A man so rich, so young, learns to expect favor. Youth tells him the world is an eager thing. Wealth says it holds presents.
The dog Basil had two purposes: to scent quarry, and to unspoil his master of these expectations. Because everything about this dog was a trial.
This time it was a flaking door. A brown flaking door that once was red. The dog Basil was now scratching at it. A hovel in the middle of a humid wood with a brown flaking door. What this dog hunted was mischief.
Just as the man and his manservant caught up, just as both bent to wrench him up by that scruff, the door opened. The men straightened. In the doorway stood a woman.
“Which one of you hates my door?” She said this to the dog.
They looked at her. She was a different woman. She made her own light. Or parts of her did. Her eyes flashed, and her teeth gleamed, and off her hair danced coins and flosses of shine. The man forgot to say something.
“Silence all around,” she said. “A genuine mystery.” Finally she looked up at the man.
“My dog,” he managed to say. The butt of his long gun was resting on the ground. He dragged it forward as if this helped explain. “Apologies for my dog.”
The woman put a white finger on the barrel of the gun and pushed. When it leaned quite away, she removed the finger. Without retracting it she leveled it at the dog.
“You and your masters and their apologies should come in and have something hot.”
Indoors it smelled like mountainside. There was only one room. Surprisingly it felt spacious. Or perhaps just sparse. The only things were the chairs they sat on, a bed and a hearth, a yellow stove, a kidney-shaped mirror.
And books. Many appeared to be music books, but nowhere was there an instrument.
They had something hot. None of the cups matched.
“Haven’t had many visitors since my mother passed,” she said. The words suggested apology, the tone none at all. “I may have gotten used to the solitude.”
She stood to refill the manservant’s cup.
“No offense to present company,” she added quickly, sitting down again. “I do enjoy the occasional guest. Even the kind that stares.”
The man looked stricken. “I am so sorry,” he said.
“I was speaking of the dog.” She cleared her throat. “What is his name?”
The question was charity, to cut short his embarrassment. He was grateful.
“Basil,” he said. “After the herb. He’s a scent hound.”
“A dog named after a food. Two of my favorite things.”
“What about trouble? Because that is this dog’s favorite thing.”
The dog raised his chin off his paws and, using the corners of his eyes for each of them in turn, gave a yelp.
On their way out, the man could think of nothing clever, and simply asked the woman her name. She told him and asked his. The manservant picked up both guns. They had left them outside. When after a few steps the man looked back, she was still at the doorway. Her mouth seemed to be moving still, as if repeating his name.