Louise Imogen Guiney

The puppy: a portrait

He is the twenty-sixth in direct descent, and his coat is like amber damask, and his blue eyes are the most winning that you ever saw. They seem to proclaim him as much too good for the vulgar world, and worthy of such zeal and devotion as you, only you, could give to his helpless infancy. And, with a blessing upon the Abbot of Clairvaux, who is popularly supposed to have invented his species, you carry him home from the Bench show, and in the morning, when you are told that he has eaten a yard and a quarter of the new stair-carpet, you look into those dreamy eyes again: no reproach shall reach him, you swear, because you stand forevermore between. And he grows great in girth, and in character the very chronicle and log-book of his noble ancestry; he may be erratic, but he puts charm and distinction into everything he does. Your devotedness to his welfare keeps him healthful and honest, and absurdly partial to the squeak of your boots, or the imperceptible aroma which, as it would seem, you dispense, a mile away. The thing which pleases you most is his ingenuous childishness. It is a fresh little soul in the rogue’s body:

Him Nature giveth for defence
His formidable innocence.

You see him touch pitch every day, associating with the sewer-building Italians, with their strange oaths; with affected and cynical “sales-ladies” in shops (she of the grape-stall being clearly his too-seldom-relenting goddess); and with the bony Thomas-cat down street, who is an acknowledged anarchist, and whose infrequent suppers have made him sour-complexioned towards society, and “thereby disallowed him,” as dear Walton would say, “to be a competent judge.” But Pup loses nothing of his sweet congenital absent-mindedness; your bringing-up sits firmly upon him and keeps him young. He expands into a giant, and such as meet him on a lonely road have religion until he has passed. Seven, nine, ten months go over his white-hooded head; and behold, he is nigh a year old, and still Uranian. He begins to accumulate facts, for his observation of late has not been unscientific; but he cannot generalize, and on every first occasion he puts his foot in it. A music-box transfixes him; the English language, proceeding from a parrot in a cage, shakes his reason for days. A rocking-horse on a piazza draws from him the only bad word he knows. He sees no obligation to respect persons with mumps, or with very red beards, or with tools and dinner-pails; in the last instance, he acts advisedly against honest labor, as he perceives that most overalls have kicks in them. Following Plato, he would reserve his haughty demeanor for slaves and servants. Moreover, before the un- demonstrated he comes hourly to a pause. If a wheelbarrow, unknown hitherto among vehicles, approach him from his suburban hill, he is aware of the supernatural; but he will not flinch, as he was wont to do once; rather will he stand four-square, with eyebrows and crinkled ears vocal with wonder and horror. Then the man back of the moving bulk speaks over his truck to you, in the clear April evening: “Begorra, ’tis his furrust barry!” and you love the man for his accurate affectionate sense of the situation. When Pup is too open-mouthed and curious, when he dilates, in fact, with the wrong emotion, it reflects upon you, and reveals the flaws in your educational system. He blurts out dire things before fine ladies. If he hear one of them declaiming, with Delsarte gestures, in a drawing-room, he appears in the doorway, undergoing symptoms of acutest distress, and singing her down, professedly for her own sake; and afterward he pities her so, and is so chivalrously drawn toward her in her apparent aberration, that he lies for hours on the flounce of her gown, eyeing you, and calumniating you somewhat by his vicarious groans and sighs. But ever after, Pup admits the recitation of tragic selections as one human folly more.

He is so big and so unsophisticated, that you daily feel the incongruity, and wish, in a vague sort of way, that there was a street boarding-school in your town, where he could rough it away from an adoring family, and learn to be responsible and self-opinionated, like other dogs. He has a maternal uncle, on the estate across the field: a double-chinned tawny ogre, good-natured as a baby, and utterly rash and improvident, whose society you cannot covet for your tender charge. One fine day, Pup is low with the distemper, and evidence is forthcoming that he has visited, under his uncle’s guidance, the much-deceased lobster thrown into hotel tubs. After weeks of anxious nursing, rubbings in oil, and steamings with vinegar, during which time he coughs and wheezes in a heartbreaking imitation of advanced consumption, he is left alone a moment on his warm rug, with the thermometer in his special apartment steady at seventy- eight degrees, and plunges out into the winter blast. Hours later, he returns; and the vision of his vagabond uncle, slinking around the house, announces to you in what companionship he has been. Plastered to the skull in mud and icicles, wet to the bone, jaded, guilty, and doomed now, of course, to die, Pup retires behind the kitchen table. The next morning he is well. The moral, to him at least, is that our uncle is an astute and unappreciated person, and a genuine man of the world.

Yet our uncle, with all his laxity, has an honorable heart, and practices the maxima reverentia puero. It is not from him that Pup shall learn his little share of iniquity. Meanwhile, illumination is nearing him in the shape of a little old white bull-terrier of uncertain parentage, with one ear, and a scar on his neck, and depravity in the very lift of his stumped tail. This active imp, recently come to live in the neighborhood, fills you with forebodings. You know that Pup must grow up sometime, must take his chances, must fight and be fooled, must err and repent, must exhaust the dangerous knowledge of the great university for which his age at last befits him. The ordeal will harm neither him nor you: and yet you cannot help an anxious look at him, full four feet tall from crown to toe, and with a leg like an obelisk, preserving unseasonably his ambiguous early air of exaggerated goodness. One day he follows you from the station, and meets the small Mephisto on the homeward path. They dig a bone together, and converse behind trees; and when you call Pup, he snorts his initial defiance, and dances away in the tempter’s wake. Finally, your whistle compels him, and he comes soberly forward. By this time the ringleader terrier is departing, with a diabolical wink. You remember that, a moment before, he stood on a mound, whispering in your innocent’s beautiful dangling ear, and you glance sharply at Pup. Yes, it has happened! He will never seem quite the same again, with

The contagion of the world’s slow stain

beginning in his candid eyes. He is a dog now. He knows.

(1893)

MLA Citation

Guiney, Louise Imogen. “The puppy: a portrait.” 1893. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 20 Apr 2007. 25 Mar 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/guiney/puppy_a_portrait/>.

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