It was our good fortune to overhear a dialogue between Gissing (our dog) and Mike, the dog who lives next door. Mike, or Crowgill Mike II, to give him his full entitles, is a very sagacious old person, in the fifteenth year of his disillusionment, and of excellent family. If our humble Gissing is to have a three-barrelled name, it can only be Haphazard Gissing I, for his ancestry is plainly miscellaneous and impromptu. He is, we like to say, a synthetic dog. He is young: six months; we fear that some of the errors now frequently urged against the rising generation are plainly discernible in him. And Mike, who is grizzled and grown somewhat dour, shows toward our Gissing much the attitude of Dr. Eliot toward the younger litter of humans.
In public, and when any one is watching, Mike, who is the Dog Emeritus of the Salamis Estates, pays no heed to Gissing at all: ignores him, and prowls austerely about his elderly business. But secretly spying from a window, we have seen him, unaware of notice, stroll (a little heavily and stiffly, for an old dog’s legs grow gouty) over to Gissing’s kennel. With his tail slightly vibrant, he conducts a dignified causerie. Unhappily, these talks are always concluded by some breach of manners on Gissing’s part. At first he is respectful; but presently his enthusiasm grows too much for him; he begins to leap and frolic and utter uncouth praises of things in general. Then Mike turns soberly and moves away.
On such an occasion, the chat went like this:
GISSING: Do you believe in God?
MIKE: I acknowledge Him. I don’t believe in Him.
GISSING: Oh, I think He’s splendid. Hurrah! Hullabaloo! When He puts on those old khaki trousers and smokes that curve-stem pipe I always know there’s a good time coming.
MIKE: You have made a mistake. That is not God. God is a tall, placid, slender man, who wears puttees when He works in the garden and smokes only cigarettes.
GISSING: Not at all. God is quite stout, and of uncertain temper, but I adore Him.
MIKE: No one knows God at your age. There is but one God, and I have described Him. There is no doubt about it, because He sometimes stays away from the office on Saturdays. Only God can do that.
GISSING: What a glorious day this is. What ho! Halleluiah! I don’t suppose you know what fun it is to run round in circles. How ignorant of life the older generation is.
GISSING: Do you believe in Right and Wrong? I mean, are they absolute, or only relative?
MIKE: When I was in my prime Right was Right, and Wrong was Wrong. A bone, buried on someone else’s ground, was sacred. I would not have dreamed of digging it up—-
GISSING (hastily): But I am genuinely puzzled. Suppose a motor truck goes down the road. My instinct tells me that I ought to chase it and bark loudly. But if God is around He calls me back and rebukes me, sometimes painfully. Yet I am convinced that there is nothing essentially wrong in my action.
MIKE: The question of morals is not involved. If you were not so young and foolish you would know that your God (if you so call Him, though He is not a patch on mine) knows what is good for you better than you do yourself. He forbids your chasing cars because you might get hurt.
GISSING: Then instinct is not to be obeyed?
MIKE: Not when God is around.
GISSING: Yet He encourages me to chase sticks, which my instinct strongly impels me to do. Prosit! Waes hael! Excuse my enthusiasm, but you really know very little of the world or you would not take things so calmly.
MIKE: My dear boy, rheumatism is a great sedative. You will learn by and by. What are you making such a racket about?
GISSING: I have just learned that there is no such thing as free will. I don’t suppose you ever meditated on these things, you are such an old stick-in-the-mud. But in my generation we scrutinize everything.
MIKE: There is plenty of free will when you have learned to will the right things. But there’s no use willing yourself to destroy a motor truck, because it can’t be done. I have been young, and now am old, but never have I seen an honest dog homeless, nor his pups begging their bones. You will go to the devil if you don’t learn to restrain yourself.
GISSING: Last night there was a white cat in the sky. Yoicks, yoicks! I ran thirty times round the house, yelling.
MIKE: Only the moon, nothing to bark about.
GISSING: You are very old, and I do not think you have ever really felt the excitement of life. Excuse me, but have you seen me jump up and pull the baby’s clothes from the line? It is glorious fun.
MIKE: My good lad, I think life will deal hardly with you.
(Exit, shaking his head.)