Absence

THE seamstress who goes out by the day does not really enjoy coming to my house. ‘Of course it is healthy, almost woodsy,’ she admits, ‘but just a little too lonely. Still, what can you expect? It’s Auteuil.’

For that complaint there is no help. I do not argue. But in Auteuil the snow stays spotless. Though it may make a Switzerland of our little ramparts, though the early sunshine gilds the infield of our track and tingles the bark of the budding elderberries, for my little Dorcas we are still Auteuil, and the treestudded earthworks, manned only by children and nurses, for her are always ‘the redoubt,’ dark with a twilight mystery, romantic, fearsome.

‘ How lonesome you must get out here,’ she said to me the other day, ‘without your husband and your little girl.’

I did not answer, and she added softly, thinking she had offended me, ‘ But you have the animals for company. They’re so faithful, and that does cheer one up.’

I might have answered, ‘Yes, they are faithful, but just for that reason sometimes they can’t cheer me up.’

Ah, loyal friends, you hold a mirror at my heart! Our bulldog, I know, misses the little playmate she left behind in the country, but not to the final canine depth of spurning food and play. Spartan that she is, she never gives up and never whines; she hides her bruised paw and the scars of battle. She bears her bereavement with the same stolidity, till she is misled by the shadow of some passing child; then she dashes off. A little later, back she saunters — and it is hard to look into the eyes of a dog to whom mankind has lied.

The Persian, old but never any older, the color of a pale violet, is on the watch. At mealtimes she crouches on the table, always in the corner by the empty chair, yet at every masculine footstep she forgets her lofty timidity and is gone to greet the prodigal. She picks her way alone across the Avenue to the Police Station. And so beautiful is she, so Orientally condescending, that they treat her as a queen.

The Sergeant himself returned her in his arms. ‘She meows a lot,’ he said, ‘but we know she isn’t hungry. Wonder what she wants?’

As for the unswerving shepherd —there is a one-man dog above such temptations. She doesn’t have to range or sniff; she knows. Two years ago she was a tiny puppy, and I marvel how she could reach in two short years a certainty so scornful, so ascetic almost. Hope deferred has no more secret for her than for me. As she lies by my chair, hardly breathing, her very repose has a meaning. ‘I am not resting,’ it says, ‘but waiting.’

An overcoat never fools her, she never jumps at the doorbell; she knows and waits. The bulldog will blunder into the empty room and start to say hello.

‘What!’ she will seem to exclaim. ‘He’s not back yet?’

But not the sheep dog. Sometimes the sight of a long-legged stranger reminds her of her heart’s own choice. Her eyes blazing inside their dark jungle, she softly thumps her tail, smiling at her memories. But the smile is to herself.

Then one day, without warning, her master did come walking home. Far off, out of sight, she knew. A cry of anguish, and she tore the leash from my hands. Like a Fury, she outran me, — she would have knocked me down if she must, — for it was she who had to hug him first, and I could only be the second.