IN the archives of dogdom he is registered as a descendant in the second generation from Sullivan’s Punch, who was valued at $3500. In the same illustrious table his name is given as Felsmere Focus. Why Focus rather than Fieldmouse or Feather-Duster or Flapjack, I shall not pretend to know. Burdened from birth with an august ancestry and a grandiloquent name, it would have been no great wonder if he had not amounted to much. To paraphrase the poet, however, —
And blessed him unaware, —
for his master, perceiving that Felsmere Focus did not lend itself aptly to abbreviation, and foreseeing that there might be an element of the ridiculous in a grown man of large dimensions addressing a snub-nosed bow-legged puppy as Felsmere Focus, promptly renamed him Punch; and Punch he has remained, except when derisive friends have inspirationally dubbed him PopEye or Muggins or Snoozer.
He early developed plebeian proclivities of which his grandfather would no doubt have disapproved. No amount of admonition deterred him from bolting his food; he abhorred the bath, and vanished like a puff of smoke even before the water began to splash in the washtub; his favorite coign of vantage was the coal-bin, whence he had to be dragged, and whither he betook himself, when he could, to dry; and from the Tartarus of the cellar he was prone to climb to the Olympus of the guestroom bed or the sitting-room sofa. He preferred silk or satin pillows whereon to rest his weary head, and his trail was over them all. Remonstrances accentuated with a slipper or trunk-strap impressed him for a while, and for perhaps an hour he assumed the demeanor of one whose heart has suffered an incurable blight; but he usually cheered up in time to chase the neighbor’s cat up a tree, whence she had to be rescued with a ladder, or to frighten the butcher-boy out of some wits he could ill spare.
Affecting an extreme sensibility of soul, he at times deluded the unwary into the conviction that he was a pattern of deportment; as Bridget the maid-of-all-work put it, ‘Sure, he’s that meek, butter would n’t melt in his mouth ’; but on such occasions she immediately began a search of the premises to discover what mischief he had been up to. Gifted with a pair of prominent brown gazelle-like eyes and an appealing snub-nose at one end, at the other a tail which could execute the deaf-and-dumb manual in fifty-three languages, and in the middle a heart as sentimental as the Reverend Laurence Sterne’s, he knew how to inveigle the most inveterate canophobe with these and the added allurement of a tentatively proffered diffident paw, usually well powdered with coal-dust. The same sentimental heart prompted him to jump into the laps of dozing old ladies, or press an icy nose unexpectedly against the hands of nervously-constituted young ones; and his abject selfeffacement when they screamed saved him from punishment until an opportunity offered to do the same thing over again.
A study of Punch, lasting many months, leaves me still in doubt whether he is a Pecksniffian hypocrite or merely the victim of an affectionate temperament and a short memory. Not long ago I chastised him for barking at passing dogs. His grief was so profound that I left the task of correction filled with remorse, but hid behind a door to observe whether it had been effective. In a few moments a coach-dog, spotted with what looked like mildew, trotted by. ‘ Woof! ’ said Punch. He knew, however, that I was behind the door, and executed a propitiatory cringe in my direction. I remained silent. ‘Woof!’ said he again, erecting his scruff and baring his teeth; and again he looked my way, the picture of humble supplication, wagging an uncertain tail and yawning in anguish of spirit. As long as the mildewed dog was in sight, he continued to alternate between leonine ferocity and lamblike docility with a rapidity which would have put a ‘lightning-change artist’ to the blush. What could one do but defer his further training until the humor of the occasion should be less fresh in the mind?
Training dogs is like training children. We always know exactly what we would do with other people’s children if we only had the chance. Usually we would spank them. When we own the children, — or the dogs, — the problem becomes unexpectedly complicated. We learn that each child is not merely a microcosmical entity, summing up in himself all the features of all children (even if he were, it would be a difficult matter to spank such an abstraction), but a very peculiar and remarkably individual little pagan who does the most unanticipated things for the most admirable reasons, — from his point of view, — and seems daily and hourly bent upon turning topsyturvey our best-laid plans for his education. Some philosophers advocate tossing up a cent when in doubt whether to spank or not; others advise spanking in any event and trusting to luck; while still others, maudlin with the milk of a humanitarian age, as ardently maintain that all spanking is barbarous. Who shall decide when mothers disagree? The problem as it relates to dogs is sufficiently difficult.
In Wood’s Natural History, richly embellished with over two hundred woodcuts, which I absorbed at the age of nine, we were told that the dog is related to the wolf, and is thought by some to be a descendant of that animal. To look at Punch lying on his back with his Boston-terrier legs pointing ceilingward, the blue blood of his illustrious grandparent not preventing his snoring lustily, he seems a far cry from the four-footed demons who gobbled Little Red Riding-Hood (in the authentic version) and Ivan Ivanovitch’s friend’s children. Yet, again, seeing him circling tiptoe around a dog he intends to slay, his white fangs gleaming, his hair on end along his chine, one realizes that his heart is made of sterner stuff than even his lupine cousins’; that, unlike them, he knows no cowardice, scorns treachery, and will fight even on a full stomach.
Perhaps it is the dual nature of the dog — the two strong dogs struggling within him, as in Saint Paul’s text, Barnard’s statue, and the romances of Stevenson and Poe — that makes him so human to most people. Poor little Punch has a hard time of it between his good and bad instincts. ‘Bark,’ says his own particular devil. ‘Be silent,’ says his conscience. Is it any wonder if he temporizes, if he barks at his enemy and propitiates his Nemesis in the same breath? What else are we mortals doing every day?
Not long ago he faced his hardest ethical problem. He was called upon to fraternize with a rabbit, — a poor, fluffy, white,long-eared, pink-eyed rabbit! He had received his orders not to hurt Bunny, and he observed them for a time in a way to win him a crown of glory in the canine heaven. But when the rabbit, mistaking an armed neutrality for brotherly love, began to eat out of the same dish and snuggle against him for friendship’s sake. Punch’s troubles commenced. The proper and usual procedure for a dog in such a fix was to shake Bun’s soul out of her puny body. But he had received his commands. And so there followed the unusual spectacle of a misguided but affectionate rabbit chasing a scandalized bull terrier round and round the garden with a persistency worthy a better cause. Punch might growl and glare to his heart’s content; but Bun, intent upon the company misery loves, continued to follow; and Punch —
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once looked round walks on
And no more turns his head,
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread —
continued to flee. Who shall say how his soul was ground between the upper millstone of his humanly-inculcated forbearance and the nether millstone of his wolfish instincts? Who shall guess how his heart was harrowed with humiliation at the picture he presented running away from a rabbit? It ended as only it could, by his instincts triumphing. One evening he turned upon Bun, seized her by the back, and shook her. She was startled, but appeared to take the admonition philosophically. Two days later, however, she died, whether of shock or a broken heart or internal injuries did not appear.
Punch’s elation was cloaked in his usual garb of deprecation. He fawned, he cringed, he licked his chops, and sneezed to express his profound sorrow, yet no one detected him shedding tears of remorse over Bunny’s grave. Bridget, as coroner, officiating clergyman, and grave-digger, decided that death was due to causes unknown, although, ‘Faith, the dog had a hand in it’; and so the incident closed.
It is an open question whether Punch’s illustrious grandparent would have managed this situation more skillfully. He could hardly have handled it more effectively. Punch has quite as much blue blood as his grandfather, but somewhere in the intervening generation some of the points which go to make up a bench-dog were lost, and so Punch’s body is too long, his legs too near together, and his tail as straight as a ramrod. He cannot aspire to the blue ribbon. Yet the loss sits lightly upon him. He joyously nips the butcherboy’s calves and blithely rolls in the coal and hypocritically affects a sensitive conscience. He barks at the neighborhood cats and dogs, and bolts his one meal a day, and takes your caress with heartfelt gratitude and, ‘for a full discharge of a present benefaction, having wagged a hearty expressive tail, pursues it gently round the hearth-rug till, in restful coil, he reaches it at last, and oblivion with it,’ to sleep as only the innocent — or the utterly sinful — can sleep. He may dream of pedigrees and blue ribbons, but, knowing him, it seems more probable that the subjects of his somnial visions are cats and mutton-chops; his nightmares are undoubtedly white rabbits.