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Dogs Over the Water, edited by Andrew Lang


No animal, not even the horse, has made itself so many friends as the dog. A whole library might be filled with stories about what dogs have done, and men could learn a great deal from the sufferings dogs have gone through for masters that they love.

Whatever differences there may be between foreigners and Englishmen, there is at any rate none in the behaviour of British and foreign dogs. ‘Love me, love my dog,’ the proverb runs, but in general it would be much more to the point to say ‘love my dog, love me.’ We do not know anything of the Austrian officer of whose death I am going to tell you, but after hearing what his dog did, we should all have been pleased to make the master’s acquaintance.

In the early years of this century, when nearly every country in Europe was turned into a battlefield by Napoleon, there was a tremendous fight between the French and the Austrians at Castiglione in Lombardy, which was then under the Austrian yoke. The battle was hard fought and lasted several hours, but at length the Austrian ranks were broken and they had to retreat, after frightful losses on both sides. After the field had been won, Napoleon, as his custom was, walked round among the dead and dying, to see for himself how the day had gone. Not often had he performed this duty amidst a greater scene of blood and horror, and as he came to a spot where the dead were lying thickest, he saw to his surprise a small long-eared spaniel standing with his feet on the breast of an Austrian officer, and his eyes fixed on  his face, waiting to detect the slightest movement. Absorbed in his watch, the dog never heard the approach of the Emperor and his staff, but Napoleon called to one of his attendants and pointed out the spaniel. At the sound of his voice the spaniel turned round, and looked at the Emperor, as if he knew that to him only he must appeal for help. And the prayer was not in vain, for Napoleon was very seldom needlessly cruel. The officer was dead and beyond any aid from him, but the Emperor did what he could, and gave orders that the dog should be looked after by one of his own men, and the wounded Austrians carefully tended. He knew what it was to be loved as blindly by men as that officer was loved by his dog.

Nearly two years before this time, France was trembling in the power of a set of bloody ruffians, and in Paris especially no man felt his head to be safe from one hour to the other. Hundreds of harmless people were clapped into prison on the most paltry charges, and if they were not torn to pieces by infuriated crowds, they ended their lives on the guillotine.

The faithful spaniel

Among the last of the victims before the fall of Robespierre, which finished the Reign of Terror, was a magistrate in one of the departments in the North of France whom everyone looked up to and respected. It may be thought that it would not have been easy to find a pretext for throwing into prison a man of such an open and honourable life, but when other things failed, a vague accusation of conspiracy against the Government was always possible, and accordingly the magistrate was arrested in his own house. No one was there to help him or to share his confinement. He had long sent away his children to places of safety; some of his relations were in gaol like himself, and his friends dared not come forward. They could have done him no good, and would only have shared his fate. In those dark days every man had to suffer alone, and nobly they did it. Only one friend the magistrate had who ventured openly to show his affection, and  even he might go no farther than the prison doors, namely, his spaniel, who for twelve years had scarcely left his side; but though dogs were not yet proscribed, the spaniel’s whinings availed nothing, and the gates were shut against him. At first he refused to believe that his master would never come back, and returned again and again with the hopes of meeting the magistrate on his way home. At last the dog’s spirits gave way, and he went to the house of a friend of the family who knew him well, and received him kindly. Even here, however, he had to be carefully hidden lest his protector should be charged with sheltering the dog of an accused person, and have to pay the penalty on the guillotine. The animal seemed to know what was expected of him, and never barked or growled as dogs love to do; and indeed he was too sad to take any interest in what was going on around him. The only bright spot in his day was towards evening when he was secretly let out, and he made straight for the gate of the prison. The gate was never opened, but he always hoped that this time it would be, and sat on and on till he felt that his chance was gone for that day. All the prison officials knew him by sight, and were sorry for him, and one day the gaoler’s heart was softened, and he opened the doors, and led him to his master’s cell. It would be difficult to say which of the two was the happier, and when the time came for the prisoners to be locked up for the night, the man could scarcely tear away the dog, so closely did he cling to his master. However, there was no help for it, he had to be put outside, lest it should occur to some one in authority to make a visit of inspection to the prison. Next evening the dog returned at the same hour and was again admitted, and when his time was up, he went home with a light heart, sure that by sunset next day he would be with his beloved master.

This went on for several weeks, and the dog, at any rate, would have been quite satisfied if it had gone on for ever. But one morning the magistrate was told that he  was to be brought before his judges to make answer to his charge and receive his sentence. In the midst of a vast crowd, which dared not show sympathy even if it felt it, the magistrate pleaded for the last time, without a friend to give him courage except his dog, which had somehow forced himself through guards and crowd, and lay crouched between his legs, happy at this unexpected chance of seeing his master.

Sentence of death was pronounced, as was inevitable, and the hour of execution was not long delayed. In the wonderful way that animals always do know when something out of the common is passing, the spaniel was sitting outside the door when his master walked out for the last time, although it was long before the hour of his daily visit. Alone, of all the friends that he had known and loved, his dog went with him, and stood beside him on the steps of the guillotine, and sat at his feet when his head fell. Vaguely the spaniel was aware that something terrible had happened; his master, who had never failed him before, would not speak to him now. It was in vain to lick his hand: he got no pat in answer. But if his master was asleep, and his bed was underground, then he too must sleep by his side till the morning came and the world awoke again.

So two nights passed, and three. Then his friend, who had sheltered him during these long weeks, came to look for him, and, after much coaxing and caressing, persuaded him to return to his old hiding-place. With great difficulty he was induced to swallow some food, but the moment his protector’s back was turned, he rushed out and fought his way to his master’s grave.

This lasted for three months, and every day the dog looked sadder and thinner than the day before. At length his friend thought he would try a new plan with him, and tied him firmly up. But in the morning he found that the dog had, like Samson, broken through his bonds, and was lying on the grave, which he never left again.  Food was brought to him—he never came to seek it himself, and in time he refused even what was lying there before him. One day his friends found him trying to scratch up the earth where his master lay; and all at once his strength gave way, and with one howl he died, showing the two men who stood around of love that was stronger than death, and fidelity that lasted beyond the grave.[11]

[11] From Observations in Natural History.

One more story of a little dog—this time an English one—and I have done.

It was on February 8, 1587, that Mary Queen of Scots ended her eighteen years of weary captivity upon a scaffold at Fotheringay. Carefully dressed in a robe of black velvet, with a long mantle of satin floating above it, and her head covered with a white crape veil, Mary ascended the platform, where the executioner was awaiting her. Some English nobles, sent by Queen Elizabeth to see that her orders were carried out, were standing by, and some of Queen Mary’s faithful women. But besides these was one whose love for her was hardly less—the Queen’s little dog, who had been her constant companion in the prison. ‘He was sitting there the whole time,’ says an eye-witness, ‘keeping very quiet, and never stirring from her side; but as soon as the head was stricken off and placed upon the seat, he began to bestir himself and cry out; afterwards he took up a position between the body and the head, which he kept until some one came and removed him, and this had to be done by violence.’ We are not told who took him away and tenderly washed off the blood of Mary which was staining his coat, but we may be sure that it was one of the Queen’s ladies who cherished everything that belonged to her, and in memory of her mistress would care for her little dog to the end of its days.