The Happy Prince, and Other Tails
by Aubrey Beardsley
The Devoted Friend
A “Faithful” Reimagining of Oscar Wilde’s The Devoted Friend
One morning the Self-proclaimed Expert walked into the park with three dogs who looked at no-one. The Self-proclaimed Expert had bright beady eyes and stiff grey whiskers and his ideas were like a long bit of worn out old news. But no-one could see the eyes of the three dogs, because they all looked dutifully at the ground.
Some happy dogs were running around the park, looking just like a lot of bumper cars, and their human, who was smiling widely and running with them, was trying to teach them how to do zoomies.
“You will never be in the best society unless you can do zoomies with your friends,” she kept saying to them, laughing; and every now and then she showed them how it was done. But the little dogs were having so much fun, and she was considerably slower, that they paid little heed to the idea of social advantages. And indeed they were so happy, that they did not know what an advantage it is to be in society at all. But in fact, they were so happy, that they were doing it anyway.
“What disobedient dogs!” cried the Self-proclaimed Expert; “they really deserve to be punished.”
“Nothing of the kind, we are building bonds,” answered their human, “every one must make a beginning, and we humans cannot be too patient.”
“Ah! I know nothing about the feelings of permissive trainers,” said the Self-proclaimed Expert; “I am not a new age dog man. In fact, I have never let my dogs play with other dogs, and I never intend to let them. Bonds are all very well, but training is much higher. Indeed, I know of nothing in the world that is either nobler or rarer than a truly trained dog.”
“And what, pray, is your idea of the duties of a trained dog?” asked a second human, who was giving his dog a treat, and had overheard the conversation.
“Yes, that is just what I want to know,” said the first human; and she took her dogs away to the other side of the park, and started running around with them again, in order to give all the dogs a good example.
“What a silly question!” cried the Self-proclaimed Expert. “I should expect my dog to be devoted to me, of course.”
“And what would you do in return?” said a third human, who was bending down to talk to her dog.
“I don’t understand you,” answered the Self-proclaimed Expert.
“Let me tell you a story about training,” said the second human.
“Is the story about me? Does it confirm everything I believe in? And does it dismiss anything that disagrees with me as nonsense or irrelevant or anything else I need to believe to convince myself of my authority?” asked the Self-proclaimed Expert. “If so, I will listen to it, for I am extremely fond of fiction.”
“It is applicable to you,” answered the second human; and sitting down beside the Self-proclaimed Expert, he told the story of The Devoted Friend.
“Once upon a time,” said the second human, “there was an honest little dog named Huw.”
“Was he very distinguished?” asked the Self-proclaimed Expert.
“No,” answered the second human, “I don’t think he was distinguished at all, except for his kind heart, his cute and good-humoured face, and his delightful curls. He lived in a little old shed in the Boastful Human’s garden, and every day he would sit on the stoop of the house and wait for the Boastful Human to visit him. In all the land there was no little dog so loyal as this.
“Little Huw had a great many friends, but the most devoted friend of all was the Boastful Human. Indeed, so devoted was the Boastful Human that he would never go by Huw without telling him to move, or get out of the way, or go outside, or be quiet, or sit down. Yes indeed, the Boastful Human was always thinking of little Huw.
“‘Good dog owners will set boundaries’, the Boastful Human used to say, and little Huw used to lower his head, and felt very proud of having a human with such noble ideas.”
“Sometimes, indeed, the neighbours thought it strange that the Boastful Human never gave little Huw anything in return for his loyalty, even though the Boastful Human had a warm house with a sofa, and lots of food, and a large television; but little Huw never troubled his head about these things, and nothing gave him greater pleasure than to listen to all the wonderful things the Boastful Human used to say about the importance of good training.
“So little Huw kept sleeping in the garden. During the spring, the summer, and the autumn he was very happy, but when the winter came, he was quite sad. In the winter, also, he was extremely lonely, as the Boastful Human hardly came to see him then. And if Huw tried to come in from the cold, the Boastful Human would assert his authority.
“‘There is no good in my going to talk to little Huw when he has been misbehaving,’ the Boastful Human used to say to his wife, ‘for when dogs are in trouble they should be left alone, and not bothered by humans. That at least is my idea about training, and I am sure I am right. So I shall wait till he has thought about what he has done, and then I shall pay him a visit, and he will be devoted to me and that will make him so happy.’
“‘You are certainly very wise about training,’ answered the Wife, as she sat in her comfortable armchair in front of the television, watching dog training shows; ‘very wise indeed. It is quite a treat to hear you talk about training on and on and on. I am sure the experts who spend years studying and learning could not say such beautiful things as you do, though they do spend a lot of time working with a lot of dogs and learning new things. But really, do they use common sense?’
“‘But could we not ask little Huw to come inside?’ said the Boastful Human’s youngest son. ‘If poor Huw is in trouble I will give him half my porridge, and pat his head, and show him my soft toys,” for little Huw had never seen a soft toy.
“‘What a silly boy you are!’ cried the Boastful Human; ‘I really don’t know what is the use of sending you to school. You seem not to learn anything. Education never taught anyone anything about dogs and learning and welfare. Why, if little Huw came up here, and saw our warm fire, and our cheese platter, and our big television he might get envious, and envy is a most terrible thing, and would spoil anybody’s nature. He might forget his place, and try to test his boundaries. I certainly will not allow little Huw’s nature to be spoiled. I am his master, and I will always watch over him, and see that he is not led into any temptations, like playing and sleeping on the bed. Besides, if Huw came here, he might ask me to let him have some treats, and that I could not do. Treats are one thing, and training is another, and they should not be confused. Why, the words are spelt differently, and mean quite different things. Everybody can see that,’
“‘How well you talk!’ said the Wife, cutting herself another big slice of cheese; ‘really I feel quite drowsy. It is just like being mesmerized by a showman,’ as she returned to watch the charismatic dog trainer on the television.
“‘Lots of people talk about dog behaviour,’ answered the Boastful Human; ‘but very few people train well, which shows that training is much the more difficult thing of the two, and much the finer thing also’; and he looked sternly across the table at his little son, who felt so ashamed of himself for wanting to be kind and welcoming to a dog, that he hung his head down, and grew quite scarlet, and began to cry into his cheese toastie. However, he was so young that you must excuse him for spoiling a cheese toastie.”
“Is that the end of the story?” asked the Self-proclaimed Expert.
“Certainly not,” answered the second human, “that is the beginning.”
“Then you are quite behind the age,” said the Self-proclaimed expert. “Every good training expert nowadays starts with a meme, and a YouTube video. That is the new method. I heard all about it the other day from a dog-walker who was walking round the park with a friend. He spoke of the matter at great length, and I am sure he must have been right, for he had a flat cap on, and whenever the friend made any remark, he always answered ‘Common sense!’ But pray go on with your story. I like the Boastful Human immensely. I have all kinds of important wisdom myself, which I like to tell everyone, so there is a great sympathy between us.
“Well,” said the second human, shifting a bit on the seat, “as soon as the winter was over, and the park started to fill with barbecues, the Boastful Human said to his wife that he would go down and take little Huw to the park.
“‘Why, what a good heart you have!” cried his Wife; ‘you are always thinking of others. And mind you take the spray bottle in case he tries to talk to another dog.’
“So the Boastful Human went down into the garden to get Huw.
“‘Good morning, little Huw,’ said the Boastful Human.
“‘Good morning,’ said Huw, jumping up and down, and smiling from ear to ear.
“‘And how have you been?’ said the Boastful Human.
“‘Well, really,’ cried Huw, ‘it is very good of you to ask, very good indeed. I am afraid I have been a bit lonely, but now I am quite happy, I have seen all the dogs going to the park.’
“‘Huw, I am surprised at you,’ said the Boastful Human; ‘I am always here. And I am all the social life you need. That is the wonderful thing about being a well-trained dog, you do not need the company of other dogs, but I am afraid you don’t understand the importance of training. How lovely the garden is looking, by-the-bye!”
“‘It certainly is,” said Huw, ‘and it is a most lucky thing for me that it is. I am going to have to sleep in the grass as my little shed has fallen down.’
“‘Fallen down? What a very stupid thing to do!’ said the Boastful Human, ‘I will give you my old wooden crate that the new television was shipped in. It is not in very good repair; indeed, one side is gone, and there is a bit of a hole in the top; but in spite of that I will give it to you. I know it is very generous of me, and a great many people would think me extremely foolish for spoiling you like this, but I am not like the rest of the world. I think that balance is the essence of training, and, besides, I really needed a new television. Yes, you may set your mind at ease, I will give you my old wooden crate.’
“‘Well, really, that is generous of you,’ said little Huw, and his cute good-humoured face beamed as brightly as his delightful curls. ‘I can easily make myself comfortable, as I have my old bed in the shed.’
“‘A bed!” said the Boastful Human; ‘why, that is just what I need to fix to my garage wall to protect the bumper of my new car. Sometimes I drive in too close, and the bumper will get all scratched if I don’t provide some protection. How lucky you mentioned it! It is quite remarkable how one good action always breeds another. I have given you my old wooden crate, and now you are going to give me your bed. Of course, the old wooden crate is worth far more than your bed, but never mind, I am feeling generous. I shall get it at once, and I will set to work on my garage wall this very day.’
“‘Certainly,’ cried little Huw, and he ran into the shed and dragged the bed out.
“‘It is not a very big bed,’ said the Boastful Human, looking at it, ‘and I am afraid that after I have fixed it to my garage wall there won’t be any stuffing left for you to sleep on; but, of course, that is not my fault.’
“‘Good-bye, little Huw,’ said the Boastful Human, as he went into the garage with the bed.
“‘Good-bye,’ said little Huw, and he began to dig away in his little garden quite merrily, he was so pleased about the old wooden crate.
“The next day little Huw was sunbathing under some honeysuckle against the broken shed, when he heard the Boastful Human’s voice calling to him. So he ran up to the house.
“There was the Boastful Human with Huw’s lead.
“‘Dear little Huw,’ said the Boastful Human, ‘let us go to the park.’
“‘Oh, I am so happy,’ said Huw, ‘I will be able to play with all the dogs that I have seen walking past.’
“‘Well, really,’ said the Boastful Human, ‘I think that, considering that I am going to give you my old wooden crate, after all that I have taught you it is rather disobedient of you to go running off playing with other dogs.’
“‘Oh, don’t say that,’ cried little Huw, ‘I wouldn’t be disobedient for the whole world’; and he happily trudged off by the Boastful Human’s side, saying hello to no-one.
“It was a very nice day and before Huw had reached the park he was eager to pause and sniff the trees, the lamp posts, the world. However, the Boastful Human called him disobedient, tugged him on, and would not let him sniff anything. At last they reached the park and it was very busy. There were dogs everywhere, happily playing and running, because all the regular visitors tried to arrive at the same time to play together.
“The Boastful Human let Huw off his lead, but Huw stood dutifully by his side, too nervous to move without further instruction. But after Huw had waited there some time, he wandered a little further away from the Boastful Human and started to explore the middle of the park. He looked at the freshly cut grass and thought he would have a roll, for nothing smells better than freshly cut grass. The Boastful Human looked up and saw this and reprimanded him sternly. “Huw, leave!” he shouted. Little Huw cowered and stood quietly.
By this time some other dogs had seen him playing by himself and they bounded over. But even though Huw was off lead and hoping to play, and even though all the humans in the park thought Huw was there to join in the fun, the Boastful Human marched over and stamped his feet at the other dogs and made them all run away. The other humans were most upset and took themselves and their dogs to the far end of the park. Poor little Huw stood alone. “‘There you are, little Huw. I am all you need. Keep your eyes on me and play the games I want you to play,’ said the Boastful Human. And so Huw wandered back to the Boastful Human and played with a ball that he did not want to chase, and a rope that he did not want to tug.
“‘It has certainly been a hard day,’ said little Huw to himself as they returned and he was going to bed out on the grass, ‘but I am glad I did not disobey the Boastful Human, for he is my best friend, and, besides, he is going to give me his old wooden crate.’
“Early the next morning the Boastful Human came down to the garden, but little Huw was so tired that he was still curled up asleep.
“‘Upon my word,’ said the Boastful Human, ‘you are very lazy and disobedient. Really, considering that I am going to give you my old wooden crate, I think you might try a little harder to be a good dog. Laziness is a great sin, and I certainly don’t like any of my dogs to be lazy or sluggish. You must not mind my speaking quite plainly to you. Anybody can say charming things to a dog and try to please and to flatter and give treats, but a true trainer always says unpleasant things, and does not mind giving pain. Indeed, if he is a really true trainer he prefers it, for he knows that then he is doing good.’
“‘I am very sorry,’ said little Huw, rubbing his eyes and yawning, ‘but I was so tired that I thought I would lie in the cool grass for a little time, and listen to the birds singing. It makes me happy. Do you know that I always learn better when I am happy?’
“‘Well, I am glad of that,’ said the Boastful Human, clapping little Huw on the back and giving him a bit of a fright, ‘for I want you to come up to the house and meet some friends.’
“Poor little Huw was very anxious about meeting some strangers, for he usually was not allowed to say hello to anybody, but he did not like to refuse the Boastful Human, as he was such a good trainer.
“‘Do you think it would be disobedient of me if I stayed in my broken shed?’ he inquired in a shy and timid voice.
“‘Well, really,’ answered the Boastful Human, ‘I do not think it is much to ask of you to be friendly and entertaining, considering that I am going to give you my old wooden crate, but of course if you refuse I will go and entertain my friends by myself.’
“‘Oh! On no account,’ cried little Huw and he jumped up and trotted up to the house.
“He tried to entertain the Boastful Human’s guests all day long, until sunset, even though he was quite timid and wary of strangers. But they called him unfriendly and the children teased him. And at sunset the Boastful Human decided they had all had enough of Huw and told him to go outside again.
“‘Ah!’ said the Boastful Human, ‘there is no joy so delightful as the dog performing well with guests,’ although it had not gone well at all, and the visitors did not like shy little Huw.
“‘It is certainly a great privilege to entertain your friends,’ answered little Huw, sitting down, and yawning widely, ‘a very great privilege. But I am afraid I shall never be a good enough little dog.’
“‘Oh! it will come to you,’ said the Boastful Human, ‘but you must take more discipline.’
“‘Do you really think I shall be a good enough little dog one day?’ asked little Huw.
“‘I have no doubt of it,’ answered the Boastful Human, ‘but now that you have entertained my friends, you had better go back to your shed and rest, for I want to go and watch my television now.’
“Poor little Huw was afraid to say anything to this, and took himself off to bed in the garden.
“Early the next morning the Boastful Human set off with his family and left Huw behind. Huw was so worried all day and waited and waited and waited until he was so tired fro waiting that he went off to sleep in the grass and did not wake up till it was broad daylight.
“‘What a delightful time I shall have in my garden,’ he said, and he went to look for the Boastful Human at once.
“But somehow he could not find the Boastful Human at all. Little Huw was very much distressed, as he was afraid the Boastful Human would think he had forgotten him, but he consoled himself that the Boastful Human was his best friend and that he would return. ‘Besides,’ he used to say, ‘he is going to give me his old wooden crate, and that is an act of pure generosity.’
“So little Huw waited. And waited. And waited. And the storms came, and he sheltered as best he could in his broken shed. But the storms grew worse and worse, and the rain fell in torrents. And still the Boastful Human did not return.
The Boastful Human never returned. The Boastful Human had moved away.
“‘Little Huw is certainly a great loss to every one,’ said the youngest son, when they had arrived at their new home, and they were all seated comfortably in the kitchen, drinking tea and eating sweet cakes, and watching their big television.
“‘A great loss to me at any rate,’ answered the Boastful Human; ‘why, I had as good as given him my old wooden crate, and now I really don’t know what to do with it. It is very much in my way. I worked very hard on his training, and instead of entertaining my friends, and finding himself a new home, he cowered and backed away from them. Instead of fetching a ball, he would always sit under a tree. Instead of sitting calmly at my feet, he would keep tapping me for attention. And instead of being completely devoted to me in the park, he would look at other dogs and try to play. I will certainly take care not to waste my time on such a dog again. One always suffers for being generous.’”
“After several months of sleeping in the rain, and just in time before the snow came, Huw was rescued by some kind and patient humans.”
“Well?” said the Self-proclaimed Expert, after a long pause.
“Well, that is the end,” said the second human. “Huw went on to to be one of the most highly-respected and distinguished Bedlington Terriers in the land. And the cutest.”
“But what became of the Boastful Human?” asked the Self-proclaimed Expert.
“Oh! I really don’t know,” replied the second human; “and I am sure that I don’t care.”
“It is quite evident then that you have no sympathy in your nature,” said the Self-proclaimed Expert.
“I am afraid you don’t quite see the moral of the story,” remarked the second human.
“The what?” screamed the Self-proclaimed Expert.
“Do you mean to say that dog training has a moral? That dogs have feelings?”
“Certainly,” said the second human.
“Well, really,” said the Self-proclaimed Expert, in a very angry manner, “I think you should have told me that before you began. If you had done so, I certainly would not have listened to you; in fact, I should have said ‘Common sense,’ like the dog walker. However, I can say it now,” so he shouted out “Common sense!” at the top of his voice, shrieked at his three dogs, “Come!” and went back into his close-minded hole of cognitive dissonance.
“And how do you like the Self-proclaimed Expert?” asked the first human, who came back from the other side of the park minutes afterwards. “He has a great many good points, but for my own part I have the curious mind of a student, the humble mind of a scholar, the compassionate heart of a friend, and the feelings of a fellow being, and I can never look at a Self-Proclaimed Expert without the tears coming into my eyes.”
“I am rather afraid that I have annoyed him,” answered the second human. “The fact is, that I told him a story with a moral.”
“Ah! that is always a very dangerous thing to do with the Self-proclaimed Expert,” said the first human.
And I quite agree with her.