A MAN AND HIS DOG
Soon after Harrington’s company transferred him to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and an attempted burglary of their home, the Harringtons acquired a Doberman pinscher pup.
Jack grew tall for a Doberman, and he was an unusual reddish brown with the usual tan markings. Although his ears had never been cropped—so that they hung down puppylike—his withers were perfect, his jaw not undershot, his neck erect, though Samuel Harrington couldn’t tell if it was “dry”. The Doberman handbook was written in Portuguese. He didn’t expect to understand everything in it.
Harrington’s wife tended to spoil Jack. She used babytalk on him, a language Harrington particularly detested next to Portuguese. His assignment to humid, frenetic Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was a necessary rung on that ladder of executive achievement, after which he looked forward to returning to the more wholesome climate of Virginia.
Jack, his master was pleased to think, possessed a superbly balanced sense of dogship. He did jump upon his master in riotous welcome but always obeyed when told to stop. Although intensely attentive when his own meal was being prepared, he never begged for food at table. Harrington rejoiced in the Doberman qualities that could unleash a roar of impressive power whenever an unauthorized hand attempted to unlatch the front gate. Once, after first growling in warning, Jack attacked a voluble, hand-gesticulating guest who must have appeared, to him, to be threatening Harrington. Harrington apologized for his dog, but after the guest left he gave Jack a whole steak for his dinner.
Harrington told this story around the coconut palm-shaded Botafogo Yacht Club, though he was careful not to boast. A dog was a dog. His just happened to be one of the nobler guardians of hearth and master.
Only two things about Jack bothered the master.
Thunderstorms terrified him. At the first slash of lightning Jack dove for the sofa and tried to bury himself under it.
The other thing was his willingness to submit to Leona Harrington’s blandishments. For the reward of one cookie he allowed a bowl of peanuts to be placed upon his head, remaining motionless, wearing a grin of almost human foolishness, until the bowl was removed. And Leona taught him to dance. When Jack reared up on his hind legs and placed both paws upon her shoulders, he topped Leona by a head. It was true he couldn’t move to rhythms, but Leona pretended he did. “Look at him samba!” Leona cried, giggling while shuffling her feet for both of them.
Jack was so handsome a dog that Harrington could forgive these lapses in dignity. In company with Harrington, Jack lay on the floor by the armchair in his Egyptian pose, back legs gathered under haunches, front legs stretched symmetrically before him. His coat shining and with his streamlined, elegant head, Jack was the counterpart of the royal dog of Egypt, the Saluki. He seemed to listen thoughtfully when his master, in conversational tones, discoursed on the abominable weather, the mad Brazilian drivers, his work, and how he missed the gentle climes of Virginia. That sometimes temperatures there reached 106 degrees was unimportant. Virginia was home. That was the difference.
A notice arrived from the Brazilian Kennel Club inviting the Harringtons to enter their dog in the forthcoming show at the Jockey Club. Harrington was dubious about Jack’s eligibility. Apart from knowing how to heel, sit and stay, and the business with the bowl of peanuts, he had no training for show. Harrington telephoned an official at the Kennel Club.
Of course he is eligible, the official said, as long as he has pedigree papers. If he obeyed the basic commands, nothing more was required.
Harrington had doubts, but a sudden zeal for glory kept him from turning aside. Leona, however, was dismayed. She worried that they were still new to Brazilian customs; and would the commands in Portuguese be understood? A Kennel Club is a Kennel Club, her husband told her. All dog shows have standard routines.
“Well, what are they?” Leona asked.
“Whatever a working dog show is about. Jack isn’t a Pekinese, though you treat him like one. A Doberman is bred for work.” He had been an avid horseman in Virginia; he kept himself fit; he thought those attributes counted for something.
On the big day, they brought a ruthlessly groomed Jack to the Rio Jockey Club and registered him under his official name, Mongol de Leimar.
Here were more dogs than Jack had seen in his entire life, all yapping and yowling or stiff haired at the neck with teeth bared at the next dog. None, Harrington saw at once, matched Jack in proportion and beauty. Near them stood a positively ugly Dobie, with stubby legs and a dull black coat. His handler was a tall Brazilian soldier in uniform and white leather gauntlets. These were not mere gloves. They were heavy things, whose flared shanks reached to the elbow.
The six-month-olds went out. Some heeled, some didn’t. Several lolloped around their handlers unheeding of commands. One sprawled flat on his belly, all four legs splayed, and refused to do anything he was told. That one made Leona yearn for another puppy. Jack stayed close, yawning every few minutes or so. The yawns were tremendous jaw-popping yawps that displayed all his gums, teeth, and a yard of tongue. A shiver traveled down his chest each time. Show nerves, speculated Harrington. He was feeling a bit fidgety himself.
The loudspeaker announced that the three-year-old class was next.
Harrington adjusted the placard around his neck and strode out. Jack lagged a bit, but his master shortened the leash to make that less evident.
The commands in Portuguese were easy to understand, and Jack trotted when he did, sat when he stopped. They did collide once or twice. Each time he sat, though, it was on Harrington’s feet, which he withdrew quickly while hoping nobody had noticed. The dashing soldier and his homely mutt were in the ring with them. The mutt sat neatly and with alacrity as though his rear end were loaded with lead shot.
Leona’s petite figure stood in the forefront behind the arena’s barrier. Harrington caught her glance. She gave him a smile that looked forced.
The judge ordered them to line up in a row. Jack did not want to. He too had seen Leona, and was doing his utmost to go to her. Harrington hauled him, his arm stiff and straight to disguise that fact, into the lineup next to the soldier. Jack whimpered and he told him to hush. The dog subsided, though he was definitely unhappy. To prevent him from leaning into him, Harrington cocked his left knee, at the same time attempting to stand straight and proud. The judge shot him a sharp look. Perhaps he thought Harrington had a cramp.
An aide then carried what seemed to be a bundle of bedding to the judge and worked on his arm. When the aide stepped away, the judge’s left arm had become three times its original size. Now he raised his right hand, which held a pistol, advanced menacingly toward the first dog in line, and shot a round past its head.
Jack’s ears stiffened. So did Harrington’s stance. Jack began to shake, or Harrington did, it was difficult to tell. In an uproar of howls and barks and growls, all the outside dogs were straining to get into the ring. Jack strained to get out.
“Release!” commanded the judge.
The handler unclipped his dog, which immediately hurled himself at the protected arm and buried his fangs in it. They wrestled together, the judge whipping the dog about the body with the butt of the pistol. At this, Jack got between Harrington’s legs facing backward.
The judge told the handler to retrieve his dog.
With some difficulty, the handler caught hold of his dog, which then turned and tried to kill him. The judge nodded in a satisfied way and moved on, on…the shooting and enraged, mangling noises coming closer. Then he was testing the soldier’s mutt, which reacted faster and more murderously than any of the others.
The judge moved over to Harrington and Jack.
The placard over Harrington’s chest began doing little hops.
“Rat!” he whispered harshly to Jack. “Go get the rat! Go! Go!” This had always worked before to get Jack excited.
The judge shot his round. Jack tore loose from Harrington and headed for Leona and buried his muzzle in her skirt.
“Oh, don’t be sad, my redhead doggie sweetie-pie woofums,” crooned Leona. “You’re just not a killer, Daddy didn’t know that.”
Amidst the vast, interested silence that had fallen all over the arena, Leona talked her babytalk to Jack and stroked and stroked his trembling withers. She tried to extricate him from her skirts, but Jack wanted none of what awaited to his rear and burrowed even deeper.
Harrington looked at the soldier, who quickly transferred his gaze skyward. All attention was now centered on Harrington. This was a test of every masculine imperative he had ever believed in, as he stood under the eyes of the most virile enclave it was his bad luck to meet. His wife’s gaze, though expressionless, seemed laden with some special meaning for him. He now understood that more than merely holding his own with the men, his marriage had become involved. In other words, this was raw survival.
Coming to life, Harrington sauntered past the soldier, the judge and his pistol, and walked to his wife’s side. He kissed her cheek tenderly. Behind him in the area, voices started up again. Someone applauded. There were approving murmurs of “Oba, oba.”
He linked his arm in his wife’s. Acknowledging defeat at the gauntleted hands of superior forces, he gave an ironic wave to his public. A gentleman from Virginia knew how to lose to these Brazilians, his peers. A gun-shy dog could happen to anyone. His salute elicited further murmurs and a few sympathetic chuckles.
Harrington patted Jack on the head and the three of them strolled out of the Rio Jockey Club. ##