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Nether Lochaber
Chapter XLV

"Albert," a famous Labrador Dog—As a Water-Dog—His intelligence—Takes to Sheep-stealing—Death!

In a recent number of Land and Water, Mr. Frank, Buckland, in writing about the Ophiophagus elaps, a serpent-eating serpent lately introduced into the Zoological Gardens, London, with all the honours due to a visitor so choice and curious in its diet, remarks that "the saying that 'Dog will not eat dog' is proverbial amongst us." North of the Tweed, neither in Gaelic nor in guid braid Scotch, is any such proverb known. The nearest approach to it that we can think of at this moment [April 1875] is the saying that "Hawks winna pick oot hawks' een," and this is applied in a sense very different from that suggested by Mr. Buckland's proverb, if such a proverb exists. At all events the saying that dog will not eat dog is not true ; dog will eat dog, ravenously and greedily enough, when he is hungry and gets the chance. Notwithstanding his domestication and long acquaintance with the usages of civilised life, the dog is, under certain circumstances, as thorough a cannibal and savage as ever was Fiji islander in the days when that worthy Polynesian would give the best finger of his right hand for a prime haunch of full-fed and fat "missionary." Out of many instances that had come under our own observation of cannibalism in clogs, take the following, all the circumstances connected with which, although it is somewhat of an old story now, are for many reasons as fresh in our recollection as if they had occurred but yesterday. When we came to Lochaber, upwards of twenty years ago (Eheu! fugaces.labuntur anni), we had a large Labrador dog, a present, when a three-months-old pup, from one of the best and kindliest men we have ever known, the late Rev. Dr. Macnair, of the Abbey Church, Paisley. He grew to be a magnificent animal, the largest and most powerful dog, perhaps, ever seen in the Highlands, and as sagacious and good-tempered as he was big and bold and strong. The late Mr. Campbell of Monzie, an excellent judge of dogs, used to say that he was the finest dog he ever saw, and made it a point every year to call once or twice during the shooting season purposely to have "a friendly talk," as he termed it, with "Albert," for such was our canny Goliath's name. As a water-dog, he was simply perfect, as amphibious almost as a seal. Any stone that you took in your hand and threw into twelve, fifteen, or even twenty feet of water, he instantly dashed after, and took from the bottom, and laid at your feet, seldom making a mistake, though how he was able to select from a stony bottom the very stone that had been handled and thrown in by you was then, and is still, a puzzle to us : not by scent, one would think, for all traces of contact with the hand must surely have been lost in passing through such a depth of salt water. He probably was able to recognise the proper stone partly from its colour and shape, and from its being in a less saturated state, and less in contact with the bottom than were those that always lay there. On one occasion we had left our boat on the beach, neglecting to tie the painter, as we intended returning immediately. Something came in the way, however, that occupied us longer than we expected, and on returning to the shore, our boat was off and away, drifting before a land breeze that had already carried it quite a'? quarter of a mile from the beach. There was no other boat at hand in which to overtake the runaway, and to go round by the ferry, to meet it on the opposite side of the loch, was a longer walk than one cared about just then, and the boat, besides, was likely to be considerably damaged if it reached the rocks on the other side, as the chances were it would, before we could arrive. While thus in a state of anxiety and indecision, our eye fell upon "Albert," then our constant companion, afloat and ashore. "Albert, old fellow," we remarked, "the boat, you see, is adrift; what's to be done?" With a grand, deep bass bark in response, he dashed into the water, and ere we could well understand it all, he was a hundred yards away, swimming hastily and rapidly in the direction of the truant yawl. We could only sit down on a rock to watch and wait the upshot of the adventure. Soon overtaking the runaway boat, "Albert" swam once or twice round it, and then observing that the painter was dragging in the water over the bow, he seized the rope in his mouth, and strongly and steadily towed the boat towards us, against a stiff breeze and a considerable ripple of a sea, until he reached the beach, and dropped the painter on the shingle at our feet, and with a jolly, self-approving bark, in response to our words of hearty welcome, that made the mountain echoes ring again, he shook a perfect shower-bath of brine from his shaggy coat, and scampered away along the sands to dry himself. He was manifestly proud, as he well ought to be, of an exploit so timeously and sagaciously performed, and so, be sure, were we. "Albert's" readiness to take to the water was, on one occasion at least, attended by rather awkward circumstances. One beautiful summer afternoon, a young Oxford friend and ourselves were in the same boat, with "Albert," as usual, for a companion. It was too calm for sailing, and we were too lazy to row, so we allowed the boat to drift about at "its own sweet will," while we lounged on the thwarts and read the papers, of special interest then on account of the Crimean war. We were half a mile from land, and our friend by-and-by suggested that a swim in the invitingly cool, clear sea would be a good thing before returning home to dinner. As ho was an excellent swimmer, with whom, for a small wager, we had the day before done a considerable distance, we readily agreed. We had long known, however, how difficult it is to get into a buoyant, floating boat of such a comparatively small size as ours was, without any purchase to aid but such as is afforded by the unstable water, and it was arranged that he should have his dip first, and when he was tired of it, and we had helped him on board, that we should have a plunge in our turn. "Albert," who had not been consulted in our arrangement, was stretched the while at length, half or wholly asleep, along the bottom of the boat. When he had stripped, our young friend stood up in the bow, with one foot on the foremost thwart and the other on the gunwale, and with a loud shout took a splendid header into the cool, green depths, disappearing like an arrow, with a clean, clear cut, that hardly left a ripple on the surface. "Albert," who clearly thought it an accident, and that the young man's life was in danger, with one brave bound, and before we could prevent him, was instantly over the side, and, diving after the swimmer, met him as he was returning to the surface, and laid hold of him awkwardly, though with the best intention, by the fleshy part of the left arm near the shoulder. When they appeared on the surface, the swimmer, who had manifestly lost all his self-possession, struggled violently to free himself from the dog, and would certainly have been drowned by his own struggles and the very exertions intended by the noble animal to save his life, if we had not quickly rowed the boat alongside, and taking our friend very unceremoniously by his "Hyperion curls," dragged him on board, panting and sputtering as only the half-drowned and wholly frightened can pant and sputter in such circumstances. On examination, his arm was found to be less hurt by the dog's teeth than we expected it to be; a firm and friendly grip with such kindly intentions as actuated the honest would-be rescuer being a very different thing from a bite and worry in good earnest. His back and shoulders, however, were seriously scratched in livid lash-like weals by the dog's nails, while they were hugging each other and struggling in the water. "Albert" was of course very little if at all to blame in the adventure, and his only punishment—if what indeed was to him always a delight could be called a punishment—was that, refusing to take him back into the boat, he was obliged to swim a full half mile to the beach; which, however, he easily reached before us. Our friend felt sore and uncomfortable for a day or two, but was soon all right again; and both he and we had got a lesson which we were not likely to forget in a hurry, that a powerful dog, no matter how well meaning and kindly his intentions, is rather a dangerous companion to a swimmer in puris naturalibus in deep water.

But what has all this, it may be asked, to do with Mr. Frank Buckland and his proverb that "Dog will not eat dog " A little patience, as is your wont, courteous reader, and we shall come to the point without much more ado. When "Albert" was about four years old, and as powerful, and perfect, and pleasant a dog as ever growled in anger or barked with glee, it began to be rumoured abroad that he was fast falling into bad habits—whether from following evil example, or instinctively and proprio motu, was never determined. He was accused, in fact, of sheep-worrying, and of course we couldn't and wouldn't believe a bit of it. Other dogs might be guilty of such vulgar misconduct; in the case of our dog the thing was impossible. Wasn't he regularly and well fed? Didn't he sleep every night at our own bedroom door? All this, of course, we said, and urged, and argued, and furthermore we urged a fact which seemed to us to be conclusive of our dog's innocence of the great misdemeanour laid to his charge—we had sheep of our own, and there were sheep belonging to others in our immediate neighbourhood, and with none of these, we pointed out, had our dog ever been known to make or meddle in any way further than by an occasional deep bow-wow ! which, though it sometimes made them scamper, was uttered more in rollicking fun and merry make-believe than in anything like anger or earnest. Precisely so, answered a host of crook-carrying shepherds from farms five, seven, ten miles away: "Your dog is too knowing to kill sheep at your own doors; he goes to a considerable distance on his raids, the better to escape detection, slipping away at night or early in the morning unknown to you, and returning as innocent-seeming as the last sheep he has worried, before you appear in your breakfast parlour!" It was not alleged that he had ever been caught in the act, or actually seen eating forbidden mutton or lamb, minus the " mint sauce;" but more than one shepherd averred that he had more than once been seen wandering at improper hours on hillsides, where he had no good right or reason to be, on which occasions, too, he exhibited the stealthy, prowling pace, and all the hang-dog looks and other signs of an evil-doer. Half afraid that it was too true, but irritated by their strenuousness of assertion, and defiant to the last, "Catch him, then! " we exclaimed, "shoot him, kill him, if he is harming you; but I am not going to put away or kill my dog—and such a dog, too ! worth the best hirsel in your charge!—simply to please you." And thus the matter rested for a time, but not for long. Early one Monday morning, about a fortnight afterwards, our good neighbour Mr. Linton, of the farm of Coruanan, seven or eight miles away, drove up to our door in his gig, and asked to see us. After the usual civilities, "Your big dog is killing my sheep, Mr. S.!" was the charge, straightforward and unqualified. We argued, of course, that it couldn't be, &c., as above, but Mr. Linton soon brought the matter to a very practical issue. "What is the value of your dog?" We couldn't say; he was very valuable, a great favourite, and we declined to put a price upon him. "Well," continued Mr. Linton, "say that he is worth £5, or £10, or £20. I charge him with killing two of my sheep this very morning. I have my gun here in the gig: let me shoot him, and if I don't find and show you wool and mutton-flesh taken from his stomach, I will gladly pay over the dog's price; if I show you what I am certain I can show, his still undigested morning meal of mutton-flesh and wool, we are quits. That's surely fair!" And there was no denying that it was perfectly fair, hut we declined, nevertheless, bringing the matter to the arbitrament suggested. "We parted good friends, however, for we promised that whether he was to be shot or drowned, or sent out of the country, the dog would never again be allowed a chance of killing another sheep in Lochaber, and our friend Air. Linton is, we are glad to say, still in life to bear testimony to the fact that we were as good as our word. On due consideration of the case in all its aspects, we decided that it was best, in the interest of peace and good neighbourhood, to have the dog shot forthwith, and shot he was accordingly within an hour of the interview above described. We directed the executioner of the sad sentence to open him, that we might examine the contents of the stomach, and sure enough, intermixed with wool enough to stuff a small cushion, it was found to contain many pounds of recently killed and undigested mutton. It was clear that some at least of the many grave charges against him were true. Anxious to preserve the skin for stuffing, the eviscerated body was placed in the fork of an apple tree in the garden, until we could procure the services of some one expert in flaying to do the job handsomely. Next morning, on going into the garden to have a look at all that remained of poor "Albert," what was our astonishment and horror at finding the corpus vile— vile, indeed, at last!—dragged from the tree to the ground, and almost entirely devoured by some half-dozen jackal looking curs, that were having what was manifestly to them a jolly banquet on the remains of the gallant animal whose single bark when in lusty life was sufficient to scatter a whole score of such sorry mongrels, as if each had a firebrand at his tail. Except a few ragged shreds of skin and the larger hones, they had devoured every particle of him; and so much for Mr. Frank Buckland and his proverh that "Dog will not eat dog." "Won't he just, when he has the chance! Nor is this by any means the only instance of canine cannibalism that might bo adduced from our common-place book in disproof of any proverb or saying whatever to the contrary. Poor " Albert!" we are ashamed to confess how much grieved we were for his death, his ovicidal tendencies notwithstanding. His upper jaw, showing a development of dentition of which a Bengal tiger need not have been ashamed, is the only relic of our gallant dog now remaining to us; and on the ex pede Herculem principle, we point to that with a melancholy satisfaction in telling how big and brave, afloat and ashore, was our matchless Labrador.

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