seen Sirius doing it. She was surprised to find that it was a horrid shock to her. She hurried away, feeling unreasonably outraged and lonely.

It was two or three years after the affair with Gwilim that she made her first conquest. Conwy Pritchard, the postmaster’s son, was a much more responsive lover than the always friendly but never sentimental Gwilim. Conwy had a fight with another boy about her. This was very thrilling. She let herself be wholly monopolized by him. Sirius was once more neglected. When he himself happened to have an affair on, or was crazy about hunting, he did not mind at all. At other times he was often very lonely.

Moreover, during this enthralling intimacy with Conwy, Plaxy’s manner to Sirius sometimes showed an unwonted harshness. It was as though she had not merely forgotten about him, but resented his existence. Once he came upon the youthful lovers walking in a lane, hand in hand. When she saw him, Plaxy withdrew her hand and said in the way one speaks to a mere dog, “Go home, Sirius!” Conwy remarked, “Why does your father have to breed these fat-headed brutes?” Plaxy laughed nervously, and said in a rather squeaky voice, “Oh, but Sirius is a nice dog, really. Now off with you, Sirius. We don’t want you now.” While the dog stood still in the road, trying to analyse Plaxy’s tone, to discover her precise emotional state, Conwy made a move as though to pick up a stone, and shouted, “Go home, you tyke.” The strong silky mane rose along Sirius’s neck and shoulders, and he stalked ominously towards Conwy, with head down, ears back, and the ghost of a snarl. Plaxy cried out in a startled voice, “Sirius! Don’t be crazy!” He looked at her coldly, then turned and walked off down the lane.

That evening Plaxy tried hard to make friends with Sirius, but he would not respond. At last she said, and he could tell that she was nearly in tears, “I’m terribly sorry about this afternoon. But what could I do? I had to pretend you were just an ordinary dog, hadn’t I?” His reply disconcerted her. “You wish I really was one, don’t you!” A tear spilled out of her eye as she answered. “Oh, Sirius, I don’t. But I’m growing up, and I must be like other girls.” “Of course,” he answered, “just as I must be like other dogs, even though I’m not really one of them, and there’s no one of my sort in the whole world.” He began to move off, but she suddenly seized him and hugged him, and said, “Oh, oh, you and I will be friends always. Even if each of us wants to be away living another life sometimes, we’ll always, always, come back to one another afterwards, and tell about it.” “If it could be like that,” he said, “I should not be lonely even when you were away.” She smiled and fondled him. “Plaxy,” he said, “in spite of you being a girl and me a dog, you are nearest of all creatures to lonely me.” Sniffing lightly at her neck, he added, “And the smell of you is more lovely really than the crazy-making scents of bitches.” Then with his little whimpering laugh he said, “Nice human bitch!” Plaxy blushed, but she too laughed. She silently considered the phrase; then said, “If Conwy called me a bitch he’d mean something horrid, and I’d never speak to him again. When you say it, I suppose it’s a compliment.” “But you are a bitch,” he protested. “You’re a bitch of the species Homo sapiens, that Thomas is always talking about as though it was a beast in the Zoo.”

After the incident in the lane, Plaxy’s affair with Conwy went all awry. She saw him in a new light. He was an attractive enough human animal, but he was nothing more. Apart from his looks and his confident, irresistible love-making, there was nothing to him. The dog Sirius was far more human.

For a while Plaxy and Sirius maintained a very close intimacy. She even persuaded him to walk to school in the morning and bring her back in the afternoon, “to keep Conwy from being a nuisance.” Indeed the two were always together, and never at a loss for talk. When Plaxy went to a party at the village school, where there was to be dancing, Sirius was of course lonely and bored, but he did not really mind. She would come back. When Sirius went off for the day with Thomas, it did not matter. Plaxy was lonely, but busy. And when he came back he would tell her all about it. Even when he went crazy over a new bitch she did not fundamentally mind. She was secretly and unexpectedly jealous; but she laughed at herself, and she kept her jealousy hidden. His love affairs, she told herself, were no concern of hers, and they did not really matter. Anyhow they were soon over; and she herself was beginning to be interested in a boy she had met at the dance, a young student, on holiday from Bangor.

At this time Plaxy was already (so I was told) developing that rather queer gracefulness which became so striking in her maturity. Whether by native composition or by constant companionship with a non-human creature, or both, she earned the remark of the local doctor’s wife, “That child is going to be a charmer, but somehow she’s not quite human.” At school she was often called “Pussy,” and there was indeed a cat-like quality about her. Her soft hair and very large greenish blue eyes, her rather broad face, with its little pointed chin and flat nose, were obviously feline; so was her deliberate, loose-limbed walk. Sometimes when she was moody, and inaccessible to her own kind, her mother would call her “The cat that walked by itself.” Not till long after I had married her did I tell her my own theory of her peculiar grace. It was, of course, the influence of Sirius, I said, that had created her “scarcely human” manner; but it was her latent antagonism to Sirius that had turned that manner cat-like. It was this character that enthralled him and exasperated him, and indeed all her admirers, from Conwy Pritchard to myself. There was one characteristic about her which particularly suggested an unconscious protest against Sirius, one which tended to be exaggerated whenever she was in conflict with him. This was the extraordinary delicacy and precision of the movements of her hands, both in practical operations and in gesture. It was as though her consciousness of herself was chiefly centred in her hands, and to a lesser degree in her eyes. This character of elegant “handedness” was something far stronger than mere felinity. It was reminiscent of those Javanese dancers who use their hands with such exquisite effect. It was at once human and “parahuman,” so that she seemed to me not so much cat as fay. She was indeed at once cat, fawn, dryad, elf, witch.

This description really applies to Plaxy in her early maturity, when I first met her; no doubt in childhood her peculiar charm was only nascent. But even at fifteen or sixteen the “scarcely human” grace was appearing, and was strongly attractive to the young males of her own species.

It was in this period, in fact when Plaxy was sixteen, that Elizabeth suggested to Thomas that it was high time for the child to go to boarding school. The others had gone at a much earlier age. Plaxy had been kept back partly to be an intelligent companion for Sirius. “But now,” said Elizabeth, “she’s much too wrapped up in him. She won’t grow up properly this way. She’s cloistered here in this lonely place. She needs to see more of her own kind.” Thomas had been secretly planning not to send Plaxy to boarding school at all, partly for Sirius’s sake, but also because the other three, he felt, had been rather deadened by it. “Cloistered!” he cried, “what about that damned nunnery where Tamsy was?” Elizabeth admitted that it had turned out rather badly, and added, “Anyhow, I thought we might send Plaxy to a more modern place, preferably co-educational. She doesn’t mix enough with the boys.”

Strange, or perhaps not strange at all, that both parents, though consciously modern in outlook, and on friendly terms with their children, were kept completely in the dark about their children’s love affairs, They scarcely guessed that such things occurred!

I am inclined to think that there was another reason why Thomas was reluctant to send Plaxy away from home, a reason which, I suspect, Thomas himself did not recognize. Perhaps my guess is wrong, but on the few occasions when I saw father and daughter together, I felt that behind his detached and ostentatiously “scientific” interest in her lay a very strong feeling for his youngest child. And I suspect that he could not bring himself to face week-ends at Garth in her absence. Plaxy, on her side, was always rather aloof from her father, though quite friendly with him. She sometimes teased him about his mannerisms, for instance his habit of pursing his lips when he was puzzled. She was never infected by his passion for science, but when he was criticized she sometimes defended him with surprising ardour. For this reason, and in the light of subsequent events, it may be inferred that Thomas’s submerged passion for her was reciprocated. Yet many years later, when Plaxy and I were married, and I was planning out this biography of Sirius with her, she ridiculed my suggestion that there was any strong feeling between her and her father, arguing that, like so many amateur psychologists, I was “always looking for a parent complex.”

This book is about Sirius, not Plaxy. I should not mention the problem of Plaxy’s relation with Thomas did I not feel that it may throw some light on her extraordinarily deep, though conflicting, feelings about Sirius, who was Thomas’s crowning work, and the apple of his eye.

However this may be, Thomas was not easily persuaded to let Plaxy go to boarding school. When at last he agreed in principle, and both parents began to search for a suitable school, he found weighty objections against all of them, However, in the end he accepted a certain co-educational and temperately modern establishment, situated conveniently near Cambridge.

The whole matter had, of course, been discussed with Plaxy herself, who was not easily reconciled to the prospect of what she called “going to prison.” So great an upheaval in her life was bound to intimidate her. Moreover the thought came to her, “What will Sirius do without me?”

As though answering this unexpressed question, her mother said, “We think it’s time for Sirius to get away for a bit too. He is to begin learning to be a sheep-dog.”

Plaxy was in the end reconciled to going; and once she had made up her mind to it, she found herself sometimes strangely eager. This eagerness she could not help tracing to the prospect of being wholly a normal girl among other girls and boys. Evidently she was already suffering from a serious conflict over Sirius.

It was Thomas who talked to Sirius about the great change that was being planned. He began by saying that the time seemed to have come for Sirius to have an active life away from home. “I know quite well, of course, that I have no right to treat you as a mere dog, and that you yourself must settle your career; but you are young. In physical and mental growth, as in years, you are level with Plaxy, about sixteen. So the advice of an older mind may be helpful. Naturally I have my own ideas about your future. You are quite as intelligent as most human adolescents, and you have special advantages. I see you becoming one of the world’s great animal psychologists and working with my crowd at Cambridge. But you mustn’t get into the limelight yet. It would be very bad for you; and anyhow you have not had the right training yet, and of course mentally you are still too young. I think what you need now is a whole-time job as a sheep-dog, say for a year. I’ll put you across as my ‘super-super-sheep-dog.’ I think I can fix you up with Pugh, and he will certainly treat you decently. You’ll have a hard life, of course, but you need that. And the whole experience should be interesting, and very useful to you later on. You must be careful not to give it away that you can talk; but you have had some practice at that game already. I’m afraid the job will be terribly dull at times, but most jobs are. For intellectual interest you will have to depend on your own resources. There’ll be no chance of reading, but you will be able to make some very interesting observations of animal and human behaviour.”

Sirius listened intently to this long harangue as he walked with Thomas on the crest of the Moel. At last he spoke, slowly and carefully; for Thomas was less practised than the others at understanding him. “Yes,” he said, “I’m ready to have a shot at it. Do you think I should be able to come home fairly often?”

“Oh yes,” Thomas replied, in an altered voice. “You probably haven’t yet heard that Plaxy is going to boarding school. I’ll tell Pugh the whole family will be very disappointed if you are not with us a lot during the holidays, because you are the family-dog, now that Gelert is dead. Pugh will arrange that all right.” He added, “I’m afraid you and Plaxy will miss one another badly at first. But you will both get used to it. And after all you must live your lives separately some day, so you had better begin practising now.”

“Yes, of course,” said Sirius, but his tail drooped and he fell silent for a long time.

In fact only once did he speak. He suddenly asked, “Why did you make only one of me? It’s going to be lonely being me.”

Thomas told him that there had been a litter of “four of you,” and that he alone had survived. “We have tried again many times,” he said, “It’s fairly easy to produce the Gelert sort, but you are a very different kettle of fish. We have two promising puppies coming on now, but they are too young yet for us to size up their powers. And there’s a super-chimp, though of course she’s no good to you. She’s a problem, sometimes a nitwit and sometimes too clever by half.”

There was always a great hustle in the house when a child was being made ready for school, When it was the child’s first term, the preparations were even more prolonged. Clothes had to be bought or made. Books, writing materials, sports gear, had all to be procured. As the day approached, Plaxy became more and more absorbed in her urgent affairs. Sirius wondered at her cheerfulness. It was supposed to be a gallant pose in the face of impending sorrow, but often it “smelt” genuine. There was little for him to do in the preparations, save for occasional messages, so he had far too much time to brood on the future, Plaxy’s cheerfulness was, indeed, partly a cloak to cover her desolation at the prospect of leaving home and all that she loved. Had she been younger she might not have felt the break so badly. On the morning of her departure she happened to meet Sirius alone on the landing. She surprised him by dropping her bundle of clothes and kneeling down to hug him. With schoolgirl sentimentality but with

underlying sincerity of feeling, she said, “Whatever becomes of me I shall always belong to you. Even when I have been unkind to you I belong to you. Even if — even if I fall in love with someone and marry him some day, I shall belong to you. Why did I not know it properly until today?” He said, “It is I that am yours until I die. I have known it ever so long — since I bit you.” Looking into his grey eyes and fondling the dense growth on his shoulder, she said, “We are bound to hurt one another so much, again and again. We are so terribly different.” “Yes,” he said. “But the more different, the more lovely the loving.”

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