Sirius, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 7

Wolf Sirius

THOMAS succeeded in persuading Sirius to complete his year with Pugh, assuring him with Machiavellian subtlety that it would be an invaluable “spiritual training.” And it was. It was a Spartan, an ascetic life; for Sirius accepted all the ordinary sheep-dog conditions. At times it was a life of grim hardship and overwork. Men and dogs returned from their labour dead tired, and fit for nothing but supper and sleep. But there were other times when there was little to be done that did not necessitate human hands. Then Sirius used to lie about pretending to sleep, but in fact trying desperately to think about man and himself, and the identity of the spirit in them, a task in which he was singularly unsuccessful.

Since Pugh was by now fairly well in the know about Sirius, Thomas had arranged that during his last term the dog should have more or less regular hours, like a human worker, so that he could frequently go home and put in a little study. The word “study,” of course, was not mentioned, but Pugh agreed with a knowing wink.

Expeditions over the high hills were becoming rather much for the ageing Welshman, so he handed over more and more responsibility to Sirius. He arranged with the saddler to make two pairs of small panniers which could be strapped on to the dog’s flanks. These he filled with lotions, medicines, bandages. Sirius could now travel far afield and doctor sick sheep without Pugh having to accompany him. He would set off with Idwal, who now accepted him as a leader, and spend the day inspecting the whole flock. When they had rounded up a bunch of sheep into some remote moorland pen, Sirius would examine each one of them for foot-rot or fly-strike. Any animal that showed restlessness, or kept trying to nibble at its own back, was probably infected with fly-strike. Sirius was sufficiently human to dislike exposing the grubs with his own teeth, and cleaning out the superficial wound with his tongue; but the work had to be done. By keeping a sharp watch on the flock, and tackling the earliest symptoms himself, he was able to reduce to a minimum the number of advanced cases which demanded attention from man’s exploring fingers. But inevitably a few were not found till they were deeply infected. These had to be taken away for human treatment. Very rarely Sirius came on sheep lying down, neither ruminating nor sleeping, and with great open wounds seething with grub. For these he had to fetch human aid at once, or they would soon die. Pugh, by the way, had put all the drugs and ointments into tins with clip-on lids which Sirius could open without excessive difficulty.

When the shearing season arrived the whole flock had to be brought down in batches, and put into pens to be tackled each in turn by one of the half-dozen shearers who were going the round of all the flocks in the district. The actual shearing was a job which Sirius would never be able to do. Nothing but human hands or some mechanical device could ever divide a sheep from its fleece. Sirius would stand about watching the manual dexterity of the shearers with fascination and sadness. The sheep, on its haunches between the knees of the man, would sometimes struggle, generally when its skin was nipped and little red stains appeared on the cream of its inner wool: but in the main the blades peeled off its coat as though merely undressing the creature. The gleaming inner surface of the fleece, as it was rolled back upon its own drab exterior, was a wave of curd. When the operation was over, the naked, angular beast would spring away bleating with bewilderment.

Throughout the last few months of his year with Pugh, Sirius was much absorbed in his work; but also he was in a state of suppressed excitement, and of conflict. He delighted in the prospect of release from this servitude, yet in spite of himself he regretted that the connection must be broken. He had become thoroughly interested, and he had a real affection for Pugh. It seemed mean to desert him. And though Cambridge promised novelty and a great diversity of human contacts, he was sufficiently imaginative to realize that town lift might not suit him at all.

There was also another and a deeper conflict in his mind, one which was increasingly troubling him. It was the endless conflict over his relations with the dominant species of the planet. Never did he cease to feel that man and he were at once poles asunder and yet in essential nature identical. At this early stage the trouble had not come clear to him. He could not yet focus it. But to explain his obscure and still largely inarticulate distress, his biographer must set forth Sirius’s plight with a clarity which he himself had not yet attained. Men were many and he was one. They had walked the earth for a million years or more, and they had finally possessed it entirely. And he? Not only was he himself a unique product of their cunning, but the whole race of dogs were their creation. Only the wolf was independent. And wolves were now no more than a romantic relic that man would never again seriously fear. Little by little, through their million years, men had worked out their marvellous human way of living, culminating in civilization. With those enviable hands of theirs they had built themselves their first crude forest shelters, then settlements of huts, then good stone houses, cities, railways. With nicely correlated hand and eye they had made innumerable subtle implements, from microscopes to battleships and aeroplanes. They had discovered so much, from electrons to galaxies. They had written their millions of books, which they could read as easily as he could follow a trail on a damp morning. And some few of those hooks even he must read, because they had the truth in them, a bit of it. He, by contrast, with his clumsy paws and imprecise vision, could never do anything worthy of the brain that Thomas had given him. Everything worth while in him had come from mankind. His knowledge, such as it was, they had taught him. His love of the arts, of wisdom, of the “humanities!” God! Would that wisdom lay rather in “caninities!” For him there was no possible life-aim except to help on in some minute way the great human enterprise, whether through the humble work of sheeptending or the career that Thomas had planned for him as a museum piece and a tenth-rate scientist. For him there could be no wisdom but man’s alien wisdom; just as for him there could be no real loving but the torturing business of loving these infinitely alien human creatures. Or would Thomas some day produce others of his kind for him to love? But they would be so young.

It was indeed mankind that had shown him what love was, with their gently ministering and caressing hands and their consoling voices. His ever-trusted and caninely revered foster-mother had loved him always as her own child; or only with so slight a difference that neither she herself nor her Plaxy but only he with his keen ears and nose could detect it. For this difference he could feel no resentment. It was not indeed strictly a difference of love at all but of animal maternal attraction. Then Thomas, yes Thomas also had shown him what love was, but in a different aspect, in the aspect of “man-to-man” intelligent companionship. Of course Thomas really loved his science far more. Probably he would be ready to submit his creature to any torture, physical or spiritual, for the advancement of his science, of his creative work. But this was as it should be. God himself, if there was a God, might be like that. Might he? Might he? Anyhow, Sirius could understand this attitude. It was not with Thomas nor with Elizabeth but with Plaxy that he had found the essence of love, the close mutual dependence and sharing. Yet strangely it was often the thought of Plaxy that wakened the other mood in him, in which he rebelled against humanity’s dominance.

Throughout the summer at the farm he brooded a great deal about his relationship with Plaxy. When the term was over and they met again, he found that time and difference of experience had increased the gulf between them. They still needed one another and gravitated towards each other, but they ever strained apart for the fulfilling of their divergent lives. Strange indeed was his relation to Plaxy! So alien were they in native propensity, yet so united in common history and in essential spirit. But now so divergent, like stars that have swung very near together out of space to fly apart towards opposite poles of the heaven. Altogether, how he loved her; and how, in another mood even while loving, he hated her!

The native odours of Plaxy were not naturally attractive to him, as was the intoxicating scent of a bitch. In nature, in the jungle, the characteristic human smell would probably have repelled him, like the stink of a baboon. Certainly it was an acquired taste, but he had acquired it so long ago and so thoroughly that the love of it had become a second and fuller nature to him; so that by now, though the sweet maddening smell of a bitch might at any time irresistibly draw him away from Plaxy, always he must return to her. She, he felt, must ever be the centre of his life and he of hers; and she knew it. Yet their lives must inevitably fall apart. There was no common future for them. Even now, how tiresome was her schoolgirl prattle, how boring her unfulfilled schoolgirl romances! (Why ever had the human race developed this ridiculous attitude to sex? How it disgusted him!) And those heartless artificial scents that she had begun to use, perversely wishing to cover her wholesome, and to him by now lovely, natural odour!

But there were times when the natural odour of Plaxy filled him with disgust. Then, all human beings stank in his nostrils, but Plaxy his darling most of all. Sometimes when he was lying in the yard waiting for orders, watching the old cock treading one of his harem, or Jane setting off in her best clothes to Dolgelly, or Mrs. Pugh carrying pails of milk to the dairy, or one of the hired men shifting muck out of the pigstye, he tried hard to analyse his feelings about the human species, and the causes of his own fluctuation between adoration and contemptuous resentment. He recognized that the species that had produced him (more or less for fun) had on the whole treated him pretty well. The specimens that he knew best had on the whole been kindly. All the same he could not but resent his present servitude. Even Pugh, who was fundamentally decent, treated the dogs essentially as chattels. When they happened to be in the way they were just booted out of it; always with that ingrained rough friendliness of Pugh’s, but still it was exasperating. Then there were the village people. Many of them showed an unaccountable spite, kicking him or hitting him for no reason whatever, when Pugh was not looking. At first he thought they must be Pugh’s enemies, or Thomas’s; but no, they were just letting off some secret pent-up vindictiveness against a living thing that could not hit back. Most dogs had been thoroughly trained to take these cuffs and kicks meekly, but Sirius often surprised his assailants by vigorous retaliation.

One cause of Sirius’s incipient contempt for human beings was the fact that since they thought he was “only an animal,” they often gave themselves away badly in his presence. When they were observed by others of their kind, they maintained the accepted standard of conduct, and were indignant if they caught anyone falling short of that standard; but when they thought they were not being watched, they would commit the very same offences themselves. It was, of course, to be expected that in his presence they should pick their noses (how he chortled at their unconscious grimaces) or break wind, and so on. What roused his contempt was their proneness to insincerity. Mrs. Pugh, for instance, whom he had once seen licking a spoon instead of washing it, indignantly scolded her daughter for doing the very same thing. And the hired man, Rhys, who was a great chapel-goer, and very righteous about sex, would often, when he was alone, with only Sirius present, do unprintable things to relieve himself of sexual pressure. Not that Sirius saw anything wrong in such behaviour, but the insincerity of the man disgusted him.

This insincerity of the dominant species, he decided, was one of the main causes of those sudden uprushings of rage and physical repugnance which sometimes possessed him. At these times the human odour became an intolerable stench. He came to recognize this revulsion as a sign that his “wolf nature,” as he called it, was waking. In this mood all the acquired meanings of smells seemed to evaporate, and their natural qualities smote him with exquisite delight or horror. If he was at home he would go out from the oppressive stench of the house to clean his nose with deep sniffs of the fragrant moorland air. A great loathing of man would seize him. He would perhaps plunge into a stream to wash away the pollution, or roll in sweet cow dung. Then he would go hunting, carefully avoiding every human being, irrationally feeling that the hand of man was everywhere against him. Most often his quarry was a mere rabbit; but with sufficient luck and intelligence he might take a mountain hare. The snap of his jaws on the spine, the yielding flesh, the rich blood welling into his mouth, went to his head like alcohol. He felt his spirit washed by the blood of the quarry, washed clean of humanity with all its itching money-inquisitiveness, all its restless monkeying with material things and living things and living minds. To hell with wisdom and love and all cultural dope. The way of life was to hunt, to overtake, to snatch, to hear the sharp scream, to wolf the crushed flesh and bones. Then a drink and a rest in the moorland sunshine, alone, at peace.

During his last month with Pugh, Sirius suffered a distressing alternation of moods. Sometimes he was wholly wrapped up in care of the sheep, sometimes he longed for the life of the mind, sometimes he felt the strange uprush of the wolf’s nature in him.

One day, after attending to some sheep that had been badly struck by fly, he was haunted by the stinging smell of the lotions that he had applied. They turned him savage. Why should he be the menial of these dunder-headed ruminants? Gradually the wolf-mood took complete possession of him. It was a free afternoon for him, and he should have gone home to read. Instead he cantered off among the hills till he reached a certain distant “foreign” sheep-run beyond Arenig Fach, a miniature Table Mountain far to the east. There he sniffed the wind and cast about with nose to earth till he found the trail he wanted. He had not followed it long before the quarry stood before him, a great ram with royal head and a neck heavy with muscle. Sirius checked, and stood looking at the beast, which also stood, sniffing the wind, pawing the ground. Suddenly the dog felt the human, the humane, in him coming uppermost again. Why murder this fine creature? But it was man’s creature, and it epitomized all the tyranny of the sheep-dog’s servitude. He rushed at the ram, who met his onslaught with lowered head and flung him off. There followed a long battle. Sirius was gashed in the shoulder. He persevered, however, running in again and again till at last he was given a chance to seize the ram by the throat. Desperately it tried to throw him off, crashing about among the heather and rocks; but Sirius hung on, remembering his battle with Diawl Du. The ram’s struggles became feebler, as Diawl Du’s had done. At last they ceased. Sirius let go. His tail tucked itself between his legs. He looked about to see if any human being was in sight. Then he looked at the dead ram. Human pity, horror, disgust, welled up in him. But he fought them down, remembering that he was hungry. He began tearing off great shreds of the hide, bracing his feet against the ground. Then he dragged at the warm flesh, and gorged himself. At last he slunk away.

It was sheer luck that Sirius was never charged with this crime. It so happened that another sheep-dog from a farm near by had run amok and killed several sheep; so the ram was attributed to him. But Sirius, when his wolf-mood had passed and he realized the full significance of his deed, lived in terror of detection. There was the tell-tale wound on his shoulder. But after all this might have been made by an old nail on a fence.

During the rest of his time with Pugh, Sirius devoted himself conscientiously to the sheep, treating them with new solicitation and tenderness. When at last Thomas came to fetch him away and Pugh made his final report, the old man said, “Yes, indeed, Mr. Trelone, it is a wonderful dog he is, and I don’t know how I shall do without him. This summer he is like a mother to the sheep, so loving he is in his ways with them. And they are all in great health because he has watched over them so closely, and tended any that would be poorly before it ever showed any sadness for itself. If only he were a man, Mr. Trelone, I would have my daughter marry him for the sheep’s sake. But she has set her heart on a two-legged animal, a draper’s assistant that has not half the brain of this dog, though he is no fool in his own business. So now I must look round and take some other young man into partnership, since Mr. Bran insists on going.” He looked at Sirius with a rueful and affectionate grimace, then continued, “But surely to goodness, Mr. Trelone, when you make another dog like this one you will not again forget that hands are as needful as a brain. I have often broken my heart for Bran when I have watched him trying to use his mouth to do the things I do so easily with these great clumsy paws of mine. Yes, you must give the next one hands, isn’t it, Mr. Trelone.”

Unexpectedly, when Sirius was once more at home, the wolf-mood became more insistent than ever. With Pugh he was generally absorbed in some bit of practical work, and had little time to brood; but at home during that summer holiday his future was all uncertain and had to be discussed; and Plaxy was present, with her familiar spell and her increasing remoteness.

Right at the outset, on the walk home from Caer Blai, Sirius had broached the subject of his future. “Well,” said Thomas with a guarded voice, “first you need a good holiday at home. Then I thought we might do a walking tour with my young colleague, McBane, in the Lake District, where you would see a different style of sheep-farming. Then you might enter for some of the Cumberland sheep-dog trials, just to surprise the local people a bit. Then it will be time for you to come into residence at the laboratory, so that we can begin a whole lot of fine experimental work on you, physiological and psychological. You’ll find it all very interesting, and of course your active co-operation will be needed throughout. You will learn a lot that way. Little by little, we shall train you to be a research worker in animal psychology. If you turn out well we may be glad to publish some of your stuff. Then, of course, scientists of all sorts passing through Cambridge will want to see you. So you will have a very interesting life, and you will be the cynosure of every scientific eye. I hope to God it doesn’t turn your head and make you an insufferable prig.” Sirius remained silent. Presently Thomas continued, “Oh, yes, and when we can spare you I think you might put in a few weeks now and then on sheep again, either at Pugh’s or elsewhere. In time we shall probably have done all the research we need of you, and then — well, you will probably come on to our staff as a permanent member.”

“I see,” said Sirius, and said no more. He thought about it all the way home. He thought about it by day and by night, and about other matters that were disturbing him.

One of these matters was of course his relationship with Plaxy. Shortly after she came home she learned that she had won a scholarship for one of the Cambridge colleges. Her subject, by the way, was English literature. It had been Thomas’s wish that she should become a doctor, but she had steadily veered away from science towards the arts, thus (according to my theory) asserting her independence against the father whom she secretly admired. The study of literature at Cambridge is scientific in temper, and in working for her scholarship Plaxy, I suggest, had both asserted her in dependence and been true to her father’s moral code. She had worked hard for her scholarship, and now for a time she put the life of the mind behind her. Sirius, on the other hand, after his hard labour with Pugh, proposed to spend all his spare time on the life of the mind. He had been hoping for her collaboration. Plaxy, however, was unusually silent and remote. Superficially she was as friendly as ever, and would often go for walks with him. But they were silent walks; and the silence, though apparently she did not notice it, oppressed him. She did not seem really interested in his problems. Even the great problem of his future, though she often encouraged him to speak of it, did not really interest her. And she spoke less and less of her school life, because it took so much explaining. Thus nearly all their talk centred round family or local affairs and the natural phenomena of a Welsh summer. This was easy and happy, but Sirius felt that it did not get them anywhere.

One day in mental agony he said, “Plaxy, why have you gone dead on me? I do so want us to be happy together!” She answered, “Oh, I know I’m sometimes a pig to you. The trouble is I’m terribly worried just now, and I can’t think of anything else.” “Tell me about it,” he said; but she replied, “I can’t. It’s too complicated. You wouldn’t understand. How could you? There’s nothing in your life to help you to begin to understand. No, I’m sorry, but somehow I can’t tell you. It’s — it’s just a human thing.”

It was not the words that offended him so much as the faint tone of superiority in the voice. The wolf-mood, which had been brewing in him ever since his conversation with Thomas, came violently into action. The smell of this human female beside him suddenly lost all its loveliness and became a repugnant stink. Sidelong he looked at her. Instead of seeing the dearest face in the world, he saw the uncouth hairless features of a super-ape, in fact of that species which so long ago had broken in his ancestors to be their slaves in body and soul.

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t want to butt in.” He was startled at the snarl in his own voice, and surprised (and oddly resentful) that she did not notice it. All the way home they walked in silence. At the gate she touched his head with her hand, and said, “I’m sorry.” He answered, “That’s all right, I wish I could help.” The snarl was still in his voice, hidden under gentleness. She did not hear it. Her touch sent conflicting tremors down his back, for it was at once the touch of his darling and the touch of the super-simian tyrant.

At the doorway the human smell of the house raised his gorge. She entered. Longing to restore community with her, he actually licked her hand as she passed in; and while he did so, he felt to his horror his lips curl themselves back, baring his teeth for action. She vanished into the house. He turned away, sniffing the fresh air.

He cantered ruthlessly across a flower-bed, leapt the garden wall, and swung easily up the hillside with his tail streaming out behind him.

That night he failed to return home. There was nothing unusual in this, and no one was anxious. On the following night also he was absent. Thomas was disturbed, but concealed his anxiety under annoyance, for he had planned a long walk with Sirius for the next day. On the third night also there was no Sirius. Pugh had not seen him, nor had he put in an appearance at any of the neighbouring farms, nor in the village. Thomas was now alarmed; and Plaxy, thinking of their last meeting, felt remorse for her coldness.

The whole household was organized as a search party, with Idwal and another super-sheep-dog, who were borrowed for the occasion and made to smell Sirius’s sleeping-basket before setting out on the search. Since there was no news of him in the cultivated regions, it seemed probable that he had taken to the moor. The searchers spread out fanwise in allotted directions.

It was Plaxy who found Sirius, late in the afternoon. Coming round a buttress, she saw him standing over the carcass of a little moorland pony. She had approached up wind, and Sirius had not seen her. He began tugging savagely at the hide of the mangled neck, tearing it away from the flesh. His legs were driven deep into the bog in the effort to get a solid purchase. His tail curved under his belly. His jaws and shoulders were smeared with blood, and peaty mud was splashed all over him. A great pool of blood and mire spread from the pony’s throat. There had evidently been a wild struggle, for the pony’s flanks were torn and the bracken and grass were trampled.

Only for a second did Plaxy watch, unobserved and horror-stricken. Then she gasped out, “Sirius!” He let go and faced her, licking his crimson lips and muzzle. The two gazed at each other, she into the eyes of a wolf, he into the white, nude, super-simian face of his ancestral tyrant. His back bristled. A snarl twisted his lips. A low growl was all his greeting.

She was thoroughly frightened and nauseated, but also she realized that some desperate art was needed to save him from ruin. And in that moment (she afterwards said) she realized for the first time the strength of the bond between them. She advanced towards him. “Sirius, darling,” she cried, surprising herself no less than him, “what ever will become of us now?” Miserably she approached him, with the bog squelching over her shoe-tops. His growl became more threatening, for the beast in him was jealous for its quarry. His ears lay back. His teeth were more crimson than white. She felt a weakening at the knees, but plodded towards him, and stretched out a hand to touch the savage head. As she did so, she caught a nearer view of the carcass, and suddenly she vomited. When the paroxysm was over, she sobbed out, “Why did you have to do it? I don’t understand. Oh, they’ll want to kill you for it.” She sat down on a damp tussock and gazed at Sirius, and he at her. Presently he turned on the carcass and tore at the flesh. Plaxy screamed, leapt up and tried to drag him off by the collar. With a roar he turned on her, and she was flung back on to the boggy ground with the great beast standing over her, and the cold boggy water oozing about her shoulders. Their eyes were close together. His breath smelt of blood.

Some people in desperate moments have a knack of doing the right thing. Plaxy is one of them. “My dear,” she said, “you are not a wild beast, you’re Sirius. And you don’t really want to hurt me. You love me, you know you do. I’m your Plaxy.” His lips crept back over his teeth. His growl died out. Presently, with a little whimper he delicately kissed her cheek. Stroking his throat, she said, “Oh, my poor darling, you must have been mad”; then, as she rose to her feet, “Come, let me clean you up a bit.”

She took him to the edge of the boggy pond, and with a bit of moss for a sponge she wiped the blood from his muzzle and his neck and shoulders. While she was doing so she said, “Why did you have to do it? Why did you have to leave us? Was I very horrid to you that day?” He stood silent, passive to her ministrations, with his tail still tight under him. When he was more or less clean of blood, she kissed his forehead, then straightened herself. She walked over to the carcass. “Poor pony.” she said. “He’s like our Polly that we used to ride on when Giles and I were little. Do you remember how you used to kiss her nose, nearly getting yourself fallen over?” A sudden tortured whimper was his answer. Then she, still gazing at the pony, said in an altered voice, “If we leave this mess to be found, they won’t rest till they have tracked you down, and then? If only we could bury it in the bog! We had better go home and tell Thomas.”

On the long walk home she tried to make Sirius tell her all about it, and suddenly she realized that he had never said a word since she had found him. “Tell me, tell me!” she implored. “Oh, do at least say something. What’s the matter with you?”

At last he spoke. “You wouldn’t understand. There’s nothing in your life for you to judge it by. It’s just — a canine thing.” This echo of her own words startled and pained her. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” she said, “I was horrid.” But he said, “It wasn’t all your fault. I was going wild before that.”

The rest of the search party had arrived home before them. Sirius was given a hearty but anxious welcome. He took it coldly. Refusing his supper, he retired to bed. Plaxy at once told her story to Thomas, who was at first indignant and then increasingly interested, though of course alarmed for Sirius’s safety. Next day he traced the owner of the pony and told him the whole story, attributing the murder to “a new, untrained experimental super-sheep-dog of mine.” He paid up twice the value of the pony.

The killing of the pony was one of the turning points in Sirius’s career. It clarified his relations with Plaxy, and it made Thomas realize that Sirius was being seriously strained, and would have to be treated carefully.

A couple of days later Plaxy and Sirius found themselves talking more freely to one another than had been possible for many months. It began by her telling him about that “human” matter which she had formerly withheld. Consideration for Plaxy forbids me to publish its details, which are anyhow irrelevant to my theme. Let it suffice that Plaxy had allowed herself to become entangled with a young man for whom she felt a strong sexual attraction but no great respect; and that in these circumstances the shameless promiscuity of Sirius’s own sex life seemed to her to render him an impossible confidant. But the pony incident had made her realize more clearly how much her intimacy with Sirius mattered to both of them. She felt compelled to do her utmost to restore confidence. Sirius on his side told her of the conflict which was racking him, the alternating moods of respect and loathing for humanity. “You, for instance, are sometimes the dearest of all things in the world, and sometimes just a horrible monkey that has cast a filthy spell on me.” She answered at once, “And you are sometimes just my father’s experimental dog that I have somehow got tangled up with and responsible for, because of him; but sometimes you are — Sirius, the part of Sirius–Plaxy that I love.” A faint change in her fragrance made him realize the warmth of her feeling far better than her words could do, or even the shy frankness of her voice.

Thomas made a point of lecturing Sirius on the folly of killing ponies, but the lecture gradually changed into a discussion about the causes of the wolf-mood in him. At the crisis of this talk Sirius cried, “Unless you help me to be myself, you will force me to be — a sham wolf.” Thomas countered this with, “And what must you be to be ‘yourself’?” After a long pause Sirius said, “I don’t know, yet. But I must be given a chance to find out. I must be helped to look round at the world. I shall not see much of it if I just alternate between sheep and your laboratory. You see, I feel I have my own active contribution to make to — well to human understanding. I can’t be just a passive subject for experiments, or at best a tenth-rate research worker. There’s something I must get clear in my own mind, and when I have got it clear, then I must get it across somehow to mankind.” Thomas softly whistled. “Sounds as though you wanted to be a sort of canine messiah to men!” Sirius moved restlessly and said, “No, I’m not as silly as all that. I don’t feel superior at all, far from it. But — well, my point of view is so utterly different from man’s, and yet at bottom the same. In making me you made something that sees man from clean outside man, and can tell him what he looks like.” Thomas was silent, considering this, and Sirius presently added, “There’s another point. When I feel I’m not going to be able to be my true self, or not allowed to try to be it, the whole human race turns foul in my nose, and I just go wild. Everything blacks out. I don’t know why, but there it is.”

Thomas was by now thoroughly aware that his policy for Sirius had been too simple. He undertook to modify it. On the following day he talked it all over with Elizabeth. “What a fool I was,” he said, “not to foresee this psychological trouble! I don’t think I ever really realized that if things went wrong with this experiment I couldn’t just wash my hands of it all, and start again; any more than a surgeon can wash his hands of an operation that has gone wrong. I feel as God ought to have felt towards Adam when Adam went wrong — morally responsible. The devil of it is that, though moral feelings are mere subjective feelings, you can’t ignore them.”

After a long discussion Elizabeth and Thomas decided on a new programme for Sirius. He should come to the laboratory, as planned; but also he should be “shown round a bit” by Elizabeth, so that he could “begin to get the hang of this crazy human world.” He would go about simply as her dog, meeting her friends in Cambridge and elsewhere, listening to their talk. She would also help him to do a bit of sight-seeing, if it could be arranged — slums, factories, docks, museums, concerts. This could be done at odd times, from the lab. He could also, with Thomas’s aid, make proper use of Cambridge as an educational centre. Thomas would suggest lines of study and get him books from libraries. All this might help him to see more clearly what he could do with his life.

When Thomas explained the new plan to Sirius, he ended with a caution. If Sirius did wander about the country with Elizabeth, he must be very careful not to give the show away. He must behave simply as her dog. No one must suspect him of being able to talk, no one but the people in the know at the laboratory. “But why?” protested Sirius. “Surely it’s time I came out into the open. I can’t go on pretending for ever.” Thomas insisted that the time had not yet come for publicity. “We must have you firmly established in the scientific world before the commercial world can get hold of you. Otherwise some unscrupulous tough, out on the make, will try to kidnap you and run you into some foreign country to show you off for money. Then you really would be a slave for the rest of your life.” Sirius snorted. “Let ’em try, that’s all.” Thomas pointed out that a chloroform cloth would put him out of action very effectively, till they got him away. “Don’t think it’s just my fancy,” Thomas added. “There are some guys on your track already, and it’s time I warned you. Only yesterday two townee people called here to inquire about buying a super-sheep-dog. I put them off because I didn’t like the look of them. Told them I had no animal ready. They said they had seen one in Trawsfynydd posting a letter, you in fact. Wouldn’t I sell you? They offered $30, $40, and gradually raised it to $250. This was fantastic for a super-sheep-dog, so I began to be suspicious. Well, those fellows have been hanging about here since then, so look out. And remember, chloroform.”

Some weeks later, when Sirius had almost forgotten about this story, an attempt was actually made to kidnap him. He had been out hunting, and was returning by his usual route, which passed over a stile in a wall about a hundred yards or so above the house. He was on the point of climbing over the stile when he caught a whiff of something strange. It was sickly-sweet and pungent. He remembered chloroform, and checked. Now unfortunately for his assailants his meditations on the way home from the chase had been sombre. He had been brooding on his subjection to the human race, and so he was in a mood for retaliation. He leapt the stile and crashed into two men, who were waiting for him. They had not expected him to come over like a shell from a gun, exploding on impact. Both men were knocked flying, and in the struggle which followed Sirius got his teeth in the throat of one of the men before the other could apply the chloroform cloth. The choking smell forced him to let go and attack his other assailant. Number one, however, was temporarily out of action, so Sirius had to deal only with number two and the chloroform. The taste, or rather the idea, of human blood had roused the wolf-mood in Sirius, He became just an animal fighting its natural enemy-species. The man did his best with the chloroform, but though Sirius had a few strong whiffs he managed to avoid its full power. Meanwhile the noise of battle had roused Thomas, who was down below in the garden at Garth. He pounded up the hill shouting. The damaged man had risen to his feet to help his colleague, but when he saw Thomas he made off. The other had succeeded in doping Sirius enough to make him no longer dangerous; but he too, when he heard Thomas, clambered to his feet, with blood streaming from his face, and took to his heels, leaving the dog already three parts doped and quite unable to give chase. Both men reached the cart track where they had left their car, and drove off as fast as the bumps would permit. Thomas made no attempt to follow them. Instead, he went to Sirius and gripped his collar, lest the dog should recover in time to pursue his enemies.

Shortly after this incident Thomas took Sirius by car to the Lake District for the projected walking tour with his young colleague, McBane. His main object was to familiarize McBane with Sirius, and particularly to give him an opportunity of learning to understand the dog’s speech before undertaking work on him at the laboratory. Incidentally Sirius was also given an opportunity to see the north country sheep-dogs at work. The party also attended an important sheep-dog trial. Thomas had been persuaded by McBane to enter Sirius as a competitor. Sirius had on several occasions acquitted himself brilliantly at trials in Wales, under Pugh; but Thomas knew nothing of the technique. It very soon became obvious to judges and spectators that the master was no shepherd, while the dog was more brilliant than any dog ought to have been. It did not matter how ineptly Thomas gave his orders; Sirius ignored them and carried out the desired operation with every refinement of skill. Finally it was discovered that Thomas was the famous producer of super-sheep-dogs. He received many offers to purchase Sirius, but laughingly refused. The would-be purchasers had to be content to have their names entered on the waiting list for future dogs.

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