Puppies and Otherwise

Puppies and Otherwise

By

Evelyn Sharp

THE philologist threw down his pen with an exclamation.

" It is really annoying, most annoying," he said querulously,
" I can't endure children. They are worse than dogs. You can
kick a dog. But it is impossible to kick a child. What is a
man to do, Parker? Why did that dolt of a Tom recognise her?
He might at least have waited till the morning. And how am I
to send over the hills at this time of night to tell her father? I
am the most unfortunate of men."

"Twenty mile if it be a step, and a proper rough night,"
murmured his housekeeper, who never allowed the details of a
catastrophe to be neglected.

The philologist cast a distracted look over his papers and swore
softly.

"Can't you suggest something, Parker?" he demanded irritably.
"Am I to be put to all this inconvenience just because Tom
finds a bit of a girl thrown from her pony and is misguided
enough to bring her home ? Who did he say she was, confound
his memory?"

"Miss Agnes, sir, only child of the Rector of Astley, sir, and
the very happle of his eye, so Tom says, he does. And sleeping
like a lamb in the best bedroom now, sir."

The

236 Puppies and Otherwise

The philologist savagely kicked a footstool that was not in his
way, and took a turn round the room. "What's the use of
standing there and gossiping?" he shouted suddenly; "did I ask
who the brat was? Do I want to know whether her fool of a
father dotes upon her? Tell Tom to saddle the roan at once and
ride across with my compliments to the Reverend What's-his-
name, and say that his daughter is here, and be hanged to
him.

" Do you hear ? And don't let me be disturbed again to-night.
Supper ? Who said supper ? Did I say supper, Parker ? Then
go and don't make purposeless remarks."

His housekeeper vanished precipitately, and the philologist
returned to his great work on the Aryan roots. He was a man
to whom fame had come late in life, when he had wholly ignored
his youth in a passionate toil after it. At the age of twenty he
had resolved to be a successful man, and at the age of forty-six he
found himself one, albeit a piece of soulless mechanism with the
wine of life left untasted behind him and its richest possibilities
lying buried in his past.

He sighed self-pityingly, and pulled his manuscript towards him
once more. And just as he did so, the door opened from without
and the child came in.

He did not know, as any other man could have told him, that
she was already almost a woman, even a beautiful woman with
awakening eyes and most seductive hair; but he did recognise
with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction that she was not what he
usually meant by a child, and that he could not class her with
kittens and colts and all other irresponsible animals whom he was
accustomed to regard with prejudice. And this discovery gave
him a sharper sense of injury than before, and he sat staring
stupidly while she walked swiftly across the room to him, holding

up

By Evelyn Sharp 237

up her riding skirt with one hand and brushing back her tumbled
curls with the other.

"They didn't wake me in time as they promised," she said,
"and I want to get back to Daddy. People are such idiots. Did
she take me for a baby, that woman? Why does every one think
that children have got to be lied to? And how soon can I have
my pony, please?"

A violent gust of wind rushed round the house at that moment
and rattled viciously at the bolts of the shutters as though mocking
her words. But the girl paid no heed to it, and merely tapped
her toe impatiently on the ground, and waited expectantly for an
answer to her question. The philologist stood up and put on his
spectacles and looked down at her.

"I — I am at a loss," he said slowly, "are you the — the person
whom Tom picked up and brought home in the gig?"

"Yes, yes, I suppose so ! At least, I think he said he was
Tom. But what does that matter now? Oh, do order my pony
before we talk any more, won't you? Daddy wants me, don't
you see."

"Daddy wants you," said the philologist absently, for he was
following the train of his own thoughts rather than the meaning
of her words; "I don't quite understand you."

"You don't look as though you did," said Agnes candidly;
"perhaps I scared you, did I? You see, I thought if I came
across that woman again she would tell me some more lies. And
I smelt smoke so I guessed that meant a man in here. Men
generally stick to the truth, don't you know ; at least, you can
always tell if they don't. But I say, why don't you ring for my
pony?"

" How old are you?" said the philologist, rousing himself with
an effort.

"What's

238 Puppies and Otherwise

"What's that got to do with it?" cried the girl angrily.
"Don't you know that all this time Daddy is — "

"Daddy be — " began the philologist, and checked himself with
a smile; "my dear little girl, nobody is going to hurt you
here, and I shall certainly not allow you to go out in this storm. I
really think," he continued tentatively, " I really think you had
almost better go to bed. It's bedtime now, isn't it?"

"Bedtime?" cried Agnes, opening her eyes, "why it's not nine
o'clock. Besides, I told you I was going home. What's the
matter with the weather?"

" The weather is — well, inclement," said the man of learning
feebly, "and Tom has already gone to set your father's mind at
rest. It seems to me — "

"Then why didn t you say so before? It was rather stupid of
you, wasn't it?" rejoined Agnes cheerfully. "Well, I'm very glad
I haven't got to ride any more to-day, my arm's horribly stiff.
Gobbo's all right, that's one blessing."

She was sitting in the arm-chair now, with her feet on the
fender, and the philologist, who was accustomed to be the autocrat
of his household, somehow felt ousted from his own sanctum. He
glanced sideways at the ruddy head that was bent towards the blaze,
and he felt a curious sensation of discomfort.

"Gobbo? Ah, yes, my man said something about the pony
being unhurt," was all he said, though she paid not the slightest
attention to his words, for they might just as well have been left
unsaid.

"That's not a bad little stable you've got," she went on in her
fresh voice, "and the puppies are just ripping, ever so much jollier
than the Persian kittens. You shouldn't have crossed your Persian
with a tabby, it's such a pity. Why did you?"

The philologist became suddenly conscious of being wonder-

fully

By Evelyn Sharp 239

fully ignorant by the side of this child with the red hair and the
large open eyes, and the discovery did not add to his composure.

"I didn't know I had," he said, and sat down where he could
see her face.

"Didn't you really? And the puppies are such beauties too,
five of them. You almost don't deserve to have puppies, do
you?"

"I'm afraid I am hardly worthy of them," owned the philologist
meekly." But do you really like them yourself?"

"Why, I couldn't help it of course. They're such jolly little
warm snoozling things. Don't you know the feel of a puppy?
What! you don't? Only wait, that's all."

She was gone before he could protest, and five minutes later she
was teaching him how to keep two puppies warm inside his coat,
while he wondered grimly what it was that the Aryan languages
had not succeeded in teaching him.

"What else do you like besides puppies?" he asked; "dolls?"

"Dolls!" she said contemptuously. "As if any one who could
get animals would ever want dead things. I've always hated
dolls."

"I," said the philologist slowly, "have lived with dead things
for twenty years."

"Oh well," said the child, "that was really quite unnecessary.
There are always lots of puppies about everywhere. So it was
clearly your own fault, wasn't it?"

"Perhaps it was," said the philologist.

"Any one can see," she went on in her frank manner, "that
you're not really fond of puppies, or else you would be able to hold
them without strangling them. I think I'd better take them,
hadn't I?"

While she was gone the philologist lay back in his chair and

pondered.

240 Puppies and Otherwise

pondered. And he was looking critically at himself in the mirror
when she opened the door and came in again.

"Sit down child, and get warm," he said brusquely; "you
shouldn't have gone to that cold stable this time of night."

"Why not? I always do things like that. There's no one to
stop me, you see. Besides I expect no one knows except Rob."

"Who's Rob?" was his inevitable question.

"Oh, don't you know? Rob is Daddy's pupil of course.
Daddy teaches him lots of things, like Latin and physiology.
Rob is awfully clever, and he can breed better terriers than Upton
at the lodge. Im awfully fond of Rob."

The philologist made a mental synopsis of Rob's character
which depicted him as anything but a pleasant young fellow.

"I suppose you're clever too, aren't you?" he heard her
saying.

"No," he replied irritably, " I don't know anything. Go on
telling me about yourself, child."

"But," persisted Agnes, "why do you have such a lot of papers
if you are not clever?"

"That's just what I don't know," he said, "they have not
taught me how to hold a puppy without strangling it, have they?"

"No," said the child, still looking straight at him with wide
open eyes, "but you could soon learn that. It's awfully easy,
really. There's something about a puppy that won't let you hurt
it, however stupid you are. I could soon teach you all there is to
learn about puppies. It's the other things I can't learn."

"Never mind about the other things, they are not worth
learning, my child," said the philologist, as he boldly passed his
fingers through her thick hair. She moved a little restively, and
then looked up at him quickly with a comical expression of
concern on her face.

"I say,"

By Evelyn Sharp 241

"I say," she began, and paused.

"What's the matter now?" he asked.

"Well, you know, I'm — I'm hungry," she said, and then
laughed as he called himself a brute and sprang to his feet. "No,
don't ring," she added imploringly, "I can't stand any more of
that woman to-night. Don't you think you could go and
forage?"

Their friendship was in no way weakened by their impromptu
meal over the fire; and when they had finished, and the writing
table with its sheets of valuable manuscript was strewn with
crumbs, the philologist ventured to renew the conversation on a
more natural basis than before.

"Hands cold?" he said, and touched one of them.

"A little," she said, and put them both into his.

"It's very good of you to come and cheer a lonely old man like
this," he went on, half expecting her to contradict his words.

"Oh, but I couldn't help coming, could I?" she cried laughing.
"And the first thing I did was to want to go back again!"

"And I wouldn't let you, would I?" he pursued, glancing,
still nervously, at the large grey eyes that met his so unflinchingly.

"All the same, I don't believe you are a bit lonely," said the
child, looking away into the fire, "you have got your book about
the Aryan things, haven't you?"

"Of course I have got my book about the Aryan things, but
that isn't everything," exclaimed the philologist with an indefinite
feeling of irritation; "for instance, it does not help me to amuse
you when you pay me a visit. And to-morrow, when you get
home to your father and Rob, you won't want to come back again
to an old man who can only talk about Aryan roots. Do you
think you will, child?"

The last words were added insinuatingly, and the philologist

held

242 Puppies and Otherwise

held his breath when he had said them, but Agnes only laughed
again and kicked away a lighted coal that had fallen into the
fender.

"Why not?" she said carelessly, "I don't suppose you'd be
any worse than Daddy when he is writing a new sermon. Only
of course that isn't often."

The philologist was seized with one of his fits of unreasonable
anger.

"Really, you are a singularly dense child," he exclaimed,
dropping her hands roughly and thrusting his own into his
pockets; "I always knew that children were tiresome little beasts,
but I did think they had some perspicacity as well."

Agnes stared and asked if she had done anything.

"Done anything? " shouted the philologist, jumping out of his
chair and scowling down at her, "it's time you learned I am not
here to be laughed at just because I am an intellectual old fool!
Don't you know why I am here, eh? I am here to benefit man-
kind by the knowledge I have been accumulating for twenty
years and more; and you may stare at me as much as you like
with those confounded great eyes of yours, but I'll drive something
into your bit of a head before I've done with you. Oh yes, I
will. And if you don't ride that pony of yours over here once a
week and do as I tell you when you get here, I'll be — "

He did not mention his ultimate destination, for he caught sight
of her face in time, and he thought she looked frightened. So he
sat down again abruptly, and growled out an apology.

"I say, do you often do that ?" she asked, hiding her face from
him with her hand. "Because it's most awfully funny."

The astonished philologist had no time to reply before she
broke into a great peal of maddening laughter, such mirthful,
mocking laughter that he was almost stunned by it, and yet was

possessed

By Evelyn Sharp 243

possessed at the same time of a desperate impulse to flee from
her.

When she looked up again he was lighting a candle with his
back turned to her.

"Allow me to tell you it is bedtime," he said shortly.

She got up and came across the room, and stood just behind him.

"I say, you — you are not wild with me, are you?" she asked
wistfully.

"I think you are an exceedingly ill-mannered child," he replied
without turning round.

She sighed penitently.

"I'm so sorry, because, you know, I do really think it was nice
of you to offer to teach me. And if you still mean it, I will
really come over every week and try to learn something. And —
and — do you know, I think I'm rather glad Gobbo did put his
foot into that rabbit-hole to-day."

The philologist moved slowly round and scanned her upturned
anxious face. The extreme innocence of her expression, and the
utter absence of mischief in the recesses of her deep eyes, succeeded
in dispelling his anger. But he had a dim idea that the situation
demanded something more definite from him, and the brilliant
thought came to him, that of course she was only a child after all,
and had therefore to be treated like a child, and he believed that
children always expected to be kissed when they said they were
sorry. So he hastily put both his hands behind him, and stooped
very stiffly, and placed a kiss on her cheek, and then backed into
the table and pushed her towards the door.

"There, there, bedtime now, and we won't say any more
about it," he muttered awkwardly.

But to his discomfiture, she whirled round and faced him with
her eyes blazing and her lips parted.

"How

244 Puppies and Otherwise

"How dare you?" she gasped. "I — it — it is a great shame,
and I shall tell Rob. That's the second time I've been treated
like a baby to-day. You're a horrid, musty old man!"

The door slammed, and her exit was succeeded by a profound
silence. Then the bewildered man returned slowly to the fire-
place, and looked at the chair in which she had just been
sitting.

"Yes," he said out loud with an effort, "I suppose there is still
my book about the Aryan things."

∗∗∗∗∗

One sunny day in the late spring, they were sitting together
in the garden. It was their last lesson, but they were making no
pretence of learning anything. The philologist was feeling con-
scious of something he wanted to say to her before she went, and
he did not know how to say it, and he did not attempt to begin.
And Agnes, as usual, was doing most of the talking, though when
she asked him the natural questions that belonged to her age and
her womanhood, he ran the risk of her youthful contempt and
shook his head silently in reply, for he knew he had ignored the
same questions years ago, and it was too late now to go back and
search for the answers to them. And the dew came at their feet
and made them shiver, and the sun went down behind the hedge
and sent fluttering rays of light across their faces, and the chestnut-
tree dropped fluttering showers of pink blossoms on their bare
heads, until at last Agnes cried out that she must be going, and
they walked across the lawn with their arms locked.

When he lifted her on her pony he would have given all the
languages he knew to be able to speak the one language he was
too old to learn.

"Agnes," he said, "have you enjoyed your lessons?"

She darted him a mischievous look.

"Well,

By Evelyn Sharp 245

"Well, there hasn't been much Sanskrit about them, has
there?" she said demurely.

"I suppose you mean," said the philologist a little sulkily, "that
I can't even teach you what I do know."

"No, I didn't mean that," she said composedly; " I meant that
I was too stupid, or too old, or something, to learn."

"Old? What are you talking about, you absurd child?" he
cried angrily. "You will never know what it is to be old, you.
It is the deepest hell in God's earth. Don't be ridiculous!"

"Then I don't know how it was, and it doesn't matter much,
does it? Anyhow we have had great fun, and that is the principal
thing. Good-bye," she said.

He only ventured to kiss her riding glove passionately, as he
guided her pony out of the gate, though the knowledge he had once
thrown away, would have told him that he might have done more,
and yet not offended her.

"How queer he is," thought the child at the bottom of the lane,
as she stopped to arrange her stirrup. "I don't think I ever knew
any one quite so musty. I shall ask Rob — "

A shout from behind made her look round, and there was the
philologist running after her as fast as he could, with his odd
shambling gait and his loosely swinging arms.

"It is only, that is — " he gasped wildly, " I — I have the inten-
tion of driving down to see your father to-morrow."

"Is that all? How awfully funny you are sometimes," cried
Agnes with a shout of laughter, as she gave her pony a cut with
the whip. And they both vanished round the corner, and left
the philologist standing where he was, staring silently after them.

"I don't think he has often been laughed at before," she told
Rob that evening, as they gave Gobbo his feed in the dimly lighted
stable at home.

Rob's

246 Puppies and Otherwise

Rob's arm was round her waist, and Rob's face was close to hers
as she said this; and he kissed her three times very gently at the
end of her confession, and whispered in her ear:

"Poor chap! He's got something to learn. And it isn't
Sanskrit, is it, dear?"

But the philologist never learned it. And he never drove over
to see her father as he had intended. He went for a long walk
instead, and his path led him by chance through a wood some miles
off, where he found Gobbo grazing by himself among the bracken,
and whence he returned in hot haste, and without his hat, and very
dishevelled.

He found Tom waiting to speak to him when he at last reached
home and burst into his study.

"What the dev — ?" he began furiously, and then stopped
for sheer want of breath, for he had run all the way back without
stopping.

"If you please, sir," began Tom stolidly, "what be I to do with
them two puppies you was a-keeping of for Miss Agnes? They
be nigh upon ten weeks — "

"Do with them?" shouted the exasperated philologist. "Drown
them, of course, you fool! Drown them, and never mention such
farmyard details to me again. Do you take me for a young animal
with insolent eyes and a dandy moustache and a soft voice? Eh?
Do you, sir? Then clear out of my sight at once and go to the
deuce with your puppies. Don't you know I have got my book
to write on the Aryan — ?"

But the philologist's words ended in a great sob, and he
dropped heavily into a chair, while Tom slouched awkwardly out
of the room.

For Tom, too, understood.





MLA citation: Sharp, Evelyn. "Puppies and Otherwise." The Yellow Book 5 (Apr. 1895): 235-46. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. [Date of access]. http://www.1890s.ca/HTML.aspx?s=YBV5_sharp_puppies.html