You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 4

Animalism of Animals

MRS TEWLER would let no nurse girl intervene between herself and her “Precious.” During his lays, she herself, proud and vigilant, wheeled him out in his little perambulator every day up Camden Hill or into Regent’s Park. When Edward Albert showed signs of friendliness towards dogs, and reached out at them, saying! “Bow-wow, Bow-wow,” she intervened. “Never touch a strange dog,” she said. “They bite. They bite and give you hydrophobia and you go mad and run about biting people. And then thy go mad too.”

Something in the eye of the small boy suggested that this was not an altogether unattractive idea, “And you scream when you see water and you die in awful agony,” she said. That gleam of hope faded.

Cats too Edward Albert was trained to shun. “They have pins in their toes,” and sometimes these can be very poisonous pins. Lots of people have caught things from a cat’s scratches. They bring measles into the house. They don’t love you even when they purr. And then she heard a terrible story that had to be repeated at once to the cherished darling, of a cat, being petted, purring in the lap of its little mistress, and it watched her eyes, it kept on watching her eyes, and suddenly it sprang at them with its claws out. . . .

After that Edward Albert developed an antipathy for cats, and declared he could not endure them in the same room.with him. He was cat-allergic, as people say nowadays, in their bright, inexact way. But at times cats got near him unobserved — which wasn’t in accordance with that assertion. Horses too he feared, because he realised they could be equally dangerous to human life at either end. Sheep he was inclined to bully and run after, until one dreadful day in Regent’s Park an old ram suddenly turned on him and stamped and stood his ground, Whereupon he fled screaming to his mother, who, pale but determined, intervened, confronted the danger and disposed of it very rapidly by opening and shutting her grey-and-white parasol. That left only the new grey squirrels which had recently come over from America for him to be reasonably bold about. He gave them nuts sometimes, but when they became over-familiar and wanted to run up his legs and over him, he struck and kicked at them. When a passer-by remonstrated with his mother, the defended him.

“You never know what they’ll give you,” she said. “They’re thick with fleas, you see, and he’s a delicate, sensitive child.”

Such were the reactions Edward Albert acquired to the indigenous fauna of London. His knowledge of the graver extremities to which Nature was allowed to go after the Fall of Man was derived chiefly from books. He invented a marvellous electric gun for his private comfort which always killed and never required reloading, and this he always kept close at hand when he travelled in his reveries across the silver seas. Gorillas and bears lurked in the darker corners of the house and under his bed, and no sort of emergency would induce him to quit that shelter once he had been tucked up in it. Four guardian angels, he knew, watched about him, but none of them had the pluck or the intelligence to rout about underneath the bed. If he woke up at night they weren’t there. He would listen to things creeping about and scrutinise dim ambiguous shapes until it became unbearable, and then he would scream for his mother.

“Was there a nasty bear?” she would say, rejoicing in her protectiveness. She never lit up the room and showed him the emptiness of his fears. So he learnt to hate animals in every shape and form. They were his enemies, and when he went to the Zoo he made derisive faces and put out his tongue at all the most dangerous animals behind the bars. But the mandrill went one better.

After the mandrill Mrs Tewler and her son went on for a time in silence.

Some things are unspeakable.

They both felt that animals ought never to have been allowed, none of them, and that coming to the Zoo was simply encouraging them to be the animals they were.

“Would you like a nice ride on the elephant, darling?” said Mrs Tewler, breaking that embarrassed silence, “or look at the dear little fish in the aquarium?”

At first Edward Albert was inclined to have a ride on the elephant. But he asked to have a good look at it first. He thought perhaps he might sit by the keeper man and be allowed to beat it about the head, but when he saw the elephant taking programmes and newspapers out of people’s hands and eating them, and when it handed up pennies to its keeper in the most intimate way, and when it suddenly put a moist mendicant trunk in front of him, he decided he would prefer to go home. So he and his mother went home.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02