I can't say I was all that pleased with the dog. Chasing cats is all right, but this morning he overdid it. He started in the long grass with a young fox but, soon outwitted, resorted to his usual feline quarry. Every house in the district seems to keep cats specifically for the sport. A few minutes I don't mind. But when it continues in increasing circles of mad ecstasy for 30 minutes, 45 - an hour! There are limits.
When I lived in the country, antics of this sort were more easily dealt with. I'd just leave the dog to follow me home eventually and flop down on the doorstep exhausted. In the city I feel more concerned and inhibited. I don't like trespassing in others' gardens; and I'm uncertain that this particular dog actually knows where his own front doorstep is. He definitely doesn't know when he's exhausted. And after a while I begin to feel a fool. I suspect refuse collectors of chuckling: Clearly they are on the dog's side. And I'm sure people in passing cars are making inaudible comments like ''Why doesn't he keep his dog on a lead? Does he stand by that pillar box all morning? Hasn't he got work to do?''
I whistle and shout for naught: The dog (cat possessed) cannily takes these noises as bulletins of my whereabouts, not as orders to heel. I lean against tree trunks. I freeze behind a lamppost ready to lasso him. . . .
But no; this morning he excelled himself.
Occasionally people went by - the wife of the Indian restaurateur teaching her daughter to drive; the comedian who lives in that large house, off to rehearsal; the little German woman walking her exasperatingly well-behaved retriever; two lads, staring silently, with that all-too-recognizable look of unemployment; a black teen-age girl striding elegantly along. After her an old woman padded by, wearing carpet slippers and one of those faces into which the world's moroseness and indifference seems to have been poured like plaster into a mold. She looked nowhere. Coming within feet of me she still showed no awareness of my presence. In the country I would have said hullo. But in the city such a greeting can seem eccentric - and on this occasion would have been as inappropriate as knocking on a prison gate bearing the words Entry Forbidden.
Eventually I started back home, planning to fetch my bicycle and a book - one for mobility, the other for gainful occupation. The dog-vigil had wasted enough time already.
But I never got to read my book. I had no sooner returned on wheels than I at last spotted, cornered, and captured the Terror of Cats. Perhaps his reflexes were slowing down a bit. I put on a display of petrifying, disciplinary fury (which marginally subdued him - or at least he got the general drift); dramatically clicked the lead onto his collar; and cycled for home with him alongside assuming an air of entirely hypocritical obedience.
Along the road I noticed the woman-of-a-thousand-miseries returning from her errand, negotiating the footpath. Just before we came level she suddenly stepped out into the road. A screeching of brakes and a digging-in of claws brought dog, bike, and me to a halt - we missed! All she did was vaguely to turn our way. But still her features were set, unmoved.
I remounted. She moved snail-like to the middle of the road. As I passed I smiled and said, ''We nearly ran you over!''
Instantly a remarkable change occurred in her face. ''Oh,'' she said (not in the least concerned about her escape), ''you're a good boy!'' (She was addressing the dog). ''Pulling your master! You'll have to mind'' (addressing me now) ''he doesn't see a cat or he might pull you off. But then you wouldn't chase cats, now, would you? You're a good dog. There are two dogs in the home where I live: a sheep-dog collie and a collie collie. I love them. I don't feed them tidbits - it's not allowed. . . . I clean the dining room - that's my job - and they sneak in and keep me company. They're not allowed, but they come anyway. They're lovely.'' And that plaster face had something playing over it . . . a sort of ripple, its ice dissolved by a thaw. . . .
I had to stand up on my pedals to keep momentum on the steep rise just before home. The dog was continuing his model behavior, trotting with repentance.
And then he spotted a cat in some bushes across the road . . . .