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Egbert, Bull Frog by P. G. Wodehouse

 

"Speaking", said my uncle James, "of dogs, did I ever tell you about Egbert, my bull-frog? I class Egbert among the dogs, partly because of his faithfulness and intelligence, and partly because his deep bay — you know how those bull-frogs bark — always reminded me of a bloodhound surprised while on a trail of aniseed. He was my constant companion in Northern Assam, where I was at that time planting rubber. He finally died of a surfeit of hard-boiled egg, of which he was passionately fond, and I was as miserable as if I had lost a brother.

"I think Egbert had been trying to edge into the household for some time before I really noticed him. Looking back, I can remember meeting him sometimes in the garden, and, though I did not perceive it at first, there was a wistful look in his eye when I passed him by without speaking. It was not till our burglary that I began really to understand his sterling worth. A couple of natives were breaking in and would undoubtedly have succeeded in their designs had it not been for Egbert's frantic barking, which aroused the house and brought me down with a revolver. It is almost certain that the devoted animal had made a practice, night after night, of sleeping near the front- door on the chance of something of the sort happening. He was always suspicious of natives.

"After that of course his position in the house was established. He slept every night at the foot of my bed, and very soothing it was to hear his deep rhythmical breathing in the darkness.

"In the daytime we were inseparable. We would go for walks together, and I have frequently spent hours throwing sticks into the pond at the bottom of the garden for him to retrieve. It was this practice which saved his life at the greatest crisis of his career.

"I happened to have strained my leg, and I was sitting in the garden, dozing, Egbert by my side, when I was awakened by a hoarse bark from my faithful companion, and, looking down, I perceived him hopping rapidly towards the pond, pursued by an enormous oojoobwa snake, a reptile not dangerous to man, being non-poisonous, but a great scourge among the minor fauna of Assam, owing to its habit of pouncing upon them and swallowing them alive. This snake is particularly addicted to bull-frogs, and, judging from the earnest manner in which he was making for the pond, Egbert was not blind to this trait in its character.

"You may imagine my agony of mind. There was I, helpless. My injured leg made it impossible for me to pursue the snake and administer one where it would do most good. And meanwhile the unequal race was already drawing to its inevitable close. Egbert, splendid as were his other qualities, was not built for speed. He was dignified rather than mobile.

"What could I do? Nothing beyond throwing my stick in the hope of stunning the oojoobwa. It was a forlorn hope, but I did it; and it saved Egbert's life, though not in the way I had intended. The stick missed the snake and fell immediately in front of Egbert. It was enough. His grand intellect worked with the speed of lightning. Just as the snake reached him, he reached the stick; and the next moment there was Egbert, up to his neck in the reptile's throat, but saved from complete absorption by the stick, which he was holding firmly in his mouth.

"I have seldom seen any living thing so completely nonplussed as was the oojoobwa. Snakes have very little reasoning power. They cannot weigh cause and effect. Otherwise of course the oojoobwa would have nipped Egbert till he was forced to leave go of the stick. Instead of doing this, he regarded the stick and Egbert as being constructed all in one piece, and imagined that he had happened upon a new breed of unswallowable frog. He ejected Egbert, and lay thinking it over, while Egbert, full of pluck, continued his journey to the pond.

"Three times in the next two yards did the snake endeavour to swallow his victim, and each time he gave it up; and after the last experiment Egbert, evidently finding this constant semi-disappearance into the other's interior bad for his nervous system, conceived the idea of backing towards the pond instead of heading in that direction, the process, though slower, being less liable to sudden interruption.

"Well, to make the story short, the oojoobwa followed Egbert to the very edge of the pond, the picture of perplexity; and when my little friend finally dived in he lay there with his head over the edge of the bank, staring into the water for quite ten minutes. Then he turned, shook his head despairingly, and wriggled into the bushes, still thinking hard. And a little while later I saw Egbert's head appear cautiously over the side of the pond, the stick still in his mouth. He looked round to see that the coast was clear, and then came hopping up to me and laid the stick at my feet. And, strong man as I was, I broke down and cried like a child."