Playing Second Fiddle

— I have always been disposed to pity men who come to be known, wholly or mainly, as the husbands of their wives. Such a second-hand reputation, not to call it a second-hand personality, must prove a constant humiliation, it would seem, though I gladly admit the possibility of heights and depths of conjugal unselfishness quite beyond the conception of any darkened bachelor understanding. At all events, my own feeling upon the subject is so strong that when a young friend confided to me, some time ago, his betrothal to a rising young novelist (what middle-aged unmarried man does not feel the happier for such confidences ?) I urged him by no means to suffer his own youthful literary ambition to flag, lest he should be pointed at all his life, and written about after his death, as " the husband of Mrs. So-and-So.” The caution was kindly meant, though I am not sure how well it was relished ; but “pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall,” and even while I was putting my friend upon his guard I was myself falling, not into the selfsame pit, to be sure, but into one quite as miry, if not quite so hard to get out of.

Within a comparatively short time I have moved into a rural village, bringing with me a young dog of very engaging appearance, and still more engaging manners ; so very engaging, in fact, — to blurt the ugly truth out at once, — that I find myself recognized principally as his owner.

If I venture abroad without him, as I like to assert my independence by now and then doing, the first boy I meet inquires, seemingly with no thought of disrespect, “ Where ’s your dog ? ” Indeed, I was asked that question lately by a man of sixty or seventy years. I know neither his name nor his dwelling-place (he lives in an adjoining town, I suspect), but as he drove past me be looked this way and that, evidently missing something, and then in all seriousness asked this question. The ladies, also, are without exception on good terms with Joe ; smiling upon him, calling him pet names, and patting his head. This in itself is not so bad ; but some of the prettiest of them, after thus greeting the dog, turn their eyes away demurely as they meet his master, who, it is to be said, has never been honored with an introduction to their acquaintance. Yet I know what they are thinking of, all the same : not “ That ’s Mr. So-and-So,” but “ What a beauty of a dog that man has ! ”

Only the day before yesterday, as I was trudging along a lonely road, Joe lagging in the rear, intent upon some one of his numberless errands, I heard behind me the rattle of wheels, and, turning about, saw a carriage approaching. Pretty soon some one called out briskly, “ Hullo, Joe ! ” followed at once by a full chorus of youthful voices : “Joe ! ” “Joe ! ” “ IIullo, Joe ! ” A minute more and the carriage drove past me without a word or a sign. In it were a man and woman, with an indefinite number of children. It was a large family, perhaps ; or, for aught I know, it may have been a small Sunday-school. Whichever it was, the members of it all knew Joe, and if they thought of me it was only as a kind of appendage to him. Experiences of this sort may be wholesome, but they cannot be regarded as flattering to a man’s vanity.

A week or two ago, to mention but one more of such painful occurrences, I came out of the city in rather unusual spirits. Browsing in a reading-room, I had taken up a copy of that famous journal the Revue des Deux Mondes, and in it had happened upon a not uncomplimentary reference (it was only a reference, I must acknowledge) to my literary ventures. This was better even than an occasional request for an autograph. I must really be getting famous.

But as I stepped off the train and started homeward up the hill I overtook two small boys. One of them saluted me with a courteous “ Good-morning,” and after I had passed I heard the other say, “ Who is that man ? ” “Oh, that’s the man that owns Joe,” was the reply ; “ I don’t know what his name is.” Verily, as Poor Richard does not say, a mail is known by the dog he keeps. I am expecting any day to receive my letters through the post-office addressed, —

Mr. C——D——,

Mystic Lowlands,

Care of Joe. Conn.