Another Face Around the House
BILL GAVE Sue Ann a Great Dane for her birthday. Of necessity, the presentation was made early in the day; a Great Dane is not something which may be kept under cover indefinitely.
When Sue Ann opened eyes as bright as the morning and as blue, an immense, bisque-colored shape padded into her room and a great mask of a face suspended itself over the footboard of her bed. Sue Ann promptly closed her eyes, drew up the covers until the black, silky curls of her topknot disappeared from view, and screamed for Bill. Finding courage to look upon the world again, she saw Bill in the doorway, smiling, amiably oblivious of her dismay.
“I knew you’d like him!” Bill remarked. “His name is Butch.”
“Do you mean—” Sue Ann was incredulous “—you bought that—that behemoth?”
Not quite certain what a behemoth was, Sue Ann rang the word voluminously.
“For you, on your birthday !”
Bill worked into it such a wealth of devotion that Sue Ann swallowed her consternation and adopted a more equitable attitude.
“But, Bill—do we really need a dog?”
“We could do with another face around the house.”
Sue Ann took a second glance at the other face, the immense dark muzzle, the sloping eyes that drooled affection, and the upstandingly interrogative ears. And the corners of her lips curved to an involuntary smile.
“He is rather sweet.”
Sensitive to the acceptance in her voice, Butch waggled hugely. Jars and bottles on Sue Ann’s dressing table went down under the wide swath of his tail, like wheat before the flail of hail. Bill backed Butch from the dressing table and turned him end for end. And the bedside lamp crashed.
“He’s only six months old,” Bill’s roar topped the confusion. “But he’s intelligent. He’ll learn to find his way around.”
Although Sue Ann appeared at breakfast wearing her most becoming housecoat, in her heart was a small, black smudge of apprehension. Never before had she been confronted with the remotest possibility that her face might not be completely adequate. Apparently, after a year of marriage, Bill did not find it so. He needed another countenance to turn to when hers palled.
“Instead of celebrating your birthday at a supper club,” Bill casually announced, between mouthfuls of toast, “I invited the gang here. I knew you wouldn’t care to leave Butch at home all evening, by himself, in strange surroundings. He might get lonely.”
Sue Ann had counted on a supper club; she had a dress that could hold its own on any dance floor, and chances to exploit it were all too few. Ready
Butch was a man-size dog with a bear-like appetite for flowers. But the little woman put him in his place
protestations rushed to her tongue. But she glanced at Bill, his neat, dark head tipped back as he drained his coffee cup, and kept silent. She wondered if Bill were just tired of her face, or of being married to her. It might be discreet to make the best of Butch. For a little while, at least. Better Butch’s face around the house than something exotic under a wide-brimmed hat meeting Bill clandestinely for lunch.
Butch spent the day at Sue Ann’s heels. He sniffed suspiciously into the bathtub after she had cleaned it, and grew fiercely combative over the possession of a washcloth. With a critical eye, he watched her straighten sheets and plump up pillows. When she went downstairs to do the ordering, he bit the telephone. In fact, whatever Sue Ann undertook, Butch’s nose, quivering with curiosity, was right there, under her hand.
“You darned old dog!” she told him. “I wish you were a dozen service plates, or a kidskin jacket. I could have done very nicely with a grey kidskin jacket for frosty days.”
In apology, perhaps, for not being exactly what she had desired, Butch rubbed against her. Sue Ann clutched the mantelpiece for support; such an expression of affection from Butch was almost as devastating as the sideswipe of a cordial army tank.
While Sue Ann lunched in al fresco fashion off a tray in a sunny corner of the veranda, Butch rested his head upon her knee. Sue Ann remained determinedly unresponsive. But trying to dislodge Butch’s head reminded her of last Thanksgiving when Bill’s people and hers had come to dinner and she had struggled with a sixteen-pound turkey. She finally finished lunch, eating with one hand and grudgingly stroking Butch’s ears with the other. Butch leaned closer. He had an instinct for companionship.
CONSEQUENTLY he was enchanted when their guests arrived that evening. Ecstatic, but trying to be suitably restrained, Butch made the rounds, sniffing at the soles of shoes and into the palms of hands.
Knowing it was Sue Ann’s birthday, Clap Evans brought roses. And Butch, it transpired, had a passion for flowers.
“He must have heard of Ferdinand, the bull,” Sue Ann commented, as Butch settled on his haunches by the low console where she had placed the flowers after arranging them in a bowl.
Unlike Ferdinand, however, Butch’s interest in flowers was not olfactory. It was strictly dietary. With one swift wriggle Butch nipped off all the blooms, indulged in two or three gargantuan chews and an imperceptible swallow, and stretched out in repletion, a mangled rose leaf hanging raffishly from the corner of his mouth.
Silence followed the feat, then a shout of laughter. Butch accepted the tribute with the graciousness of an established comedian who knows that he has just turned in a polished performance and is gratified that it has been appreciated. Bill assumed a certain, almost paternal, pride in Butch’s accomplishment. But Sue Ann frowned. After all, they had been her roses. And Sue Ann took a longer view.
“I hope he doesn’t eat flowers wherever he finds them,” she observed.
That was exactly what Butch did.
Taking him for a walk was always risky. Bill and Sue Ann looked around carefully before letting him run, but no matter how barren the spot, how void of cultivation, Butch usually returned to them with the purple petals of asters smearing his muzzle, or a chrysanthemum top dangling from his teeth. Not infrequently he was followed by a stream of invective laced with a flower pot, garden rake, or whatever other implement the gardener happened to have in hand when he was blitzed.
Disciplinary measures left Butch unrepentant. And their friends were of little help. Clap Evans, in
particular, was always dropping in with an offering for Butch, a bunch of drooping dahlias or unstarched zinnias; Clap Evans lived in a bachelor apartment without even a cactus to his name.
“I wish you wouldn’t,” Sue Ann pleaded. “All our neighbors have gardens. Nice gardens. We’re trying to teach Butch that it’s not smart to eat flowers.”
“The wrong slant,” Clap Evans argued, “Teach him to differentiate. Eat what’s offered to him, and leave the rest alone.”
But Butch had difficulty in differentiating; if, indeed, he tried. He munched cannas in the formal bed before the Ritzhampton Apartments and sampled the High School salvia. When Sue Ann’s sister married, Butch cut in on two bridesmaids and the maid of honor to snaffle off the bride’s bouquet. Garnering a pink geranium that nodded succulently from a perfectly strange glassed-in porch, he spread havoc and confusion through what must have been a Red Cross sewing unit. And Mr. Masters, the marketeria manager, always barricaded himself behind a counter whenever Butch approached; Mr.
Masters could not be persuaded that Butch only wanted to nibble at the rosebud in his lapel—not at his throat.
Even Bill began to worry.
“Mrs. Hogan says a strange blight is attacking her garden. Mrs. Hogan thinks probably it’s a Eurasian corn borer, only she has never heard of a corn borer that nips through the stalk and neatly disposes of the flower at the same time. She is sending a mutilated plant to the Dominion entomologist for his opinion.”
For Sue Ann, the crisis came the day Butch invaded the cemetery. A high stone wall surrounded the property, shutting out all signs of herbiage. But like an old sailor who smells salt water even when he cannot see it, Butch had a nose for blooms. No sooner did Sue Ann slip his leash than Butch vaulted the stone wall. In his absence, Sue Ann’s emotions ran the gamut of exasperation, fear, and a frantic something that settled coldly in the pit of her stomach. Butch ultimately reappeared with a funeral wreath clinging like a tip-tilted halo to one ear. In the spot where his heels topped the wall, three angry human faces materialized.
“If you know what’s good for you,” the first advised, “you’ll keep that dog out of here!”
“Eating flowers off graves, he was,” charged the second.
“Gorging hisself,” supplemented the third reprovingly.
Sue Ann removed the floral tribute and belabored Butch with the heavy leather leash. Ears and tail drooping abjectly, Butch submitted. Sue Ann suspected it was just an act. No matter how much beef she put into the chastisement of Butch, no thrashing she gave him would ever make the least impression.
“I warn you,” she told Bill that evening, “—if he eats another flower, I’ll sell him. Every time I take him for a walk, I come home crawling with humiliation.”
“He’s your dog, of course. If you want to sell him—” Bill was appeasing. “—that’s your privilege. But he’s certain to grow out of this flower-eating stage.”
Bill would miss Butch, Sue Ann knew. In spite of what Bill said, Butch was not really her dog. He was Bill’s, body and soul. He was respectful to Sue Ann, but gave her definitely to understand that he was merely putting up with her because Bill did. While Bill was at the office, Butch snoozed on the mat in the hallway. Occasionally he
snapped at a fly, with no antipathy toward the fly but just to break the monotony, or took a turn through the house to see that all was secure in the rear. If Bill happened to be detained, Butch voiced his impatience in melancholy rumblings that sounded somewhat like a lost and rather lonely thundercloud.
At Bill’s step on the walk, Butch quivered with anticipation. Bill took him out to the back yard for a wrestle. They came in tired and happy, and Butch slept through dinner with his head on Bill’s feet.
Gradually a routine was established. And with the first heavy frost of autumn, the flower situation automatically cleared. Bewildered, at first, and a little bitter, Butch came finally to accept the fact that posies no longer bloomed in quiet nooks, for his indulgence.
But, although temptation had been removed from Butch’s path, the appetite remained. Bill and Sue Ann made the discovery the evening they had a few friends in for contract.
Janet Cranston, to whom Butch was just a dog, wore black crepe with a cluster of artificial gardenias at the back waistline. It did not occur to Sue Ann that Butch might bo so flower starved that he would relish even artificial blooms. And no one actually saw it happen. Even Janet, apparently, had not been disturbed by the slightest tug; in his line, Butch was an expert. But Sue Ann noticed Janet reaching anxiously to the spot where her gardenias had been, and suspected that trouble brewed.
“This dress was the last original to come out of Paris before the Germans walked in.” Janet’s eyes swung suspiciously from face to face; Janet evidently labored under the delusion that someone was making merry at her expense. “It may seem a trifle dated now, but I’ve vowed to wear it until the war is over. And I can’t replace those flowers. They don’t make them like that on this side of the Atlantic.”
Sue Ann glanced at Bill. And Bill turned instinctively to Butch. Presenting a disarmingly innocuous appearance, Butch slumbered in a quiet corner of the room. From time to time, however, he opened and closed his mouth gustily as though haunted by the memory of something entirely delectable.
“Perhaps your flowers got caught in a car door,” Bill offered evasively. Then went quite red.
It was immediately obvious to everyone that if a door had been shut too closely upon Janet’s back, much more than a bunch of flowers at her waistline would have suffered. To divert attention, Clap Evans peered under a chair. And the hunt was on. But Sue Ann knew that Bill and Clap Evans both shared her certainty that Janet’s gardenias would not be forthcoming.
“This ends it, Bill,” Sue Ann announced after everyone had left. “Butch goes. I’ll give Clap Evans first chance. He’s fond of Butch.”
“Sorry,” Clap Evans replied to the proposition. “I’m marrying Janet Cranston. We fixed it up on the way home from your place. You know how it is
Janet was upset—and one thing led to another. I’m afraid Janet wouldn’t appreciate Butch.”
Sue Ann’s determination did not slacken. Advertised for sale, Butch went to Mr. Peevy, a breeder. Sue Ann emerged from the transaction with a dozen Spode service plates and a feeling of uneasiness whenever her eyes met Bill’s, as though she had sold a little bit of Bill. While Bill was not openly resentful, his silences were politely accusing. It was worse, much worse, than learning that her face could be inadequate. On the whole, Sue Ann found no enjoyment in polishing her new Spode service plates.
ONE WEEK from the date of sale, Butch was back, led by an irate Mr. Peevy, who expected to retrieve his cheque.
“You sold this dog under false pretences,”
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charged Mr. Peevy. “And you’ll make good.”
“Was it an orchid?” Sue Ann asked. “Or one perfect, white camellia?”
Mr. Peevy regarded her as though she were a little mad.
“Orchids? Camellias? It’s his left hind leg. He limps. I had him X-rayed and took him to a flock of vets. I don’t know what’s the matter with him, but I can’t have defective stock in my kennels.”
“I never saw him limp,” Sue Ann declared.
“That’s as may be. But I never saw him that he didn’t.”
As if in corroboration, Butch dragged himself across the room, definitely favoring his left hind leg. Like Ulysses returning from years of wearied wandering in the wildernesses of the world, Butch sank to rest beside Bill. There was no alternative; Bill hauled out his cheque book. Not at all grudgingly, Sue Ann noticed.
For the rest of the evening, they cared for Butch. Sue Ann remembered having heard her grandmother extol the virtues of flaxseed, so they phoned for flaxseed and made a poultice. And Bill massaged the joints of Butch’s ailing leg. For his part, Butch stretched out on the hearth rug, dumbly and pathetically grateful—a little too pathetic, Sue Ann thought, but refrained from comment. Nor did she draw Bill’s attention to the primula which she had purchased after Butch’s departure to brighten the corner by the bookshelves; its mangled and beheaded stalks bore evidence that Butch had already feasted, during an unobtrusive moment, as they had talked with Mr. Peevy. Sue Ann desired only peace.
“We’ll sow flower seeds all over the back yard next spring,” she suggested. “And we’ll feed Butch nothing but marigolds, and nasturtiums, and phlox, until he’s completely nauseated. That may cure him.”
It was an indirect admission that she would raise no further objection to keeping Butch. And Bill accepted it as such. He smiled appreciatively. The breach which Sue Ann had opened when she sold Butch dissolved into a completely mellow moment.
Except for one slight variation, the old routine was again established. Butch still snoozed through the hours which Bill spent at the office. But when Bill, returning, took him out to the back yard, Butch showed no enthusiasm for a wrestle. He preferred to stretch out on the hearth rug, and be massaged.
“You don’t suppose he’s putting something over us, do you?” Sue Ann enquired.
“No—Butch. He chased a delivery boy today and forgot to limp until I whistled him home. Having all this fuss made over him could spoil even the best dog.”
Bill didn’t answer. To accuse Butch of malingering, apparently, was a crme as heinous as selling him. More thin that, Sue Ann received
the impression that Bill suspected her of being jealous of Butch. All right, perhaps she was a little jealous of all the attention Bill lavished upon Butch. Who wouldn’t be?
As Butch’s obscure ailment failed to respond to treatment, Bill devoted more and more time to the invalid. Poor Old Butch! Bill’s heart bled for him ! He took him on the rounds of all the vets and patiently tried the cures they suggested. Butch was co-operative; he lapped up each new cure in turn. But continued to limp. And Bill became even more concerned about Butch, and preoccupied.
Sue Ann developed a sense of isolation. Leaving Bill and Butch basking in the radiance of each other’s company, she went calling on her friends. When she noticed that they regarded her with the open compassion reserved for neglected wives, she frequented the movies. Becoming satiated with the movies, she took solitary strolls around the neighborhood, like a little, lost ghost.
ONE EVENING, with Bill deep in a volume of canine diseases, Sue Ann tried a rather desperate experiment. She deliberately hurled at him the most outrageous fabrication she could concoct.
“Did you know that Janet Cranston’s mutilated body was discovered in Clap Evans’ apartment? Clap is being held for murder.”
“Too bad—” Bill’s eyes did not waver from the page “—Clap is a good guy.”
Breathlessly Sue Ann waited for the message to be transmitted by delayed broadcast to Bill’s brain. Nothing happened. On the contrary, Bill fished through his pockets, located a pencil, and made a marginal note opposite a particularly engrossing paragraph. Sue Ann crossed the room. Digging her fingers into Bill’s hair, she tipped his head back until his eyes were wrenched from the book.
“What did you say?” Bill was hazily apologetic. “Something about Clap Evans, wasn’t it?”
“Never mind, darling. It wasn’t true, anyhow. I was simply trying to get your attention for an important announcement. I’m having the south room decorated, and I’m choosing quite nice paper. It’s going to set you back about sixty-five dollars. Now, hold it!” Sue Ann backed toward the desk. “I want you to see a sample of the paper. I’d like your approval.”
Bill held the pose while Sue Ann found the sample and dangled it before him.
“Very nice,” commented Bill, looking but not seeing, and uttered the thought that had been pressing on his mind: “Could it be a bone
infection of some sort, do you suppose?”
Vivid constellations burst in the air around Sue Ann. She grabbed at one, but it proved to be evasive. She was strangely rigid—brittle—with anger. And she forgot that any criticism of Butch would only antagonize Bill still further, forgot that she was waiting for the moment when Butch must inevitably expose
himself. By no means dispassionately, she gave forth with her impression of Butch.
“If X-rays and a flock of vets can’t locate the trouble—there isn’t any. Butch is putting it on. Probably Mr. Peevy didn’t prove compatible, so Butch’s reaction was to play sick. Now, he’s afraid that if he doesn’t keep it up, he’ll go back to Mr. Peevy. He likes being babied!”
After that, the ice age descended between Bill and Sue Ann. They lived in separate and quite remote spheres. Bill, of course, had Butch to think of. And Butch was clever. Although he could easily have knocked down Sue Ann with one swat of his paw, Butch clung to Bill as though seeking protection; the implication that Sue Ann was holding out on the Salvage Committee and saving her old aluminum pots and pans to shy at Butch, was as grossly unfair as it was insidious.
No wonder Sue Ann was astonished to find Bill staring at her over the dinner table. P’or once he was not just using her as a focal object upon which to pin his gaze while his mind seethed after some new cure for Butch.
“You look a little seedy,” Bill remarked. “Would you care to go out somewhere this evening?”
Sue Ann’s cheeks grew pink with happy excitement at the prospect of diversion. It would take exactly five minutes to press the hem of the dress that could withstand competition on any dance floor.
“I’d love it!”
“Then how about us taking Butch out to Shep’s Field, and giving him a little run? Mild exercise might help.”
“Ahoy!” Sue Ann kept it even, managing not to bang her cup indignantly into its saucer. “Ahoy, for Shep’s Field!” And added a not too cryptic chaser: “I hope the frost has spared a few nettles.”
AT SHEP’S FIELD, Butch refused - to run. He nosed disinterestedly among the dried, brown grasses as though nosing through dried, brown grasses was what Bill expected of him and he was doing his utmost to oblige.
“He doesn’t have much heart for play,” Bill sighed.
Sue Ann said something indistinguishable explosively.
Then Butch flushed an inquisitive spaniel which had also been transported to Shep’s Field for a run and had strayed beyond its orbit. His lethargy vanished. Up went his ears. His tail a stiff indication of sudden interest, he gave chase. Certainly Butch was not chasing the spaniel in the line of duty. He was enjoying himself. For the very devil of it, Butch let the spaniel have the lead while he made a great to-do about trying to overtake it.
“For a lame dog,” Sue Ann observed as Butch and the spaniel disappeared from sight, “Butch must be establishing something of a record.”
Bill didn’t hear. He whistled lustily for Butch.
Butch finally returned, limping, his infirmity increasing in direct ratio
as his distance from Bill decreased. Pitifully dragging his left hind leg, Butch just managed to reach Bill’s hand, outstretched in sympathy.
“I should have known something like this would happen.” Bill’s voice was heavy with self - accusation. “That run has only aggravated the trouble.”
Sue Ann closed her eyes wearily. She swayed a little, away from Bill. Evidently they were destined to go on, and on this way, indefinitely. And that evening Butch gnawed stealthily at bits of wool from the flowers in her needlepoint fire screen.
Although Butch made a great clamor about stoutly defending the house against the invading paper hangers, the south room was redecorated. A nervous painter slapped a coat of enamel on the woodwork, and the job was done. Sue Ann spent much time admiring the effect, particularly when Bill became too absorbed in Butch.
The nightly ritual of massaging Butch was under way, when Sue Ann slipped up, yet once again, to the south room to admire, and found that a large, moist, abrasive surface, not difficult to identify as Butch’s tongue, had been applied to the wallpaper.
“Bill!” Sue Ann cried. “Will you come up here? This minute?”
The urgency of her call stabbed through to Bill. Giving Butch a final knead, Bill took the stairs two steps at a time.
“Look!” Sue Ann pointed dramatically to the devastation. “Just look what that dog did! He tried to eat the wallpaper!”
“What did you expect? Choosing a design like that—all those vivid little flowers!”
“Flowers?” Sue Ann was frosty. “What flowers?”
Bill bent closer in examination and the wallpaper pattern integrated, not into flowers, but into loops of pink and blue from which suspended appealingly exaggerated cats, and dogs, and teddy bears, and toys of all descriptions.
“What odd wallpaper!” Bill was inclined to be critical. “Rather juvenile, isn’t it?”
“Of course, it’s juvenile! And it’s not odd. It’s darling paper. At least, it was until Butch slobbered over it!” Sue Ann was becoming slightly incoherent. “And maybe I’m not glad there’ll be another face around this house! With you and Butch so wrapped up in each other—”
Butch, who had limped upstairs in Bill’s wake, rubbed ingratiatingly against him, claiming his attention. But Bill was gaping at Sue Ann. And as he gaped, Bill’s fingers reached around until they contacted a halfused roll of wallpaper which the decorators had left.
“Get out !” Bill ordered, aiming the roll at Butch, and catching him, inadvertently, on the left hind leg. “If I ever catch you up here again, I’ll skin you!”
Unhurt, but dumbfounded, Butch was about to sink down at Bill’s feet. However, something in Bill’s face stopped him. Butch left, using all four feet indiscriminately, and to the best advantage.