Sirius, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 12

Farmer Sirius

IT was not till dawn on the following day that Thomas and Sirius in the Morris Ten drove up the familiar Welsh lane, and came to a stand in the yard of Garth. Elizabeth and Plaxy were still asleep. When they woke, they were very surprised to find that man and dog had returned already. They were surprised also at the wretched condition of Sirius. He was filthy, his coat lacked its customary gloss, he was painfully thin, and he was silent and dejected.

Plaxy, fresh from a busy and happy term at Cambridge, was in the mood for a happy holiday. Moreover she was aware that in recent meetings with Sirius she had somehow proved inadequate, and she was anxious to make amends. She therefore set about being “sweet” to Sirius. It was she who gave him a thorough wash and carefully groomed his coat. She also took a thorn out of one of his feet, and dressed a bad cut in another. He surrendered himself to the firm and gentle touch of her hands and the subtle odour that was for him her most poignant feature. She pressed him to tell her all about his doings in Cumberland, and he told her — everything but the main thing. It was obvious that he was holding something back, so she pressed him no further, though suspecting that he really wanted to tell her. He did indeed long to confess to her. The memory of the crime was a constant source of turmoil in his mind. He had committed a murder. This was the stark fact that had to be faced. It was useless to pretend that he had been forced to kill Thwaites in self-defence, for he had hung on to him much longer than was necessary to put him out of action. No, it was murder, and sooner or later Thomas’s ruse would probably be found out. Even if Sirius remained uncaught he would have this thing hanging over him for ever; not just the fear of retribution, but the deadly remorse for the destruction of a creature who, though biologically alien to him, was none the less his fellow in the spirit. He longed for Plaxy’s sympathy, but feared her horror. And anyhow, Thomas had insisted that no one should be told.

During that Christmas holiday Sirius and Plaxy spent many an hour talking about themselves and their friends; about art, particularly Sirius’s music; about philosophy and religion, particularly his experiences with Geoffrey; about the war, for though both of them felt it to be utterly unreal and remote, and “not their fault anyhow,” it could not be ignored. Several of Plaxy’s friends were already in it.

But though at first they had much to say to one another, later they often fell into silence, and as time advanced these silences became longer and more frequent. He brooded over his prospects, she retired into her memories. She was beginning to yearn once more for human companionship. His nose told him that it was one of those phases when she was fully ripe for the love of her own kind. Her behaviour towards him alternated between exaggerated tenderness and aloofness. She seemed to want to maintain contact with him, but at these times the gulf between the human and the canine was generally too great. But not always. Sometimes the intensification of animal sex-feeling in the young human female linked up with her deep affection for the dog, so that she treated him with an altogether novel shyness, which somehow stimulated a similar sexually toned warmth of feeling in him. He would then, if she permitted, caress her with a new tenderness and ardour. But these passages were rare, and often they were followed on Plaxy’s side by a frightened aloofness. It seemed to her, so she told me long afterwards, that in those strange, sweet moments she was taking the first step towards some very far-reaching alienation from her own kind. Yet while they lasted they seemed entirely innocent and indeed beautiful.

Once Sirius said to Plaxy, “The music of our two lives is a duet of variations upon three themes. There is the difference between our biological natures, yours human and mine canine, and all the differences of experience that follow from that. Then there is the love that has grown up between us, alien as we are. It has gathered us together and made us one fundamentally, in spite of all our differences. It feeds on differences. And there is sex, which alternates between tearing us apart because of our biological remoteness and welding us together because of our love.” They silently gazed at one another. He added, “There is a fourth theme in our music, or perhaps it is the unity of the other three. There is our journey along the way of the spirit, together and yet poles apart.” Plaxy replied with sudden warmth, “Oh, my darling, I do, I do love you. We are never really poles apart, not in the spirit, I mean. But — oh, it’s all strange and frightening. And you see, don’t you, that I must be properly human. Besides — men can mean so much more to me than bitches can mean to you.” “Of course,” he answered. “You have your life and I have mine. And sometimes we meet, and sometimes clash. But always, yes, always, we are one in the spirit.”

He wondered whether, if she knew about Thwaites, it would make any difference; and he realized that it wouldn’t. She would be horrified, of course, but not revolted against him. Suddenly he realized that ever since the killing he had been anxiously condemning himself on behalf of Plaxy, and so nursing a sore resentment against her. But so deeply had he nursed it that he never till this moment recognized its existence. And now somehow he knew that she would not condemn him, and so the resentment became conscious and at the same time vanished.

Later in the vacation Plaxy busied herself with her studies. She was all behind-hand, she said. And when at last the day came for departure, she was as usual both sad and pleased. At the station she found an excuse to stray with Sirius to a less crowded stretch of the platform. “We have drifted apart again lately,” she said, “but whatever happens I never forget that I am the human part of Sirius–Plaxy.” He touched her hand and said, “We have a treasure in common, a bright gem of community.”

During the vacation Sirius had been anxiously concerned with other things besides that treasure. He had been carrying on an urgent discussion about his future with Thomas and Elizabeth, with Plaxy as a disinterested critic. Sirius was determined not to go back to the subtly enervating life of Cambridge. The time had come, he said, when he really must strike out on his own. He was ready to agree that at least for a while he might be able to find self-expression through his skill with sheep, but he could do so only in a responsible position, not as a mere sheep-dog. What did Thomas propose to do about it?

In the end a bold plan was adopted. Owing to the scarcity of labour, Pugh, whose health was failing, had found great difficulty in carrying on his farm. Thomas decided to tell him the whole truth about Sirius’s powers, and to propose that Sirius should join him not as a sheep-dog but as a prospective partner. Or rather, the laboratory would legally be his partner, contributing capital to the farm. Elizabeth would be the laboratory’s resident representative, and would lend a hand with the work. Sirius, being only a dog, could sign no contract and hold no property. But he would in effect be in the partnership relation to Pugh, who would initiate him into the whole management of the farm, and the business of marketing sheep and wool. An important side-line would be the training of super-sheep-dogs for sale.

There were several long discussions with Pugh. This was perhaps an advantage, as it gave him an opportunity of learning to understand Sirius’s speech with Thomas and Elizabeth present to help him. The old man was very ready to enter into the spirit of the game; but he was cautious, and he thought of many difficulties, each of which had to be patiently smoothed out. Mrs. Pugh regarded the arrangement with misgiving. She secretly feared that Satan, not God, was the worker of this miracle of the man-dog. That Thomas himself was responsible she never seriously supposed. The only other person who might have been concerned in the new arrangement was Pugh’s daughter, but she was by now married and settled in Dolgelly.

It was not long before Sirius was established at Caer Blai in his new capacity. It was arranged that normally he should sleep at home at Garth, since he could cover the distance between the two houses in a few minutes; but at Caer Blai the room formerly occupied by the daughter of the house was allotted to him for emergencies. To the new quarters Thomas transferred the dog’s accumulation of books on sheep and sheep-farming, also a spare writing glove and other writing materials. In addition Sirius kept at the farm several of the girths and panniers that had been made for him from time to time to enable him to carry things while keeping his mouth free. In early days the apparatus had to be fastened on him by human hands, but by now, owing to his increased “manual” skill and an ingenious fastener, he could saddle or unsaddle himself in a few seconds.

Pugh could not teach Sirius anything about the actual care of sheep. The dog had a closer practical experience of them, and a far more scientific knowledge. He was eager to improve the breed on the farm and to develop the pasture. But on the side of farm management he had everything to learn. Not only had he to understand prices and the whole book-keeping problem; there was also the small but important agricultural side of the farm. Before the war this had been entirely subordinate to sheep, producing only hay and roots and a very small amount of grain. But in war-time every possible acre had to be ploughed up to produce food, and by now Pugh had a good deal of land under oats, rye and potatoes. The handless Sirius could never do much on this side of the work, but he was determined to understand it and learn to direct it. The necessity of employing hired human labour raised the whole question of Sirius’s contact with the outside world. Thomas, with his phobia of publicity, was very reluctant to let the countryside know just how developed a creature Sirius was, but clearly it would not be possible for him in his new life to masquerade as a dumb animal. However, said Thomas, let people discover the truth gradually. In this way it would be less of a shock to them. Pugh could begin by holding simple conversations with Sirius in public places. Gradually he could let it be realized that he respected the dog’s judgment in all matters connected with sheep. In this manner Sirius would little by little become a congenial figure in the neighbourhood.

For some time Sirius was too busy learning his new responsibilities to undertake the training of super-sheep-dogs. Old Idwal and another of these animals, Mifanwy, a young bitch, were on the farm already, and able to do far more intelligent work than the brightest normal animal. Juno, who had been one of the most intelligent of super-sheep-dogs, had developed some obscure kind of brain trouble, so that Pugh had been forced to destroy her.

After a while Sirius wrote to Thomas saying that he now felt ready for the new venture, and Thomas sent him three puppies of the right age for training. Sirius privately believed that with sympathetic education by one of their own species (though superior to them in intelligence) these animals could be made into something far more capable than Idwal and Mifanwy, or even Juno. He had also secret hopes that one of them, or one of some future batch, might turn out to be a creature of his own mental rank; but this, he had to admit, was very unlikely, for presumably Thomas would have detected any such animal long before it was old enough for training. Many attempts had, as a matter of fact, been made to produce another Sirius, but without success. Sirius himself seemed to have been something of a fluke. The effort to repeat his type had produced at best large-brained and highly intelligent animals that were too frail to reach maturity, and more often mental defectives of one sort or another. It seemed that, if the cerebral hemispheres were increased beyond a certain size, the discrepancy between them and the normal canine organization was too great for reliable viability. Even in man, whose brain and body had developed in step with one another for millions of years, the large cerebrum seems to put a strain on the system, and to be in fact something of a morbid growth, leading all too often to mental disorder. In the case of the dog, when it is suddenly given an enlarged brain, the stress is far more serious.

Not only Sirius but Elizabeth also had to be trained for work on the farm. Though normally she now spent more time in Cambridge than in the country, it was arranged that for some months she should live at Garth. She was now a middle-aged but sturdy woman, and during the last war she had been a land-girl. Pugh at first found it almost impossible to treat her otherwise than as a lady visitor, but the two of them gradually evolved a relationship which fitted his humour perfectly. She posed as the lazy and grumbling servant, he as the exacting master. He greatly enjoyed disparaging the results of all her labour, scolding her for idling, and threatening that he would report her to Sirius and have her sacked if she couldn’t keep a civil tongue in her head. She, for her part, treated him with mock servility and affectionate insolence. It took Mrs. Pugh a long time to realize that the constant wrangling was all friendly. She was confirmed in her anxiety by the fact that Sirius, entering into the spirit of the game, sometimes acted the part of the faithful dog defending his beloved mistress against threatened attack. One day when Mrs. Pugh earnestly tried to curb her husband’s tongue, Pugh shook a finger at her, winking at Elizabeth, and said, “Ah, but you don’t know, my dear, how Mrs. Trelone and I behave together when you are not watching. Yes indeed, for all you know it is then we are the love-birds, isn’t it, Mrs. Trelone?”

Both Sirius and Elizabeth were very busy during the Lent Term. Thomas contrived to spend several weeks in Wales to see how the venture was proceeding. On one occasion he brought two scientific friends to meet Sirius. On another, as Sirius was much interested in improving the local moorland pasture, dog and man went off for a couple of days to Aberystwyth to visit the Plant–Breeding Station. Sirius returned full of daring ideas to put before the sympathetic but cautious Pugh.

In a way this was probably the happiest time of Sirius’s life, for at last he felt that he was using his super-canine powers adequately, and he had attained a degree of independence that he had never known before. The work was often worrying, since he was in many respects a novice, and he made many mistakes; but it was varied, concrete, and (as he put it) spiritually sound. There was little time to think deep thoughts, and less to write; but now that he was doing responsible work he did not feel the same urge for intellectual activity. And anyhow he promised himself that later, when he was more at home with the work, he would take up once more the threads of his former literary and musical activities.

His only recreation was music. In the evenings, with Elizabeth yawning in an easy chair after the day of fresh air and exercise, he would listen to broadcast concerts, or try records on the radio-gram. Sometimes, when he was out on the moors with his young pupils, he would sing his own songs, some of which, the less humanized ones, had a strong emotional appeal for the super-sheep-dogs.

Then there was the bright young bitch, Mifanwy. She was an attractive creature, mainly collie but with a dash of setter. She was slim as a leopard, and had a luxurious silken coat. Sirius had intended to refrain from all sexual relations with his underlings. Moreover he regarded Mifanwy as Idwal’s preserve. But Idwal was growing old. Merely a super-sheep-dog, he was bound to sink far more rapidly into senescence than Sirius, who was still in early maturity. When Mifanwy was in heat she refused her former lover and did her best to seduce Sirius. For a while he took no notice, but one day he indulged in dalliance with this sweet sub-human though super-canine charmer. Of course there was protest from Idwal; but the heavier and biologically far younger dog could, if necessary, easily have shown his senior that protest was futile. In fact, however, Idwal was so overawed by, and faithful to, his canine master, that his protest never developed beyond a conflict-expressing whimper and an occasional rebellious growl.

In due season Mifanwy had a litter of five puppies. Their heads, of course, were of normal size, but most of them bore on their foreheads the large fawn patches which distinguished Sirius, and his mother before him. In a few weeks the Alsatian strain in them was obvious to all the world. It was obvious too that if Sirius was not their father he must at least be their grandfather. He was the original source of the Alsatian characters which were now fairly common among the dogs of the neighbourhood. There had been a time when the local farmers had perversely hoped (without official encouragement) that in allowing the man-dog to have intercourse with their bitches they would acquire super-canine puppies. Inevitably this hope was disappointed, though a dash of Alsatian had proved a useful stiffening to the local sheep-dog strain. Even when both parents were super-canine, the offspring were of course normal. As for Sirius, he took no interest in his numerous moron progeny. His three sons and two daughters by Mifanwy were treated as mere chattels. One of each sex was promptly drowned. The other three were allowed to remain with their mother considerably longer than was usual, in fact until her super-canine but sub-human maternal feelings had waned sufficiently to make it possible to deprive her of her offspring without causing her distress. Sirius then sold his two remaining sons and his daughter.

Meanwhile super-canine puppies continued to arrive from Cambridge for Sirius to train. Mostly they were turned into super-sheep-dogs, but owing to the war a new profession seemed to open up for Thomas’s bright animals.

The need for war economy was seriously interfering with the work of the laboratory. Thomas foresaw the time when the whole organization would have to close down or turn over to some kind of war research. It was at this time, in the spring of 1940, that the war changed from its “phony” to its violent phase. The collapse of Holland, Belgium and finally France made the British feel that they really had to fight for their lives. Thomas had always regarded the war as a gigantic irrelevance. It was beneath the notice of minds that were given wholly to the advancement of science. But at last he was forced to recognize that this gigantic irrelevance must not be ignored or it would destroy the very possibility of science. He began to puzzle over two problems. How far, if at all, could his present work be made useful for winning the war? If it was quite useless, what kind of war-work could the laboratory undertake? He saw that his super-sheep-dogs, if they could be produced in large enough numbers, might have an important function in war. The Government was already training normal dogs for running messages in the battle area, and clearly the super-sheep-dog mentality would be far more useful. He therefore set about the task of discovering a simplified technique for the mass-production of these animals. He also told Sirius to give some of his brightest pupils special training in running messages.

The time came when Thomas was ready to display three of his animals to the brass-hats, and after much importuning he secured an interview with a high military authority. The performance of the animals was brilliant. Thomas was assured that the War Office would undoubtedly make use of his super-canine messengers. He then waited impatiently for many weeks, wrote many respectful letters, and was repeatedly assured that the necessary machinery was now in action for adopting his suggestion. But somehow nothing happened. Every official whom he interviewed was at least sympathetic, and often eager to take any amount of trouble to help the great scientist. Yet nothing resulted. The vast and venerable institution remained unresponsive. Meanwhile the whole energy of the laboratory had been turned over to the mass-production of “missing-link” dogs for war. The more interesting but less useful task of producing creatures of the calibre of Sirius had been abandoned; and Thomas’s dearest dream, the stimulation of a human foetus to super-normal brain growth, now faded into mere fantasy.

Sirius, no less than Thomas, now realized that the war had to be won, otherwise all that was best in the tyrant species would be destroyed. But he lived in the depth of the country, and he was wholly absorbed in his new work; which, moreover, seemed to him a piece of worthy national, or rather human, service. Consequently he did not realize the war emotionally as fully as Thomas. Moreover, though one side of his nature was wholly identified with this glorious human species, another side was secretly and irrationally gratified by the tyrant’s plight. Intellectually he knew that his future depended on the future of Britain, but emotionally he was as detached from the struggle as, at a later stage, the threatened millions of India were to be emotionally aloof from the menace of Japan.

When Plaxy came home, she found the Caer Blai atmosphere rather unreal. Of course she could not help being impressed by Sirius’s success. He really did seem to have come into his own, even from the point of view of war. But she was rather shocked at his aloofness from the agony of the human race, and perhaps also a little jealous of his new-found peace of mind. For she herself was painfully torn between revulsion from the whole crazy disgusting mess and the urge to play her part in the desperate crisis of her species. In Cambridge she always made a point of maintaining her accustomed detachment, for so many of her friends seemed to her obsessed by the war; but in Wales she found herself warning Sirius that he was living in a fool’s paradise, and that at any moment all familiar and precious things might be swept away in a tide of German invasion. She herself, she said, was feeling uncomfortable about her own work, a teaching post which she was to take up at the end of the summer. Perhaps she ought to do something more directly useful.

Sirius was impressed by all this talk, but emotionally he remained as unenthusiastic as ever. Perhaps he ought to go and be an Army messenger dog. (Anyhow he was training messenger dogs.) But to hell with the whole war! He had found his job, for the present, producing wool and food for the dominant species; which was probably destroying itself, anyhow. And good riddance, too! Good riddance? No, he didn’t really mean that. But damn it, anyhow it wasn’t his fault, and man was not his responsibility.

At this time Plaxy had become very much concerned with politics. For a short spell she had been a member of the Communist Party, but she had resigned, “because, though they are energetic and devoted, they’re also intolerably cocksure and unfair.” Nevertheless she remained very much under the influence of Marxism, though she was hard put to it to find room in Marxism for her faith in “the spirit,” which was playing an ever deeper part in her life. “The spirit,” she said, “must be the highest of all dialectical levels, the supreme synthesis.” While she was at home she talked much to Sirius about “equality of opportunity,” “the class war,” “the dictatorship of the proletariat,” and so on. And she insisted that if Communism was not, after all, the whole truth, then nothing short of a great new idea, based on Communism, could win the war and found a tolerable social order. Sirius had always been sympathetic with the desire for revolutionary social change. His spell in the East End had shown him how necessary it was. He had heartily agreed with the plea for common ownership of the means of production, and for creative social planning. But now that he had property to look after he found himself, much to his own surprise, looking at the whole matter from a different angle. “That’s all quite true,” he would say, ‘but I’m a bit anxious about your new order. Are you going to merge all the farms into great collective farms? It all smells a bit dangerous. It’s too theoretical. And what about eccentric creative enterprises like Thomas’s? And what on earth would become of oddities like me, if I ever existed at all? The point is, who is to do the social planning? It’s all very well to say the people will do it, but God save us from the people. Anyhow they can’t really do it at all. Some minority will do it, either mere demagogues or bosses. Somehow we have to get the wide-awake people to do it. It’s always the wide-awake people who do everything worth while, really. The rest are just sheep.” “But surely,” said Plaxy, “it’s ordinary people that all the planning is for; and so its the ordinary people that must settle the aims of all the planning, and control it. The wide-awakes are servants of the community. The sheep-dogs serve the sheep.” “Rot,” said Sirius, “sheer tripe! The dogs serve a master, who uses the sheep, and the dogs.” Plaxy protested, “But the people, if they are a free people, have no master but themselves. The people as a whole are the master.” “No, no!” cried Sirius. “You might as well say the sheep as a whole are the master. I, at any rate, acknowledge only one master, not forty-five million two-legged sheep, or two thousand million, but simply and absolutely the spirit.” The answer came promptly. “But who is to say what the spirit demands? Who is to interpret the spirit?” “Why, the spirit itself, of course,” he replied, “working in the minds of its servants, its sheep-dogs, the wide-awake people.” “But, Sirius. dear, dangerous, ridiculous darling, that’s the way straight to Fascism. There’s a leader who knows, and the rest do what they’re told. And there’s a Party of faithful sheep-dogs who make them do it.” Sirius protested, “But a Fascist Party is not made up of wide-awake people. Its members don’t really know at all what the spirit is. They don’t know the smell of it. They can’t hear its voice. All they can ever be, even at their best is just sheep-dogs run amok, wild sheep-dogs, wolves under a wolf leader.” “But, Sirius, my own, don’t you see, that’s just what they would say about us. Who is to judge between us?” He had his answer ready. “Who judged between Christ and the High Priest? Not the people. They said ‘Crucify him.’ The real judge was Christ’s master, the spirit, speaking in Christ’s own mind; and in the High Priest’s, it only he would listen. The point is, if you serve the spirit you can’t serve any other master. But what the spirit demands always is love and intelligence and strong creative action in its service, love of the sheep as individuals to be made the most of, not merely as mutton or as coral insects in a lovely coral pattern, but as individual vessels of the spirit. That spirit — love, intelligence and creating — is precisely what ‘the spirit” is.” Plaxy’s reply was merely ribald. “The Reverend Sirius preached one of his most profound and helpful sermons.”

They were sitting together on the lawn at Garth, and he playfully attacked her, pushing her over and making for her throat. Accustomed from childhood to such battles, she gripped his ears and tugged hard. Before his teeth had softly seized her, or his tongue had begun its tickling caresses, he squealed for mercy. They smiled into each other’s eyes. “Sadistic little bitch!” he said. “Sweet cruel bitch!” With one hand she seized his lower jaw and pressed it backwards and downwards into his neck. The sierras of ivory closed gently on the back of her hand. Dog and girl struggled playfully for a while, till she let go, exhausted. Wiping her hand on his coat, she protested, “Slobbery old thing!” They lay quietly on the grass.

Suddenly Plaxy said, “I expect you have great fun with Mifanwy, don’t you?” He heard a faint tension in her voice. There was a pause before he answered, “She’s lovely. And though she’s so deadly stupid, she really has the rudiments of a soul.” Plaxy pulled a piece of grass and chewed it, looking at the distant Rhinogs. “I have a lover, too,” she said. “He wants me to marry him, but that would be so binding. He has just joined the R.A.F. He wants me to have babies, lots of them, as quickly as possible. But it’s too soon. I’m much too young to pledge myself for ever to anyone.” There was a long pause. Then Sirius asked, “Does he know about me?” “No.” “Will he make any difference to — us?” Promptly she answered, “I don’t feel any different. But perhaps I don’t really care enough about him. I love him terribly as a human animal, just as you love Mifanwy, I suppose, as a canine animal. And I love him very much as a friend too. But I don’t know whether that’s enough for marriage. And it must be marriage, for the children’s sake, because they need a permanent father. They ought to grow up in the community of their parents.” Another long pause came between them. She threw him a quick sidelong glance. He was staring at her, his head very slightly tilted to one side, his brows puckered, like any puzzled terrier. “Well,” he said at last, “marry him, and have your litter, if you must. And of course you must. But all this is much more serious than bitches. Oh, Plaxy, fundamentally it’s you and I that are married, for ever. Will he spoil that? Will he put up with it?” She pulled nervously at the turf, and said, “I know, I know we’re somehow married in the spirit. But if that makes me ever unable to love a man whole-heartedly enough to want to be his wife and have babies with him, oh, I’ll hate the hold you have on me.” Before he could reply she looked squarely at him and continued, “I didn’t mean that. I can’t hate the hold you have on me. But — oh, God, what a mess!” Tears were in her eyes. He stretched forward to touch her hand, but thought better of it. Then he said, “If I am spoiling your life, it would have been better if Thomas had never made me.” She put a hand on his shoulder, and said, “If you had never been you, then I should never have been I, and there would have been no difficult, lovely ‘us.’ And even if I do hate you sometimes, I love you much more, always. Even while I am hating you, I know (and the best of me knows gladly) that I am not just Plaxy but the human part of Sirius–Plaxy.” He answered quickly, “But to be that properly you must be as much Plaxy as possible, and so you must somehow live your human life fully. Oh, yes, I understand. Being human, and a girl, and in England, and middle class, you can’t merely have lovers and an illegitimate litter. You must have a husband.” To himself he added, “And I perhaps, must sometimes kill your kind.” But the memory of Thwaites murdered suddenly came upon him, and revolted him with its contrast to the present happy situation. It was as though, running on the moor in bright weather, he had suddenly been swallowed by a bog. And somehow it seemed that only Plaxy could pull him out. On a sudden impulse he told her the whole story.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00