Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Ch. 5: Early Memories


A child shepherd--Isaac and his children--Shepherding in boyhood--Two
notable sheep-dogs--Jack, the adder-killer--Sitting on an adder--Rough
and the drovers--The Salisbury coach--A sheep-dog suckling a lamb


Caleb's shepherding began in childhood; at all events he had his first
experience of it at that time. Many an old shepherd, whose father was
shepherd before him, has told me that he began to go with the flock very
early in life, when he was no more than ten to twelve years of age.
Caleb remembered being put in charge of his father's flock at the tender
age of six. It was a new and wonderful experience, and made so vivid and
lasting an impression on his mind that now, when he is past eighty, he
speaks of it very feelingly as of something which happened yesterday.

It was harvesting time, and Isaac, who was a good reaper, was wanted in
the field, but he could find no one, not even a boy, to take charge of
his flock in the meantime, and so to be able to reap and keep an eye on
the flock at the same time he brought his sheep down to the part of the
down adjoining the field. It was on his "liberty," or that part of the
down where he was entitled to have his flock. He then took his very
small boy, Caleb, and placing him with the sheep told him they were now
in his charge; that he was not to lose sight of them, and at the same
time not to run about among the furze-bushes for fear of treading on an
adder. By and by the sheep began straying off among the furze-bushes,
and no sooner would they disappear from sight than he imagined they were
lost for ever, or would be unless he quickly found them, and to find
them he had to run about among the bushes with the terror of adders in
his mind, and the two troubles together kept him crying with misery all
the time. Then, at intervals, Isaac would leave his reaping and come to
see how he was getting on, and the tears would vanish from his eyes, and
he would feel very brave again, and to his father's question he would
reply that he was getting on very well.

Finally his father came and took him to the field, to his great relief;
but he did not carry him in his arms; he strode along at his usual pace
and let the little fellow run after him, stumbling and falling and
picking himself up again and running on. And by and by one of the women
in the field cried out, "Be you not ashamed, Isaac, to go that pace and
not bide for the little child! I do b'lieve he's no more'n seven
year--poor mite!"

"No more'n six," answered Isaac proudly, with a laugh.

But though not soft or tender with his children he was very fond of
them, and when he came home early in the evening he would get them round
him and talk to them, and sing old songs and ballads he had learnt in
his young years--"Down in the Village," "The Days of Queen Elizabeth,"
"The Blacksmith," "The Gown of Green," "The Dawning of the Day," and
many others, which Caleb in the end got by heart and used to sing, too,
when he was grown up.

Caleb was about nine when he began to help regularly with the flock;
that was in the summer-time, when the flock was put every day on the
down and when Isaac's services were required for the haymaking and later
for harvesting and other work. His best memories of this period relate
to his mother and to two sheepdogs, Jack at first and afterwards Rough,
both animals of original character. Jack was a great favourite of his
master, who considered him a "tarrable good dog." He was rather
short-haired, like the old Welsh sheepdog once common in Wiltshire, but
entirely black instead of the usual colour--blue with a sprinkling of
black spots. This dog had an intense hatred of adders and never failed
to kill every one he discovered. At the same time he knew that they were
dangerous enemies to tackle, and on catching sight of one his hair would
instantly bristle up, and he would stand as if paralysed for some
moments, glaring at it and gnashing his teeth, then springing like a cat
upon it he would seize it in his mouth, only to hurl it from him to a
distance. This action he would repeat until the adder was dead, and
Isaac would then put it under a furze-bush to take it home and hang it
on a certain gate. The farmer, too, like the dog, hated adders, and paid
his shepherd sixpence for every one his dog killed.

One day Caleb, with one of his brothers, was out with the flock, amusing
themselves in their usual way on the turf with nine morris-men and the
shepherd's puzzle, when all at once their mother appeared unexpectedly
on the scene. It was her custom, when the boys were sent out with the
flock, to make expeditions to the down just to see what they were up to;
and hiding her approach by keeping to a hedge-side or by means of the
furze-bushes, she would sometimes come upon them with disconcerting
suddenness. On this occasion just where the boys had been playing there
was a low, stout furze-bush, so dense and flat-topped that one could use
it as a seat, and his mother taking off and folding her shawl placed it
on the bush, and sat down on it to rest herself after her long walk. "I
can see her now," said Caleb, "sitting on that furze-bush, in her smock
and leggings, with a big hat like a man's on her head--for that's how
she dressed." But in a few moments she jumped up, crying out that she
felt a snake under her, and snatched off the shawl, and there, sure
enough, out of the middle of the flat bush-top appeared the head of an
adder, flicking out its tongue. The dog, too, saw it, dashed at the
bush, forcing his muzzle and head into the middle of it, seized the
serpent by its body and plucked it out and threw it from him, only to
follow it up and kill it in the usual way.

Rough was a large, shaggy, grey-blue bobtail bitch with a white collar.
She was a clever, good all-round dog, but had originally been trained
for the road, and one of the shepherd's stories about her relates of her
intelligence in her own special line--the driving of sheep.

One day he and his smaller brother were in charge of the flock on the
down, and were on the side where it dips down to the turnpike-road about
a mile and a half from the village, where a large flock, driven by two
men and two dogs, came by. They were going to the Britford sheep-fair
and were behind time; Isaac had started at daylight that morning with
sheep for the same fair, and that was the reason of the boys being with
the flock. As the flock on the down was feeding quietly the boys
determined to go to the road to watch the sheep and men pass, and
arriving at the roadside they saw that the dogs were too tired to work
and the men were getting on with great difficulty. One of them, looking
intently at Rough, asked if she would work. "Oh, yes, she'll work," said
the boy proudly, and calling Rough he pointed to the flock moving very
slowly along the road and over the turf on either side of it. Rough knew
what was wanted; she had been looking on and had taken the situation in
with her professional eye; away she dashed, and running up and down,
first on one side then on the other, quickly put the whole flock,
numbering 800, into the road and gave them a good start.

"Why, she be a road dog!" exclaimed the drover delightedly. "She's
better for me on the road than for you on the down; I'll buy her of
you."

"No, I mustn't sell her," said Caleb.

"Look here, boy," said the other, "I'll give 'ee a sovran and this young
dog, an' he'll be a good one with a little more training."

"No, I mustn't," said Caleb, distressed at the other's persistence.

"Well, will you come a little way on the road with us?" asked the
drover.

This the boys agreed to and went on for about a quarter of a mile, when
all at once the Salisbury coach appeared on the road, coming to meet
them. This new trouble was pointed out to Rough, and at once when her
little master had given the order she dashed barking into the midst of
the mass of sheep and drove them furiously to the side from end to end
of the extended flock, making a clear passage for the coach, which was
not delayed a minute. And no sooner was the coach gone than the sheep
were put back into the road.

Then the drover pulled out his sovereign once more and tried to make the
boy take it.

"I mustn't," he repeated, almost in tears. "What would father say?"

"Say! He won't say nothing. He'll think you've done well."

But Caleb thought that perhaps his father would say something, and when
he remembered certain whippings he had experienced in the past he had an
uncomfortable sensation about his back. "No, I mustn't," was all he
could say, and then the drovers with a laugh went on with their sheep.

When Isaac came home and the adventure was told to him he laughed and
said that he meant to sell Rough some day. He used to say this
occasionally to tease his wife because of the dog's intense devotion to
her; and she, being without a sense of humour and half thinking that he
meant it, would get up out of her seat and solemnly declare that if he
ever sold Rough she would never again go out to the down to see what the
boys were up to.

One day she visited the boys when they had the flock near the turnpike,
and seating herself on the turf a few yards from the road got out her
work and began sewing. Presently they spied a big, singular-looking man
coming at a swinging pace along the road. He was in shirt-sleeves,
barefooted, and wore a straw hat without a rim. Rough eyed the strange
being's approach with suspicion, and going to her mistress placed
herself at her side. The man came up and sat down at a distance of three
or four yards from the group, and Rough, looking dangerous, started up
and put her forepaws on her mistress's lap and began uttering a low
growl.

"Will that dog bite, missus?" said the man.

"Maybe he will," said she. "I won't answer for he if you come any
nearer."

The two boys had been occupied cutting a faggot from a furze-bush with a
bill-hook, and now held a whispered consultation as to what they would
do if the man tried to "hurt mother," and agreed that as soon as Rough
had got her teeth in his leg they would attack him about the head with
the bill-hook. They were not required to go into action; the stranger
could not long endure Rough's savage aspect, and very soon he got up and
resumed his travels.

The shepherd remembered another curious incident in Rough's career. At
one time when she had a litter of pups at home she was yet compelled to
be a great part of the day with the flock of ewes as they could not do
without her. The boys just then were bringing up a motherless lamb by
hand and they would put it with the sheep, and to feed it during the day
were obliged to catch a ewe with milk. The lamb trotted at Caleb's heels
like a dog, and one day when it was hungry and crying to be fed, when
Rough happened to be sitting on her haunches close by, it occurred to
him that Rough's milk might serve as well as a sheep's. The lamb was put
to her and took very kindly to its canine foster-mother, wriggling its
tail and pushing vigorously with its nose. Rough submitted patiently to
the trial, and the result was that the lamb adopted the sheep-dog as its
mother and sucked her milk several times every day, to the great
admiration of all who witnessed it.

W. H. Hudson