MY AUNT’S POODLE.
Mr Aunt Margaret has a poodle. It is, unquestionably, the ugliest little beast that ever bore the form canine. Nature has done nothing for it; and this neglect has been aggravated by a variety of accidents.
Early in its puppy-days one of its legs was broken by a fall through the spiral staircase, from the top of the house to the bottom, so that it limps. Its eyes were villanous at the best of times; they were marked by a sly, suspicious, discontented leer, and never looked you honestly in the face; they gave the dog the air of a pickpocket, and I seldom ever met it without instinctively putting my hand to my watch or my purse. Had I any faith in transmigration, I should say that the soul of Bill Soames had passed into the ugly body of my old aunt’s poodle.
But, as if the natural expression of its eyes had been insufficient to render the beast hateful, an accident must needs occur to remove all doubt upon the point. Some months ago, the contents of a phial of spirits of hartshorn were overturned into Mr. Lovely’s right eye (for Lovely is the appropriate name of the exquisite creature), which said right eye has not only been ever since relieved of the performance of all optic duties, but it has assumed an appearance by no means so agreeable as to warrant a description. Its skin, too!—The common saying that “Beauty is but skin deep,” would, in this instance, become a gross exaggeration, for Mr. Lovely’s beauty is not even as deep as that. He is—to make a literal use
of another common expression—in a very ugly skin. It is of no imaginable colour—a sort of yellowish-greenishbrownish-grey—an unearthly, vampire tinge. And here again accident has stepped in to make bad worse. By the upsetting of a cauldron of boiling water, the unlucky animal was wofully scalded; and to this hour he bears evidence of his sufferings, and of his miraculous escape from death, in two large ghastly pink spots, one on hia left side, the other on the nape of his neck, as free from hair as the palm of your hand. Now, though it would be impossible to like such a mass of ugliness and deformity, yet, had it been a well-disposed, kind-hearted, unassuming, gentleman-like dog — a dog of prepossessing manners, respectable habits, decent conduct, and unimpeachable morals; or were it remarkable for its talents and accomplishments—one might, upon all or any of those accounts, and in consideration of its sufferings, have pitied and endured it. But no; as it is the ugliest, so is it the worst, of created beasts: sulky, snarling, savage, and sneaking; thankless and dissatisfied; as arrant a thief as a magpie, as finished a blackguard as a butcher’s cur;—and for accomplishments! it could not sit up upon its hinder legs, pick up a penny-piece, or fetch a handkerchief across the room, were either of those feats to be made its benefit of clergy.
It may be asked, why be at the pains of describing so worthless a beast?
Because the beast, worthless as it is, is the sole arbiter of the destinies of the only remaining representatives of three ancient houses—the Nolands, the Thwaiteses, and the Briggses. Besides, the beast has a clear income of twelve hundred pounds a year; or, which is the same thing, he has the disposal of it.
Yesterday was my aunt Margaret’s birthday, when, as usual, all the members of her family were invited to dine with her. Poor Jack Noland and myself are her only immediate relations; the Briggses (consisting of Mr. and Mrs. B., with their sou and daughter, Pomponius and Julia), and Miss Priscilla Thwaites (a maiden lady of fiftyseven), being merely first cousins of her late husband. The assertion that all the members of my aunt Margaret’s family were invited to dine with her requires some modification: nothing more must be understood by it than all such as enjoy the honour of Mr. Lovely’s patronage, and have been wise enough to keep terms with him; for, besides the seven persons enumerated, there are fifteen others, who, owing to various offences committed by them against the peace and dignity of the rascally little poodle, are now no more considered by my aunt Margaret as her relations than Prester John.
Now, since Aunt Margaret, as Jack Noland very sensibly observed to me the other day, cannot carry her money with her to the grave, it must be evident that the prospects of us seven who still continue in favour are improved by the removal of the unfortunate fifteen; but, in proportion as our places are more valuable, our duties, our cares, and our anxieties, are more oppressive. The brute seems to be perfectly aware of this; he appears to have studied our dislikes and antipathies, for the fiendish pleasure of exciting them; and he takes a diabolical delight in tormenting us to within an inch of the forfeiture of our legacies. He is, perhaps, more circumspect in his conduct towards me than towards the other expectants; for long ago I gave him a lesson which he has not yet quite forgotten. I am not of a very enduring temper; and, finding Mr. Lovely, upon whose caprices my hopes depended, to be a dog whose goodwill was not to be won by gentleness—reflecting, at the same time, that the. continual annoyance he inflicted upon me might, one day or other, force me beyond the bounds of prudence, provoke me to retaliate, and thereby cost me dearly — I resolved upon a decisive but dangerous measure, with a view to secure myself against his future aggressions. It was simply tbis: one morning, during my aunt Margaret’s absence, I, in acknowledgment of an inhospitable growl at my entrance, and a manifest intention to bite, flogged him in such a way as perfectly astonished him! He has ever since behaved to me as well as such a dog can behave.
But yesterday was, as poor Jack Noland forcibly
described it, “a tremendous day for us all, and be d d
to the dog!”
Jack, by the way, is the poor cousin of our family, whose duty it is to love and admire us all, to be of everybody’s way of thinking but his own, to execute all Hie disagreeable commissions of the family, and patiently bear the reproach when anything goes wrong.—” Ah, there again! ’tis Jack’s fault, no doubt.” Tet Jack possesses many good qualities, and is a pleasant fellow when he is allowed to expand. But a stern look of the Briggses, or a sneer of Miss Priscilla’s, will freeze the jest that is glowing at the very tip of his tongue; in which case Jack will watch an opportunity of taking me aside—for Jack and I are the best friends in the world —and, after a moment of most expressive silence, and with a smile which indicates his relish of his own wit, he will bestow upon me, after the following fashion, the entire benefit of some piece of pleasantry which he had intended for the whole party :—” I say, Tom; I ’11 tell you what I meant to say—[so and so]—and I don’t think it is so bad; do you, Tom?” But to return—not one of us but, at some moment or other, saw our hopes of inheritance dangling by a single thread, or, in language more appropriate, at the mercy of a single bark!
But, in order that our sufferings and our dangers may be fairly appreciated, it must be stated, that Mr. and Mrs. Briggs dislike dogs in general, Lovely in particular; Pomponius Briggs and Miss Julia Briggs inherit the family aversion to the canine species, with the superaddition of an extreme dislike of poodles beyond all other dogs, and of my Aunt Margaret’s Lovely beyond all other possible poodles; Miss Priss, the fifty-seven-yearold maiden cousin, loathes the very sight of Lovely, and hates it most devoutly, simply upon the true old maiden principle—because it happens to be a favourite with Aunt Margaret; poor Jack and myself are the only two of the family who do not entertain a sweeping dislike of all dogs, yet we partake’ of the general aversion to Lovely, and hate him with heart and soul, for the reason that the dog is an unamiable dog. In a word, not one of us but is a deadly foe to the animal, and would gladly hang or drown it—if we dared.
Within one hour of dinner-time we were all assembled in my Aunt Margaret’s drawing-room. After she had received our felicitations, and listened to our wishes that she might enjoy many happy returns of the day (Jack slily whispering in my ear, ” Of course, Tom, we don’t mean too many”), she burst into tears; lamented to see so few of her relations about her upon such a day; regretted that the misconduct of the absentees [towards Mr. Lovely, be it understood], had compelled her to have done with them for ever; declared that she had altered her will in our favour, and hinted that she was mistress to alter it again if she should see cause. Of this edifying discourse, which lasted till dinner was announced, the text was ” Love me, love my Dog ; ” the obvious moral, “Look to your legacies.” It was not without its effect; and Lovely, who seemed to understand the intention of it, with a look of villanous exultation occasionally bent his evil eye upon each of us. Old Briggs whistled the dog towards him. Pomponius drew a collar for the “little rogue” from his pocket. Julia and Mamma each patted the “pretty fellow,” and then turned aside, with a look of ineifable disgust, to dabble their fingers with eau de Cologne. “Come hither, pretty poodle,” said Miss Priscilla, holding out some sugar-plums which she had ” bought on purpose for the dear dog.” Poor Jack Noland volunteered to give the “little fellow”—a washing in the Serpentine next Sunday; whilst I vehemently swore that Lovely grew prettier and prettier every day. Here Jack Noland drew me aside, and assuming a ludicrous swagger of independence, said: “I tell you what, Tom: this slavery is no longer to be borne!” adding, in his dry way, “only we must bear it, you know.”
At dinner we had not a moment’s peace. The reptile was either jumping upon us, and growling till he had extorted from us the choicest morsel on our plates, or worrying us into a fever by snapping at our legs under the table: evidently with an intention to provoke us to the commission of some outrage upon him, which might draw down upon our heads the displeasure of Aunt Margaret.
Presently, in pure spite, he ran yelping to his mistress, as if he had been hurt, although I am persuaded that no one had touched him.
“How can you be so cruel to the poor dumb beast?” said Miss Priscilla, unjustly and ill-naturedly singling out the family scape-goat, poor Jack Noland, for the question.
Reproaches were showered upon poor Jack from all quarters, who bore them—together with a pretty smart lecture from Aunt Margaret, and a hint about every shilling of her money being at her own disposal—with silence and resignation.
Jack had, however, the good fortune to repair the error which he had not committed by the lucky application of an epigram he had lately read, which afforded him an opportunity of conveying a pretty compliment to Mr. Lovely, highly gratifying to my old aunt, and, at the same time, of revenging himself by a sly but desperate hit at Miss Priscilla. Perceiving her to be fondling the detested poodle, “Apropos,” said Jack—the apropos was, certainly, somewhat too severe—” Apropos.- in an old newspaper, which I picked up the other day, I met with this epigram on an old maid caressing a lap-dog.”
There was an awful pause, and Priscilla let the dog gently down. Jack resumed:
“Rufa, I’m not astonisli’d in the least,
That thou shouldst lick so dainty, clean a beast;
But that so dainty, clean a beast licks thee—
That surprises me!”
A dead silence succeeded, which was only interrupted by my Aunt Margaret desiring Jack to ring for coffee.
This was the first time in my life I had ever known Jack to do a savage thing; and, as we were returning to the drawing-room, he endeavoured to justify himself in my opinion, by whispering to me, “It was rather hard, to be sure, Tom; but I don’t think Cousin Priss will be in a hurry again to try and get me cut off with a shilling on account of that rascally poodle.”
The rain was pouring in torrents; and the ” rascally poodle,” who, to add to his natural attractions, had been scampering about the muddy grounds, came dripping into the drawing-room.
In this interesting condition he ran from one to another (carefully avoiding my Aunt Margaret), squeezing himself between our legs, and jumping into our laps. The fortitude with which the attack was borne by us all, and the heroic control we maintained over our feelings, were astonishing. It is probable that Aunt Margaret’s reprimand of Jack Noland, and her hint about every shilling of her money being at her own disposal, may have contributed to strengthen our nerves. My first impulse certainly was to toss the mongrel out of the window ; but, considering that a good four hundred a-year (for which I know I am down in the will) might be tossed out along with him, I contented myself by affecting a laugh at the ” unceremonious little gentleman,” as I called him, and, with my pocket-handkerchief, smearing the mud over my white silk stockings till it was dry. Noland and Pomponious Briggs followed my example—Pomponius, as he was making bad worse by scrubbing his white kerseymeres, muttering,” Two-poundten, by jingo!” Mr. Briggs senior swore he was the most fortunate man breathing, for it would not show much upon black. Mrs. Briggs, whose French pink sarsnet dress was ruined for ever, merely simpered, “Well, it cannot be helped.” Miss Julia Briggs, like her papa, congratulated herself upon her good fortune; for, being dressed in white muslin, which would wash, “it didn’t much signify.” And Miss Priscilla, whose saffroncoloured white satin dress, which never saw the light except on state occasions, such as the present, and which was now in a condition to set at defiance the utmost magic of the scourer, asseverated, as she walked towards the window to conceal her tears, “that it did not signify the least in the world.”
When Mr. Lovely had thoroughly cleaned himself by his visits to us, he ventured to approach his mistress.
“I am fearful,” said my aunt, patting his back—for he was now perfectly dry—” I am fearful Lovely has been rather troublesome.”
It was now who should be foremost to assure Aunt Margaret that, so far from being troublesome, nothing, in our opinion, could be more delightful than his goodnatured playfulness—nothing more entertaining than his innocent frolics; and that, in every possible respect, Lovely was, incontestably, and beyond all means of comparison, the sweetest dog in the universe.
My Aunt Margaret’s property is all funded; and of her twelve hundred a-year, she regularly lays by twothirds. This we happen to know.