So much has come to pass and changed since I moved to Les Hirondelles two months ago that my head is in a whirl, and it could just as well be two years that have elapsed! I scarce know where to begin. Master and Mistress have been passing kind to me though it has not always been an easy task for them to adapt to the excesses of my temperament – I am, let it be said, a creature of passion, and my high spirits, ebullience and jubilant good cheer are not to everyone’s taste. And so I have learnt… I have learnt above all that change begets change, and that it must come from within or not at all. Thus it was that my first colossal task was to acclimatise myself to my new surroundings and the creatures with whom I was to share my new life. Let me jump in at the deep end, to employ the vernacular, and make a frank confession. I have quirks, propensities and habits that I had never questioned until my arrival at Les Hirondelles. Given my keepers’ reactions, I have now been forced to reflect upon their propriety.
A couple of examples will suffice.
In common with other members of my species, it is my custom, on first making acquaintance, to sniff the groin of the other animal and to accept a reciprocal sniff with equanimity, and in all honesty I did not restrict this practice to fellow canines. It soon became clear that Master and Mistress were dismayed to be welcomed thus and sought to avoid nether contact with my nose. This misdemeanour seemed even more heinous to them when the object of my attentions was a neighbour or the post lady, and they would be forced to apologise on my behalf.
There are also eleven cats at Les Hirondelles and not all take kindly to my olfactory attentions either, however much they too enjoy a good sniff between themselves. In short, I perceived to my horror and chagrin that I was being viewed as a lewd, uncouth and ill-bred creature – by humans and cats alike – a judgement that would have mortified Havane, my mother, were she present to witness it. At the very least, my deportment was considered unmannerly and, as a gentleman by birth, this has discomfited me no end. I have sought, therefore, to rein in my instincts and in this respect may be said to have become more civilised, perhaps at the paltry cost of betraying my natural drives and inner promptings, for in truth, my sense of smell is acute, and humans have no idea of the rainbow of delightful fragrances and odours that assail my nostrils throughout the livelong day.
The practice of licking has also come under review in my new abode. While I can comprehend how sniffing can be seen as somewhat brazen and forward – assuming a familiarity where sometimes there is none – licking seems to me a perfectly acceptable and hygienic practice, carried out purely for ablutionary purposes. The other dog with whom I must share this habitation, of whom I shall speak further at a later date, licks himself incessantly, to which he has the added charm of discharging urine against the furniture with an insouciance that is frankly outrageous. Honestly, there is no love lost between us.
The cats, needless to say, are inveterate lickers and groomers of themselves and each other, yet for them to do so appears to be entirely admissible. The humans even permit the cats to lick their hands, clearly not finding this attention repulsive. My own attempts to lick Master and Mistress are, of course, no more than an exuberant expression of my love and devotion, yet at times they seem to ward me off as if my reactions are disproportionate and need to be kept in check. Mistress was particularly dismayed when I licked her on the face on one occasion shortly after finding and consuming the corpse of a baby rabbit in a field. It is true that the corpse was partially decomposed and maggoty, which no doubt was reflected in my breath, but I am still taken aback by her reaction to my perceived disrespect. Is it because my tongue is large and not abrasive, like those of the cats? I must continue to observe their reactions to the licking convention until I get to the bottom of this behavioural conundrum.
But forgive me, dear reader, for beginning with negative points, or at least aspects of my comportment that patently require adjustment and adaptation. Far be it from me to wish to appear ungrateful. While the move from a château to a lowly farmhouse could be seen as a demotion to some, to me it was nothing of the sort. From the outset I have felt wanted and adored by Master and Mistress, and this – to use a new expression I have learnt – has warmed the cockles of my heart. The garden is mine to romp in as I please, and Master walks me every day in the surrounding fields, come rain or come shine. On other occasions he attaches me with a lead to his bicycle so that we may fly along together like the wind. I live for these excursions and try my best to obey Master’s calls when he screams my name and blows on his whistle until his face turns red, for I know it to be for my own good, so that in my headlong enthusiasm I do not suffer the misadventure of a traffic accident.
My sustenance remains the same as before, though the large bowl of food that is ever on hand for the cats has at times tempted me beyond endurance. I am capable of emptying it in seconds, but Master has now placed it on the buffet, so that the cats must leap onto that item of furniture in order to feed out of my reach. When Master is pleased with me, he gives me a butcher’s bone or a handful of “friandises”, declaring me to be a “Good dog!”, and by these little words and signs of affection I infer when I have done well, and I am pleased.
While reading a short biography of Lenin recently, I learned the curious and perfectly useless fact that “Good dog!” were the Russian leader’s last words before dying from a stroke – uttered of course in his native tongue. He was addressing his dog who had brought him a dead bird. I suspect that Mistress would not say “Good dog!” were I to do likewise! The eleven cats are Grim Reapers indeed, bringing a daily harvest of bird and mouse cadavers into the dwelling, and Master and Mistress most certainly do not exclaim “Good cat!” when they have to deal with the evidence of the massacre.
There are further subjects I wish to address concerning my new life in this curious menagerie – or what Master calls “The Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Cats and Dogs”. My mastery of English has progressed by leaps and bounds – an appropriate metaphor, I hope you will agree, for a dog! – and it is with a certain indignity that I recall that my vociferations were once limited to barking and whimpering like some pathetic imbecile in an asylum.
There is no doubt that language, and Master’s assiduous commitment to advancing my education, has empowered me to understand myself and the world – and what a diverse and mysterious world it is! The days scarcely seem long enough for my studies after our morning jaunt, yet I pack in what I can, furthering my horizons in whatever ways come to hand, I am deeply indebted to Master because he has given me unlimited access to his library and computer, knowing that I shall put these resources to excellent use.
But what of bygone days? I returned but once to the château, and my delight at being reunited with my mother Havane was indeed unbridled, but it was not to last. I am reliably informed that her days are calmer in my absence, and our huge and reckless hunting trips are of course a thing of the past.
But such is life. When one door closes, another opens, and it is our duty as sentient beings to put aside ruefulness and nostalgia for that which will never return and trot ever onwards, following our noses and exulting with unflagging gratitude in the joys and sorrows that each new day brings!
For verily, as the sagacious dictum goes, every dog must have its day, and Marlowe is no exception!