There’s a gentleman of France — better met by choice than chance, Where there’s time to turn aside and space to flee — He is born and bred and made for the cattle-droving trade, And they call him Monsieur Bouvier de Brie. ‘What — Brie?’ ‘Yes, Brie.’ ‘Where those funny cheeses come from?’ ‘Oui! Oui! Oui! But his name is great through Gaul as the wisest dog of all, And France pays high for Bouvier de Brie.’ ‘De Brie?’ ‘C’est lui. And, if you read my story — you will see What one loyal little heart thought of Life and Love and Art, And notably of Bouvier de Brie —— “My friend the Vicomte Bouvier de Brie.”’
NOTHING could prevent my adored Mother from demanding at once the piece of sugar which was her just reward for every Truffle she found. My revered Father, on the other hand, contented himself with the strict practice of his Art. So soon as that Pierre, our Master, stooped to dig at the spot indicated, my Father moved on to fresh triumphs.
From my Father I inherit my nose, and, perhaps, a touch of genius. From my Mother a practical philosophy without which even Genius is but a bird of one wing.
In appearance? My Parents come of a race built up from remote times on the Gifted of various strains. The fine flower of it today is small — of a rich gold, touched with red; pricked and open ears; a broad and receptive brow; eyes of intense but affable outlook, and a Nose in itself an inspiration and unerring guide. Is it any wonder, then, that my Parents stood apart from the generality? Yet I would not make light of those worthy artisans who have to be trained by Persons to the pursuit of Truffles. They are of many stocks and possess many virtues, but not the Nose — that gift which is incommunicable.
Myself? I am not large. At birth, indeed, I was known as The Dwarf; but my achievements early won me the title of The Abbé. It was easy. I do not recall that I was ever trained by any Person. I watched, imitated, and, at need, improved upon, the technique of my Parents among the little thin oaks of my country where the best Truffles are found; and that which to the world seemed a chain of miracles was, for me, as easy as to roll in the dust.
My small feet could walk the sun up and down across the stony hill-crests where we worked. My well-set coat turned wet, wind, and cold, and my size enabled me to be carried, on occasion, in my Master’s useful outside pocket.
My companions of those days? At first Pluton and Dis — the solemn, dewlapped, black, mated pair who drew the little wooden cart whence my master dispensed our Truffles at the white Château near our village, and to certain shopkeepers in the Street of the Fountain where the women talk. Those Two of Us were peasants in grain. They made clear to me the significance of the flat round white Pieces, and the Thin Papers, which my Master and his Mate buried beneath the stone by their fireplace. Not only Truffles but all other things, Pluton told me, turn into Pieces or Thin Papers at last.
But my friend of friends; my preceptor, my protector, my life-long admiration; was Monsieur le Vicomte Bouvier de Brie — a Marshal of Bulls whom he controlled in the stony pastures near the cottage. There were many sheep also, with whom neither the Vicomte nor I was concerned. Mutton is bad for the Nose, and, as I have reason to know, for the disposition.
He was of race, too —‘born’ as I was — and so accepted me when, with the rash abandon of puppyhood, I attached myself to his ear. In place of abolishing me, which he could have done with one of his fore-paws, he lowered me gently between both of them, so that I lay blinking up the gaunt cliff of his chest into his unfathomable eyes, and ‘Little bad one!’ he said. ‘But I prophesy thou wilt go far!’
Here, fenced by those paws, I would repair for my slumbers, to avoid my enemies or to plague him with questions. And, when he went to the Railway Station to receive or despatch more Bulls, I would march beneath his belly, hurling infantile insults at the craven doggerie of the Street of the Fountain. After I was expert in my Art, he would talk to me of his own, breaking off with some thunder of command to a young Bull who presumed to venture too near the woods where our Truffles grow, or descending upon him like hail across walls which his feet scorned to touch.
His strength, his audacity, overwhelmed me. He, on his side, was frankly bewildered by my attainments. ‘But how — how, little one, is it done, your business?’ I could not convey to him, nor he to me, the mystery of our several Arts. Yet always unweariedly he gave me the fruits of his experience and philosophy.
I recall a day when I had chased a chicken which, for the moment, represented to me a sufficiently gross Bull of Salers. There seemed a possibility of chastisement at the hands of the owner, and I refuged me beneath my friend’s neck where he watched in the sun. He listened to my foolish tale, and said, as to himself, ‘These Bulls of mine are but beef fitted with noses and tails by which one regulates them. But these black hidden lumps of yours which only such as you can unearth — that is a business beyond me! I should like to add it to my repertoire.’
‘And I,’ I cried (my second teeth were just pushing), ‘I will be a Driver of Bulls!’
‘Little one,’ he responded with infinite tenderness, ‘here is one thing for us both to remember. Outside his Art, an Artist must never dream.’
About my fifteenth month I found myself brother to four who wearied me. At the same time there was a change in my Master’s behaviour. Never having had any regard for him, I was the quicker to notice his lack of attention. My Mother, as always, said, ‘If it is not something, it is sure to be something else.’ My Father simply, ‘At all hazards follow your Art. That can never lead to a false scent.’
There came a Person of abominable odours to our cottage, not once but many times. One day my Master worked me in his presence. I demonstrated, through a long day of changing airs, with faultless precision. After supper, my Master’s Mate said to him, ‘We are sure of at least two good workers for next season — and with a dwarf one never knows. It is far off, that England the man talks of. Finish the affair, Pierril.’
Some Thin Papers passed from hand to hand. The Person then thrust me into his coat-pocket (Ours is not a breed to be shown to all) and there followed for me alternations of light and dark in stink-carts: a period when my world rose and rolled till I was sick; a silence beside lapping water under stars; transfer to another Person whose scent and speech were unintelligible; another flight by stink-cart; a burst of sunrise between hedges; a scent of sheep; violent outcries and rockings: finally, a dissolution of the universe which projected me through a hedge from which I saw my captor lying beneath the stink-cart where a large black-and-white She bit him with devotion.
A ditch led me to the shelter of a culvert. I composed myself within till the light was suddenly blocked out by the head of that very She, who abused me savagely in Lingua canina. [My Father often recommended me never to reply to a strange She.] I was glad when her Master’s voice recalled this one to her duties, and I heard the clickety of her flock’s feet above my head.
In due time I issued forth to acquaint myself with this world into which I had been launched. It was new in odour and aspect, but with points of likeness to my old one. Clumps of trees fringed close woods and smooth green pastures; and, at the bottom of a shallow basin crowned with woodland, stood a white Château even larger than the one to which Pluton and Dis used to pull their cart.
I kept me among the trees, and was congratulating my Nose on its recovery from the outrageous assaults it had suffered during my journeys, when there came to it the unmistakable aroma of Truffles — not, indeed, the strawberry-scented ones of my lost world, but like enough to throw me into my working-pose.
I took wind, and followed up my line. I was not deceived. There were Truffles of different sorts in their proper places under those thick trees. My Mother’s maxim had proved its truth. This was evidently the ‘something else’ of which she had spoken; and I felt myself again my own equal. As I worked amid the almost familiar odours it seemed to me that all that had overtaken me had not happened, and that at any moment I should meet Pluton and Dis with our cart. But they came not. Though I called they did not come.
A far-off voice interrupted me, with menace. I recognised it for that of the boisterous She of my culvert, and was still.
After cautious circuits I heard the sound of a spade, and in a wooded hollow saw a Person flattening earth round a pile of wood, heaped to make charcoal. It was a business I had seen often.
My Nose assured me that the Person was authentically a peasant and (I recalled the memory later) had not handled One of Us within the time that such a scent would hang on him. My Nose, further, recorded that he was imbued with the aromas proper to his work and was, also, kind, gentle, and equable in temperament. (You Persons wonder that All of Us know your moods before you yourselves realise them? Be well sure that every shade of his or her character, habit, or feeling cries itself aloud in a Person’s scent. No more than We All can deceive Each Other can You Persons deceive Us — though We pretend — We pretend — to believe!)
His coat lay on a bank. When he drew from it bread and cheese, I produced myself. But I had been so long at gaze, that my shoulder, bruised in transit through the hedge, made me fall. He was upon me at once and, with strength equal to his gentleness, located my trouble. Evidently — though the knowledge even then displeased me — he knew how We should be handled.
I submitted to his care, ate the food he offered, and, reposing in the crook of his mighty arm, was borne to a small cottage where he bathed my hurt, set water beside me and returned to his charcoal. I slept, lulled by the cadence of his spade and the bouquet of natural scents in the cottage which included all those I was used to, except garlic and, strangely, Truffles.
I was roused by the entry of a She–Person who moved slowly and coughed. There was on her (I speak now as We speak) the Taint of the Fear — of that Black Fear which bids Us throw up our noses and lament. She laid out food. The Person of the Spade entered. I fled to his knee. He showed me to the Girl–Person’s dull eyes. She caressed my head, but the chill of her hand increased the Fear. He set me on his knees, and they talked in the twilight.
Presently, their talk nosed round hidden flat Pieces and Thin Papers. The tone was so exactly that of my Master and his Mate that I expected they would lift up the hearthstone. But theirs was in the chimney, whence the Person drew several white Pieces, which he gave to the Girl. I argued from this they had admitted me to their utmost intimacy and — I confess it — I danced like a puppy. My reward was their mirth — his specially. When the Girl laughed she coughed. But his voice warmed and possessed me before I knew it.
After night was well fallen, they went out and prepared a bed on a cot in the open, sheltered only by a large faggot-stack. The Girl disposed herself to sleep there, which astonished me. (In my lost world out-sleeping is not done, except when Persons wish to avoid Forest Guards.) The Person of the Spade then set a jug of water by the bed and, turning to reenter the house, delivered a long whistle. It was answered across the woods by the unforgettable voice of the old She of my culvert. I inserted myself at once between, and a little beneath, some of the more robust faggots.
On her silent arrival the She greeted the Girl with extravagant affection and fawned beneath her hand, till the coughings closed in uneasy slumber. Then, with no more noise than the moths of the night, she quested for me in order, she said, to tear out my throat. ‘Ma Tante,’ I replied placidly from within my fortress, ‘I do not doubt you could save yourself the trouble by swallowing me alive. But, first, tell me what I have done.’ ‘That there is My Bone,’ was the reply. It was enough! (Once in my life I had seen poor honest Pluton stand like a raging wolf between his Pierril, whom he loved, and a Forest Guard.) We use that word seldom and never lightly. Therefore, I answered, ‘I assure you she is not mine. She gives me the Black Fear.’
You know how We cannot deceive Each Other? The She accepted my statement; at the same time reviling me for my lack of appreciation — a crookedness of mind not uncommon among elderly Shes.
To distract her, I invited her to tell me her history. It appeared that the Girl had nursed her through some early distemper. Since then, the She had divided her life between her duties among sheep by day and watching, from the First Star till Break of Light, over the Girl, who, she said, also suffered from a slight distemper. This had been her existence, her joy and her devotion long before I was born. Demanding nothing more, she was prepared to back her single demand by slaughter.
Once, in my second month, when I would have run away from a very fierce frog, my friend the Vicomte told me that, at crises, it is best to go forward. On a sudden impulse I emerged from my shelter and sat beside her. There was a pause of life and death during which I had leisure to contemplate all her teeth. Fortunately, the Girl waked to drink. The She crawled to caress the hand that set down the jug, and waited till the breathing resumed. She came back to me — I had not stirred — with blazing eyes. ‘How can you dare this?’ she said. ‘But why not?’ I answered. ‘If it is not something, it is sure to be something else.’ Her fire and fury passed. ‘To whom do you say it! ‘she assented. ‘There is always something else to fear — not for myself but for My Bone yonder.’
Then began a conversation unique, I should imagine, even among Ourselves. My old, unlovely, savage Aunt, as I shall henceforth call her, was eaten alive with fears for the Girl — not so much on account of her distemper, but because of Two She–Persons-Enemies — whom she described to me minutely by Eye and Nose — one like a Ferret, the other like a Goose.
These, she said, meditated some evil to the Girl against which my Aunt and the Girl’s Father, the Person of the Spade, were helpless. The Two Enemies carried about with them certain papers, by virtue of which the Girl could be taken away from the cottage and my Aunt’s care, precisely as she had seen sheep taken out of her pasture by Persons with papers, and driven none knew whither.
The Enemies would come at intervals to the cottage in daytime (when my Aunt’s duty held her with the sheep) and always they left behind them the Taint of misery and anxiety. It was not that she feared the Enemies personally. She feared nothing except a certain Monsieur The–Law who, I understood later, cowed even her.
Naturally I sympathised. I did not know this gentilhommier de Loire, but I knew Fear. Also, the Girl was of the same stock as He who had fed and welcomed me and Whose voice had reassured. My Aunt suddenly demanded if I purposed to take up my residence with them. I would have detailed to her my adventures. She was acutely uninterested in them all except so far as they served her purposes, which she explained. She would allow me to live on condition that I reported to her, nightly beside the faggot-stack, all I had seen or heard or suspected of every action and mood of the Girl during the day; any arrival of the Enemies, as she called them; and whatever I might gather from their gestures and tones. In other words I was to spy for her as Those of Us who accompany the Forest Guards spy for their detestable Masters.
I was not disturbed. (I had had experience of the Forest Guard.) Still there remained my dignity and something which I suddenly felt was even more precious to me. ‘Ma Tante,’ I said, ‘what I do depends not on you but on My Bone in the cottage there.’ She understood. ‘What is there on Him,’ she said, ‘to draw you?’ ‘Such things are like Truffles,’ was my answer. ‘They are there or they are not there.’ ‘I do not know what “Truffles” may be,’ she snapped. ‘He has nothing useful to me except that He, too, fears for my Girl. At any rate your infatuation for Him makes you more useful as an aid to my plans.’ ‘We shall see,’ said I. ‘But — to talk of affairs of importance — do you seriously mean that you have no knowledge of Truffles?’ She was convinced that I mocked her. ‘Is it,’ she demanded, ‘some lapdog’s trick?’ She said this of Truffles — of my Truffles
The impasse was total. Outside of the Girl on the cot and her sheep (for I can testify that, with them, she was an artist) the square box of my Aunt’s head held not one single thought. My patience forsook me, but not my politeness. ‘Cheer-up, old one!’ I said. ‘An honest heart outweighs many disadvantages of ignorance and low birth.’ . . .
And She? I thought she would have devoured me in my hair! When she could speak, she made clear that she was ‘born’— entirely soof a breed mated and trained since the days of the First Shepherd. In return I explained that I was a specialist in the discovery of delicacies which the genius of my ancestors had revealed to Persons since the First Person first scratched in the first dirt.
She did not believe me — nor do I pretend that I had been entirely accurate in my genealogy — but she addressed me henceforth as ‘My Nephew.’
Thus that wonderful night passed, with the moths, the bats, the owls, the sinking moon, and the varied respirations of the Girl. At sunrise a call broke out from beyond the woods. My Aunt vanished to her day’s office. I went into the house and found Him lacing one gigantic boot. Its companion lay beside the hearth. I brought it to Him (I had seen my Father do as much for that Pierrounet my Master).
He was loudly pleased. He patted my head, and when the Girl entered, told her of my exploit. She called me to be caressed, and, though the Black Taint upon her made me cringe, I came. She belonged to Him — as at that moment I realised that I did.
Here began my new life. By day I accompanied Him to His charcoal — sole guardian of His coat and the bread and cheese on the bank, or, remembering my Aunt’s infatuation, fluctuated between the charcoal-mound and the house to spy upon the Girl, when she was not with Him. He was all that I desired — in the sound of His solid tread; His deep but gentle voice; the sympathetic texture and scent of His clothes; the safe hold of His hand when He would slide me into His great outer pocket and carry me through the far woods where He dealt secretly with rabbits. Like peasants, who are alone more than most Persons, He talked aloud to himself, and presently to me, asking my opinion of the height of a wire from the ground.
My devotion He accepted and repaid from the first. My Art he could by no means comprehend. For, naturally, I followed my Art as every Artist must, even when it is misunderstood. If not, he comes to preoccupy himself mournfully with his proper fleas.
My new surroundings; the larger size and closer spacing of the oaks; the heavier nature of the soils; the habits of the lazy wet winds — a hundred considerations which the expert takes into account — demanded changes and adjustments of my technique . . . My reward? I found and brought Him Truffles of the best. I nosed them into His hand. I laid them on the threshold of the cottage and they filled it with their fragrance. He and the Girl thought that I amused myself, and would throw — throw! — them for me to retrieve, as though they had been stones and I a puppy! What more could I do? The scent over that ground was lost.
But the rest was happiness, tempered with vivid fears when we were apart lest, if the wind blew beyond moderation, a tree might fall and crush Him; lest when He worked late He might disappear into one of those terrible river pits so common in the world whence I had come, and be lost without trace. There was no peril I did not imagine for Him till I could hear His feet walking securely on sound earth long before the Girl had even suspected. Thus my heart was light in spite of the nightly conferences with my formidable Aunt, who linked her own dismal apprehensions to every account that I rendered of the Girl’s day-life and actions. For some cause or other, the Two Enemies had not appeared since my Aunt had warned me against them, and there was less of Fear in the house. Perhaps, as I once hinted to my Aunt, owing to my presence.
It was an unfortunate remark. I should have remembered her gender. She attacked me, that night, on a new scent, bidding me observe that she herself was decorated with a Collar of Office which established her position before all the world. I was about to compliment her, when she observed, in the low even tone of detachment peculiar to Shes of age, that, unless I were so decorated, not only was I outside the Law (that Person of whom, I might remember, she had often spoken) but could not be formally accepted into any household.
How, then, I demanded, might I come by this protection? In her own case, she said, the Collar was hers by right as a Preceptress of Sheep. To procure a Collar for me would be a matter of Pieces or even of Thin Papers, from His chimney. (I recalled poor Pluton’s warning that everything changes at last into such things.) If He chose to give of His Pieces for my Collar, my civil status would be impregnable. Otherwise, having no business or occupation, I lived, said my Aunt, like the rabbits — by favour and accident.
‘But, ma Tante,’ I cried, ‘I have the secret of an Art beyond all others.’
‘That is not understood in these parts,’ she replied. ‘You have told me of it many times, but I do not believe. What a pity it is not rabbits! You are small enough to creep down their burrows. But these precious things of yours under the ground which no one but you can find — it is absurd.’
‘It is an absurdity, then, which fills Persons’ chimney-places with Pieces and Thin Papers. Listen, ma Tante!’ I all but howled. ‘The world I came from was stuffed with things underground which all Persons desired. This world here is also rich in them, but I— I alone — can bring them to light!’
She repeated acridly, ‘Here is not there. It should have been rabbits.’
I turned to go. I was at the end of my forces.
‘You talk too much of the world whence you came,’ my Aunt sneered. ‘Where is that world?’
‘I do not know,’ I answered miserably and crawled under my faggots. As a matter of routine, when my report had been made to my Aunt, I would take post on the foot of His bed where I should be available in case of bandits. But my Aunt’s words had barred that ever-open door.
My suspicions worked like worms in my system. If He chose, He could kick me off on to the floor — beyond sound of His desired voice — into the rabid procession of fears and flights whence He had delivered me. Whither, then, should I go? . . . There remained only my lost world where Persons knew the value of Truffles and of Those of Us who could find them. I would seek that world!
With this intention, and a bitterness in my belly as though I had mouthed a toad, I came out after dawn and fled to the edge of the woods through which He and I had wandered so often. They were bounded by a tall stone wall, along which I quested for an opening. I found none till I reached a small house beside shut gates. Here an officious One of Us advanced upon me with threats. I was in no case to argue or even to expostulate. I hastened away and attacked the wall again at another point.
But after a while, I found myself back at the house of the Officious One. I recommenced my circuit, but — there was no end to that Wall. I remembered crying aloud to it in hope it might fall down and pass me through. I remember appealing to the Vicomte to come to my aid. I remember a flight of big black birds, calling the very name of my lost world —‘Aa — or’— above my head. But soon they scattered in all directions. Only the Wall continued to continue, and I blindly at its foot. Once a She–Person stretched out her hand towards me. I fled — as I fled from an amazed rabbit who, like myself, existed by favour and accident.
Another Person coming upon me threw stones. This turned me away from the Wall and so broke its attraction. I subsided into an aimless limp of hours, until some woods that seemed familiar received me into their shades . . .
I found me at the back of the large white Château in the hollow, which I had seen only once, far off, on the first day of my arrival in this world. I looked down through bushes on to ground divided by strips of still water and stone. Here were birds, bigger than turkeys, with enormous voices and tails which they raised one against the other, while a white-haired She–Person dispensed them food from a pan she held between sparkling hands. My Nose told me that she was unquestionably of race-descended from champion strains. I would have crawled nearer, but the greedy birds forbade. I retreated uphill into the woods, and, moved by I know not what agonies of frustration and bewilderment, threw up my head and lamented.
The harsh imperative call of my Aunt cut through my self-pity. I found her on duty in pastures still bounded by that Wall which encircled my world. She charged me at once with having some disreputable affair, and, for its sake, deserting my post with the Girl. I could but pant. Seeing, at last, my distress, she said, ‘Have you been seeking that lost world of yours?’ Shame closed my mouth. She continued, in softer tones, ‘Except when it concerns My Bone, do not take all that I say at full-fang. There are others as foolish as you. Wait my return.’
She left me with an affectation, almost a coquetry, of extreme fatigue. To her charge had been added a new detachment of sheep who wished to escape. They had scattered into separate crowds, each with a different objective and a different speed. My Aunt, keeping the high ground, allowed them to disperse, till her terrible voice, thrice lifted, brought them to halt. Then, in one long loop of flight, my Aunt, a dumb fury lying wide on their flank, swept down with a certainty, a speed, and a calculation which almost reminded me of my friend the Vicomte. Those diffuse and errant imbeciles reunited and inclined away from her in a mob of mixed smells and outcries — to find themselves exquisitely penned in an angle of the fence, my Aunt, laid flat at full length, facing them! One after another their heads dropped and they resumed their eternal business of mutton-making.
My Aunt came back, her affectation of decrepitude heightened to heighten her performance. And who was I, an Artist also, to mock her?
‘You wonder why my temper is not of the bluntest?’ she said. ‘You could not have done that!’
‘But at least I can appreciate it,’ I cried. ‘It was superb! It was unequalled! It was faultless! You did not even nip one of them.’
‘With sheep that is to confess failure,’ she said. ‘Do you, then, gnaw your Truffles?’ It was the first time that she had ever admitted their existence! My genuine admiration, none the worse for a little flattery, opened her heart. She spoke of her youthful triumphs at sheep — herding expositions; of rescues of lost lambs, or incapable mothers found reversed in ditches. Oh, she was all an Artist, my thin-flanked, haggard-eyed Aunt by enforced adoption. She even let me talk of the Vicomte!
Suddenly (the shadows had stretched) she leaped, with a grace I should never have suspected, on to a stone wall and stood long at far gaze. ‘Enough of this nonsense,’ she said brutally. ‘You are rested now. Get to your work. If you could see, my Nephew, you would observe the Ferret and the Goose walking there, three fields distant. They have come again for My Bone. They will keep to the path made for Persons. Go at once to the cottage before they arrive and — do what you can to harass them. Run — run — mountebank of a yellow imbecile that you are!’
I turned on my tail, as We say, and took the direct line through my well-known woods at my utmost speed since her orders dispatched me without loss of dignity towards my heart’s one desire. And I was received by Him, and by the Girl with unfeigned rapture. They passed me from one to the other like the rarest of Truffles; rebuked me, not too severely, for my long absence; felt me for possible injuries from traps; brought me bread and milk, which I sorely needed; and by a hundred delicate attentions showed me the secure place I occupied in their hearts. I gave my dignity to the cats, and it is not too much to say that we were all engaged in a veritable pas de trois when a shadow fell across our threshold and the Two Enemies most rudely entered!
I conceived, and gave vent to, instant detestation which, for a while, delayed their attack. When it came, He and the Girl accepted it as yoked oxen receive the lash across the eyes — with the piteous dignity which Earth, having so little to give them, bestows upon her humbles. Like oxen, too, they backed side by side and pressed closer together. I renewed my comminations from every angle as I saw how these distracted my adversaries. They then pointed passionately to me and my pan of bread and milk which joy had prevented me from altogether emptying. Their tongues I felt were foul with reproach.
At last He spoke. He mentioned my name more than once, but always (I could tell in my defence. The Girl backed His point. I assisted with — and it was something — all that I had ever heard in my lost world from the sans-kennailerie of the Street of the Fountain. The Enemies renewed the charge. Evidently my Aunt was right. Their plan was to take the Girl away in exchange for pieces of paper. I saw the Ferret wave a paper beneath His nose. He shook His head and launched that peasant’s ‘No,’ which is one in all languages.
Here I applauded vehemently, continuously, monotonously, on a key which, also, I had learned in the Street of the Fountain. Nothing could have lived against it. The Enemies threatened, I could feel, some prodigious action or another; but at last they marched out of our presence. I escorted them to the charcoal-heap — the limit of our private domain — in a silence charged with possibilities for their thick ankles.
I returned to find my Two sunk in distress, but upon my account. I think they feared I might run away again, for they shut the door. They frequently and tenderly repeated my name, which, with them, was ‘Teem.’ Finally He took a Thin Paper from the chimney-piece, slid me into His outside pocket and walked swiftly to the Village, which I had never smelt before.
In a place where a She–Person was caged behind bars, He exchanged the Thin Paper for one which he laid under my nose, saying ‘Teem! Look! This is Licence-and-Law all-right!’ In yet another place, I was set down before a Person who exhaled a grateful flavour of dried skins. My neck was then encircled by a Collar bearing a bright badge of office. All Persons round me expressed admiration and said ‘Lor!’ many times. On our return through the Village I stretched my decorated neck out of His pocket, like one of the gaudy birds at the Château, to impress Those of Us who might be abroad that I was now under full protection of Monsieur Le Law (whoever he might be), and thus the equal of my exacting Aunt.
That night, by the Girl’s bed, my Aunt was at her most difficult. She cut short my history of my campaign, and cross-examined me coldly as to what had actually passed. Her interpretations were not cheering. She prophesied our Enemies would return, more savage for having been checked. She said that when they mentioned my name (as I have told you) it was to rebuke Him for feeding me, a vagabond, on good bread and milk, when I did not, according to Monsieur Law, belong to Him. (She herself, she added, had often been shocked by His extravagance in this regard.) I pointed out that my Collar now disposed of inconvenient questions. So much she ungraciously conceded, but — I had described the scene to her — argued that He had taken the Thin Paper out of its hiding-place because I had cajoled Him with my ‘lapdog’s tricks,’ and that, in default of that Paper, He would go without food, as well as without what he burned under His nose, which to Him would be equally serious.
I was aghast. ‘But, Ma Tante,’ I pleaded, ‘show me — make me any way to teach Him that the earth on which He walks so loftily can fill His chimneys with Thin Papers, and I promise you that She shall eat chicken!’ My evident sincerity — perhaps, too, the finesse of my final appeal — shook her. She mouthed a paw in thought.
‘You have shown Him those wonderful underground-things of yours?’ she resumed.
‘But often. And to your Girl also. They thought they were stones to throw. It is because of my size that I am not taken seriously.’ I would have lamented, but she struck me down. Her Girl was coughing.
‘Be silent, unlucky that you are! Have you shown your Truffles, as you call them, to anyone else?’
‘Those Two are all I have ever met in this world, my Aunt.’
‘That was true till yesterday,’ she replied. ‘But at the back of the Château — this afternoon — eh?’ (My friend the Vicomte was right when he warned me that all elderly Shes have six ears and ten noses. And the older the more!)
‘I saw that Person only from a distance. You know her, then, my Aunt?’
‘If I know Her! She met me once when I was lamed by thorns under my left heel-pad. She stopped me. She took them out. She also put her hand on my head.’
‘Alas, I have not your charms!’ I riposted.
‘Listen, before my temper snaps, my Nephew. She has returned to her Château. Lay one of those things that you say you find, at her feet. I do not credit your tales about them, but it is possible that She may. She is of race. She knows all. She may make you that way for which you ask so loudly. It is only a chance. But, if it succeeds, and My Bone does not eat the chickens you have promised her, I will, for sure, tear out your throat.’
‘My Aunt,’ I replied, ‘I am infinitely obliged. You have, at least, shown me a way. What a pity you were born with so many thorns under your tongue!’ And I fled to take post at the foot of His bed, where I slept vigorously — for I had lived that day! — till time to bring Him His morning boots.
We then went to our charcoal. As official Guardian of the Coat I permitted myself no excursions till He was busied stopping the vents of little flames on the flanks of the mound. Then I moved towards a patch of ground which I had noted long ago. On my way, a chance of the air told me that the Born One of the Château was walking on the verge of the wood. I fled to my patch, which was even more fruitful than I had thought. I had unearthed several Truffles when the sound of her tread hardened on the bare ground beneath the trees. Selecting my largest and ripest, I bore it reverently towards her, dropped it in her path, and took a pose of humble devotion. Her Nose informed her before her eyes. I saw it wrinkle and sniff deliciously. She stooped and with sparkling hands lifted my gift to smell. Her sympathetic appreciation emboldened me to pull the fringe of her clothes in the direction of my little store exposed beneath the oak. She knelt and, rapturously inhaling their aroma, transferred them to a small basket on her arm. (All Born Ones bear such baskets when they walk upon their own earths.)
Here He called my name. I replied at once that I was coming, but that matters of the utmost importance held me for the moment. We moved on together, the Born One and I, and found Him beside His coat setting apart for me my own bread and cheese. We lived, we two, each always in the other’s life!
I had often seen that Pierrounet my Master, who delivered me to strangers, uncover and bend at the side-door of the Château in my lost world over yonder. At no time was he beautiful. But He — My Own Bone to me! — though He too was uncovered, stood beautifully erect and as a peasant of race should bear himself when He and His are not being tortured by Ferrets or Geese. For a short time, He and the Born One did not concern themselves with me. They were obviously of old acquaintance. She spoke; she waved her sparkling hands; she laughed. He responded gravely, at dignified ease, like my friend the Vicomte. Then I heard my name many times. I fancy He may have told her something of my appearance in this world. (We peasants do not tell all to any one.) To prove to her my character, as He conceived it, He threw a stone. With as much emphasis as my love for Him allowed, I signified that this game of lapdogs was not mine. She commanded us to return to the woods. There He said to me as though it were some question of His magnificent boots, ‘Seek, Teem! Find, Teem!’ and waved His arms at random. He did not know! Even then, My Bone did not know!
But I— I was equal to the occasion! Without unnecessary gesture; stifling the squeaks of rapture that rose in my throat; coldly, almost, as my Father, I made point after point, picked up my lines and worked them (His attendant spade saving me the trouble of digging) till the basket was full. At this juncture the Girl — they were seldom far apart — appeared with all the old miseries on her face, and, behind her (I had been too occupied with my Art, or I should have yelled on their scent) walked the Two Enemies!
They had not spied us up there among the trees, for they rated her all the way to the charcoal-heap. Our Born One descended upon them softly as a mist through which shine the stars, and greeted them in the voice of a dove out of summer foliage. I held me still. She needed no aid, that one! They grew louder and more loud; she increasingly more suave. They flourished at her one of their detestable papers which she received as though it had been all the Trufes in the world. They talked of Monsieur Le Law. From her renewed smiles I understood that he, too, had the honour of her friendship. They continued to talk of him . . . Then . . . she abolished them! How? Speaking with the utmost reverence of both, she reminded me of my friend the Vicomte disentangling an agglomeration of distracted, and therefore dangerous, beefs at the Railway Station. There was the same sage turn of the head, the same almost invisible stiffening of the shoulders, the very same small voice out of the side of the mouth, saying ‘I charge myself with this.’ And then — and then — those insupportable offspring of a jumped-up gentilhommier were transformed into amiable and impressed members of their proper class, giving ground slowly at first, but finally evaporating — yes, evaporating — like bad smells — in the direction of the world whence they had intruded.
During the relief that followed, the Girl wept and wept and wept. Our Born One led her to the cottage and consoled. We showed her our bed beside the faggots and all our other small dispositions, including a bottle out of which the Girl was used to drink. (I tasted once some that had been spilt. It was like unfresh fish — fit only for cats.) She saw, she heard, she considered all. Calm came at her every word. She would have given Him some Pieces, in exchange, I suppose, for her filled basket. He pointed to me to show that it was my work. She repeated most of the words she had employed before — my name among them — because one must explain many times to a peasant who desires not to comprehend. At last He took the Pieces.
Then my Born One stooped down to me beside His foot and said, in the language of my lost world, ‘Knowest thou, Teem, that this is all thy work? Without thee we can do nothing. Knowest thou, my little dear Teem?’ If I knew! Had He listened to me at the first the situation would have been regularised half a season before. Now I could fill his chimney-places as my Father had filled that of that disgusting Pierrounet. Logically, of course, I should have begun a fresh demonstration of my Art in proof of my zeal for the interests of my famille. But I did not. Instead, I ran — I rolled — I leaped — I cried aloud — I fawned at their knees What would you? It was hairless, toothless sentiment, but it had the success of a hurricane! They accepted me as though I had been a Person — and He more unreservedly than any of them. It was my supreme moment!
. . . . .
I have at last reduced my famille to the Routine which is indispensable to the right-minded among Us. For example: At intervals He and I descend to the Château with our basket of Truffles for our Born One. If she is there she caresses me. If elsewhere, her basket pursues her in a stink-cart. So does, also, her Chef, a well-scented Person and, I can testify, an Artist. This, I understand, is our exchange for the right to exploit for ourselves all other Truffles that I may find inside the Great Wall. These we dispense to another stink-cart, filled with delightful comestibles, which waits for us regularly on the stink-cart-road by the House of the Gate where the Officious One pursued me. We are paid into the hand (trust us peasants!) in Pieces or Papers, while I stand guard against bandits.
As a result, the Girl has now a wooden-roofed house of her own — open at one side and capable of being turned round against winds by His strong one hand. Here she arranges the bottles from which she drinks, and here comes — but less and less often — a dry Person of mixed odours, who applies his ear at the end of a stick, to her thin back. Thus, and owing to the chickens which, as I promised my Aunt, she eats, the Taint of her distemper diminishes. My Aunt denies that it ever existed, but her infatuation — have I told you? — has no bounds! She has been given honourable demission from her duties with sheep and has frankly installed herself in the Girl’s outside bed-house, which she does not encourage me to enter. I can support that. I too have My Bone . . .
Only it comes to me, as it does to most of Us who live so swiftly, to dream in my sleep. Then I return to my lost world — to the whistling, dry-leaved, thin oaks that are not these giant ones — to the stony little hillsides and treacherous river-pits that are not these secure pastures — to the sharp scents that are not these scents — to the companionship of poor Pluton and Dis — to the Street of the Fountain up which marches to meet me, as when I was a rude little puppy, my friend, my protector, my earliest adoration, Monsieur le Vicomte Bouvier de Brie.
At this point always, I wake; and not till I feel His foot beneath the bedderie, and hear His comfortable breathing, does my lost world cease to bite . . .
Oh, wise and well-beloved guardian and playmate of my youth — it is true — it is true, as thou didst warn me — Outside his Art an Artist must never dream!
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University of Adelaide
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Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52