THE impudence of being Oscar

Years and years ago, when we lived in Dublin's fair city, we owned an Irish terier called Oscar. We named him Oscar because he was so wild. Joke. See? In order to keep the adored animal out of mischief we tried to keep him in the back garden and take him for walks carefully leashed, but it was useless. Oscar was as clever as his famous namesake and would lie in wait near the hall door waiting for a chance to escape and roam the neighborhood. It was not sex which urged him forth or a yearning for explorations. No, the horrid truth lay in the fact that Oscar was a born thief and couldn't keep his paws off other people's goods. On these criminal expeditions he usually managed to possess himself of some innocent child's valued toy or a person's expensive glove and once he brought home a pair of spectacles. Yes, he brought everything home and would either chew it or lay it, as if in homage, at my mother's feet. One memorable afternoon -- a Saturday -- Oscar returned with a bulky brown paper parcel which he laid before my mother. We tore it open and discovered, to our horror, six fresh lamb chops obviously planned for someone's Sunday dinner. There was no address on the package and no name.

"They must have cost some poor soul a pretty penny," sighed my mother, whose heart constantly overflowed with pity for others. Not that she could afford much tangible charity. She was passing poor on eighty pounds a year, the pension handed out by a grateful government to the widow of a colonial servant. Luckily she had a generous father who helped. "Otherwise chicks," she was fond of telling us, "we'd all four be rattling tins outside the fashionable hotels begging for alms." ". . . Now," she continued, "These chops! Children you must sally forth now with this parcel, ring on every door down our road and ask if anyone is missing six lamb chops."

Well, the three of us trudged shamefacedly up and down our road knocking on doors and ringing bells and getting poor responses. Nobody had missed six lamb chops and most people thought we were joking or just demented.

"Do you know what I'll do," Mother announced on our return. She was seated at the piano playing a Chopin etude. She always played Chopin when she was worried; it calmed her down. "I'll ask the poor Perrins to dinner tomorrow and we'll have the lamb chops. We must share these stolen goods. It's the least we can do."

We all three moaned. It seemed to us the punishment did not hit the crime. If there were two personalities who left us cold it was old Mrs. Perrin and her sister-in-law Agatha. She was the widow of an auctioneer whose house, mother frequently remarked in passing, was packed with stolen goods. "Not exactly stealing in Mr. Perrin's case -- it was just that he had the opportunity to acquire interesting antiques before anyone else could acquire them. He was not a real thief like Oscar. Bad dog!" Oscar wagged.

The two old ladies always wore black. They never smiled and spoke only in harsh whispers. They lived two roads away in a gloomy grey house with a chipped white eagle over the hall door. Naturally they accepted the invitation, so that evening mother cooked an apple pie and the following morning she made mashed potatoes and opened a tin of peas. It was long before the Ice Age of frozen foods. Oscar was sternly shut out in the back garden. The two old ladies arrived at one o'clock sniffling, sighing, and whispering, "Susan dear, how delightful of you to ask us for dinner. We've just had a most unfortunate experience which I will relate to you later."

"I can't wait," exclaimed Mother, "Now let us go into the dining room. Dinner is ready."

We all sat down at the table. Mother said grace; she always did, because as she said it was a miracle we had anything to put in our mouths. Then she whisked the cover off the main dish and revealed six brown sizzling lamb chops.

"Goodness gracious," exclaimed Mrs. Perrin. Her sister-in-law echoed her with "What a coincidence."

Mother looked up in surprise. "Why?"

"Our mysterious occurrence!"

"You alarm me, Agatha."

Mrs. P. breathed heavily. "YEsterday I bought six lamb chops at Cooneys. I bought six because I thought they would last us the week. They were to be delivered They never came. Agatha went down just before closing to enquire. Mr. cooney was quite rude. He said the chops had been delivered. They boy told him he rang and rang and couldn't get an answer so he left them on the doorstep."

A great silence fell on the table. We dared not look at each other. Oscar must have taken the very lamb chops we were just about to enjoy. We had not tried the Perrin's road. What was mother going to do? Would she confess to Oscar's iniquity? My brother pretended to choke and rushed from the room. I dared not look at mother. I blushed indeed as if I had stolen the fatal chops.

"Goodness," Mother looked at them commiseratingly, "You can't be sure of anything anymore. When I was a girl you could leave your diamonds on the front steps. Isn't it fortunate I asked you to share our -- the chops. Mary, you can run down to the kitchen and bring up the apple pie and the cream."

I thankfully made for the lower regions, where I found my brother laughing madly beside the kitchen sink. We could see Oscar out in the garden playfully scratching a hole in mother's beloved rosebed.

"We paid such a lot for them," Miss Perrin was still bleating when I returned with the pie. Her resemblance to an old sheep was startling.

"After all, you're having a free lunch here!" observed my young sister who was noted for her ability to speak the truth.

After the ladies retired to the drawing room we three children washed the dishes, shouting with laughter. Then we went for a brisk walk in the park and when we returned, the Perrins had gone. Mother met us with a worried face. "I can't tell you how ashamed I feel. Do you think I should have confessed?"

"No," we all three shouted at her.

"One of them missed a glove," Mother added, "I fear Oscar." We hurried out into the garden without another word. Sure enough, Oscar was asleep near the potting shed with a chewed glove beside him.

"That dog hasn't a moral. Children, should I give away?"

"No." Once more shouts came from the three of us. "Beautiful shaggy brown Oscar, sweetest of dogs. Never."

"Mother, sit down and stop worrying. Play your favorite Chopin waltz," I advised. So mother sat down and played Chopin and Oscar playfully entered and laid the chewed glove at her feet.

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