Jim, the Story of a Backwoods Police Dog
by Charles G.D. Roberts
JIM, THE STORY OF A BACKWOODS POLICE DOG
- I. HOW WOOLLY BILLY CAME TO BRINE'S RIP
- II. THE BOOK AGENT AND THE BUCKSKIN BELT
- III. THE HOLE IN THE TREE
- IV. THE TRAIL OF THE BEAR
- V. THE FIRE AT BRINE'S RIP MILLS
- VI. THE MAN WITH THE DANCING BEAR
- THE EAGLE
- THE MULE
- STRIPES THE UNCONCERNED
I. HOW WOOLLY BILLY CAME TO BRINE'S RIP
JIM'S mother was a big cross-bred bitch, half Newfoundland and
half bloodhound, belonging to Black Saunders, one of the hands at
the Brine's Rip Mills. As the mills were always busy, Saunders was
always busy, and it was no place for a dog to be around, among the
screeching saws, the thumping, wet logs, and the spurting sawdust.
So the big bitch, with fiery energy thrilling her veins and sinews
and the restraint of a master's hand seldom exercised upon her,
practically ran wild.
Hunting on her own account in the deep wilderness which
surrounded Brine's Rip
Settlement, she became a deadly menace to every wild thing less
formidable than a bear or a bull moose, till at last, in the early
prime of her adventurous career, she was shot by an angry game
warden for her depredations among the deer and the young caribou.
Jim's father was a splendid and pedigreed specimen of the old
English sheep-dog. From a litter of puppies of this uncommon
parentage, Tug Blackstock, the Deputy Sheriff of Nipsiwaska County,
chose out the one that seemed to him the likeliest, paid Black
Saunders a sovereign for him, and named him Jim. To Tug Blackstock,
for some unfathomed reason, the name of "Jim" stood for
It was efficiency, in chief, that Tug Blackstock, as Deputy
Sheriff, was after. He had been reading, in a stray magazine with
torn cover and much-thumbed pages, an account of the wonderful
doings of the trained police dogs of Paris. The story had fired his
imagination and excited his envy.
There was a lawless element in some of the outlying corners of
Nipsiwaska County, with a larger element of yet more audacious
lawlessness beyond the county line from which to recruit.
Throughout the wide and mostly wilderness expanse of Nipsiwaska
County the responsibility for law and order rested almost solely
the shoulders of Tug Blackstock. His chief, the Sheriff, a
prosperous shop-keeper who owed his appointment to his political
pull, knew little and thought less of the duties of his office.
As soon as Jim was old enough to have interest beyond his
breakfast and the worrying of his rag ball, Tug Blackstock set
about his training. It was a matter that could not be hurried. Tug
had much work to do and Jim, as behoved a growing puppy, had a deal
of play to get through in the course of each twenty-four hours.
Then so hard was the learning, so easy, alas! the forgetting. Tug
Blackstock was kind to all creatures but timber thieves and
other evil-doers of like kidney. He was patient, with the long
patience of the forest. But he had a will like the granite of old
Jim was quick of wit, intent to please his master. But it was
hard for him to concentrate. It was hard to keep his mind off cats,
and squirrels, the worrying of old boots, and other doggish
frivolities. Hence, at times, some painful misunderstandings
between teacher and pupil. In the main, however, the education of
Jim progressed to a marvel.
They were a pair, indeed, to strike the most stolid imagination,
let alone the sensitive, brooding, watchful imagination of the
backwoods. Tug Blackstock was a tall, spare figure of a man, narrow
of hip, deep of chest, with something of a stoop to his mighty
shoulders, and his head thrust forward as if in ceaseless scrutiny
of the unseen. His hair, worn somewhat short and pushed straight
back, was faintly grizzled. His face, tanned and lean, was markedly
wide at the eyes, with a big, well-modelled nose, a long, obstinate
jaw, and a wide mouth whimsically uptwisted at one corner.
Except on the trail--and even then he usually carried a razor in
his pack--he was always clean-shaven, just because he didn't like
the curl of his beard. His jacket, shirt, and trousers were of
browny-grey homespun, of much the same hue as his soft slouch hat,
all as inconspicuous as possible. But at his throat, loosely
knotted under his wide-rolling shirt collar, he wore usually an
ample silk handkerchief of vivid green spattered with big yellow
spots, like dandelions in a young June meadow.
As for Jim, at first glance he might almost have been taken for
a slim, young black bear rather than a dog. The shaggy coat
bequeathed to him by his sheep-dog sire gave to his legs and to his
hindquarters an appearance of massiveness that was almost clumsy.
But under this dense black fleece his lines were fine and
clean-drawn as a bull-terrier's.
The hair about his eyes grew so long and thick that, if left to
itself, it would have seriously interfered with his vision. This
his master could not think of permitting, so the riotous hair was
trimmed down severely, till Jim's large, sagacious eyes gazed out
unimpeded from ferocious, brush-like rims of stubby fur about half
an inch in length.
For some ten miles above the long, white, furrowed face of
Brine's Rip, where Blue Forks Brook flows in, the main stream of
the Ottanoonsis is a succession of mad rapids and toothed ledges
and treacherous, channel-splitting shoals. These ten miles are a
trial of nerve and water-craft for the best canoeists on the river.
In the spring, when the river was in freshet and the freed logs
were racing, battering, and jamming, the whole reach was such a
death-trap for the stream-drivers that it had come to be known as
Dead Man's Run.
Now, in high summer, when the stream was shrunken in its channel
and the sunshine lay golden over the roaring, creamy chutes and the
dancing shallows, the place looked less perilous. But it was full
of snares and hidden teeth. It was no place for the canoeist,
however expert with pole and paddle, unless he knew how to read the
water unerringly for many yards ahead. It is this reading of the
water, this instantaneous solving of the hieroglyphics of foam and
surge and swirl and glassy lunge, that makes the skilled runner of
A light birch-bark canoe, with a man in the stern and a small
child in the bow, was approaching the head of the rapids, which
were hidden from the paddler's view by a high, densely-wooded bend
of the shore. The canoe leapt forward swiftly on the smooth, quiet
current, under the strong drive of the paddle.
The paddler was a tall, big-limbed man, with fair hair fringing
out under his tweed cap, and a face burnt red rather than tanned by
the weather. He was dressed roughly but well, and not as a
woodsman, and he had a subtle air of being foreign to the
backwoods. He knew how to handle his paddle, however, the prow of
his craft keeping true though his strokes were slow and powerful.
The child who sat facing him on a cushion in the bow was a
little boy of four or five years, in a short scarlet jacket and
blue knickers. His fat, bare legs were covered with fly-bites and
scratches, his baby face of the tenderest cream and pink, his
round, interested eyes as blue as periwinkle blossoms. But the most
conspicuous thing about him was his hair. He was bareheaded--his
little cap lying in the bottom of the canoe among the luggage--and
the hair, as white as tow, stood out like a fleece all over his
head, enmeshing the sunlight in its silken tangle.
When the canoe shot round the bend, the roar of the rapids smote
suddenly upon the voyagers' ears. The child turned his bright head
inquiringly, but from his low place could see nothing to explain
the noise. His father, however, sitting up on the hinder bar of the
canoe, could see a menacing white line of tossing crests, aflash in
the sunlight, stretching from shore to shore. Backing water
vigorously to check his headway, he stood up to get a better view
and choose his way through the surge.
The stranger was master of his paddle, but he had had no
adequate experience in running rapids. Such light and unobstructed
rips as he had gone through had merely sufficed to make him regard
lightly the menace confronting him. He had heard of the perils of
Dead Man's Run, but that, of course, meant in time of freshet, when
even the mildest streams are liable to go mad and run amuck. This
was the season of dead low water, and it was hard for him to
imagine there could be anything really to fear from this lively but
shrunken stream. He was strong, clear-eyed, steady of nerve, and he
anticipated no great trouble in getting through.
As the light craft dipped into the turmoil, jumping as if
buffeted from below, and the wave-tops slapped in on either side of
the bow, the little lad gave a cry of fear.
"Sit tight, boy. Don't be afraid," said the father,
peering ahead with intent, narrowed eyes and surging fiercely on
his blade to avoid a boiling rock just below the first chute. As he
swept past in safety he laughed in triumph, for the passage had
been close and exciting, and the conquest of a mad rapid is one of
the thrilling things in life, and worth going far for. His laugh
reassured the child, who laughed also, but cowered low in the canoe
and stared over the gunwale with wide eyes of awe.
But already the canoe was darting down toward a line of black
rocks smothered in foam. The man paddled desperately to gain the
other shore, where there seemed to be a clear passage. Slanting
sharply across the great current, surging with short, terrific
strokes upon his sturdy maple blade, his teeth set and his breath
coming in grunts, he was--swept on downward, sideways toward the
rocks, with appalling speed. But he made the passage, swept the bow
around, and raced through, shaving the rock so narrowly that his
heart paused and the sweat jumped out suddenly cold on his
Immediately afterwards the current swept him to mid-stream. Just
here the channel was straight and clear of rocks, and though the
rips were heavy the man had a few minutes' respite, with little to
do but hold his course.
With a stab at the heart he realized now into what peril he had
brought his baby. Eagerly he looked for a chance to land, but on
neither side could he make shore with any chance of escaping
shipwreck. A woodsman, expert with the canoe-pole, might have
managed it, but the stranger had neither pole nor skill to handle
one. He was in the grip of the wild current and could only race on,
trusting to master each new emergency as it should hurl itself upon
Presently the little one took alarm again at his father's
stern-set mouth and preoccupied eyes. The man had just time to
shout once more, "Don't be afraid, son. Dad'll take care of
you," when the canoe was once more in a yelling chaos of
chutes and ledges. And now there was no respite. Unable to read the
signs of the water, he was full upon each new peril before he
recognized it, and only his great muscular strength and instant
decision saved them.
Again and again they barely by a hair's-breadth, slipped through
the jaws of death, and it seemed to the man that the gnashing
ledges raved and yelled behind him at each miracle of escape. Then
hissing wave-crests cut themselves off and leapt over the racing
gunwale, till he feared the canoe would be swamped. Once they
scraped so savagely that he thought the bottom was surely ripped
from the canoe. But still he won onward, mile after roaring mile,
his will fighting doggedly to keep his eyesight from growing
hopelessly confused with the hellish, sliding dazzle and riot of
But at last the fiend of the flood, having played with its prey
long enough, laid bare its claws and struck. The bow of the canoe,
in swerving from one foam-curtained rock, grounded heavily upon
another. In an instant the little craft was swung broadside on, and
hung there. The waves piled upon her in a yelling pack. She was
smothered down, and rolled over helplessly.
As they shot out into the torrent the man, with a terrible cry,
sprang toward the bow, striving to reach his son. He succeeded in
catching the little one, with one hand, by the back of the scarlet
jacket. The next moment he went under and the jacket came off over
the child's head. A whimsical cross-current dragged the little boy
twenty feet off to one side, and shot him into a shallow side
When the man came to the surface again his eyes were shut, his
face stark white, his legs and arms flung about aimlessly as weeds;
but fast in his unconscious grip he held the little red jacket. The
canoe, its side stove in, and full of water, was hurrying off down
the rapid amid a fleet of paddles, cushions, blankets, boxes, and
bundles. The body of the man, heavy and inert and sprawling,
followed more slowly. The waves rolled it over and trampled it
down, shouldered it up again, and snatched it away viciously
whenever it showed an inclination to hang itself up on some
projecting ledge. It was long since they had had such a victim on
whom to glut their rancour.
The child, meanwhile, after being rolled through the laughing
shallows of the side channel and playfully buffeted into a
half-drowned unconsciousness, was stranded on a sand spit some
eight or ten yards from the right-hand shore. There he lay, half in
the water, half out of it, the silken white floss of his hair all
plastered down to his head, the rippled current tugging at his
scratched and bitten legs.
The unclouded sun shone down warmly upon his face, slowly
bringing back the rose to his baby lips, and a small, paper-blue
butterfly hovered over his head for a few seconds, as if puzzled to
make out what kind of being he was.
The sand spit which had given the helpless little one refuge was
close to the shore, but separated from it by a deep and turbulent
current. A few minutes after the blue butterfly had flickered away
across the foam, a large black bear came noiselessly forth from the
fir woods and down to the water's edge. He gazed searchingly up and
down the river to see if there were any other human creatures in
sight, then stretched his savage black muzzle out over the water
toward the sand spit, eyeing and sniffing at the little unconscious
figure there in the sun. He could not make out whether it was dead
or only asleep. In either case he wanted it. He stepped into the
foaming edge of the sluice, and stood there whimpering with
disappointed appetite, daunted by the snaky vehemence of the
Presently, as the warmth of the flooding sun crept into his
veins, the child stirred, and opened his blue eyes. He sat up,
noticed he was sitting in the water, crawled to a dry spot, and
snuggled down into the hot sand. For the moment he was too dazed to
realize where he was. Then, as the life pulsed back into his veins,
he remembered how his father's hand had caught him by the jacket
just as he went plunging into the awful waves. Now, the jacket was
gone. His father was gone, too.
"Daddy! Daddee-ee!" he wailed. And at the sound of that
wailing cry, so unmistakably the cry of a youngling for its parent,
the bear drew back discreetly behind a bush, and glanced uneasily
up and down the stream to see if the parent would come in answer to
the appeal. He had a wholesome respect for the grown-up man
creature of either sex, and was ready to retire on the approach of
But no one came. The child began to sob softly, in a lonesome,
frightened, suppressed way. In a minute or two, however, he stopped
this, and rose to his feet, and began repeating over and over the
shrill wail of "Daddy, Daddee-ee, Daddee-ee!" At the same
time he peered about him in every direction, almost hopefully, as
if he thought his father must be hiding somewhere near, to jump out
presently for a game of bo-peep with him.
His baby eyes were keen. They did not find his father, but they
found the bear, its great black head staring at him from behind a
His cries stopped on the instant, in the middle of a syllable,
frozen in his throat with terror. He cowered down again upon the
sand, and stared, speechless, at the awful apparition. The bear,
realizing that the little one's cries had brought no succour, came
out from its hiding confidently, and dawn to the shore, and
straight out into the water till the current began to drag too
savagely at its legs. Here it stopped, grumbling and baffled.
The little one, unable any longer to endure the dreadful sight,
backed to the extreme edge of the sand, covered his face with his
hands, and fell to whimpering piteously, an unceasing, hopeless,
monotonous little cry, as vague and inarticulate as the wind.
The bear, convinced at length that the sluice just here was too
strong for him to cross, drew back to the shore reluctantly. It
moved slowly up-stream some forty or fifty yards, looking for a
feasible crossing. Disappointed in this direction, it then explored
the water's edge for a little distance down-stream, but with a like
result. But it would not give up. Up and down, up and down, it
continued to patrol the shore with hungry obstinacy. And the
piteous whimpering of the little figure that cowered, and with
hidden face upon the sand spit, gradually died away. That white
fleece of silken locks, dried in the sun and blown by the warm
breeze, stood out once more in its radiance on the lonely little
Tug Blackstock sat on a log, smoking and musing, on the shore of
that wide, eddying pool, full of slow swirls and spent foam
clusters, in which the tumbling riot of Brine's Rip came to a rest.
From the mills behind him screeched the untiring saws. Outstretched
at his feet lay Jim, indolently snapping at flies.
The men of the village were busy in the mills, the women in
their cottages, the children in their schools; and the stretch of
rough shore gave Tug Blackstock the solitude which he loved.
Down through the last race of the rapids came a canoe paddle,
and began revolving slowly in the eddies. Blackstock pointed it out
to Jim, and sent him in after it. The dog swam for it gaily,
grabbed it by the top so that it could trail at his side, and
brought it to his master's feet. It was a good paddle, of clean
bird's-eye maple and Melicite pattern, and Tug Blackstock wondered
who could have been so careless as to lose it. Carelessness is a
vice regarded with small leniency in the backwoods.
A few minutes later down the rapids came wallowing a
water-logged birch-canoe. The other things which had started out
with it, the cushions and blankets and bundles, had got themselves
tangled in the rocks and left behind.
At sight of the wrecked canoe, Tug Blackstock rose to his feet.
He began to suspect another of the tragedies of Dead Man's Run. But
what river-man would come to grief in the Run at this stage of the
water? Blackstock turned to an old dug-out which lay hauled up on
the shore, ran it down into the water and paddled out to salvage
the wrecked canoe. He towed it to shore, emptied it, and
scrutinized it. He thought he knew every canoe on the river, but
this one was a stranger to him. It had evidently been brought
across the Portage from the east coast. Then he found, burnt into
the inside of the gunwale near the bow, the letters J.C.M.W.
"The Englishman," he muttered. "He's let the canoe
git away from him at the head of the Run, likely, when he's gone
ashore. He'd never have tried to shoot the Run alone, an' him with
no experience of rapids."
But he was uneasy. He decided that he would get his own canoe
and pole up through the rapids, just to satisfy himself.
Tug Blackstock's canoe, a strong and swift "Fredericton"
of polished canvas, built on the lines of a racing birch, was kept
under cover in his wood shed at the end of the village street. He
shouldered it, carrying it over his head with the mid bar across
his shoulders, and bore it down to the water's edge. Then he went
back and fetched his two canoe poles and his paddles.
Waving Jim into the bow, he was just about to push off when his
narrowed eyes caught sight of something else rolling and threshing
helplessly down the rapid. Only too well he saw what it was. His
face pale with concern, he thrust the canoe violently up into the
tail of the rapid, just in time to catch the blindly sprawling
shape before it could sink to the depths of the pool. Tenderly he
lifted it out upon the shore. It was battered almost out of
recognition, but he knew it.
"Poor devil! Poor devil!" he muttered sorrowfully.
"He was a man all right, but he didn't understand rapids for
Then he noticed that in the dead man's right hand was clutched
a tiny child's jacket. He understood--he saw the whole scene, and
he swore compassionately under his breath, as he unloosed the rigid
fingers. Alive or dead, the little one must be found at once.
He called Jim sharply, and showed him the soaked red jacket. Jim
sniffed at it, but the wearer's scent was long ago soaked out of
it. He looked it over, and pawed it, wagging his tail doubtfully.
He could see it was a small child's jacket, but what was he
expected to do with it?
After a few moments, Tug Blackstock patted the jacket
vigorously, and then waved his arm up-stream.
"Go, find him, Jim!" he ordered. Jim, hanging upon each
word and gesture, comprehended instantly. He was to find the owner
of the little jacket--a child--somewhere up the river. With a
series of eager yelps--which meant that he would do all that living
dog could do--he started up the shore, on the full run
By this time the mill whistles had blown, the screaming of the
saws had stopped, the men, powdered with yellow sawdust, were
streaming out from the wide doors. They flocked down to the water.
In hurried words Blackstock explained the situation. Then he
stepped once more into his canoe, snatched his long, steel-shod
pole, and thrust his prow up into the wild current, leaving the
dead man to the care of the coroner and the village authorities.
Before he had battled his way more than a few hundred yards upwards
through the raging smother, two more canoes, with expert polers
standing poised in them like statues, had pushed out to follow him
in his search.
The rest of the crowd picked up the body and bore it away
reverently to the court-room, with sympathetic women weeping beside
Racing along the open edge of the river where it was possible,
tearing fiercely through thicket and underbrush where rapids or
rocks made the river's edge impassable, the great black dog panted
onwards with the sweat dripping from jaws and tongue. Whenever he
was forced away from the river, he would return to it at every
fifty yards or so, and scan each rock, shoal or sand spit with
keen, sagacious eyes. He had been told to search the river--that
was the plain interpretation of the wet jacket and of Tug
Blackstock's gesture--so he wasted no time upon the woods and the
At last he caught sight of the little fluffy-headed figure
huddled upon the sand spit far across the river. He stopped, stared
intently, and then burst into loud, ecstatic barkings as an
announcement that his search had been successful. But the noise did
not carry across the tumult of the ledge, and the little one slept
on, exhausted by his terror and his grief.
It was not only the sleeping child that Jim saw. He saw the
bear, and his barking broke into shrill yelps of alarm and appeal.
He could not see that the sluice between the sand spit and the bank
was an effective barrier, and he was frantic with anxiety lest the
bear should attack the little one before he could come to the
His experienced eye told him in a moment that the river was
impassable for him at this point. He dashed on up-stream for
another couple of hundred yards, and then, where a breadth of
comparatively slack water beneath a long ledge extended more than
half-way across, he plunged in, undaunted by the clamour and the
jumping, boiling foam.
Swimming mightily, he gained a point directly above the sand
spit. Then, fighting every inch of the way to get across the
terrific draft of the main current, he was swept downward at a
tremendous speed. But he had carried out his plan. He gained the
shallow side channel, splashed down it, and darted up the sand spit
with a menacing growl at the bear across the sluice.
At the sound of that harsh growl close to his ears the little
one woke up and raised his head. Seeing Jim, big and black and
dripping, he thought it was the bear. With a piercing scream he
once more hid his face in his hands, rigid with horror. Puzzled at
this reception, Jim fell to licking his hands and his ears
extravagantly, and whining and thrusting a coaxing wet nose under
At last the little fellow began to realize that these were not
the actions of a foe. Timidly he lowered his hands from his face,
and looked round. Why, there was the bear, on the other side of the
water, tremendous and terrible, but just where he had been this
ever so long. This creature that was making such a fuss over him
was plainly a dog--a kind, good dog, who was fond of little boys.
With a sigh of inexpressible relief his terror slipped from him.
He flung his arms about Jim's shaggy neck and buried his face in
the wet fur. And Jim, his heart swelling with pride, stood up and
barked furiously across at the bear.
Tug Blackstock, standing in the stern of his canoe, plied his
pole with renewed effort. Reaching the spit he strode forward,
snatched the child up in his arms, and passed his great hand
tenderly through that wonderful shock of whitey-gold silken curls.
His eyes were moist, but his voice was hearty and gay, as if this
meeting were the most ordinary thing in the world.
"Hullo, Woolly Billy!" he cried. "What are you doin'
"Daddy left me here," answered the child, his lip
beginning to quiver. "Where's he gone to?"
"Oh," replied Tug Blackstock hurriedly, "yer dad was
called away rather sudden, an' he sent me an' Jim, here, to look
after you till he gits back. An' we'll do it, too, Woolly Billy;
don't you fret."
"My name's George Harold Manners Watson," explained the
"But we'll just call you Woolly Billy for short," said