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The Starlight Barking
By Dodie Smith, Janet Grahame-Johnstone, Anne Grahame-Johnstone
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1967 Dodie Smith
All rights reserved.
The Mysterious Sleeping
Not long ago there lived in Suffolk a hundred and one Dalmatians whose adventures had once thrilled all the dogs of England. This was when a wicked woman, Cruella de Vil, started a Dalmatian Fur Farm. She imprisoned ninety-seven puppies in a lonely country house named Hell Hall and planned to have their skins turned into fur coats.
Fifteen of the puppies belonged to Pongo and Missis, a young married couple of Dalmatians, who lived in London with a young married couple of humans, Mr. and Mrs. Dearly. Pongo and Missis rescued all the puppies and brought them home to the Dearlys who eventually took them back to that same Hell Hall where they had been imprisoned — it was for sale cheap as Cruella de Vil had fled from England. Hell Hall then became such a happy home that there was talk of changing its name to Heaven Hall. But the Dearlys thought it was just a bit too noisy for heaven.
Of course there were problems to face, the main one being that the hundred and one Dalmatians did not remain only a hundred and one for long. Many of the pups married early and had delightful families. And Mr. Dearly (who was extremely good at arithmetic) foresaw a time when he and Mrs. Dearly would belong to a thousand and one Dalmatians — and more. Large as Hell Hall and its grounds were, they weren't large enough for that, but the Dearlys could not bear the thought of sending so much as one pup away.
And then a splendid thing happened. Some of the dogs made it clear that they actually wanted to go out into the world. They were always trying to climb the high walls or squeeze through the bars of the tall gates. And they showed great affection for visiting tradesmen. The Dearlys realized that these dogs not only wished for adventure; they wished for their own special humans. (Try as they might, the Dearlys could not be the special humans of so very many Dalmatians.) So Mr. Dearly advertised that a few dogs might consider adopting humans, if exactly the right humans could be found.
Naturally he received dozens of replies — the Dalmatians had become so famous at the time of the Great Dog Robbery. So he opened a hostel, in the near-by village, where applicants could stay until they were fully trained and, eventually, chosen by a dog. Dozens of Dearly Dalmatians were now happily settled all over England and the supply never equaled the demand, as the Dearlys liked to keep at least a hundred and one Dalmatians at Hell Hall. Of course nothing would have tempted Pongo and Missis to leave home. And of their fifteen puppies only one had gone out into the world. She was now the best known of all the Dalmatians. More will be told about her soon.
Also settled with the Dearlys for life were the liverspotted Dalmatians, Prince and Perdita, and two white Persian cats. One of these cats had rescued herself from Cruella de Vil and, since then, been married. She and her husband frequently had charming kittens who all went to excellent homes. The household also included Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler who looked after everyone. And now we can start the new story.
One brilliant morning in high summer Pongo woke up with the guilty feeling that he had overslept. But if he had, everyone else in the large, airy bedroom had overslept too. Close behind him his dear wife, Missis, was asleep in her basket, one elegant, black-spotted paw twitching as she raced through a dream. Across the room Prince and Perdita were asleep in their baskets. The white cats were asleep in theirs. Mr. and Mrs. Dearly were asleep in their twin beds. And not one bark, yap or whimper came from below, where the old stables had been made into comfortable kennels. If it had been as late as it felt, an uproar would have broken out by now.
Pongo relaxed, stretched and, as he had no wish to sleep any more, decided to count his blessings. The idea came to him because of something he had thought about the night before. He and all the other dogs had gone for a late walk with the Dearlys and then, after the dogs who slept in the kennels and in the kitchen had been put to bed, each with a good-night biscuit, Pongo, Missis, Prince and Perdita had taken the Dearlys for a last stroll under the stars. Pongo had been delighted to hear that one of these was called the Dog Star.
"It's always particularly bright at this time of the year," said Mr. Dearly. "In fact, these are called the Dog Days."
"Because of the star?" asked Mrs. Dearly.
"I suppose so. All I know is that the Ancient Romans believed that the Dog Star, Sirius, rising with the sun — though one can't see the star in the daylight — adds to the sun's heat and makes the weather specially warm."
"Well, it certainly is, this year," said Mrs. Dearly. "And the star's wonderfully bright."
Pongo then remembered another wonderfully bright star, which had guided him when the weather was very far from warm. He thought of that cold, cold Christmas Eve when he and Missis had rescued all the puppies and were leading them back to London. How terrible it had been when they were pursued by Cruella de Vil in her huge black and white car! But everything had come right and since then there had never been any kind of danger to face. Pongo, strolling, under the stars, told himself he must count his blessings oftener. So now, lying awake in the bright morning, he counted them.
He could always be certain of food, warmth, safety and — most important of all — love (not that a hungry dog can live on love alone). Surely he had everything he wanted? Why, then, was he sometimes just a little bit discontented? What about? It wasn't as if life at Hell Hall was dull; the dogs had plenty of amusements. There were see-saws, swings, a charming little merry-go-round, a small water-shoot into the pond. And often they all went for outings, in two hired motor buses. All the same, whenever he saw a young, adventurous dog proudly leading his newly trained pet out of the tall gates of Hell Hall, while all the resident dogs lined up and barked their good wishes, did he not feel, well, a fraction wistful? He did. And, remembering this now, he found he still felt wistful, and more than a fraction.
Good gracious! What a thing to feel bang in the middle of his blessing counting! And it simply wasn't true. Not for anything in the world would he have left the dear Dearlys. He was not wistful. He was a hundred percent happy dog looking forward to another hundred percent happy day — and why didn't the day start? Wasn't anyone but himself going to wake up?
At that moment he heard the stable clock strike the quarter. The Dearlys always got up at seven-thirty so Pongo reckoned it would now be a quarter past seven. But it couldn't, it couldn't be as early as that, not with the sun so high — he could see it through one of the wide open windows. The night had been so warm that the Dearlys had drawn all the curtains back.
He sprang up, ran to a window, and looked at the clock. Then, scarcely believing his eyes, he hurriedly awoke Missis, with a kiss that was really more of a bump on the nose. She instantly said, "Oh dear, have I overslept?"
"Yes, you have and so has everyone else," said Pongo. "Will you kindly tell me what time you make it by the stable clock?"
"Oh, yes," said Missis, enthusiastically. She was very proud of being able to tell the time and wished dogs who couldn't would ask her to do so oftener. The reason why they didn't was that she could never remember which hand stood for the hours and which for the minutes. Now, after a long, careful stare, she said, "It's either a quarter past ten or ten to three."
"It's a quarter past ten," said Pongo, "and goodness knows that's late enough. Why haven't Mr. and Mrs. Dearly awakened?"
Missis looked anxiously at the Dearlys. "Do you think they're ill?"
"They look particularly well."
"And they're breathing beautifully," said Missis. "In, out, in, out, regular breathing. And Mrs. Dearly's smiling."
"And Mr. Dearly looks as if he might smile at any minute. Yes! He's smiling now."
"They must be having lovely dreams," said Missis. "It seems a shame to wake them. But I think we should."
Just then Prince and Perdita woke up and quickly got the hang of the situation. They, too, thought the Dearlys should be wakened.
"Though they never really like it if we disturb them," said Prince, who was a most considerate dog.
"But this morning it is necessary," said Missis, firmly. "Because there are two nursing mothers in the kennels who need good drinks of milk."
"Yes, indeed," said Perdita. "And I promised to help them wash their puppies." Perdita had always been a great puppy-washer.
"Besides, there are young dogs who need their first meal of the day," said Pongo. "I can't think why they're not yapping. Oh, we must certainly disturb the Dearlys. But we'll do it kindly."
Pongo and Prince went to Mr. Dearly. Missis and Perdita went to Mrs. Dearly. All four dogs gave some little whispered barks and did some gentle shoulder-patting.
The dogs then barked a little louder and patted a little harder.
Still nothing happened.
The dogs then barked much louder and patted much harder.
But still nothing happened.
"We'd better lick their faces," said Pongo. He knew that the Dearlys, much as they loved their dogs, were not fully appreciative of face-licking, and such an attention was likely to make them sit up briskly. But not today. They just went on sleeping — and also, Pongo was pleased to see, smiling. As he couldn't wake them he was glad not to have spoilt their happy dreams.
Just then Missis accidentally kicked the cats' basket and moved away hastily. Delightful creatures though the cats were, they were always ready to be defensive — and who can blame them, when they lived with so very many dogs? Missis, expecting them to spring up, got ready to apologise. But the cats did not stir.
"How very strange," said Missis. And then, greatly daring, she gave both of them a little prod with her paw. The cats, very slightly, flexed their claws; but they did not wake up.
"Perhaps Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler are awake." said Perdita. "Shall Prince and I go and see?"
"Yes, if you can get out of the room," said Pongo. He was clever at lifting latches and drawing back bolts, but the bedroom door had an ordinary handle, and not even the cleverest dog can turn a door handle. He was afraid they were shut up in the room until some human let them out. But as he looked toward the door, it swung open — he could only think that the Dearlys had not quite closed it the night before. Prince and Perdita ran out."
Pongo and Missis made another effort to wake the Dearlys, even biting their ears — tenderly, but quite, quite noticeably; but the Dearlys did not notice. They didn't even stop smiling.
Missis then went to an open window and looked out at the sunny morning. After a moment she said, "Pongo, please come here and listen."
Pongo joined her and listened but couldn't hear anything. He told her so.
Missis said, "I meant, listen to the silence. I've never heard it so loud."
"I don't think you can have a loud silence," said Pongo, "but I know what you mean." He listened again, then said, "Missis! There are no birds singing."
"So there aren't," said Missis. "You know, I hardly ever notice them when they are singing, but now — ! It's queer that an un-noise can make so much more noise than a noise."
Then Prince and Perdita came back and said they hadn't been able to wake the Nannies.
"Though we tried really hard," said Perdita. "We sat on them and bounced."
"Well, what do we do now?" said Prince, looking eagerly at Pongo. Prince was a brave, intelligent dog but he had never had any adventures such as Pongo had once had, and he was fully prepared to accept Pongo as a leader.
Pongo suddenly felt doubtful of himself. It was so long since he had needed to make important decisions. Was he still capable of doing so? For a moment he felt, well, almost stupid — he who was known to own one of the keenest brains in Dogdom!
He shook himself — and then felt dazed as well as stupid. But he was determined not to give himself away. He said, trying to sound confident. "We must find out how far this mysterious sleeping stretches. Missis and I will run to the farm." The truth was that he wanted to consult his good friend, the Old English Sheepdog, the wisest dog he knew.
"Couldn't we save time by just barking to the farm?" said Missis.
"No," said Pongo. "For if we bark loudly we shall wake every dog in Hell Hall and they will all want their breakfasts."
Some people believe that dogs need only one meal a day, and they can manage with this provided the meal is a large one. But the Dearlys thought two meals a day made a dog's life more interesting, and all the Dalmatians were offered a good, light breakfast, and a good, weighty dinner in the late afternoon. Puppies, of course, needed as many as five little meals a day, and Missis now became very anxious about this. She suggested they should be wakened and fed, the small ones by their mothers and the larger ones on bread and milk.
"But we can't get at the milk," said Pongo. "I can't open the refrigerator door. Later, Prince and I can lift the lids of the biscuit bins, so all the grown-up dogs can have something. But we shall need help with the puppies and nursing mothers."
"Then we'd better set about getting it," said Missis.
Pongo gave Prince instructions. "If any dogs wake up, you and Perdita must explain and keep them as calm as possible. Say we shall soon be back. In case of any emergency, just bark for advice. Take good care of Mr. and Mrs. Dearly. I have complete confidence in you."
Prince looked, and felt, extremely proud. He — the hundred and oneth Dalmatian — had so often wished he had been a member of the household in those dangerous days when the missing puppies had to be found and rescued. And he was always anxious to show how grateful he was to Pongo and Missis for sharing the Dearlys with him and Perdita. "Count on me," he said sturdily.
"And of course we count on Perdita, too," said Missis, kindly. She sometimes thought Perdita's mania for washing puppies — and people — a bit silly, but was very fond of her.
"Then off we go," said Pongo.
As he and Missis ran downstairs, he wondered how they would get out of the house. It was a long time since he had opened a window and he hoped he still had the knack of it. But as they reached the hall he saw that the front door was a little bit open.
"What wonderful luck," he said, as he and Missis ran out into the garden. He now planned to get out by way of the old stone Folly — the Sheepdog had shown him how to do this, in the days when Hell Hall was the enemy's camp. But as he looked across the pond at the front of the house he saw that the tall iron gates were not quite closed. What had the Dearlys been thinking of last night? As a rule, these gates were not only closed but also locked.
Now they were only just open and Missis was afraid they might be too heavy to be pushed open wide enough. But as the dogs approached the gates swung inwards.
"How nice of the wind to help us," said Missis, as they ran through the gates — which instantly closed behind them. "Oh, how peculiar! The wind must be blowing both ways."
"But there isn't any wind," said Pongo.CHAPTER 2
News from Downing Street
It was true. There wasn't a breath of wind. And the stillness, combined with the silence, made the sunny morning feel very strange indeed.
"Of course the stillness makes the silence louder," said Missis, "because as well as there being no birds singing — and no insects buzzing or whirring their wings, I've just noticed — there's no rustling, no leaves or grasses stirring. But somehow I quite like the feel of it, and I like the way I feel, most unusually light."
"Perhaps that's because you haven't had any breakfast," said Pongo. "I should have found you some biscuits."
"I couldn't have eaten a mouthful. Oh, that doesn't mean that I'm ill. I'm just unhungry."
"Dear Missis, that's a world's record," said Pongo.
Missis smiled. Her good appetite was a family joke.
"What's more I can't imagine being hungry. And I suddenly know something. When all the dogs at Hell Hall wake up, they won't be hungry, either."
"You can't be sure of that just because you're not hungry."
"Well, if I can't imagine myself being hungry, I can't imagine their being hungry, can I? Anyway, they won't be. Are you hungry, Pongo?"
"Well, no. But that may be because I'm anxious."
Excerpted from The Starlight Barking by Dodie Smith, Janet Grahame-Johnstone, Anne Grahame-Johnstone. Copyright © 1967 Dodie Smith. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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