By William Steig
Macmillan Copyright © 1972 William Steig
All rights reserved.
Dominic was a lively one, always up to something. One day, more restless than usual, he decided there wasn't enough going on in his own neighborhood to satisfy his need for adventure. He just had to get away.
He owned an assortment of hats which he liked to wear, not for warmth or for shade or to shield him from rain, but for their various effects — rakish, dashing, solemn, or martial. He packed them, together with his precious piccolo and a few other things, in a large bandanna which he tied to the end of a stick so it could be carried easily over a shoulder.
Too impatient to dash around saying goodbye to everyone, he hammered this note to his door: "Dear Friends, I am leaving in rather a hurry to see more of the world, so I have no time to say goodbye to you individually. I embrace you all and sniff you with love. I don't know when I'll be back. But back I will be. Dominic."
He locked the door, buried the key, and left home to seek his fortune — that is, to look for whatever it was that was going to happen to him out there in the unknown world.
He took the highroad going east so he could greet the sunrise as soon as it arrived, and also the nightfall. But he didn't travel in a straight line. He was forever leaving the road, coming back to it and leaving it again, investigating the source of every smell and sound, every sight that intrigued him. Nothing escaped his ardent attention.
On the second day of his journey, he reached a fork in the road and he wondered whether to go the way that veered off to the left or the one that curved over to the right. He would have been happy to go both ways at once. Since that was impossible, he flipped a coin — heads for the left, tails for the right. It fell on tails, so he chased his own tail three times around and took the road that curved over to the right.
By and by, there was an exceptional smell, one he had never encountered before, and hurrying toward it, as he always hurried toward every development, he came to another fork in the road, and there a witch-alligator stood, resting on a cane and looking as if she had been expecting him.
Dominic had never seen a witch-alligator. Though all smells engaged his interest, he wasn't sure he liked her particular one, and it seemed to him that she had many more teeth than were necessary for any ordinary dental purpose. Still, he greeted her in his usual high-spirited way: "Good morning! Happy day to us all!"
"Good morning to you," said the witch. "Do you know where you're going?" "Not at all," Dominic said with a laugh. "I'm going wherever my fortune tells me to go."
"And would you like to know your fortune?" the witch asked, adjusting the fringes on her shawl. "I can see the future just as clearly as I see the present and more clearly than I can recall the past. For twenty-five cents I'll reveal your immediate prospects — what is in store for you during the next few days. For half a dollar I'll describe the next full year of your life. For a dollar you can have your complete history, unexpurgated, from now to the finish."
Dominic thought a moment. Curious as he was about everything, especially everything concerning himself, he preferred to do his own learning. "I'm certainly interested in my fortune," he said. "Yet I think it would be much more fun to find out what happens when it happens. I like to be taken by surprise."
"Well," said the witch, "I know everything that's going to happen to you." Then she remarked that Dominic was unusually wise for so young a dog and offered him a bit of information. "I hope you don't mind if I tell you this much," she said. "That road there on the right goes nowhere. There's not a bit of magic up that road, no adventure, no surprise, nothing to discover or wonder at. Even the scenery is humdrum. You'd soon grow much too introspective. You'd take to daydreaming and tail-twiddling, get absent-minded and lazy, forget where you are and what you're about, sleep more than one should, and be wretchedly bored. Furthermore, after a while, you'd reach a dead end and you'd have to come all that dreary way back to right here where we're standing now, only it wouldn't be now, it would be some woefully wasted time later.
"Now this road, the one on the left," she said, her heavy eyes glowing, "this road keeps right on going, as far as anyone cares to go, and if you take it, believe me, you'll never find yourself wondering what you might have missed by not taking the other. Up this road, which looks the same at the beginning, but is really ever so different, things will happen that you never could have guessed at — marvelous, unbelievable things. Up this way is where adventure is. I'm pretty sure I know which way you'll go." And she smiled, exposing all eighty teeth.
Dominic feverishly opened his big, polka-dotted bandanna, pulled out some sardines, and gave them to the witch, who consumed them in a gulp. He thanked her for her good advice and went hightailing it up the road to the left, the road to adventure.
The adventure road started out through a shady wood. On both sides the trees stood tall and solemn. The light glowed greenly through their leaves as if through stained-glass windows in a church. Dominic walked along in silence, smelling all the wonderful forest odors, alert to every new one, his nostrils quivering with delight. He smelled damp earth, mushrooms, dried leaves, violets, mint, spruce, rotting wood, animal droppings, forget-me-nots, and mold, and he savored all of it. The odors came as single notes, or percussion shots, or fused together in wonderful harmonies. Dominic was inspired to take out his piccolo and play. He invented a melody which he decided should be called "The Psalm of Sweet Smells."
Presently he came to a quiet pond. Putting away his piccolo, he reconnoitered the grassy bank, investigating various plants, pebbles, and anthills, and then sat down to enjoy some lunch. Scarcely had he wolfed a couple of sardines than the smooth surface of the pond before him ruffled and there was a huge catfish regarding him with unblinking eyes.
"You're Dominic," the catfish said.
Dominic was aquiver with attention. "Yes, I'm Dominic," he admitted. "Who are you?"
"I can't tell you my name," said the catfish. "But I have something for you. I've been waiting for you to pass by so I could give it to you." And he held forth out of the water a long, sharp spear. "You're going to need this," he said. "This fine-edged spear will make you invincible in serious combat. That is, if you use it rightly."
"What is 'using it rightly'?" Dominic asked, accepting the spear.
"Using it rightly," said the fish, "is using it with such skill that no one can best you."
"I see," said Dominic. "Thank you very much."
"You needn't thank me," said the fish. "I'm acting on orders." And he disappeared, leaving behind a small ripple that also disappeared.
Dominic never did find out whose orders the catfish was acting on. He speculated that it was the witch.
Remembering the fish, he felt guilty for having eaten sardines. But he quickly got over it and ate another. He discarded the stick that had served to carry his bandanna and replaced it with the spear. Then he put on his Royal Fusiliers hat and continued on his way.
In not many minutes, proving that the witch had been correct when she said there would be action along this road, he fell into a deep hole. He looked up from the bottom. And, proving that the catfish had been right when he said Dominic would need the spear, he saw three masked faces looking down at him. They belonged to members of the Doomsday Gang.
The Doomsday Gang robbed, ravaged, cheated, attacked innocent creatures at large and travelers especially, and did all sorts of damaging mischief; and the hole into which Dominic had fallen was a trap they had set for anyone at all who might happen to be passing that way. Dominic hadn't seen the hole because it had been cleverly covered with burdock leaves, arranged to look as if they had fallen there by chance.
"Well, look what we've caught!" said the fox who was captain of the gang. "I think we've got a good one, a real prize." And he laughed.
"I'll bet he has a slew of fine things in that fat bandanna," said the ferret crouching next to him. "It looks full as a ripe melon."
"I wonder if he's good to eat," said the third character looking down the hole, a weasel.
"No, their meat is tough," said the fox. "But surely we can use him for something or other. Maybe for hunting. They have an incredible sense of smell."
These villains were never really certain what they wanted. But they knew they liked to be evil, in any convenient way. Being evil was what they were best at; everyone enjoys being best at something.
"They make too much noise," said the ferret, whereupon Dominic vented a series of ear-tearing barks. Then to frighten them he growled, but they didn't scare.
"Let's get him now," said the fox, and the three started edging into the hole.
"Stand back! Stand back there!" commanded Dominic, and without waiting for a response, he jabbed, jabbed, jabbed at them with his long, sharp spear.
"Ouch!" said the ferret, though he hadn't been touched. "Oops," said the weasel. "Curses!" said the fox. They strove to get at him with sticks and clubs and swords, but Dominic held them at bay with the wonderful weapon the catfish had given him.
They were clever as only a fox and a ferret and a weasel can be, but they were no match for Dominic's busy spear. They tried to knock it out of his grip, but Dominic was too quick for them, too adroit, and he knew no fear.
"Shall we get some help?" asked the weasel, flustered.
"No," said the fox, "we'll wear him out soon. The way he's going, he's bound to get tired." But they didn't know Dominic. By the time night came, it was the Doomsday Gang that was worn out, not he. Dominic's strength was increasing. Action always inspired him. He poked and jabbed his spear with increasing skill and abandon.
"I don't think we can get to him just yet," said the fox. "We can keep him down in the hole, but we can't get him. Let's sleep now, and in the morning he's ours. He'll be up all night worrying, while we're resting, and then it'll be child's play to deal with him."
The ferret and the weasel agreed. They invariably agreed with the fox, but it wouldn't have mattered if they had disagreed. The fox always had his way with them. Besides, they were tired. Laughing at the futility of Dominic's position, they covered the hole with logs, and after some more cruel jesting, they fell asleep on them, confident of success in the morning.
Down in the hole, which was now getting a bit stuffy, what with the logs covering it, Dominic wasn't a bit worried. Challenges were his delight. Whatever life offered was, this way or that, a test of one's skills, one's faculties; and he enjoyed proving equal to these tests.
With three villains sleeping on the logs above him, there was no way he could get out of the hole. That was plain. What would you do if you were in Dominic's predicament? Well, that's exactly what Dominic did. He began putting to use his great talent for digging. He clawed away at the side of the hole while his enemies were lost in their nasty dreams.
So steadily and swiftly did Dominic dig, and so cleverly did he shift the displaced earth, that it was not too long before he had room enough to work his spear around in the right direction and dig with it too. Working away, he was happy he had gone out into the world to seek his fortune. So many interesting things to do! With four sets of claws and the spear, and a bountiful supply of energy, he burrowed a long tunnel away from the hole and under the crowded roots of a large tree. Then he worked his way upward to the surface.
Just before dawn he was standing on grass, several yards distant from the slumbering Doomsday Gang. He could hear the fox softly snoring, the ferret licking his chops. Excited by his successful exertions, Dominic couldn't help letting out one short bark to announce his liberation.
This of course awakened the fox, the ferret, and the weasel. The earth was now barely supporting the logs and them, and at their first sudden movements of surprise, they tumbled, snarling and clawing at one another, into the hole they themselves had dug.
Meanwhile, Dominic, more enthusiastic for adventure than ever, set out on the road again, all his senses alert.
The dawn came up rosy and young. Striding along, Dominic was decidedly glad to be free. But the labors of the night began to tell on him. Dog-tired, he flung himself down at the edge of the road and sighed a powerful sigh. After a fidget or two, he fell asleep, when everyone else in the surrounding world was just waking up.
It was a refreshing sleep. In his dreams he relived the adventures of the night that had just turned to morning. He was in the hole again, digging with claws and with spear, aware of the villains sleeping above him. A yelp stirred in his throat but he quickly stifled it, knowing even in his dream that he had to dig the burrow silently.
The dream was ended by the frantic buzzing of a yellow jacket struggling in a spider's web strung among the branches of the bush behind him. The instant he heard that unique sound he leaped away, even before he was fully conscious. He had once been stung by a yellow jacket, right on the snout, while smelling some peonies. Enough of that kind of experience! He had had to soak his snout in cold mud for over an hour before the pain even considered subsiding.
The sight of the yellow jacket striving to free itself, however, aroused Dominic's pity. And he didn't like spiders, especially when they moved — with all those extra legs. He didn't want to get stung and he knew he was safe while the wasp was trussed up in spider strings, but his passionate love of liberty won out. He took his good spear, and standing as far from the web as he could, he cut the wasp free. Then he quickly backed away and kept on backing.
The freed yellow jacket followed him, circling again and again above his head. Dominic, watching his strange movements, saw him swoop, dip, spell out the words in invisible skywriting and disappear in the shimmering blue air.
By way of breakfast Dominic ate some mushrooms, a sprig of mint, and a bit of wild garlic. Then he donned his mountain-climbing hat, the one with a green feather in it, shouldered his spear with the bandanna securely tied to the end, and was off once more on his travels.
"What a wonderful world!" thought Dominic. "How perfect!" Had it been up to him when things were first made, he wouldn't have made them a whit different. Every leaf was in its proper place. Pebbles, stones, flowers, all were just as they ought to be. Water ran where water should run. The sky was properly blue. All sounds were in tune. Everything had its appropriate smell. Dominic was master of himself and in accord with the world. He was perfectly happy.
Rounding a bend, he saw smoke properly curling from a proper chimney, and under the chimney he saw a strange little house, perfectly, properly strange. He decided to visit and share a spot of tea, perhaps, with whoever it was who lived inside. He never debated these impulses, hemming and hawing over what he should do. Thought and action were not separate with Dominic; the moment he thought to do something, he was already doing it. So he knocked at the door and listened for an answer. A weak voice asked, "Who's there?"
"It's me, Dominic," said Dominic.
"Who's Dominic?" asked the weak voice, with a quaver.
"I'm a traveler on this road and I'd like to say hello and pass the time of day with whoever you are there inside this charming house."
"You're probably one of the Doomsday Gang," said the one inside, "and you're using an affected voice, trying to sound like a dog. And your friends are right there behind you — I can almost see them."
"No, no, I'm Dominic! I'll bark to prove it." And he barked.
"Show your face at the window," said the, voice inside. Dominic dashed to the window and, standing up on his toes, placed his front paws lightly on the sill and peered in. He saw a very old, very wrinkled pig, very unpink and unwell-looking, lying in bed; he was sunk deep in pillows and covered with the craziest crazy-quilt Dominic had ever seen. On the stove, not far from the bed, a kettle was steaming. And of course the pig, looking out through bleary eyes, saw Dominic. "Come in," he said. "There's a key under that flowerpot by the left side of the door." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Dominic by William Steig. Copyright © 1972 William Steig. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
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