Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Philosopher Dick

Chapter IX

page 230

Chapter IX.

The alarm of wild dogs! Raleigh had been aroused in the night by the sound of barking on the hills, and his dogs had shown by their excitement and trepidation that they scented the enemy far off. It was an anxious time for the shepherd.

In former years great havoc had been committed among the sheep by these pests, but by dint of poisoning and hunting them down they had been exterminated or driven away, and the flocks had latterly remained unmolested.

At the first streak of dawn Raleigh was up, and, armed with his gun, was making rapid strides in the direction from whence the nightly disturbance had proceeded. He soon came across traces of the marauders; the flocks had been driven from their camping-ground, and numerous young lambs, abandoned by their terrified mothers, were bleating piteously in the gullies, or had succumbed to the cold and exposure. A few yards further on he came across a fat wether that lay dead across the track, page 231with a gash in its throat. There was but one bite, but it had been a deep and effectual one, showing that the destroyer understood his work thoroughly. Other victims followed, strewed about the hill-side, and all despatched with the same single but fatal grip.

Raleigh followed on the bloody track, anxious and alarmed, fearing that at every turn he might come upon more evidence of ruthless havoc, when suddenly, on a rocky rise before him, started up the head and fore quarters of a fierce and savage animal. It was a huge wild dog, of some mongrel breed, that looked like a cross between a mastiff and a deer-hound, with pointed ears, dark reddish hair, and flaming eyes.

Raleigh stopped short, called in his startled collies, and prepared to fire.

At that moment what would he not have given to have been a crack shot; all his knowledge of Greek, all his profound reading in Kant and the modern metaphysicians, would he joyfully have exchanged for a steady arm and a practised eye.

The animal stood within thirty yards; it was a splendid chance; but the excitement of the moment and his flurried condition unnerved the hunter. He lowered his weapon and pulled the trigger, but the page 232gun didn't go off—and for a very good reason, for it stood at half cock. Before he could rectify this little omission, the wild brute had sprung from its place and darted down the hill-side with the swiftness of an arrow. Raleigh got a flying shot at it, and saw the ball strike the ground within a foot's length of its head; but alas! "a miss is as good as a mile;" the depredator had escaped.

With rage in his heart, and disgusted beyond expression at his own stupidity, Raleigh followed up the chase, and for long hours he wandered about over hill and dale, beating up the bushes and skirting the dense forests of the high ranges. But in vain; he had missed his chance, and it did not occur again. Tired out, and much dejected, he at last regained the uplands, and set about mustering together his scattered flock.

The losses sustained had been serious, but it was the likelihood of a recurrence that mostly distressed the anxious shepherd, for while that bloodthirsty destroyer was at large there could be no security for the sheep. He found that the ewes and lambs had not travelled far, but on examining the fresh footprints on one of the leading spurs he noticed with alarm that a considerable number of the flock had taken to the ranges, in the direction of Mount Vulcan.

page 233

The tracks were deeply marked in the soft ground, and he could follow them without difficulty.

It was evident that the wild dog had gone in pursuit, for on the summit of the first hill a valuable ram was found killed. A little further on he noticed with dismay that the tracks led straight to the edge of a deep precipice. He approached with trepidation to the brink of the cliff, and peering into the dark abyss, could distinguish a number of white specks on the rocks below. The shocking truth then broke upon him; the whole flock had perished in one fatal leap.

Without a moment's hesitation Raleigh determined to go down into the ravine and ascertain the extent of the disaster. It was a perilous descent, and even his dogs were unable to follow him down the almost perpendicular face of the precipice, but had to remain on the top, running to and fro in the utmost consternation at the disappearance of their beloved master, and appealing to him with piteous howls.

But Raleigh was reckless, and once launched on the desperate venture, there was no holding back or retracing his steps. He slid down over a portion of the abrupt declivity on to a rocky ledge, and thence managed to scramble along to a projecting spur that afforded a footing for descent. Clutching hold of page 234stony protuberances, and grappling to the stumps of bushes, he was able to lower himself by crag and crevice until he reached the bottom of the chasm.

A deathlike calm reigned in the gloomy cavity. On either side the beetling cliffs rose up to dizzy heights, shedding a dim obscurity around. Overhead a little strip of the sky shone with a deep intensity of blue, across which the scudding clouds shot swiftly by. The enormous rocks, discoloured with the stains of ages, glistened in the pallid light with oozing moisture, and from their shattered rifts luxurious verdure grew, and tangled bushes drooped, while creeping plants hung in festoons from their scraggy brows. The ground was strewn with great boulders that showed their smooth faces through dark masses of outspreading ferns; from mossy banks many wild flowers sprang, and spread out their pale blossoms to glimpses of the sunlit sky; and in a tortuous rock-hewn channel a tiny rill trickled on a bed of white sand, amidst sparkling crystals and shining pebbles of many colours.

A grave it was; profound in one of Nature's vaults; shrouded from the sunbeam glare; protected from the rage of the elements; walled up from all intrusion; close, damp, silent, but open above to the bright radiance of heaven.

page 235

As Raleigh looked about him, a deplorable sight met his anxious gaze; for scattered over the rocky recess lay the bodies of a hundred sheep or more. Some were strewn about isolatedly; others lay in heaps together; all were quite stiff and cold. There were no apparent marks of violence, no bloodstains or hideous contortions; they lay stretched out in their soft white fleeces, in so quiet and natural a manner that it seemed strange at the first glance to realise that they were all dead.

Raleigh looked on in mournful silence; he felt thrilled by the solemn stillness of death, and his eye wandered from one to the other of the prostrate groups of lifeless creatures. He noticed many grand old rams, venerable in the amplitude of their twisted horns, that appeared as if laid out in state on the rugged ground; poor, meek-looking ewes, all huddled together, with open mouths and glazed eyes, expressive of panting terror; and scores of sprightly year-lings, whose curly little heads seemed redolent of frolic and friskiness even in the throes of death.

Absorbed in melancholy contemplation, all the incidents of the fatal scene passed vividly before him. A few hours previously and these gentle creatures had been disporting themselves in the ardour of their simple lives, gambolling on the sunny slopes, nib-page 236bling the tender blades, or bleating to one another over the airy downs, as they wandered in files along winding tracks to their camping-ground.

Then, in the dead of night, under the cold glimmer of the stars, they are startled by a strange and hideous noise. They hear it approaching; the pattering of flying feet, the loud panting of terrified fugitives, the resounding bark of the pursuer, that is close upon them. They rush and crowd and press together, they stare wildly around into the looming darkness. Then, seized with a panic, they dash forward, blindly, madly. Onwards, still onwards! with terror for their guide; they scamper up the rocky spurs, they pour tumultuously down the treacherous slopes, they reach the fatal brink, they plunge to instantaneous destruction.

He saw it all; he grieved that he had not been there to protect the poor timid creatures, to shield them against so malignant a foe; he deeply regretted that on the first alarm he did not sally forth, even in the depth of night, when perchance his presence on the ground might have averted the disaster.

Raleigh tarried long in the darksome hollow, oppressed with weariness and melancholy; until the deepening shadows intensified the surrounding gloom, and a humid chill aroused him to a sense of his posi-page 237tion. He then began to look about him with a view to getting out again. The prospect was not inviting. His heart failed him as he contemplated the mighty cliffs towering above him, and he felt almost aghast at the temerity he had shown in attempting such a descent, and wondered that he had ever reached the bottom of the precipice alive. He turned his attention to the course of the ravine, in the hopes of finding some other means of escape, but on either side overhanging rocks and impenetrable thickets barred the passage. He was becoming seriously impressed with the difficulties and dangers of the situation when a rustling noise attracted his notice, and the next moment his faithful dogs came bounding on the scene, transported with joy at regaining their lost master, and loud in their demonstrations of delight.

The sagacious animals, after diligent search, had discovered a practicable road into the chasm, and they were prompt at indicating the way to their master. It was a frightful scramble through black defiles and tangled bushes. In many places Raleigh had to adapt himself to the mode of locomotion of his nimble guides and crawl on all fours. He succeeded, however, in reaching the summit, but very much exhausted, bespattered with mud and scratched all over, and he returned along the high ground to the starting point page 238where he had left his gun. Here, tired and dispirited, he threw himself down on the stony slope, within a few feet of the brink of the fatal precipice, and relapsed into one of his fits of gloomy despondency.

Raleigh was much subjected to mental depression; it was a natural tendency, aggravated by melancholy habit and intensified by a life of dreary solitude. On the present occasion he was also weak and faint, not having tasted food since early dawn, and the reaction from violent and sustained exertion had further unnerved him.

As he lay on the bare ground, with his head reclining on his folded arms and his eyes intent on vacancy, he gave himself up to the poignancy of brooding grief—to the bitterness that wrung his heart.

He felt like one that had been deserted in a wilderness, there to linger and to die.

The thoughts of home, the remembrance of bygone happiness, seemed to him like a distant vista that was swiftly receding from sight and fading into oblivion; while a sense of abject misery, of utter loneliness and hopelessness, grew upon him with such intensity that it seemed to crush him to the ground. He looked up to the glowing sky, but it appeared sombre and lowering; the dancing sunbeams were reflected in his dim eyesight with a lurid glare; the soft rust-page 239ling of the breeze sounded to his ear like a muttered wail.

The gloom increased; it hung heavily over him, it covered all.

He asked himself what joy he had in life, and for what purpose did he exist. Poor solitary waif, adrift on dark and troublous waters, ever contending in an aimless and useless struggle.

In that dismal outlook no beacon shone, no haven offered for rest and shelter.

To die! it was the universal fate, the common lot of all. Some day his throbbing heart must cease to beat; his eyes would see the light of heaven no more, his restless soul would depart hence—for ever. To die! What mattered it? A few short years sooner or later—mere fleeting moments in the endless course of time. Why then hang back at the inevitable—why delay the fatal hour?

Would he be missed? Sad solitary wanderer, unknown, uncared for; consigned to some secluded grave in the desolate wilds he had for a brief period inhabited. Remembered with kindness by a few rough mates, and a passing topic of their nightly yarns by the bush fire, for a short season; then to be forgotten. One cherished brother, far away, might weep at the sad news, but his tears would soon be page 240wiped away by ever-changing scenes and diversity of occupation. And that was all! To the pre-ordained dispensation of the world the extinction of his puny life would be of no greater moment than a fling of the spray from the sinking billow on the bosom of the mighty ocean.

To die! A momentary pang for eternal relief.

There, at his feet, lay the gaping chasm; a ready grave awaiting him. One step further, one bound into space, and all would be over. From the dark-some hollow a cold mist rose up, and crept upon him, and enveloped him as with a shroud; he felt chilled to the heart, and a deadly torpor seized his limbs. Then from out the cavernous profundity he heard a voice calling to him—calling to him to come.

He started with a cry of anguish, and gazed wildly round; the terrible reality revealed itself in naked horror. In the spasmodic movements of his body he had loosened the stones from under him; he had slid forward on the moving mass, getting nearer to the brink, still nearer.

A desperate resolution forced itself on his distracted mind, but yet he paused, held back by an invisible hand.

And then "a small still voice" spoke to him, in thrilling accents, that calmed the tempest of his soul.

page 241

It said to him, "Why art thou cast down? Where-fore this rage of despair?

"The light thou prayest for is shining above thee, brilliant as the midday orb, but in thy blindness thou canst not see it. The fancied miseries thou groanest under are of thy own making, for nature has been liberal to thee, and has endowed thee with health and strength; the tortures thou sufferest are self-inflicted in thy madness; the gloom that oppresses thee is but a passing cloud of thy own distempered brain.

"Around thee all is benign and beautiful; the resplendent heavens above, the majestic snow-clad mountains, the sounding waters, and the waving woods. Thy much-loved nature smiles upon thee, and thou hidest thy face in the dust; she hails thee with gladness, and thou answerest with tears and craven groans.

"Foolish youth! Is it not enough that God has placed trials in thy path, but that thou must raise up against thyself a mountain of fancied woes to crush thee? What needest thou fret at the inscrutable decrees of a Divine Providence? What canst thou know about it?

"Thinkest thou in thy insane presumption to dispute with fate, to cavil at the universal law? Thou wouldst cast away thy life as if it were a thing of no account. Remember! it was a gift of Heaven, page 242Pause, madman! Reflect! Thou canst not offend against any of the ordinances of nature without incurring retribution. Every breach of the moral law brings its punishment, even in small things, as thou knowest; and wouldst thou then brave them all, commit the irreparable crime, and appear before thy Creator as a murderer?

"Arise; be up and doing! Let thy conscience be thy guide—it will not fail thee.

"Thou knowest not whence thou camest or whither thou goest, nor canst thou ever know; but thou hast work to do, and thy allotted task to fulfil—let that suffice thee.

"Arise, and be of good cheer! Heed not the passing hour, but walk in hope and faith, for how canst thou tell what happiness may not await thee in the hidden future?"

He struggled to rise, and staggered to his feet; the scene swam before his eyes, a deadly perspiration diffused from every pore, a deadly giddiness seized him—he felt the ground failing under his feet, he knew that he was sliding towards the brink. He made a frantic effort to save himself; the rocky edge on which he stood burst away from under him and rattled down the precipice with a loud report, but he fell backward, and, clutching hold of a clump of page 243brambles, was able to regain his feet and clamber up to the high level ground. Then everything seemed to whirl round, darkness closed upon him, and he sank prostrate in a dead faint.

Returning consciousness broke upon Raleigh, like the awakening from some harrowing dream; he remained crouched upon the ground, bewildered and dizzy, as one affected with vertigo.

A crushing sense of faintness and oppression weighed him down.

He started at the feel of a cold soft touch to his cheek. His petted Tiny was nestling up against him, and was licking his face. Raleigh returned the caress, and pressed his devoted companion closer to his breast. That dumb expression of love struck a sympathetic chord in his heart, and relieved the agonising tension of his overstrained feelings. He covered his face with his hands, laid his head on the ground, and wept.

The rustling breeze flowed over the grassy downs and whistled through the bending reeds, the hum of winged insects filled the air, and the lively chirping of crickets resounded from every bush, while the warm sunlight covered all.

Raleigh rose to his feet and hurried away with page 244quick unsteady steps, like one haunted by some undefined dread and fleeing from hidden danger.

A flow of golden light burst upon the scene and immersed it in glory, a luminous haziness hung over the deep ravines and crept in soft shadows round the rocky spurs, while the lofty mountains gathered their purple mantles round their rugged breasts and from their cold clear heights looked down in sadness on the glowing expanse below.

But the lonely wanderer plodded wearily onwards; he felt not the balmy breath of spring, his eyes, bedimmed with tears, saw not the splendour of the setting sun, and the thrilling symphony of nature did not reach his inattentive ear. He paused for a few moments on the confines of the elevated table-land and looked languidly about him in the gathering shadows of evening.

Suddenly a strange sound was wafted across the undulating ground. It was not like the bleating of sheep, or the bellowing of cattle, or the sharp cry of any bird, but a hoarse, harsh, croaking noise, that reverberated through the gullies. Raleigh listened attentively. After a while the echoes grew louder, and he fancied that he could distinguish something like a human shout.

"It sounds to me," he said to himself, "very much page 245like some hard swearing, mellowed down by the distance."

The surmise was correct. In a few moments a black dot appeared in sight on the opposite hill, two tiny specks, like satellites, revolving about it. These were magnified by Raleigh's field-glass into the form of a man with two dogs, while a little ahead of them could be noticed a few sheep that were whirling about in rapid circles.

As the figure approached the intonations became more pronounced; they rose at times to a shrieking yell, and then died away into a hoarse growl. The words were indistinct, but the prevalence of the consonant B in the frequent expletives gave certain indications to a bushman's ear of the character of the language employed.

Between the volleys of imprecations, however, and the barking of the dogs, other tones of a still more discordant strain swelled the echoing uproar. These were intended for snatches of song, and they were howled forth with stentorian energy.

Raleigh immediately recognised his fellow-shepherd Rainon, a dark-complexioned, snuffy, grubby little man, who worked very hard, but piped still harder, and whose approach was always heralded by the most unearthly hullaballoo.

page 246

"Git away there, Fan! Git away there! Wide, wide, wide! Oh you —— wretch! Back, I say—back there! Oh you ——, wait till I catch yer.

(Sings.) "'To our friends and rela-ations
        I now bid adio-oo,
     And we buckled up togither
        Cause we'd nothing else to do-oo.'

"Toss! come away a-hind—a-hind, d'ye hear me! You whining, crawling ——, you —— cur! Lie down, there; lie down, or I'll cut your liver out!

(Sings.) "'Some were cracked in skin,
        Some were cracked in mind;
     And some through cracks
        Showed their behind.'

"Now then, you blasted wretches, where are you off to? You miserable ——, I'll give you a rousing up. I'll warm your —— hides. Fetch 'em on, Toss! Worry them on, Fan! Give 'em ——.

(Sings.) "'Tear away, fight away, Erin-go-Bragh!
     There was a grand potato war
     At the wake of Teddy the Tyler.'

"Hullo, Raleigh, is it yourself that's there? Looking as miserable as a bandicoot, and doing nothing, as usual. Why, what the —— have you been about, man alive?

page 247

(Sings.) "'Och, me father an' mother was Irish,
     An' I was Irish to-o.'

"I suppose you know that your —— flock are scattered all over the —— shop?

(Sings.) "'An' we bought an old kittle for ninepence,
     An' that was Irish too.'

"A thousand of your sheep are after boxing with Gray's, and there will be the divil to pay. Gray is going to sue the boss for damages, and ye'll have to pay up for this day; the old man says so.

"Fan, come back here! Oh you ——! I'll skin you alive. Back, I say. Let the —— go!

"The old man has got his shirt out, I can tell you. He has led us a life since he came back, grumbling and growling like a bear with a sore head. And the missus, she has been tuning them up with a caution. I was jolly glad to get out of their way.

(Sings.) "'Oh did ye hear what roaring cheer
     We had at Paddy's wedding, oh!'"

"Is it that what brought you out here?" inquired Raleigh listlessly.

"Partly, and to help mustering, and to gaze on your cheerful face; there's fun in it! Old Malcolm and his wife and family will be out here next week, page 248so ye'll have to make tracks, my boy; shouldn't wonder if you got your walking-ticket with the rest. Old Dale says he'll sack the —— lot. Well, old man, what has happened? You look as dismal as a churchyard," he continued.

"Wild dogs," muttered Raleigh. "I caught sight of one of them this morning; a huge, long-legged, hairy mongrel—reddish black, with pointed ears; got a shot at him, but, with my usual d——d luck, just missed."

"Oh murther!" exclaimed Rainon; "then we are in for it. That dog is nivir a beast. It's devilish; it's the dog fiend! He was about here some five years ago like a roaring lion, only that he didn't roar, and did no end of mischief; then he disappeared and left seven worse devils than himself behind, only we poisoned them. The brute then made a raid on Cattle Downs, and committed terrible ravages there. Divil a one could get near him; his life's charmed, by jabers! so it is. I say, won't the old man swear?"

"It's an awful job," sighed Raleigh. "I don't know what to do. There's half a dozen sheep worried, and a hundred smothered in the Great Gap. A horrible sight. I am fagged out and quite upset, and yet I dare not leave the ground."

page 249

"D—— it all, man, let them take their chance. We must have a spell anyhow. Nobody has ever bust himself as I have for the old man; and see the sort of thanks one gets for it. Come along, I'm pretty well done, and starving to boot. We'll attend to the dog fiend later on. Now that he has made a start he'll give us a lively time of it. Can't say that I'm altogether sorry at it either."

"How's that?"

"Why, you see I've had a little misfortune myself, and one doesn't care to be quite singular in these things. In crossing the wether flock over the Stony Creek yesterday, I lost about a score of them. Serve the wretches right; but it is a d——d nuisance for all that. Took them to the upper ford and got most of them over all right, when one cursed lot stuck up in the middle of the stream; they turned round and looked at me, the addle-headed, blatant, cranky brutes that they are. I swore at them and pelted them until I was black in the face, but it was no go. At last I went for them, when they took off right down the current, rolling, spluttering, kicking, and plunging—most of them drowned, of course. I was that mad that I almost jumped into the stream to follow suit."

"That wouldn't have improved matters," remarked the other.

page 250

"No, but there are times when I feel that I could die of rage."

"There are times," replied the philosopher mournfully, "when a man might willingly terminate his life out of pure weariness of living."

"Faith, not I!" answered Rainon; "if ever I commit suicide it will be out of sheer spite."

"Well," said Raleigh, "I have added another disaster to this chapter of accidents. The old gentleman may grizzle in earnest this time."

"So long as it doesn't all come down on my devoted head," observed Rainon; "but listen, what's that?"

They both started back, and Raleigh hastily cocked his gun (full cock this time).

A rumbling noise from the next gully shook the air; it grew louder and louder, with the pattering of many feet, the clatter of rolling stones, and a sound of hard breathing and panting. The next instant a mob of sheep, maddened by fright, rushed over the ridge close to where the shepherds were standing, and tore down the opposite declivity.

Hard upon them loomed forth in the misty dusk the form of a large dark animal.

"The dog fiend!" yelled Rainon, as he rushed for protection behind his companion.

page 251

The sharp crack of the rifle was followed by a piercing yell, then as the smoke cleared off there appeared—— nothing! The apparition had vanished in the twinkling of an eye.

"A hit—a palpable hit!" cried Raleigh, as he bounded forward, brandishing his gun as a club over his head.

"Stand back, man alive!" roared the other, in mortal terror; "it may be after springing upon you unawares. Keep it at bay."

"Come on," shouted the philosopher; "I've done for him this time; "but no traces of the animal could be found, although they went beating about the bushes and examined the ground high and low.

"Never mind," remarked Rainon, "if the infernal craiture's mortal it will surely die, or linger in dying agonies, which is better than killing it outright; and if it be devilish then sure you cannot kill it anyhow, but with an ounce of lead in its guts it ain't like to take up this beat any more."

"It wasn't a bad shot, considering all things, for it was much too dark to take a careful aim," exclaimed Raleigh, who was so highly elated that he forgot all about his fatigue and melancholy, and kept capering about like a young kid.

"Do you know, Rainon," he added after a pause, page 252"that I believe I was cut out by nature to be a hunter; not one of your drawing-room shots or conventional sportsmen, who go in for battues of tame pheasants or for caracoling about in scarlet, and hallooing across the fields after a fox, but a bold trapper in the Far West, following his perilous vocation under dangers and difficulties, astride on the wild mustang when swooping down on herds of buffaloes, or striking the eagle from the clouds, bearding the grizzly in his cave, or tracking the Red Indian on the war-path. Ah, that would be a life for you!" and the philosopher in his enthusiasm gave out a lusty yell, which was the nearest approach to a war-whoop, as he had heard it rendered in L'Hippodrome at Paris; and he tossed his gun wildly into the air, intending to catch it in its fall, with that dexterity which he had also seen exhibited at the same place by performing soi-disant Red Indians. Unfortunately, he just managed to miss it, and the whirling weapon came down with a crash on Rainon's toes, evoking from that injured individual such a hideous outburst of blasphemous vociferation as awakened the distant echoes and set all the hills swearing at one another.

"Never was heard such a terrible curse."

Never before had the innocent responses from page 253verdant grove and woody dell of this virgin ground, uncontaminated as yet by man's habitation, been called upon to repeat such shocking bad language. Rainon's dogs, accustomed as they were to these furious paroxysms of their master's temper, and to the castigations which generally followed closely upon them, were seized with fearful forebodings. They felt that they were "in for it," and although conscious of innocence, they fled panic-stricken, with their tails between their legs, and whining piteously.

Raleigh's poetic soul was shocked, but he fairly appreciated that considerable allowance was due to a crushed toe; so he did not attempt to interrupt the fierce torrent of invective, but let it run out its natural course until it came to a dead stop for want of breath. He then apologised, put it all down to the dog-fiend, and assisted his groaning mate to limp along.

Arrived at the hut, he set about preparing some refreshment, and endeavoured to make his surly guest as comfortable as possible. This was no easy job, for apart from his injured foot Rainon was a man who resented beyond all things any attempt at making him happy. His only pleasure in life, such as it was, consisted in grumbling, and the only good fellowship he admitted was a sympathetic growl. He was a natural born grizzle, who strongly objected to page 254be amused, who hated to see other people merry, and who was much annoyed at any inquiry as to "how he enjoyed himself."

On the other hand, Raleigh had recovered his good spirits; he became, indeed, quite jubilant over the glorious termination of the day, and kept up a lively rattle, which was a source of vexation to his splenetic and croaking companion.

As the latter sat doubled up in a corner, toasting himself before the fire, with his mahogany face clutched in his bony fingers, his mischievous beady eyes peering restlessly from under a mop of lanky dishevelled hair, he was cogitating what he could say or do to mar the exuberance of his host's good temper.

Raleigh was never tired of descanting on his grand achievement—Rainon thought too much was being made of it; from sullen disparagement he proceeded to open doubt, and at last he was disposed to scoff at the whole affair.

"It's strange extraordinary, that shot of yours," he remarked, with a dubious wag of the head.

"What about it?" replied the other sharply. "I'm quite sure that the shot took effect."

"Maybe it did," continued the growler, with a hideous grin, "but I ain't sure about it being a dog."

page 255

"What rot!" exclaimed Raleigh vehemently, as he started to his feet; "didn't you see a dark object spring up on the ridge before us? Why, you yourself cried out 'The dog fiend!'"

"Faith, so I did," replied the other, speaking very leisurely, and with a malicious twinkle in his eye; "but the more I think about the same the more strange extraordinary it seems. Did you notice," he continued, "that our dogs were not at all startled at the sudden appearance of the dark object? They didn't even bark; they didn't mistake it for a wild dog anyhow."

"Well, what of it?" cried Raleigh indignantly. "What else could it be?"

"Well, there," replied the other demurely; "of course I can't be quite sure either way, but just after you fired your shot I fancied I saw a black sheep scuttling down the slope after the rest of the flock; maybe it was the old wether you aimed at—and missed."

"Zounds!" roared Raleigh with a stamp of his foot, but with evident signs of painful discomposure, "and how do you account for that loud piercing yell?"

"Oh, as for that," exclaimed Rainon, with grim satisfaction, "my old bitch Fan got peppered once, and she always gives out a yelp like that when a gun page 256goes off close by. And now, my dear boy, if you don't mind, I'll just turn in, for I was up very early and I'm tired out. So good-night!"

To this day, in the traditions of the station, it has been a matter of doubt and dispute whether Raleigh shot the dog-fiend or only potted the old black sheep. According to Rainon, it was a "strange extraordinary" circumstance that neither of these animals have ever been seen or heard of since.