Chapter One
 

Gissing lived alone (except for his Japanese butler) in a little house in the country, in that woodland suburb region called the Canine Estates. He lived comfortably and thoughtfully, as bachelors often do. He came of a respectable family, who had always conducted themselves calmly and without too much argument. They had bequeathed him just enough income to live on cheerfully, without display but without having to do addition and subtraction at the end of the month and then tear up the paper lest Fuji (the butler) should see it.

It was strange, since Gissing was so pleasantly situated in life, that he got into these curious adventures that I have to relate. I do not attempt to explain it.

He had no responsibilities, not even a motor car, for his tastes were surprisingly simple. If he happened to be spending an evening at the country club, and a rainstorm came down, he did not worry about getting home. He would sit by the fire and chuckle to see the married members creep away one by one. He would get out his pipe and sleep that night at the club, after telephoning Fuji not to sit up for him. When he felt like it he used to read in bed, and even smoke in bed. When he went to town to the theatre, he would spend the night at a hotel to avoid the fatigue of the long ride on the 11:44 train. He chose a different hotel each time, so that it was always an Adventure. He had a great deal of fun.

But having fun is not quite the same as being happy. Even an income of 1000 bones a year does not answer all questions. That charming little house among the groves and thickets seemed to him surrounded by strange whispers and quiet voices. He was uneasy. He was restless, and did not know why. It was his theory that discipline must be maintained in the household, so he did not tell Fuji his feelings. Even when he was alone, he always kept up a certain formality in the domestic routine. Fuji would lay out his dinner jacket on the bed: he dressed, came down to the dining room with quiet dignity, and the evening meal was served by candle-light. As long as Fuji was at work, Gissing sat carefully in the armchair by the hearth, smoking a cigar and pretending to read the paper. But as soon as the butler had gone upstairs, Gissing always kicked oft his dinner suit and stiff shirt, and lay down on the hearth-rug. But he did not sleep. He would watch the wings of flame gilding the dark throat of the chimney, and his mind seemed drawn upward on that rush of light, up into the pure chill air where the moon was riding among sluggish thick floes of cloud. In the darkness he heard chiming voices, wheedling and tantalizing. One night he was walking on his little verandah. Between rafts of silver-edged clouds were channels of ocean-blue sky, inconceivably deep and transparent. The air was serene, with a faint acid taste. Suddenly there shrilled a soft, sweet, melancholy whistle, earnestly repeated. It seemed to come from the little pond in the near-by copses. It struck him strangely. It might be anything, he thought. He ran furiously through the field, and to the brim of the pond. He could find nothing, all was silent. Then the whistlings broke out again, all round him, maddeningly. This kept on, night after night. The parson, whom he consulted, said it was only frogs; but Gissing told the constable he thought God had something to do with it.

Then willow trees and poplars showed a pallid bronze sheen, forsythias were as yellow as scrambled eggs, maples grew knobby with red buds. Among the fresh bright grass came, here and there, exhilarating smells of last year's buried bones. The little upward slit at the back of Gissing's nostrils felt prickly. He thought that if he could bury it deep enough in cold beef broth it would be comforting. Several times he went out to the pantry intending to try the experiment, but every time Fuji happened to be around. Fuji was a Japanese pug, and rather correct, so Gissing was ashamed to do what he wanted to. He pretended he had come out to see that the icebox pan had been emptied properly.

"I must get the plumber to put in a pukka drain-pipe to take the place of the pan," Gissing said to Fuji; but he knew that he had no intention of doing so. The ice-box pan was his private test of a good servant. A cook who forgot to empty it was too careless, he thought, to be a real success.

But certainly there was some curious elixir in the air. He went for walks, and as soon as he was out of sight of the houses he threw down his hat and stick and ran wildly, with great exultation, over the hills and fields. "I really ought to turn all this energy into some sort of constructive work," he said to himself. No one else, he mused, seemed to enjoy life as keenly and eagerly as he did. He wondered, too, about the other sex. Did they feel these violent impulses to run, to shout, to leap and caper in the sunlight? But he was a little startled, on one of his expeditions, to see in the distance the curate rushing hotly through the underbrush, his clerical vestments dishevelled, his tongue hanging out with excitement.

"I must go to church more often," said Gissing.

In the golden light and pringling air he felt excitable and high-strung. His tail curled upward until it ached. Finally he asked Mike Terrier, who lived next door, what was wrong.

"It's spring," Mike said.

"Oh, yes, of course, jolly old spring!" said Gissing, as though this was something he had known all along, and had just forgotten for the moment. But he didn't know. This was his first spring, for he was only ten months old.

Outwardly he was the brisk, genial figure that the suburb knew and esteemed. He was something of a mystery among his neighbours of the Canine Estates, because he did not go daily to business in the city, as most of them did; nor did he lead a life of brilliant amusement like the Airedales, the wealthy people whose great house was near by. Mr. Poodle, the conscientious curate, had called several times but was not able to learn anything definite. There was a little card-index of parishioners, which it was Mr. Poodle's duty to fill in with details of each person's business, charitable inclinations, and what he could do to amuse a Church Sociable. The card allotted to Gissing was marked, in Mr. Poodle's neat script, Friendly, but vague as to definite participation in Xian activities. Has not communicated.

But in himself, Gissing was increasingly disturbed. Even his seizures of joy, which came as he strolled in the smooth spring air and sniffed the wild, vigorous aroma of the woodland earth, were troublesome because he did not know why he was so glad. Every morning it seemed to him that life was about to exhibit some delicious crisis in which the meaning and excellence of all things would plainly appear. He sang in the bathtub. Daily it became more difficult to maintain that decorum which Fuji expected. He felt that his life was being wasted. He wondered what ought to be done about it.