Sirius, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 15

Strange Triangle

I HAVE already told how I found Plaxy with Sirius at Tan-y-Voel, and how clear it was to me that any attempt to persuade her to leave him would have alienated her from me. It was not till some days after our first meeting, and after many talks with Plaxy, that I realized how intimate her relations with the dog had become. The discovery was a shock to me, but I took pains not to betray my revulsion; for Plaxy, finding me sympathetic, soon poured out in a flood of confession the whole story of her emotional relations with Sirius. When she had many times dwelt upon this theme I found myself putting aside the conventional feelings of the outraged lover. I could not but realize that the passion which united these two dissimilar creatures was deep and generous. But this made me all the more fearful lest I should never win my strange darling back again. And I was deeply convinced that for her own sake, no less than for mine, she must in the end be won back to human ways.

During the few remaining days of my leave I spent much time at Tan-y-Voel, sometimes with Plaxy alone, sometimes with the two of them. Sirius was busy all day, but Plaxy allowed herself a good deal of time off duty to be with me. We used to work together in the garden. Indoors I helped her to clean and cook, and so on. I also constructed a number of labour-saving gadgets for her. I have always been fairly apt with my hands, and I thoroughly enjoyed putting up shelves and curtain rods, and improving the arrangements for washing up. Sirius’s sleeping-basket needed repairing, but it seemed better not to put this right until much later, when I had established friendly relations with him. While I was occupied with all these little manual tasks we would talk, sometimes seriously, sometimes with the old familiar banter. Sometimes I even ventured to tease her about her “canine husband”; but on one of these occasions (she was washing up and I was drying) she broke into tears. After that I was more tactful.

It was my fixed intention, of course, to wean Plaxy from her present life, though not to tear her from Sirius. I made no suggestion that she should come away with me. Indeed it was part of my plan to persuade her and Sirius that I fully accepted the continuance of their intimacy and of their present regime. My improvements in the house were calculated to strengthen this impression. They also accidentally served another purpose. They allowed me to take a rather mean advantage over Sirius, who could not himself help in this way. I could see that my handiness galled him; and, seeing it, I was ashamed of hurting him. Yet whenever an opportunity offered I failed to resist the temptation of triumphing over him and delighting my darling. After all, I told myself, all is fair in love and war. But I was ashamed; the more so because Sirius with inhuman generosity encouraged me to help Plaxy whenever possible. Perhaps it was in the long run a good thing that I indulged myself in this manner, for Sirius’s magnanimity forced me to realize quickly how fine a spirit he was, and compelled me to treat him with warm respect, not merely for being loved by Plaxy, but for his own sake.

Relations with Sirius were at first very awkward, and I feared at one time that our presence in the same house would prove intolerable to both of us. He made no attempt to get rid of me. He treated me with friendly politeness. But I could see that he hated to leave Plaxy with me. Obviously he feared that she might at any moment vanish out of his life. One source of strain between us was that I had at first very great difficulty in understanding his speech. Though in the end I learned to follow his uncouth English fairly easily, during that first visit to Wales I was often entirely at a loss, even when he spoke word by word and with many repetitions. In these circumstances it was almost impossible for us to come to terms at all. However, before we parted I succeeded at least in dispelling the initial chill by showing him that I had no intention of acting as the jealous rival, and that I did not condemn Plaxy for her relations with him. I went so far as to assure him that I did not want to come between them. To this he replied with a little speech which I laboriously made out to be, “But you do want to come between us. I don’t blame you. You want her to live with you, always. And obviously she must live with you, or some man. I cannot give her all that she needs. This life is only temporary for her. As soon as she wants to, she must go.” There was dignity and sanity in this statement, and I felt rebuked for my lack of candour.

By judicious wangling I was able to secure an extension of leave, so that I could spend some ten days with Plaxy and Sirius, conscientiously returning to my hotel every night. Sirius suggested that I should sleep at the cottage, but I pointed out that if I did there would be an added scandal. It seemed strangely tantalizing to me, who had been, and in a manner still was, Plaxy’s acknowledged lover, to kiss her good night at the garden gate while Sirius tactfully remained indoors. A revulsion little short of horror (which I was at pains to dissemble) would sometimes seize me at the thought of leaving her with the non-human being whom she strangely loved. On one of these occasions I must have somehow infected her with my own distress, for she suddenly clung to me with passion. A surge of joy and hunger swept over me, and I lost my presence of mind so far as to say, “Darling, come away with me. This life is all wrong for you.” But she disengaged herself, “No, dear Robert, you don’t understand. Humanly I do love you very much, but — how can I say it? — super-humanly, in the spirit, but therefore in the flesh also, I love my other dear, my strange darling. And for him there can never possibly be anyone but me.” I protested, “But he can’t give you what you really need. He said so, himself.” “Of course not,” she answered, “he can’t give me what as a girl I need most. But I am not just a girl. I am different from all other girls. I am Plaxy. And Plaxy is half of Sirius–Plaxy, needing the other half. And the other half needs me.” She paused, but before I had thought of an answer she said, “I must go. He may be thinking I shall never come back.” She kissed me hastily and hurried to the cottage door.

The next day was Sunday, which the Welsh keep with dreadful strictness. No work could be done on the farm, beyond feeding the beasts, so Sirius was free. I went round to Tan-y-Voel after breakfast and found Plaxy working in the garden, alone and rather self-conscious. Sirius, she said, had gone off for the day, and would not be back till after sunset. I was surprised, and in answer to my questions she explained, “The wild mood is on him, he says. It takes him and then leaves him. He has gone over the Rhinogs by the Roman Steps to a farm near Dyffryn to his crazy-making Gwen, a beautiful super-sheep-dog bitch. She should be ripe for him just now.” I showed signs of disgust and sympathy; but she promptly said, “I don’t mind. I did mind once, before I understood. But now it seems quite natural and right. Besides —” I pressed her to continue, but she went on digging in silence. I forcibly stopped the digging. She looked me in the eyes, laughing, and said nothing. I kissed her warm sunned cheek.

There was human love-making in the cottage that day, and a great deal of talk. But though my darling responded to my caresses with ardour, I knew that she was all the while withholding her inmost self. Sometimes I found myself imagining with horror how a beast had awkwardly mauled the sweet human form that I now so fittingly embraced. Sometimes, on the other hand, it seemed to me that, after all, the lithe creature in my arms, though humanly, divinely shaped, was inwardly not human at all but some exquisite fawn-like beast, or perhaps a fox or dainty cat transformed temporarily into the likeness of a woman. Even the human form was not quite human; so spare and supple and delicately muscular was it that she did indeed seem more fawn than girl. Once she said, “Oh lovely, lovely to be human again, even for a little while! How we fit, my dear!” But when I urged, “This, Plaxy darling, is what you are meant for,” she answered: “This is what my body was meant for, but in spirit I cannot ever be wholly yours.” How I hated the brute Sirius in that moment! And she, sensing my hate, burst into tears, and struggled in my arms like a captive animal till she had freed herself. But the quarrel was soon made up. We spent the rest of that day as lovers do, wandering on the hill, sitting about in the garden, preparing and eating meals.

When the sun was low in the west I prepared to leave her, but she said, “Wait for Sirius. I do so want you to be friends,” Not till late in the evening, when we were sitting talking in the little kitchen, did we hear the garden gate. Presently Sirius opened the door and stood blinking in the lamp-light, his nostrils taking the scent of us. She held out both arms towards him, and when he reached her she drew his great head to her cheek. “Be friends, you two,” she said, taking my hand. Sirius looked at me steadily for a moment, and I smiled. He slowly waved his tail.

During my last few days I saw more of the dog than I had done before. We no longer avoided one another; and by now I could understand his speech rather better. One morning, while Plaxy was helping Mrs. Pugh in the dairy, I went out with Sirius and his pupils to the high pastures. It was wonderful to watch him controlling these bright but sub-human creatures with barks and singing cries that were to me quite unintelligible. It was wonderful, too, to see them at his bidding capture a particular sheep and hold it down on the ground while their master examined its feet or mouth, sometimes treating it from the panniers, which, by the way, were carried by one of the pupils. Between whiles we talked of Plaxy and of her future, and of the war, and of the prospects of the human species. Conversation was difficult, because he had so often to repeat himself, but gradually we established a genuine friendship. On the way home he said, “Come often to see us while Plaxy is still here. It is good for Plaxy. And it is good for me too to have your friendship. Some day, perhaps, it will be my turn to visit you two, if you will have me.” I felt a sudden warmth towards him, and I said, “If she and I have ever a home, it must certainly be your home too.”

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