A Stray Dog
By Hjalmar Söderberg
Translated by Mikael Hertig
ONE man died and when he was dead no one took care of his black dog. The dog mourned long and bitterly. The dog did not, however, lie down on his master’s grave, perhaps in the meantime he did not know where it was; perhaps because he was basically a young and happy dog who still felt like having to have a lot of different goodies in his future life.
There are two kinds of dogs: dogs that have a master, and dogs that have none. Externally, the difference is not significant; a stray dog can be just as fat as the others, often fatter. No, the difference lies elsewhere. Man is to the dog the infinite, the destiny. A master to obey, to follow, to trust: that is, so to speak, the meaning of dog life. Well he does not have his master in mind every minute of the day, and admittedly he does not follow him right on his heels, no he jumps around on his own with routine supervision and sniffs at the house corners and makes connections to other similar dogs and snatches a meat bone, if the chance presents itself and is preoccupied with much, but at the same moment his master whistles, all this is faster out of his canine brain than the hostages were driven out of the temple, for he knows his inclination, his urge. And he forgets his corner, and his flesh, and his companions, and hurries to his master.
The dog whose master died and who was buried without the dog knowing how and where, missed him long; but as the days passed and nothing happened that could make him remember his master, he forgot him. On the gas where his master lived, he could no longer recognize the smell of his tracks. When he tumbled around on the lawn, it often happened that a whistle cut through the air, and at the same moment the dog companion was gone as in a gust of wind. Then he pricked up his ears, but no whistle sounded like his lord’s. Then he forgot him, and he forgot even more; he forgot that he had ever had a lord. He forgot that there had ever been a time when he had not at all considered it possible to live without a lord. He became what one might call a dog who had known for better days, albeit only inwardly, for outwardly he did reasonably well. He lived as a dog can live: Every now and then he stole a good meal of food in the square, got banked and had love stories, and went to bed when he was tired. He made friends and enemies. One day he thoroughly beat a dog that was weaker than him, another he got the ride of one that was stronger. Early in the morning one could see him running down his master’s street, as he still used to. He runs straight ahead with a face that he had something important to reach; smells in passing the fright of a passing dog, but does not like to put after those he knows; then he speeds up, but suddenly sits down and scratches behind his ear with a burning energy. The next moment, he hurries up and flies in the middle across the street to chase a red cat down into a basement window, after which he routinely continues and disappears around the corner.
This is how his day went, and one year followed closely, and he grew old without noticing it.
Then it once became a cloudy evening. It was wet and cold, and every now and then the rain washed down. The old dog had been wandering far down in the city all day; he walked slowly up the street, he limped a little; a few times he stopped and shook his black fur, which over the years had become gray-burst around his head and neck. As he used to he went and sniffed, soon to the right, soon to the left; then he took a detour into a gateway, and when he came out he had another dog in his company. Soon after, a third came.
They were young and playful dogs, and they would entice him to play with; but he was in a bad mood, and besides, it started to rain. Then a whistle cut through the air, a long and sharp whistle. The old dog looked at both the young men, but they did not listen; it was not any of their masters who whistled. Then the old stray dog pricked up his ears, and he felt with such a strange. A new long whistle made the old dog bewildered and jumped first to one side, then. to the other. It was his master who whistled, he should follow! For the third time, someone whistled, just persistently and just sharply. Where is he then, where? How could I be divorced from my master! And when did it happen, yesterday or the day before yesterday, or maybe a little while ago? And what did my lord look like, and what did he smell like, and where is he, where is he? He ran around and sniffed at everyone who passed by, but no one was his master and no one wanted to be. Then he turned and ran down the street; in the corner he stopped and looked around to all sides. His master was not there. Then he took the street back in four steps; the dirt sprayed on him and the rain dripped from his fur. He stayed in every corner, but nowhere was his master. Then he sat down at a crossroads and stretched his furry head towards the sky and barked loudly.
Have you seen, have you heard such a stray, forgotten dog, a stray dog, as he stretches his neck towards the sky and howls, howls? The other dogs slowly sneak away with their tails between their legs; after all, they could neither comfort nor help.