Fido was a daily, hourly delight.
I would shut my eyes, to be able to open them suddenly and realise—with fresh acuteness—his infinite variety. There was to me something poignant about his loveliness like an open rose in whose very perfection lies the herald of doom. I loved him too much. The cynical masterpieces of the past looking at his beauty smiled in satisfied revenge for they knew that he was alive and that life means death. Love gives mortality to everything.
Fido grew limp and listless. His nose was hot and dry. He no longer trotted about, he wandered from room to room. His eyes were dull. His heart bumped about like money in a money-box. With an effort he wagged his tail to cheer me up. Wearily he would climb into a chair and lie there indifferent to my trembling caresses.
* * * * *
I gave up looking at dogs, alive or china, embroidered or painted. Fortunately most of my friends have “pets,” griffons that look like tropical spiders, little shiny naked shivering animals, bloated prosperous Pekineses, exuding the complacency of their mistresses and seeming to be rather the last word of a dressmaker, or a furrier, than a creation of the Gods.
If I saw a sheepdog, or a greyhound, a spaniel or a retriever, I would avert my eyes, shivering a little as when the hitherto harmless buzzing machine reaches the hidden nerve.
“Don’t you like dogs?” people would say.
“No!” I would answer.
“How strange. I adore animals.”
Oh the verbs of the untouched. And then, in spite of everything, because of everything, a Dalmatian once more invaded my life—the life that I had so resolutely determined never again to expose to any dog. What is invulnerability but a pis-aller? Which of us, given the choice between perfect peace and imperfect love would hesitate for one moment?
When Providence gave me Ponto I accepted him with hungry passion, with nervous propitiatory prayers to the Gods.
He was a stray dog, masterless and collarless, an erring emigre of civilisation and he came to me. At first I did not dare look—my heart was beating so fast. I was frightened of being radiant. I was frightened of being miserable.
And then I turned to him. He was bigger than Fido, with longer, stronger legs. His ears were not quite black, there were two little white spots on them, his eyes were not set in pencilled rims. But he was beautiful, as beautiful as a Greek athlete—to see him run was to see the Olympic games, and in the house he would curl and stretch and tangle up his paws, and put his head on my lap and reassure me with his eyes.
Once more I lived with motion made concrete, with beauty made absolute—once more a wagging tail brought the inexhaustible dot of gaiety.
Ponto had finer manners than Fido. He was maturer, with a deeper sense of noblesse oblige. He never forgot that even if he had been born a Dalmatian, privilege entails certain obligations.