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I told Murchison that I saw he was the kind of a neighbor a man liked to have, and that it was kind of him to offer to get rid of Fluff, but that he mustn’t do so just on our account.
I said that if he wanted to keep the dog, he had better do so.
“Now, that is kind of you,” said Murchison, “but we would really rather get rid of him. I decided several years ago that I would get rid of him, but Brownlee likes dogs, and took an interest in Fluff, and wanted to make a bird dog of him, so we kept Fluff for his sake. But now Brownlee is tired of making a bird dog of him. He says Fluff is too strong to make a good bird dog, and not strong enough to rent out as a horse, and he is willing I should get rid of him. He says he is anxious for me to get rid of him as soon as I can.”
When I saw Fluff I agreed with Brownlee. At the first glance I saw that Fluff was a failure as a dog, and that to make a good camel he needed a shorter neck and more hump, but he had the general appearance of an amateur camel. He looked as if some one who had never seen a dog, but had heard of one, had started out to make a dog, and got to thinking of a camel every once in a while, and had tried to show me Fluff that day worked in parts of what he thought a camel was like with what he thought a dog was like, and then – when the job was about done – had decided it was a failure, and had just finished it up any way, sticking on the meanest and cheapest hair he could find, and getting most of it on wrong side to.
But the cheap hair did not matter much. Murchison and Brownlee showed me the place where Fluff had worn most of it off the ridge pole of his back crawling under the porch. He tried to show me Fluff that day, but it was so dark under the porch that I could not tell which was Fluff and which was simply underneathness of porch. But from what Brownlee told me that day, I knew that Fluff had suffered a permanent dislocation of the spirits. He told me he had taken Fluff out to make a duck dog of him, and that all the duck Fluff was interested in was to duck when he saw a gun, and that after he had heard a gun fired once or twice he had become sad and dejected, and had acquired a permanently ingrowing tail, and an expression of face like a coyote, but more mournful. He had acquired a habit of carrying his head down and forward, as if he was about to lay it on the headsman’s block, and knew he deserved that and more, and the sooner it was over the better. He couldn’t even scratch fleas correctly. Brownlee said that when he met a flea in the road he would not even go around it, but would stoop down like a camel to let the flea get aboard. He was that kind of a dog. He was the most discouraged dog I ever knew.
The next day I was putting down the carpet in the back bedroom, when in came Murchison.
“I came over to speak to you about Fluff,” he said. “I am afraid he must have annoyed you last night. I suppose you heard him howl?”
“Yes, Murchison,” I said, “I did hear him.I never knew a dog could howl so loud and long as that. He must have been very ill.”
“Oh, no!” said Murchison cheerfully. “That is the way he always howls. That is one of the reasons I have decided to get rid of Fluff. But it is a great deal worse for us than it is for you. The air inlet of our furnace is at the side of the house just where Fluff puts his head when he howls, and the register in our room is right at the head of our bed. So his howl goes in at the inlet and down through the furnace and up the furnace pipes, and is delivered right in our room, just as clear and strong as if he was in the room. That is one reason I have fully decided to get rid of Fluff. It would not be so bad if we had only one register in our house, but we have ten, and when Fluff howls, his voice is delivered by all ten registers, so it is just as if we had ten Fluffs in the house at one time. And ten howls like Fluff’s are too much. Even Brownlee says so.” I told Murchison that I agreed with Brownlee perfectly. Fluff had a bad howl. It sounded as if Cruel Fate, with spikes in his shoes, had stepped on Fluff’s inmost soul, and then jogged up and down on the tenderest spot, and Fluff was trying to reproduce his feelings in vocal exercises. It sounded like a cheap phonograph giving a symphony in the key of woe minor, with a megaphone attachment and bad places in the record. Judging by his voice, the machine needed a new needle. But the megaphone attachment was all right.
Brownlee – who knows all about dogs – said that he knew what was the matter with Fluff. He said Fluff had a very high-grade musical temperament, and that he longed to be the Caruso of dogs. He said that he could see that all through his bright and hopeful puppyhood he had looked forward to being a great singer, with a Wagner repertoire and tremolo stops in his song organ, and that he had early set his aim at perfection. He said Fluff was that kind of a dog, and that when he saw what his voice had turned out to be he was dissatisfied, and became morbid. He said that any dog that had a voice like Fluff’s had a right to be dissatisfied with it – he would be dissatisfied himself with that voice. He said he did not wonder that Fluff slunk around all day, feeling he was no good on earth, and that he could understand that when night came and everything was still, so that Fluff could judge of the purity of his tonal quality better, he would pull out his voice, and tune it up and look it over and try it again, hoping it had improved since he tried it last. Brownlee said it never had improved, and that was what made Fluff’s howl so mournful – it was full of tears. He said Fluff would go to G flat and B flat and D flat, and so on until he struck a note he felt he was pretty good at, and then he would cling to that note and weep it full of tears.
He asked Murchison if he hadn’t noticed that the howl was sort of damp and salty from the tears, but Murchison said he hadn’t noticed the dampness. He said it probably got dried out of the howl before it readied him, coming through the furnace. Then Brownlee said that if there was only some way of regulating Fluff, so that he could be turned on and off, Murchison would have a fortune in him: he could turn his howl off when people wanted to be cheerful, and then, when a time of great national woe occurred, Murchison could turn Fluff on and set him going. He said he never heard anything in his life that came so near expressing in sound a great national woe as Fluff’s howl did. He said Fluff might lack finish in tonal quality, but that in woe quality he was a master: he was stuffed so full of woe quality that it oozed out of his pores. He said he always thought what a pity it was for dogs like Fluff that people preferred cheerful songs like “Annie Rooney” and “Waltz me around again, Willie” to the nobler woe operas. He said he had tried to like good music himself, but it was no use: whenever he heard Fluff sing, he felt that Murchison ought to get rid of Fluff. Then Murchison said that was just what he was going to do. What he wanted to talk about was how to get rid of Fluff.
But I am getting too far ahead of my story. Whenever I get to talking about the howl of Fluff, I find I wander on for hours at a time.
It takes hours of talk to explain just what a mean howl Fluff had.
But as I was saying, Murchison came over while I was putting down the carpet in my back bedroom, and told me he had fully decided to get rid of Fluff.
“I have fully decided to get rid of him,” he said, “and the only thing that bothers me is how to get rid of him.”
“Give him away,” I suggested.
“That’s a good idea!” said Murchison gratefully. “That’s the very idea that occurred to me when I first thought of getting rid of Fluff. It is an idea that just matches Fluff all over. That is just the kind of dog Fluff is. If ever a dog was made to give away, Fluff was made for it. The more I think about him and look at him and study him, the surer I am that the only thing he is good for is to give away.”
Then he shook his head and sighed.
“The only trouble,” he said, “is that Fluff is the give-away kind of dog. That is the only kind you can’t give away. There is only one time of the year that a person can make presents of things that are good for nothing but to give away, and that is at Christmas. Now, I might – ”
“Murchison,” I said, laying my tack hammer on the floor and standing up, “you don’t mean to keep that infernal, howling beast until Christmas, do you? If you do, I shall stop putting down this carpet. I shall pull out the tacks that are already in and move elsewhere. Why, this is only the first of May, and if I have to sleep – if I have to keep awake every night and listen to that animated foghorn drag his raw soul over the teeth of a rusty harrow – I shall go crazy. Can’t you think of some one that is going to have a birthday sooner than that?”
“I wish I could,” said Murchison wistfully, “but I can’t. I want to get rid of Fluff, and so does Brownlee, and so does Massett, but I can’t think of a way to get rid of him, and neither can they.”
“Murchison,” I said, with some asperity, for I hate a man who trifles, “if I really thought you and Brownlee and Massett were as stupid as all that, I would be sorry I moved into this neighborhood, but I don’t believe it. I believe you do not mean to get rid of Fluff. I believe you and Brownlee and Massett want to keep him. If you wanted to get rid of him, you could do it the same way you got him.”
“That’s an excellent idea!” exclaimed Murchison. “That is one of the best ideas I ever heard, and I would go and do it if I hadn’t done it so often already. As soon as Brownlee suggested that idea I did it. I sent Fluff by express to a man – to John Smith – at Worcester, Mass., and when Fluff came back I had to pay $8.55 charges. But I didn’t begrudge the money. The trip did Fluff a world of good – it strengthened his voice, and made him broader-minded. I tell you,” he said enthusiastically, “there’s nothing like travel for broadening the mind! Look at Fluff! Maybe he don’t show it, but that dog’s mind is so broadened by travel that if he was turned loose in Alaska he would find his way home. When I found his mind was getting so tremendously broad I stopped sending him to places. Brownlee – Brownlee knows all about dogs – said it would not hurt Fluff a bit; he said a dog’s mind could not get too broad, and that as far as he was concerned he would just like to see once how broad-minded a dog could become; he would like to have Fluff sent out by express every time he came back. He told me it was an interesting experiment – that so far as he knew it had never been tried before – and that the thing I ought to do was to keep Fluff traveling all the time. He said that so far as he knew it was the only way to get rid of Fluff; that some time while he was traveling around in the express car there might be a wreck, and we would be rid of Fluff; and if there wasn’t a wreck, it would be interesting to see what effect constant travel would have on a coarse dog. He said I might find after a year or two that I had the most cultured dog in the United States. Brownlee was willing to have me send Fluff anywhere. He suggested a lot of good places to send dogs, but he didn’t care enough about dog culture to help pay the express charges.”
“I see, Murchison,” I said scornfully, “I see! You are the kind of a man who would let a little money stand between you and getting rid of a dog like Fluff! If I had a dog like Fluff, nothing in the world could prevent me from getting rid of him. I only wish, he was my dog.”
“Take him!” said Murchison generously; “I make you a full and free present of him. You can have that dog absolutely and wholly. He is yours.”
“I will take the dog,” I said haughtily, “not because I really want a dog, nor because I hanker for that particular dog, but because I can see that you and Brownlee and Massett have been trifling with him. Bring him over in my yard, and I will show you in very short measure how to get rid of Fluff.”
That afternoon both Brownlee and Massett called on me. They came and sat on my porch steps, and Murchison came and sat with them, and all three sat and looked at Fluff and talked him over. Every few minutes they would – Brownlee and Massett would – get up and shake hands with Murchison, and congratulate him on having gotten rid of Fluff, and Murchison would blush modestly and say:
“Oh, that is nothing! I always knew I would get rid of him.” And there was the dog not five feet from them, tied to my lawn hydrant. I watched and listened to them until I had had enough of it, and then I went into the house and got my shotgun. I loaded it with a good BB shell and went out.
Fluff saw me first. I never saw a dog exhibit such intelligence as Fluff exhibited right then. I suppose travel had broadened him, and probably the hydrant was old and rusted out, anyway. When a man moves into a house he ought to have all the plumbing attended to the first thing. Any ordinary, unbroadened dog would have lain down and pulled, but Fluff didn’t. First he jumped six feet straight into the air, and that pulled the four feet of hydrant pipe up by the roots, and then he went away. He took the hydrant and the pipe with him, and that might have surprised me, but I saw that he did not know where he was going nor how long he would stay there when he reached the place, and a dog can never tell what will come handy when he is away from home. A hydrant and a piece of iron pipe might be the very thing he would need. So he took them along.
If I had wanted a fountain in my front yard, I could not have got one half as quickly as Fluff furnished that one, and I would never have thought of pulling out the hydrant to make me one. Fluff thought of that – at least Brownlee said he thought of it – but I think all Fluff wanted was to get away. And he got away, and the fountain didn’t happen to be attached to the hydrant, so he left it behind. If it had been attached to the hydrant, he would have taken it with him. He was a strong dog.
“There!” said Brownlee, when we had heard the pipe rattle across the Eighth Street bridge – “there is intelligence for you! You ought to be grateful to that dog all your life. You didn’t know it was against the law to discharge a gun in the city limits, but Fluff did, and he wouldn’t wait to see you get into trouble. He has heard us talking about it, Murchison. I tell you travel has broadened that dog! Look what he has saved you,” he said to me, “by going away at just the psychological moment. We should have told you about not firing a gun in the city limits. You can’t get rid of Fluff that way. It is against the law.”
“Yes,” said Massett; “and if you knew Fluff as well as we do you would know that he is a dog you can’t shoot. He is a wonderful dog. He knows all about guns. Brownlee tried to make a duck dog out of him, and took him out where the ducks were – showed him the ducks – shot a gun at the ducks – and what do you think that dog learned?”
“To run,” I said, for I had heard about Brownlee teaching Fluff to retrieve. Brownlee blushed.
“Yes,” said Massett, “but that wasn’t all. It doesn’t take intelligence to make a dog run when he sees a gun, but Fluff did not run like an ordinary dog. He saw the gun and he saw the ducks, and he saw that Brownlee only shot at ducks when they were on the wing. And he thought Brownlee meant to shoot him, so what does he do? Stand still? No; he tries to fly. Gets right up and tries to fly. He thought that was what Brownlee was trying to teach him. He couldn’t fly, but he did his best. So whenever Fluff sees a gun, he is on the wing, so to speak. You noticed he was on the wing, didn’t you?”
I told him I had noticed it. I said that as far as I could judge, Fluff had a good strong wing. I said I didn’t mind losing a little thing like a hydrant and a length or two of pipe, but I was glad I hadn’t fastened Fluff to the house – I always liked my house to have a cellar – and it would be just like Fluff to stop flying at some place where there wasn’t any cellar.
“Oh,” said Massett, “he wouldn’t have gone far with the house. A house is a great deal heavier than a hydrant. He would probably have moved the house off the foundation a little, but, judging by the direction Fluff took, the house would have wedged between those two trees, and you would have only lost a piece of the porch, or whatever he was tied to. But the lesson is that you must not try to shoot Fluff unless you are a good wing shot. Unless you can shoot like Davy Crockett, you would be apt to wound Fluff without killing him, and then there would be trouble!”
“Yes,” said Murchison, “the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals folks. There is only one way in which a dog can be killed according to law in this place, and that is to have the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals folks do it. You send them a letter telling them you have a dog you want killed, and asking them to come and kill it. That is according to law.”
“That,” I said firmly, “is what I will do.”
“It won’t do any good,” said Murchison sadly; “they never come. This addition to Gallatin is too far from their offices to be handy, and they never come. I have eighteen deaths for Fluff on file at their offices already, and not one of them has killed him. When you have had as much experience with dogs as I have had you will know that the Prevention of Cruelty to them in this town does not include killing them when they live in the suburbs. The only way a dog can die in the suburbs of Gallatin is to die of old age.”
“How old is Fluff?” I asked.
“Fluff is a young dog,” said Brownlee. “If he had an ordinary dog constitution, he would live fifteen years yet, but he hasn’t. He has an extra strong constitution, and I should say he was good for twenty years more. But that isn’t what we came over for. We came over to learn how you mean to get rid of Fluff.”
“Brownlee,” I said, “I shall think up some way to get rid of Fluff. Getting rid of a dog is no task for a mind like mine. But until he returns and gives me back my hydrant, I shall do nothing further. I am not going to bother about getting rid of a dog that is not here to be got rid of.”
By the time Fluff returned I had thought out a plan. Murchison had never paid the dog tax on Fluff, and that was the same as condemning him to death if he was ever caught outside of the yard, but when he was outside he could not be caught. He was a hasty mover, and little things such as closed gates never prevented him from entering the yard when in haste. When he did not jump over he could get right through a fence. But to a man of my ability these things are trifles. I knew how to get rid of Fluff. I knew how to have him caught in the street without a license. I chained him there.
Brownlee and Massett and Murchison came and watched me do it. Our street is not much used, and the big stake I drove in the street was not much in the way of passing grocery delivery wagons. I fastened Fluff to the stake with a chain, and then I wrote to the city authorities and complained. I said there was a dog without a license that was continually in front of my house, and I wished it removed; and a week or so later the dog-catcher came around and had a look at Fluff: He walked all around him while Massett and Brownlee and Murchison and I leaned over our gates and looked on. He was not at all what I should have expected a dog-catcher to be, being thin and rather gentlemanly in appearance; and after he had looked Fluff over well he came over and spoke to me. He asked me if Fluff was my dog. I said he was.
“I see!” said the dog-catcher. “And you want to get rid of him. If he was my dog, I would want to get rid of him, too. I have seen lots of dogs, but I never saw one that was like this, and I do not blame you for wanting to part with him. I have had my eye on him for several years, but this is the first opportunity I have had to approach him. Now, however, he seems to have broken all the dog laws. He has not secured a license, and he is in the public highway. It will be my duty to take him up and gently chloroform him as soon as I make sure of one thing.”
“Tell me what it is,” I said, “and I will help you make sure of ft.”
“Thank you,” he said, “but I will attend to it,” and with that he got on his wagon and drove off. He returned in about an hour.
“I came back,” he said, “not because my legal duty compels me, but because I knew you would be anxious. If I owned a dog like that, I would be anxious, too. I can’t take that dog.”
“Why not?” we all asked.
“Because,” he said, “I have been down to the city hall, and I have looked up the records, and I find that the streets of this addition to the city have not been accepted by the city. The titles to the property are so made out that until the city legally accepts the streets, each property owner owns to the middle of the street fronting his property. If you will step out and look, you will see that the dog is on your own property.”
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