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    Ch. 14: A Sheep Dog's Life

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    Chapter 14
    Previous Chapter
    Watch--His visits to a dew-pond--David and his dog Monk--Watch goes to
    David's assistance--Caleb's new master objects to his dog--Watch and the
    corn-crake--Watch plays with rabbits and guinea-pigs--Old Nance the
    rook-scarer--The lost pair of spectacles--Watch in decline--Grey hairs
    in animals--A grey mole--Last days of Watch--A shepherd on old

    Perhaps the most interesting of the many sheep-dog histories the
    shepherd related was that of Watch, a dog he had at Winterbourne Bishop
    for three years before he migrated to Warminster. Watch, he said, was
    more "like a Christian," otherwise a reasonable being, than any other
    dog he had owned. He was exceedingly active, and in hot weather suffered
    more from heat than most dogs. Now the only accessible water when they
    were out on the down was in the mist-pond about a quarter of a mile from
    his "liberty," as he called that portion of the down on which he was
    entitled to pasture his sheep. When Watch could stand his sufferings no
    longer, he would run to his master, and sitting at his feet look up at
    his face and emit a low, pleading whine.

    "What be you wanting, Watch--a drink or a swim?" the shepherd would say,
    and Watch, cocking up his ears, would repeat the whine.

    "Very well, go to the pond," Bawcombe would say, and off Watch would
    rush, never pausing until he got to the water, and dashing in he would
    swim round and round, lapping the water as he bathed.

    At the side of the pond there was a large, round sarsen-stone, and
    invariably on coming out of his bath Watch would jump upon it, and with
    his four feet drawn up close together would turn round and round,
    surveying the country from that elevation; then jumping down he would
    return in all haste to his duties.

    Another anecdote, which relates to the Winterbourne Bishop period, is a
    somewhat painful one, and is partly about Monk, the sheep-dog already
    described as a hunter of foxes, and his tragic end. Caleb had worked him
    for a time, but when he came into possession of Watch he gave Monk to
    his younger brother David, who was under-shepherd on the same farm.

    One morning Caleb was with the ewes in a field, when David, who was in
    charge of the lambs two or three fields away, came to him looking very
    strange--very much put out.

    "What are you here for--what's wrong with 'ee?" demanded Caleb.

    "Nothing's wrong," returned the other.

    "Where's Monk then?" asked Caleb.

    "Dead," said David.

    "Dead! How's he dead?"

    "I killed'n. He wouldn't mind me and made me mad, and I up with my stick
    and gave him one crack on the head and it killed'n."

    "You killed 'n!" exclaimed Caleb. "An' you come here an' tell I
    nothing's wrong! Is that a right way to speak of such a thing as that?
    What be you thinking of? And what be you going to do with the lambs?"

    "I'm just going back to them--I'm going to do without a dog. I'm going
    to put them in the rape and they'll be all right."

    "What! put them in the rape and no dog to help 'ee?" cried the other.
    "You are not doing things right, but master mustn't pay for it. Take
    Watch to help 'ee--I must do without'n this morning."

    "No, I'll not take'n," he said, for he was angry because he had done an
    evil thing and he would have no one, man or dog, to help him. "I'll do
    better without a dog," he said, and marched off.

    Caleb cried after him: "If you won't have the dog don't let the lambs
    suffer but do as I tell 'ee. Don't you let 'em bide in the rape more 'n
    ten minutes; then chase them out, and let 'em stand twenty minutes to
    half an hour; then let them in another ten minutes and out again for
    twenty minutes, then let them go back and feed in it quietly, for the
    danger 'll be over. If you don't do as I tell 'ee you'll have many

    David listened, then without a word went his way. But Caleb was still
    much troubled in his mind. How would he get that flock of hungry lambs
    out of the rape without a dog? And presently he determined to send
    Watch, or try to send him, to save the situation. David had been gone
    half an hour when he called the dog, and pointing in the direction he
    had taken he cried, "Dave wants 'ee--go to Dave."

    Watch looked at him and listened, then bounded away, and after running
    full speed about fifty yards stopped to look back to make sure he was
    doing the right thing. "Go to Dave," shouted Caleb once more; and away
    went Watch again, and arriving at a very high gate at the end of the
    field dashed at and tried two or three times to get over it, first by
    jumping, then by climbing, and falling back each time. But by and by he
    managed to force his way through the thick hedge and was gone from

    When David came back that evening he was in a different mood, and said
    that Watch had saved him from a great misfortune: he could never have
    got the lambs out by himself, as they were mad for the rape. For some
    days after this Watch served two masters. Caleb would take him to his
    ewes, and after a while would say, "Go--Dave wants 'ee," and away Watch
    would go to the other shepherd and flock.

    When Bawcombe had taken up his new place at Doveton, his master, Mr.
    Ellerby, watched him for a while with sharp eyes, but he was soon
    convinced that he had not made a mistake in engaging a head-shepherd
    twenty-five miles away without making the usual inquiries but merely on
    the strength of something heard casually in conversation about this man.
    But while more than satisfied with the man he remained suspicious of the
    dog. "I'm afraid that dog of yours must hurt the sheep," he would say,
    and he even advised him to change him for one that worked in a quieter
    manner. Watch was too excitable, too impetuous--he could not go after
    the sheep in that violent way and grab them as he did without injuring
    them with his teeth.

    "He did never bite a sheep in his life," Bawcombe assured him, and
    eventually he was able to convince his master that Watch could make a
    great show of biting the sheep without doing them the least hurt--that
    it was actually against his nature to bite or injure anything.

    One day in the late summer, when the corn had been cut but not carried,
    Bawcombe was with his flock on the edge of a newly reaped cornfield in a
    continuous, heavy rain, when he spied his master coming to him. He was
    in a very light summer suit and straw hat, and had no umbrella or other
    protection from the pouring rain. "What be wrong with master to-day?"
    said Bawcombe. "He's tarrably upset to be out like this in such a rain
    in a straw hat and no coat."

    Mr. Ellerby had by that time got into the habit when troubled in his
    mind of going out to his shepherd to have a long talk with him. Not a
    talk about his trouble--that was some secret bitterness in his
    heart--but just about the sheep and other ordinary topics, and the talk,
    Caleb said, would seem to do him good. But this habit he had got into
    was observed by others, and the farm-men would say, "Something's wrong
    to-day--the master's gone off to the head-shepherd."

    When he came to where Bawcombe was standing, in a poor shelter by the
    side of a fence, he at once started talking on indifferent subjects,
    standing there quite unconcerned, as if he didn't even know that it was
    raining, though his thin clothes were wet through, and the water coming
    through his straw hat was running in streaks down his face. By and by he
    became interested in the dog's movements, playing about in the rain
    among the stocks. "What has he got in his mouth?" he asked presently.

    "Come here, Watch," the shepherd called, and when Watch came he bent
    down and took a corncrake from his mouth. He had found the bird hiding
    in one of the stocks and had captured without injuring it.

    "Why, it's alive--the dog hasn't hurt it," said the farmer, taking it in
    his hands to examine it.

    "Watch never hurted any creature yet," said Bawcombe. He caught things
    just for his own amusement, but never injured them--he always let them
    go again. He would hunt mice in the fields, and when he captured one he
    would play with it like a cat, tossing it from him, then dashing after
    and recapturing it. Finally, he would let it go. He played with rabbits
    in the same way, and if you took a rabbit from him and examined it you
    would find it quite uninjured.

    The farmer said it was wonderful--he had never heard of a case like it
    before; and talking of Watch he succeeded in forgetting the trouble in
    his mind which had sent him out in the rain in his thin clothes and
    straw hat, and he went away in a cheerful mood.

    Caleb probably forgot to mention during this conversation with his
    master that in most cases when Watch captured a rabbit he took it to his
    master and gave it into his hands, as much as to say, Here is a very big
    sort of field-mouse I have caught, rather difficult to manage--perhaps
    _you_ can do something with it?

    The shepherd had many other stories about this curious disposition of
    his dog. When he had been some months in his new place his brother David
    followed him to the Wylye, having obtained a place as shepherd on a farm
    adjoining Mr. Ellerby's. His cottage was a little out of the village and
    had some ground to it, with a nice lawn or green patch. David was fond
    of keeping animal pets--birds in cages, and rabbits and guinea-pigs in
    hutches, the last so tame that he would release them on the grass to see
    them play with one another. When Watch first saw these pets he was very
    much attracted, and wanted to get to them, and after a good deal of
    persuasion on the part of Caleb, David one day consented to take them
    out and put them on the grass in the dog's presence. They were a little
    alarmed at first, but in a surprisingly short time made the discovery
    that this particular dog was not their enemy but a playmate. He rolled
    on the grass among them, and chased them round and round, and sometimes
    caught and pretended to worry them, and they appeared to think it very
    good fun.

    "Watch," said Bawcombe, "in the fifteen years I had 'n, never killed and
    never hurt a creature, no, not even a leetel mouse, and when he caught
    anything 'twere only to play with it."

    Watch comes into a story of an old woman employed at the farm at this
    period. She had been in the Warminster workhouse for a short time, and
    had there heard that a daughter of a former mistress in another part of
    the county had long been married and was now the mistress of Doveton
    Farm, close by. Old Nance thereupon obtained her release and trudged to
    Doveton, and one very rough, cold day presented herself at the farm to
    beg for something to do which would enable her to keep herself. If there
    was nothing for her she must, she said, go back and end her days in the
    Warminster workhouse. Mrs. Ellerby remembered and pitied her, and going
    in to her husband begged him earnestly to find some place on the farm
    for the forlorn old creature. He did not see what could be done for her:
    they already had one old woman on their hands, who mended sacks and did
    a few other trifling things, but for another old woman there would be
    nothing to do. Then he went in and had a good long look at her,
    revolving the matter in his mind, anxious to please his wife, and
    finally, he asked her if she could scare the crows. He could think of
    nothing else. Of course she could scare crows--it was the very thing for
    her! Well, he said, she could go and look after the swedes; the rooks
    had just taken a liking to them, and even if she was not very active
    perhaps she would be able to keep them off.

    Old Nance got up to go and begin her duties at once. Then the farmer,
    looking at her clothes, said he would give her something more to protect
    her from the weather on such a bleak day. He got her an old felt hat, a
    big old frieze overcoat, and a pair of old leather leggings. When she
    had put on these somewhat cumbrous things, and had tied her hat firmly
    on with a strip of cloth, and fastened the coat at the waist with a
    cord, she was told to go to the head-shepherd and ask him to direct her
    to the field where the rooks were troublesome. Then when she was setting
    out the farmer called her back and gave her an ancient, rusty gun to
    scare the birds. "It isn't loaded," he said, with a grim smile. "I don't
    allow powder and shot, but if you'll point it at them they'll fly fast

    Thus arrayed and armed she set forth, and Caleb seeing her approach at a
    distance was amazed at her grotesque appearance, and even more amazed
    still when she explained who and what she was and asked him to direct
    her to the field of swedes.

    Some hours later the farmer came to him and asked him casually if he had
    seen an old gallus-crow about.

    "Well," replied the shepherd, "I seen an old woman in man's coat and
    things, with an old gun, and I did tell she where to bide."

    "I think it will be rather cold for the old body in that field," said
    the farmer. "I'd like you to get a couple of padded hurdles and put them
    up for a shelter for her."

    And in the shelter of the padded or thatched hurdles, by the hedge-side,
    old Nance spent her days keeping guard over the turnips, and afterwards
    something else was found for her to do, and in the meanwhile she lodged
    in Caleb's cottage and became like one of the family. She was fond of
    the children and of the dog, and Watch became so much attached to her
    that had it not been for his duties with the flock he would have
    attended her all day in the fields to help her with the crows.

    Old Nance had two possessions she greatly prized--a book and a pair of
    spectacles, and it was her custom to spend the day sitting, spectacles
    on nose and book in hand, reading among the turnips. Her spectacles were
    so "tarrable" good that they suited all old eyes, and when this was
    discovered they were in great request in the village, and every person
    who wanted to do a bit of fine sewing or anything requiring young vision
    in old eyes would borrow them for the purpose. One day the old woman
    returned full of trouble from the fields--she had lost her spectacles;
    she must, she thought, have lent them to some one in the village on the
    previous evening and then forgotten all about it. But no one had them,
    and the mysterious loss of the spectacles was discussed and lamented by
    everybody. A day or two later Caleb came through the turnips on his way
    home, the dog at his heels, and when he got to his cottage Watch came
    round and placed himself square before his master and deposited the lost
    spectacles at his feet. He had found them in the turnip-field over a
    mile from home, and though but a dog he remembered that he had seen them
    on people's noses and in their hands, and knew that they must therefore
    be valuable--not to himself, but to that larger and more important kind
    of dog that goes about on its hind legs.

    There is always a sad chapter in the life-history of a dog; it is the
    last one, which tells of his decline; and it is ever saddest in the case
    of the sheep-dog, because he has lived closer to man and has served him
    every day of his life with all his powers, all his intelligence, in the
    one useful and necessary work he is fitted for or which we have found
    for him to do. The hunting and the pet, or parasite, dogs--the "dogs for
    sport and pleasure"--though one in species with him are not like beings
    of the same order; they are like professional athletes and performers,
    and smart or fashionable people compared to those who do the work of the
    world--who feed us and clothe us. We are accustomed to speak of dogs
    generally as the servants and the friends of man; it is only of the
    sheep-dog that this can be said with absolute truth. Not only is he the
    faithful servant of the solitary man who shepherds his flock, but the
    dog's companionship is as much to him as that of a fellow-being would

    Before his long and strenuous life was finished. Watch, originally
    jet-black without a spot, became quite grey, the greyness being most
    marked on the head, which became at last almost white.

    It is undoubtedly the case that some animals, like men, turn grey with
    age, and Watch when fifteen was relatively as old as a man at sixty-five
    or seventy. But grey hairs do not invariably come with age, even in our
    domestic animals, which are more subject to this change than those in a
    state of nature. But we are never so well able to judge of this in the
    case of wild animals, as in most cases their lives end prematurely.

    The shepherd related a curious instance in a mole. He once noticed
    mole-heaps of a peculiar kind in a field of sainfoin, and it looked to
    him as if this mole worked in a way of his own, quite unlike the others.
    The hills he threw up were a good distance apart, and so large that you
    could fill a bushel measure with the mould from any one of them. He
    noticed that this mole went on burrowing every day in the same manner;
    every morning there were new chains or ranges of the huge mounds. The
    runs were very deep, as he found when setting a mole-trap--over two feet
    beneath the surface. He set his trap, filling the deep hole he had made
    with sods, and on opening it next day he found his mole and was
    astonished at its great size. He took no measurements, but it was
    bigger, he affirmed, than he could have believed it possible for a mole
    to be. And it was grey instead of black, the grey hairs being so
    abundant on the head as to make it almost white, as in the case of old
    Watch. He supposed that it was a very old mole, that it was a more
    powerful digger than most of its kind, and had perhaps escaped death so
    long on account of its strength and of its habit of feeding deeper in
    the earth than the others.

    To return to Watch. His hearing and eyesight failed as he grew older
    until he was practically blind and too deaf to hear any word given in
    the ordinary way. But he continued strong as ever on his legs, and his
    mind was not decayed, nor was he in the least tired. On the contrary, he
    was always eager to work, and as his blindness and deafness had made him
    sharper in other ways he was still able to make himself useful with the
    sheep. Whenever the hurdles were shifted to a fresh place and the sheep
    had to be kept in a corner of the enclosure until the new place was
    ready for them, it was old Watch's duty to keep them from breaking away.
    He could not see nor hear, but in some mysterious way he knew when they
    tried to get out, even if it was but one. Possibly the slight vibration
    of the ground informed him of the movement and the direction as well. He
    would make a dash and drive the sheep back, then run up and down before
    the flock until all was quiet again. But at last it became painful to
    witness his efforts, especially when the sheep were very restless, and
    incessantly trying to break away; and Watch finding them so hard to
    restrain would grow angry and rush at them with such fury that he would
    come violently against the hurdles at one side, then getting up, howling
    with pain, he would dash to the other side, when he would strike the
    hurdles there and cry out with pain once more.

    It could not be allowed to go on; yet Watch could not endure to be
    deprived of his work; if left at home he would spend the time whining
    and moaning, praying to be allowed to go to the flock, until at last his
    master with a very heavy heart was compelled to have him put to death.

    This is indeed almost invariably the end of a sheepdog; however zealous
    and faithful he may have been, and however much valued and loved, he
    must at last be put to death. I related the story of this dog to a
    shepherd in the very district where Watch had lived and served his
    master so well--one who had been head-shepherd for upwards of forty
    years at Imber Court, the principal farm at the small downland village
    of Imber. He told me that during all his shepherding years he had never
    owned a dog which had passed out of his hands to another; every dog had
    been acquired as a pup and trained by himself; and he had been very fond
    of his dogs, but had always been compelled to have them shot in the end.
    Not because he would have found them too great a burden when they had
    become too old and their senses decayed, but because it was painful to
    see them in their decline, perpetually craving to be at their old work
    with the sheep, incapable of doing it any longer, yet miserable if kept
    from it.
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