1 "What are you doing over there?" asked the dog.
"Collecting feathers," said Lotta. She turned around. "And what are you doing?"
The dog squinted in the sun. It was early in the morning. The sun's rays were slanted and did not give off much warmth.
The dog was small and black and thin and very dirty.
"I asked you what you were doing," said Lotta.
The dog sat down in the grass and began to lick his front right paw. He wrinkled up his nose and cleaned especially carefully between his toes, which were crusted with lumps of thick dry earth. He behaved as though he hadn't heard a thing.
Lotta shook her head angrily.
"Are you deaf?"
"No," said the dog, and went on licking his feet.
"You only talk when you feel like it then?"
"Yes," said the dog, "only when I feel like it."
"What a pity," said Lotta. The dog raised his head and looked at her. The sun was dazzling. He saw that Lotta was taking something out of a big, red, cloth bag. It was a package. A square-shaped package. It was wrapped up in brown paper. Lotta opened it.
"What have you got there?" asked the dog.
"Almond cake," said Lotta, biting off a large piece.
The dog licked his lips. He could smell the almonds and the sugar and the eggs and the milk. He couldn't remember the last time he had sat next to such a large piece of almond cake.
Lotta chewed, swallowed and took another bite.
The dog swallowed too. He wondered if he would be quick enough. He would jump up at the girl, she would drop the cake, and then he would grab the cake and run. Three seconds, thought the dog, maybe four.
"Would you like a piece?" asked Lotta.
The dog could hardly believe it. He nodded. Before Lotta could take a third bite of her piece of the cake, the dog had eaten his up.
The dog licked the crumbs that had fallen onto the ground.
"You're not from here, are you?"
"No," said the dog, "I'm not from here."
"Where do you come from, then?"
"From far away," said the dog.
"Are you lost?"
The dog thought carefully.
There was probably a lot more cake back where she came from. And there were probably all the other tasty things he had dreamed of in windy barns on his travels: crispy chicken skin, bread with liver pâté, cream pudding and milk rice.
The dog had been traveling for a long time. He had lost count of the number of windy barns where he had fallen asleep at night feeling hungry.
On a good night he might have met a silly young cat, who would hiss at him but leave him a fresh mouse nonetheless. But there hadn't been many good nights. And the night cats were mostly old and cunning and scratched the dog's nose until it bled.
"So, are you lost or not?"
The dog hesitated, then nodded and gave a pathetic whimper.
"You poor thing," said Lotta with a sigh. "I know what it's like when you're lost. There you are, all alone, afraid, cold, hungry. And at night when it gets dark in the woods you start to cry. That's when the ghosts come out screaming and rustling and rattling and haunting."
"How do you know all that?" asked the dog.
"That's what the carrier pigeon told me last year," replied Lotta. "She got flost and forgot where she belonged. Getting flost is just like getting lost."
The dog nodded.
"Will you take me home with you?" he asked.
"Of course I'll take you home with me," said Lotta. "You can stay with us for as long as it takes you to remember where you belong!"
Where I belong, thought the dog. If I belonged somewhere, I'm sure I wouldn't have forgotten. Wherever the dog had traveled there had been a great commotion. "Be off with you!" they would cry, and "Why don't you go home!"
At night, when the dog often had bad dreams, they all stood in front of him: Farmer Blunderbiggs with the stick in his hand, Miss Stretcher with the bucket of water, Old Poling who always kicked him, and Ralph and Peter with their homemade catapults. "Be off with you!" they would roar in chorus. "Go away!"
The dog wheezed.
"Come on," said Lotta.
They went down the woodland path. The girl Lotta on the left and the little black dog on the right, and the shadows that fell across their path.
2 Prince Neumann stood at the window of the shed and pressed his nose flat against it. The window was made of frosted glass. It was very dusty. Prince Neumann had great difficulty recognizing anything. Grandpa Egan had hung strings of onions from the crossbeam. In the right corner there was a box of potatoes, and gardening implements were hanging on the wall. A spade, a hoe, a rake and a pitchfork. Grandpa Egan had hung his cap on a rusty nail next to the door, and in the left corner stood the old iron stove.
Prince Neumann was bored. There was nobody around. Lotta was in the woods. Grandpa Egan had gone away. Prince Neumann was the only one who didn't know what to do with himself.
And it was such a nice day too. The sun was shining. The leaves on the trees were red and gold. The garden smelled of potatoes that had been roasted on a fire and occasionally a silver spider's web blew past Prince Neumann's nose and tickled him.
Oh, thought Prince Neumann, if only something would happen, if only I could find a treasure or a frog. If only I were just tall enough to reach the shed key down from the beam.
He turned around and screwed his eyes together tightly. This was what he always did when making a wish.
If he did this then sometimes the wish would come true.
Last Christmas he had stood at the window and stared angrily at the rain outside.
"It's supposed to snow," he had complained. "Christmas without snow is a disgrace." And then he had stomped his foot and said "I want it to snow!" As he said this he screwed up his eyes tightly. And suddenly fat white flakes of snow had started falling from the sky. That was how Prince Neumann's wishes worked.
With eyes screwed together tightly he stared at the path lined with chestnut trees. Suddenly he made out two figures in the distance. A small black dot and a red "i" with a golden dot were slowly approaching. Prince Neumann opened his eyes.
"Lotta is the *Šñi' with the red trousers," he said. "But what can the small black dot be?"
The black dot was getting bigger. Now it had four legs, a head and floppy ears. And then Prince Neumann knew. It was a dog! Lotta was bringing a dog with her.
Prince Neumann ran to meet the two of them.
"Where did you get the dog, Lotta?"
"I found him," she answered. "In the woods."
"I thought you only found feathers in the woods," said Prince Neumann.
"Sometimes you find dogs as well," said Lotta.
The dog nodded.
"And what are you going to do with him?" asked Prince Neumann.
"He's going to stay with us until he remembers where he belongs," said Lotta.
"But we're not allowed to have a dog." Prince Neumann sighed. "You know we're not allowed to bring dogs home."
"Who said we're taking him home?" replied Lotta. "We've got the key to the shed, and Grandpa Egan isn't here."
Prince Neumann beamed.
"It's better than a windy barn," said the dog. "Windy barns are the worst."
Prince Neumann stared at him.
"I don't believe it," he stammered. "It can't be true."
"Of course it's true," said the dog. "You wouldn't believe how cold and uncomfortable windy barns can be."
"He can talk," said Prince Neumann.
"All dogs can talk," said the dog.
Prince Neumann corrected him. "Bark."
"You can call it what you like," said the dog.
"I-I don't understand barking," stuttered Prince Neumann. "But I understand you! Why is that?"
"Foreign languages," answered the dog. "I speak Human, Cat, Pigeon, a little bit of Rat and, of course, Dog."
Prince Neumann looked at Lotta.
"Do you understand him too?"
"Of course," says Lotta. "He came and talked to me in the woods."
"And you didn't think that was strange?"
Lotta thought for a moment.
"Not particularly. I didn't have any time to think. And besides, he's not much of a conversationalist."
"Can you speak some Cat for me?" asked Prince Neumann.
The dog behaved as though he couldn't hear. He sniffed at Grandpa Egan's shed door instead.
"He doesn't always answer," explained Lotta, and stood on her tiptoes to reach down the key from the beam above the door.
The door squeaked quietly. Lotta and Prince Neumann led the dog into the shed.
Onions, thought the dog. It stinks of onions. But it's still better than a barn. And soon it will be winter, so it's not such a bad idea to have a roof over your head, even if it does stink of onions.
Lotta took a crate from the shelf next to the door. She put it next to the old iron stove and lined it with an old blanket.
The dog wrinkled his nose.
"That's not a dog's blanket," he growled. "That's a cat's blanket."
"How do you know?" asked Lotta.
"I can smell it," said the dog reproachfully. "I might speak Cat, but that doesn't mean that I'll sleep on a cat's blanket."
Prince Neumann bent over the crate to smell the blanket.
"It doesn't smell one bit of cat," he said.
"Human noses," growled the dog. "Human noses don't smell anything!"
"Fine," said Lotta. "I'll go and fetch a pillow then."
When the shed door had closed behind Lotta, the dog eyed Prince Neumann suspiciously. When it came to boys, you could never be too careful.
Friend or foe? thought the dog. And then he thought that it might not be such a bad idea to show a bit of teeth.
"I really would like to hear some Cat," said Prince Neumann and rummaged in his anorak pocket. "If I give you my last biscuit, will you do it then?"
You can never be too careful with boys, thought the dog. Maybe he's got a stone in his hand and is only saying that it's a biscuit.
He sniffed the air.
Biscuit. Not a doubt about it.
The dog hunched his back, stretched his front legs and purred. Then he rubbed himself softly against Prince Neumann's legs and suddenly he looked just like the fat tomcat Brummiepuss.
"Meow," said the dog.
"Amazing!" Prince Neumann rubbed his eyes. "I could have sworn you were a kitty."
"A tomcat," growled the dog. "And now give me the biscuit!"
"Do it again," begged Prince Neumann.
The dog bared his teeth.
Prince Neumann dropped the biscuit, and the dog gulped it down straight away.
Prince Neumann sat down next to him.
"May I stroke you?" he asked quietly.
The dog didn't answer.
Prince Neumann cautiously stretched out his hand and stroked him.
The dog kept completely still.
He couldn't remember the last time anybody had touched him like this. Human hands are for hitting. Human hands are to be feared. Bite them straight away! And bite their legs too, because the only thing they do is kick.
The dog had learned to be quick. Mistrustful and quick. Bare your teeth, bite and run away.
But this is different, thought the dog, and suddenly remembered how it had been before, when he was small and had drunk warm milk from his mother. Afterward she would lick him clean with her soft warm tongue. It had felt like this: just like Prince Neumann's hands felt now.
And the dog kept completely still, and the longer Prince Neumann stroked him, the less afraid he grew.
The sun fell diagonally through the opaque, dusty window.
A spider lowered itself down on a silver thread, and it was as though they had always belonged together. The small, thin black dog and the boy they called Prince Neumann.
Time is standing still, thought Prince Neumann.
Time is standing still, thought the dog.
And as they were thinking this thought, their eyes met. And the dog suddenly knew that this was it. And he felt dizzy, and his eyes were big and black and moist.
"What's your name?" asked Prince Neumann.
The dog thought, but nothing came to mind. Nobody had ever given him a name.
"Dog," he whispered hoarsely, feeling a little bit ashamed.
Prince Neumann laughed.
"That's a good name," he said. "Normally dogs are called Sport or Benji, or if they're big dogs, Prince or Rex. But I've never heard Dog before! Where did you get it from?"
The dog wrinkled up his forehead and thought.
"That's a long story," he said.
"Oh please, tell me!"
Prince Neumann was very excited.
The dog realized this, but he couldn't make up a good story that quickly and he thought, I need time. Time to think up a story. And he began to cough and wheeze.
"What's the matter?" asked Prince Neumann and patted the dog on the back. "Are you sick?"
"Water!" wheezed the dog. "Water!"
Right at that moment Lotta opened the shed door. She had brought her favorite pillow with her. She was just as startled as Prince Neumann to hear the dog coughing and wheezing.
"Quick," said Prince Neumann. "He needs water."
The shed door fell shut and the dog was alone. He sniffed at Grandpa Egan's garden tools, he sniffed out the whole shed. Then he stood on Lotta's pillow and turned around three times before lying down with his head toward the door, one ear pricked up. You could never be too careful.
The dog suddenly remembered the warm summer nights with Lobkowitz. Nights with owls hooting. Nights with stars shooting. Nights when the moon was made of cheese.
The first night-the night when the owl hooted-outside in the castle gardens under the copper beech tree, where the dog had a secret bed of moss. Lobkowitz staggering along the path lined with chestnut trees, a bottle of red wine in his pocket, his gray felt hat at an angle over his ear. Then Lobkowitz stumbled and fell-and didn't get up. Right next to the copper beech. Cautiously the dog crept closer.
He can't be dead, he thought, and prodded Lobkowitz. Lobkowitz smelled like a wine barrel. What a stink! If there hadn't been a summer wind it would have been too much to bear.
But Lobkowitz still had quite a bit of life in him. He opened his eyes, stared at the dog, and cried: "Away with you, you hellhound. You creature of the night! Spawn of the devil!"
And the dog leaped back in fright and hid himself under the copper beech. He kept very still, barely daring to breathe.
And then the owl called and Lobkowitz sat up and asked: "I'm sorry, what was your name, dear lady?"
And the owl cried her long drawn out toowhittoowhoo into the night, and Lobkowitz doffed his hat and said: "An honor to meet you. Permit me to introduce myself. Lobkowitz!"
And when the owl cried out for the third time, Lobkowitz answered: "A story, dear lady. Why of course I can tell you a story. What kind of story would you like? Sad? Funny? Exciting? A story of the present? Of the past? Of the future? The trifles of man or the wars of the gods? A love story? A hate story? A summer or a winter story? Tell me what you would prefer, dear lady!"
And when the owl didn't reply, Lobkowitz said: "Well then, I shall tell you the story of how Lobkowitz became Lobkowitz."
How Lobkowitz became Lobkowitz, thought the dog. How everything began. Back when there was nothing, not even any names.
"Dear lady," Lobkowitz said, "close your eyes. Look into the darkness. On the right a hedge, on the left a jungle, in the middle a sandy path, darkness. He and I. Two nameless companions on a journey. We had been walking together for an eternity. He and I. Always along the sandy path, always dreaming that there might be something more than sandy path, jungle and hedge. But there wasn't. There was darkness and confusion and turmoil and jungle and sandy path and hedge. Please, dear lady, keep your eyes closed a little while longer," said Lobkowitz. "You have to look into the darkness! The darkness is nothing to fear! There was not a sound in the darkness apart from our feet crunching in the sand. Can you imagine that, dear lady? Can you hear it? The noise, the crunching of feet? We didn't speak to one another. What was there to talk about? Nothing had happened for an eternity.
"Then suddenly he cleared his throat and said, *ŠñLobkowitz.' Nothing more, just *ŠñLobkowitz.'
"'Who is Lobkowitz?' I asked him.
"'That's you,' he answered. *ŠñThat's your name-Lobkowitz!'
"And that's how it began," said Lobkowitz. "He invented a name for me."
At that moment the owl cried her long drawn out toowhittoowhoo into the night for the fourth time, and Lobkowitz fell silent.
How Lobkowitz became Lobkowitz, thought the dog. How the dog became dog.
Then the shed door opened, and Lotta and Prince Neumann were both carrying bowls which they placed on the floor.
The dog couldn't believe his eyes.
Chicken skin! Crispy chicken skin! A whole bowl full of crispy chicken skin!
And water, clear, clear, pure water! Not puddle water, not murky pond water! Proper, good, clean water!
"There, you see," said Lotta. "He's not sick."
Then the dog jumped on the bowl with the chicken skin and gobbled and gulped and forgot everything else.
Prince Neumann was pleased. He nudged Lotta and said: "What a great dog! Of all the things you ever found in the woods, he's the best!"
3 "Now tell us the story!" said Prince Neumann, as the dog licked his nose, which still had a piece of chicken fat stuck to it.
And suddenly the dog looked as though he was laughing. He was full and content and happy as never before.
"Sit down," he said. And he coughed again briefly, thought about Lobkowitz, and began.
"Once, and a long time ago it was, I met Gustav Odd. It was by chance, pure chance. In front of me was a sandy path, to my right a high hedge, on the left the dark jungle. I was tired. I was hungry. And night was falling. I couldn't remember if I had been on the move for days or for weeks. I only knew that I hadn't met anybody on my way. It was a desolate place. Jungle, sandy path, hedge, nothing but jungle, sandy path, hedge. The road had looked like this for days and it seemed to have no end. Sometimes I thought I had spied a hole in the hedge. But I hadn't. Keep going, I thought, there has to be an end to it sometime. Jungle, sandy path, hedge. They can't be the only things around.
"Night fell. And then I really couldn't remember how many nights I had spent between the hedge and the jungle. It was dark, and just as I was about to curl up under the hedge, I saw something, there at the back where the sky and the sandy path met. Something glittering. So on I went. What could it possibly be?
"I went closer. And then I saw-it was a sign! A sign with somebody's name on it like the signs humans put on doors. It said G. Odd. Well, well, I thought. It seems there is something here. On you go, no hanging about. And seven steps later I found myself standing in front of an old rickety garden gate.
"The gate was quite a high one-somewhere up at the top must have been the sign with G. Odd on it. I told myself, where there are signs with names on them, there are people, and where there are people, there are things to eat. At the very least there has to be a rubbish bin. Maybe even something more.
"So I leaned against the gate and found that it wasn't locked at all. It was just a bit squeaky. I sneaked through the crack and there I was.
"I thought I had gone mad. Suddenly the sun was shining in G. Odd's garden. It was no longer dark. Even though out there it was night.
And that's not all-everything looked as though it had been painted. The flowers. Red, blue, white, yellow and more. My eyes hurt from all the color. It was probably too much for me. For months I had seen only jungle, sandy path, and hedge.
"But then came the orchard. And I thought, it must be because I'm hungry. I saw apple trees blossoming and bearing ripe apples at the same time. And it was exactly the same with the pears, cherries and plums.
"Whoever this G. Odd is, I thought, he certainly knows something about gardening.
"Then the path led past some waterfalls. There was bubbling and gurgling everywhere and I could finally drink as much as I liked. There were streams and rivers and ponds and lakes. And right at the back stood a summer house, overgrown with vines. It looked as though the ripe grapes were growing in at the window. This G. Odd only had to stretch out his hand and he could eat grapes.
"Truly amazing, I thought, and was suddenly very curious to see what G. Odd was like.
"A windchime was hanging in front of the summer house door. As I drew closer it rang quietly and then suddenly the door opened and a small, old, thin man came out. He was wearing a flat cap, a checked shirt, baggy cords, and a green garden apron. So this was G. Odd.
"How tired he looks, I thought. It must be quite an effort keeping such a big garden in order. I was a little bit disappointed because somehow I had imagined him to be quite different. Bigger maybe, or fatter.
"'Well, will you look at that,'" he said in a friendly tone of voice. *ŠñWhat have we got here? You look half-starved.'
"And he was right. I was half-starved.
"'Well, come on in,' said G. Odd. *ŠñWhat would you like to eat?'
"*ŠñChicken skin,' I croaked in a feeble voice.
"'That's a pity,' said G. Odd sadly. *ŠñI'm afraid I can't offer you any chicken skin. I don't eat meat. But perhaps you would like some tofu burgers?'
"Tofu burgers! Of all things! There I was, half-starved, having dreamed of nothing but chicken skin for months. Well, I suppose it's better than nothing, I thought.
"There was, by the way, something strange about the summer house. From the inside it appeared much bigger than from the outside. G. Odd led me down a long bright corridor, and I counted at least five doors on the right-hand side alone. And when G. Odd opened the last door, I was truly amazed-a kitchen as big as a ballroom. In the center stood an old wooden table with room enough for at least twenty people to sit and eat. A fire was burning in an open hearth and it crackled so invitingly that I wanted to lie right down in front of it. An old white cat was curled up on the window ledge, but she paid no attention to me. Strings of dried herbs and apple rings hung from the ceiling. In the corner stood an oven and on top of it a pot of soup. It smelled so good I nearly drooled.
"And then I saw the kitchen cupboard! A marvel! The cupboard had seven doors and on every door there was a picture. And what pictures! I saw rocks and ravines. I saw storms and floods. I saw lightning and seas of ice and jungles. And stars and a sun and a moon and a wonderful blue ball in front of a backdrop that was unendingly black and lonely. The seventh picture, however, showed the garden through which I had come, with all its flowers, springs, fruit trees, and even more. On the picture I could see butterflies, birds, and sheep that I hadn't noticed outside.
"G. Odd opened the kitchen cupboard and took out a plate full of tofu burgers. He poured some sweetened milk into a bowl and put both things in front of me.
"I have to admit that the tofu burgers were not all that bad. They even tasted a little bit like chicken skin.
"G. Odd could see that I liked the food and he smiled.
"'You see,' he said, *ŠñI knew you'd like them. Now tell me, what's your name?'
A housefly buzzed loudly as I tried to remember my name. There didn't seem to be much point. I had never met anybody who had called me by name, and why do you need a name if there's never anybody there to say it? Up until now I had managed quite well without a name. I wasn't missing anything. I could say to myself, I'm walking, I'm tired, I'm hungry, I want to sleep. I could say, there's the jungle, there's the hedge, there's the sandy path and there's me.
"'You don't know your name?' said G. Odd.
I shook my head.
"'If that's the case,' said G. Odd, *Šñthen we must look for your name immediately.'
"He fetched a book. It said My World in gold letters on the cover. It was an extremely fat book, and when G. Odd opened it, I saw that it was full of drawings: butterfly wings, birds' feathers, animals with long necks, animals with short necks, plants, grasses, and maps. I even thought I caught sight of a map of the garden. Next to the sketches were names written in small, narrow, tidy handwriting.
"'Did you draw those yourself?' I asked.
*ŠñOf course,' answered G. Odd.
"I was impressed. I hadn't thought that this thin man would be any good at drawing and writing.
"It must have taken decades. More than that. Centuries!
"'Did you invent them?' I asked.
"G. Odd nodded.
"'It must have taken a long time to invent so much, and then to do the garden as well.'
"'An eternity!' said G. Odd, and turned over the pages. *ŠñAnd I'm still far from being finished!
"He really did look very tired, as though all the work had really gotten too much for him.
"'It could all have worked out perfectly,' he explained. *ŠñIf only I hadn't listened to Lobkowitz.'
"'Lobkowitz?' I asked.
"'Lobkowitz!' said G. Odd. *ŠñYou'll run into him. He wears a gray felt hat and keeps a bottle of red wine in his coat pocket. He drinks too much. He just can't do without it. It's a real shame.'
"G. Odd suddenly fell silent. He stared out of the window, brooding.
"'Well?' I asked.
"'Wait,' said G. Odd. *ŠñNow I remember where it is.'
"He turned over three pages.
"I looked at the book.
"And what did I see?
"Precisely drawn. As though I myself had posed for G. Odd.
"'That's me,' I said.
"'Of course,' smiled G. Odd. *ŠñRead what it says.'
"So I read. And it said:
"'Your name!' said G. Odd. *ŠñThat's your name. I knew you had a name.'
"*ŠñDog,' I said quietly, and once more, *ŠñDog!'
"The name really suited me.
"It wasn't too long, it wasn't too short, it wasn't too big, it wasn't too small, it fit like a glove. It fit like my own fur. Dog was exactly how I felt.
"So," said the dog. "Now you know the story."
"And Lobkowitz?" asked Prince Neumann. "What about Lobkowitz?"
"Exactly," said Lotta. "The story isn't finished at all. Not one bit!"
"What else was in the book?"
"And how could G. Odd have drawn you if he'd never seen you before?"
"And did you stay there with him or what?"
The dog behaved as though he hadn't heard a thing.
He began to lick his paw. He wrinkled up his nose and licked between his toes.
"I know what that means," said Lotta. "He did that in the woods before. When he does that, it means he won't talk to us anymore."
"Pity, it was just getting interesting. Go on, tell us a bit more!" begged Prince Neumann.
The dog opened his mouth and yawned.
"Tomorrow," he yawned, and then he curled up into a ball and closed his eyes.
4 When the dog woke up, it was pitch black night.
Not a night with owls hooting. Not a night with stars shooting. Not a night when the moon was made of cheese. Not a barn night.
He had only dreamed it. And he had dreamed Lobkowitz, too, chasing after the dog with his bottle of red wine. And in the dream Lobkowitz had stunk of onions. The dog could still smell them.
And suddenly he could smell something else.
He was no longer alone in the shed.
Outside the rain was drumming down on the felt roof and inside the dog pricked up both ears and listened, and his mouth quivered a little.
He could hear something moving in the box of potatoes. The potatoes rolled over each other. He heard a low groan, as though somebody was carrying something heavy.
Then there was a patter of feet . . . wood creaking . . . a dull thump . . .
The hairs on his neck stood on end.
The dog sensed danger. Nights spent in barns had taught him to sense danger . . . to sleep with your eyes open.
There was more rustling. This time it was next to the old iron stove. As though somebody was rummaging in the paper crate.
If only there wasn't such a strong smell of onions, thought the dog. Blast! That smell blocks up your nose like a cold.
Maybe it's mice, he hoped, or a little rabbit who, stupidly, knowing no better, had dug its way in and was now crouching fearfully in the paper crate.
The rain drummed down and his doggy heart beat loudly.
Now there was no more rustling and nothing thumped or creaked.
And then there was a low whistle and another whistle and suddenly the dog knew. It was a rat talking. Rat. No doubt about it.
And then-finally-he could smell it. Rat scent! Nasty, foul, repulsive, just like a sewer.
If it wasn't pitch black, I'd be able to see how big the rat is.
If only Lotta hadn't closed the door, I could have made a run for it . . . I'm not fighting, thought the dog, anything but fighting . . . never again.
He remembered his last rat fight. It had been in winter. He had found a warm cellar that night, a warm cellar with a broken windowpane.
Then, just as now, he had woken up suddenly, and right in front of him there had been three fat rats with shiny button eyes, hissing.
"Get out!" they'd hissed. "Clear off!"
And when he'd growled back, the biggest rat had jumped at his neck and bitten him. He had only just managed to escape.
No fighting, thought the dog.
And then it happened. The rat hissed. Just like the last time.
"What are you doing here in my shed?" it hissed.
"M-m-me? Do you m-m-mean m-me?" stammered the dog.
"Who else?" the rat trilled.
"I'm just sleeping here for a while," said the dog, and made himself very small.
"Well, well," said the rat. "And who said you could sleep in my shed?"
"The Lotta girl brought me here," said the dog.
"I don't like guests!" hissed the rat. "And especially not doggy guests!"
The dog quivered, but he plucked up all his courage.
"The Lotta girl let me stay here and nobody said it was your shed."
"You know that I could bite you?" whispered the rat.
"Please don't," said the dog.
"Then clear off or pay up!" said the rat.
The dog thought for a moment. He didn't have anything he could pay with, did he?
"That pillow is just about soft enough for me!" said the rat.
"But . . . but the pillow belongs to the Lotta girl," replied the dog.
"I really could bite you!" The rat's voice became threatening.
"W-w-wait!" stammered the dog. "I've got an idea!"
"A good one, I hope," said the rat.
"Chicken skin," whispered the dog. "How about some chicken skin?"
"Raw or fried?" hissed the rat.
"Fried," replied the dog. "Fried crispy brown!"
The rat swallowed greedily. A delicacy. Chicken skin, fried crispy brown. The king of the rats had once gotten away with some chicken skin, a long time ago, and his tale was still being told to this day. Greasy, juicy and crispy. It had been a feast.
"Pay up then!" said the rat. "Where's the chicken skin?'
"Not now," said the dog. "Tomorrow for sure, but not now. Now it's night, and there's no chicken skin to be had at night."
"All right then," hissed the rat. "But woe betide you if you've lied. You know what will happen if I come back and you can't pay!"
It hissed again and the dog was alone.
He let out a deep breath, curled up and fell asleep with his eyes open.
5 It was morning and the rain had stopped. Outside everything looked new. Washed and clean, and the sky was as blue as a peppermint sweet.
Prince Neumann was woken up by a ray of sun tickling him.
And his first thought was Dog. He jumped out of bed, pulled open the drawer and began to rummage.
"Blast! It must be in here," he said. "I know I put it in here."
"Don't make so much noise!" Lotta complained. "I'm sleeping."
"Sleeping! You can sleep in winter!" said Prince Neumann. "The dog will be awake already. I'm looking for the heart!"
"What heart?" Lotta yawned.
"The golden one!" said Prince Neumann. "The golden heart that fastens with the stud. The one where you can put a piece of paper inside with a name and address on it!"
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Lotta. "I've never seen it!"
"Oh, don't be like that. The heart belonged to Klaus Teddy. A golden heart on a golden ribbon. We could give it to the dog. So that people know who he belongs to!"
"You're crazy!" said Lotta. "You don't even know if he's going to stay! Maybe he'll leave tomorrow! Maybe somebody's looking for him already!"
"Do you think so?" Prince Neumann asked in surprise, but then he shook his head. "Nonsense! You found him in the woods and he was half-starved and he even said himself that he comes from far away! Nobody's looking for him! He's happy to be with us! I'll ask him! Now where's the heart?"
"You're a pain in the neck," said Lotta. But she got up and searched and rummaged, banged drawers, slammed doors, and finally she found the heart.
A golden heart that fastened with a stud. A heart you could put a piece of paper into with a name and address on it. An extremely useful heart, because whoever had a heart like that would never get lost.
From Der Hund mit dem gelben Herzen (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1996). Copyright 1996 by Carl Hanser Verlag. Translation copyright 2005 by Chantal Wright. All rights reserved.