Written for any of my grandchildren who might care to read it.
A prince should be dark, slender, graceful, amiable and intelligent. My firend Prince was all these things. When I first met him I was five years old and he was somewhat younger, but full-grown and capable of taking good care of me.
We lived on a farm, as my parents called it in their eastern way of speech. One of the things we had to learn that an eighty-acre vineyard is, in California, a ranch. And, indeed, my uncle, my father’s partner, had caused a sign to be erected over the gate naming the place “Afterthought Ranch.” Presumably this was because he had bought the place on an impulse without much though before. Neither he nor my father was a farmer or a rancher. He was a building contractor in Sacramento. My father was an expert millwright and had also been an editor and a postmaster. Born on a farm in Canada, he had also done a bit of sailing on the Great Lakes.
One thing he was sure of, however — you could not operate a farm without a dog. so one of the first things he did was to acquire Prince. I do not know what breed Prince was, and I have never seen another dog just like him. In body he was like a slim German shepherd, but he was black and long-haired, with alert ears and a mouth that smiled easily. No pedigreed dog could have been more gentlemanly in his habits.
These facts, like the foregoing information about my father and uncle, were not really part of my five-year-old thinking. Things like being transplanted from a Michigan kindergarten to a California vineyard, miles from any other children, just happened to me by magic. Having a fascinating new playmate, who never laughed at me for using long words of for not knowing games, was one of the happier magics.
Uncle Edward and Aunt Bertha visited us occasionally. He was a tall stern man and we were all a little afraid of him. Not that I was afraid of any adult, to begin with, but when I asked him rather severely why he smoked cigars he snapped at me, “Because it tastes good!” His tone was such that I quickly gave up all thought of reforming him. Aunt Bertha was a frail, delicate lady of aristocratic tastes who had married a social inferior. As of now, I wonder if that did not account for some of Uncle Edward’s taciturnity. Aunt Bertha used to bring with her, on these visits, a demijohn of Sacramento water, which in those days carried a liberal amount of rich mud, and she would never drink our miserably clear well-water.
Their dog was a city dog, unaccustomed to menial labor, such as bringing in the cows or catching jack-rabbits. His name was Nig and his disposition was a reflection of Uncle Edward’s. But I petted him fearlessly and he seemed to enjoy it, especiallay when he observed Prince’s anguish of jealousy. I was having a wonderful time coquetting with them alternately until my mother saw real trouble brewing and interfered.
The feeding of pets was no problem in these days, the days that have since been called the gay nineties (never very gay for people in our walk of life, but having their own simple pleasures). The dog and the cats had their share of milk at each morning and evening milking, all the table scraps, and occasionally a bone donated by the village butcher. Before he came to us, Prince had been taught to “speak” for his food. This he did with an ear-splitting bark. My mother was a quiet woman who seldom raised her own voice. I cannot remember ever hearing her laugh loudly, though I can still see her wise and kindly smile, and noise was abhorrent to her. She did not live to cope with radio and TV. She taught Price to bark in a whisper. It did not take him more than a few minutes to pick up the trick. Not that he lost his voice, but he soon realized that he had to whisper for food. I think it took me longer to say please.
The entire contents of “My Friend Prince” can be seen in these posts: