DEATH OF THE DOG BALTHASAR
Jolyon, who had crossed from Calais by night, arrived at Robin Hill on Sunday morning. He had sent no word beforehand, so walked up from the station, entering his domain by the coppice gate. Coming to the log seat fashioned out of an old fallen trunk, he sat down, first laying his overcoat on it.
‘Lumbago!’ he thought; ‘that’s what love ends in at my time of life!’ And suddenly Irene seemed very near, just as she had been that day of rambling at Fontainebleau when they had sat on a log to eat their lunch. Hauntingly near! Odour drawn out of fallen leaves by the pale-filtering sunlight soaked his nostrils. ‘I’m glad it isn’t spring,’ he thought. With the scent of sap, and the song of birds, and the bursting of the blossoms, it would have been unbearable! ’I hope I shall be over it by then, old fool that I am!’ and picking up his coat, he walked on into the field. He passed the pond and mounted the hill slowly.
Near the top a hoarse barking greeted him. Up on the lawn above the fernery he could see his old dog Balthasar. The animal, whose dim eyes took his master for a stranger, was warning the world against him. Jolyon gave his special whistle. Even at that distance of a hundred yards and more he could see the dawning recognition in the obese brown-white body. The old dog got off his haunches, and his tail, close-curled over his back, began a feeble, excited fluttering; he came waddling forward, gathered momentum, and disappeared over the edge of the fernery. Jolyon expected to meet him at the wicket gate, but Balthasar was not there, and, rather alarmed, he turned into the fernery. On his fat side, looking up with eyes already glazing, the old dog lay.
“What is it, my poor old man?” cried Jolyon. Balthasar’s curled and fluffy tail just moved; his filming eyes seemed saying: “I can’t get up, master, but I’m glad to see you.”
Jolyon knelt down; his eyes, very dimmed, could hardly see the slowly ceasing heave of the dog’s side. He raised the head a little—very heavy.
“What is it, dear man? Where are you hurt?” The tail fluttered once; the eyes lost the look of life. Jolyon passed his hands all over the inert warm bulk. There was nothing—the heart had simply failed in that obese body from the emotion of his master’s return. Jolyon could feel the muzzle, where a few whitish bristles grew, cooling already against his lips. He stayed for some minutes kneeling; with his hand beneath the stiffening head. The body was very heavy when he bore it to the top of the field; leaves had drifted there, and he strewed it with a covering of them; there was no wind, and they would keep him from curious eyes until the afternoon. ‘I’ll bury him myself,’ he thought. Eighteen years had gone since he first went into the St. John’s Wood house with that tiny puppy in his pocket. Strange that the old dog should die just now! Was it an omen? He turned at the gate to look back at that russet mound, then went slowly towards the house, very choky in the throat.