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The Story of the Dog Oscar, edited by Andrew Lang

 

In the north-west of Scotland there is a very pretty loch which runs far up into the land. On one side great hills—almost mountains—slope down into the water, while on the opposite side there is a little village, with the road along which the houses straggle, almost part of the loch shore. At low tide, banks of beautiful golden seaweed are left at the edges of the water, and on this seaweed huge flocks of sea-gulls come and feed.

A few years ago there lived in this village a minister who had a collie-dog named Oscar. He lived all alone in his little cottage, and as Jean, the woman who looked after him, was a very talkative person, by no means congenial to him. Oscar was his constant companion and friend.

He seemed to understand all that was said to him, and in his long, lonely walks across the hills, it cheered him to have Oscar trotting quietly and contentedly beside him. And when he came home from visiting sick people, and going to places where he could not take Oscar, he would look forward to seeing the soft brown head thrust out of the door, peering into the darkness, ready to welcome him as soon as he should come in sight.

One of Oscar’s favourite games was to go down to the shore when the tide was low, and with his head thrown up and his tail straight out, he would run at the flocks of gulls feeding on the seaweed, and scatter them in the air, making them look like a cloud of large white snow-flakes.  In a minute or two the gulls would settle down again to their meal, and again Oscar would charge and rout them.

Oscar chases after the gulls

‘OSCAR WOULD CHARGE AND ROUT THEM’

This little manœuvre of his would be repeated many times, till a long clear whistle was heard from the road by the loch. Then the gulls might finish their supper in peace, for Oscar’s master had called him, and now he was walking quietly along by his side, looking as if there were no such things in the world as gulls.

‘No, Oscar, lad! Not to-day! not to-day!’ said the minister one afternoon, as he put on his hat and coat and took his stick from the dog who always fetched it when he saw preparations being made for a walk.

‘I can’t take you with me; you must stay in the paddock. No run by the loch this afternoon, lad. ’Tis too long, and you are not so strong as you were. We are growing old together, Oscar.’

The dog watched his master till he disappeared over the little bridge and up the glen, and then he went and lay down by the paling which surrounded the bit of field. Jean soon went out to a friend’s house to have a little gossip, and Oscar was left alone.

He felt rather forlorn. Across the road he heard the distant splashing of the waves as they ran angrily up the beach of the loch, and the whistling of the wind down the glen.

He watched the grey clouds scudding away overhead, and he envied the children he heard playing in the street, or racing after the tourist coach on its way up the Pass.

He began to feel drowsy.

‘The gulls will be feeding on the banks now! How I wish ...’ and his eyes closed, and he dreamt a nice dream, that he was dashing along through shallow pools of water towards the white chattering flock, when—what was this in front of him? White feathers! Two gulls! Was he dreaming still? No the gulls were real! What luck! He could not go to the gulls, so the gulls had come to him.

 In a moment he was wide awake, and made a rush at the two birds who were gazing at him inquiringly with their heads on one side. But after two or three rushes, ‘What stupid gulls these are!’ thought Oscar. ‘They can scarcely fly.’

And, indeed, the birds seemed to have great difficulty in lifting themselves off the ground, and appeared to grow more and more feeble after each of Oscar’s onslaughts. At last one of them fell.

‘Lazy creature! you have had too much dinner! Up you get!’

But the gull lay down gasping.

Oscar made for the other. Why, that was lying down too! He went to the first one. It was quite still and motionless, and after one or two more gasps its companion was the same.

Oscar felt rather frightened. Was it possible that he had killed them? What would his master say? How was he to tell him it was quite a mistake? That he had only been in fun? He must put the gulls out of sight.

He dragged them to one side of the cottage where the minister used to try every year to grow a few cherished plants, and there in the loose earth he dug a grave for the birds.

Then he went back to his old place, and waited for his master’s return.

When the minister came back, for the first time in his life, Oscar longed to be able to speak and tell him all that had happened. How could he without speech explain that the death of the birds was an accident—an unfortunate accident?

He felt that without an explanation it was no use unearthing the white forms in the border.

‘Sir, sir!’ cried Jean, putting her head in at the door. ‘Here’s Widow McInnes come to see you. She’s in sore trouble.’

The minister rose and went to the door.

‘Stay here, Oscar,’ he said, for Widow McInnes was not fond of Oscar.

In a few minutes the minister came back.

He patted Oscar’s soft head.

Oscar looks at the two dead white pigeons

‘OSCAR FELT RATHER FRIGHTENED’

‘She wanted to accuse thee, Oscar lad, of killing the two white pigeons which her son sent her yesterday from the south, and which escaped this afternoon from their cage. As if you would touch the bairnies, as the poor woman calls them! Eh, lad?’

 Oscar wagged his tail gratefully. Then in a sudden flash it came upon him that he had killed the pigeons. Now he saw the birds were pigeons, not gulls, and, worse than killing them, he had, all unknowingly, told his master a lie; and he could not undo it. He whined a little as if in pain, and moved slowly out of the room. The minister sat on, deep in thought, and then went outside the house to see the sunset. Great bands of thick grey cloud wrapped the hill-tops in their folds, and lay in long bands across the slopes, while here and there in the rifts were patches of pale lemon-coloured sky. The loch waters heaved sullenly against the shore. The minister looked away from the sunset, and his eye fell on a little mound in the bed by the cottage.

‘What did I plant there?’ he thought, and began poking it with his stick.

‘Oscar, Oscar!’

Oscar was bounding down the path. He had just determined to unbury the pigeons and bring them to his master, and, even if he received a beating, his master would know he had not meant to deceive.

But now, hearing the call, and the tone of the minister’s voice, he knew it was too late. He stopped, and then crept slowly towards that tall black figure standing in the twilight, with the two white pigeons lying at his feet.

‘Oh, Oscar, Oscar lad, what have you done?’

At that moment a boy came running to the gate.

‘Ye’ll be the minister that Sandy Johnston is speiring after. He says, “Fetch the minister, and bid him come quick.”’

Oscar's master finds the buried pigeons

‘OH, OSCAR, OSCAR LAD, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?’

The minister gave a few directions to Jean, and in a moment or two was ready to go with the boy. It was a long row to the head of the loch, and a long walk to reach the cottage where Sandy Johnston lay dying. The minister stayed with him for two nights, till he seemed to need his help no more, and then started off to come home. But while he was being rowed along the loch, a  fierce snowstorm came on. The boat made but little way, and they were delayed two or three hours. Cold and tired, the minister thought with satisfaction of his warm fireside, with Oscar lying down beside his cosy chair. Then, for the first time since it had happened, he thought of the pigeons, and he half smiled as he recalled Oscar’s downcast face as he came up the path.

With quick steps he hurried along the street from the landing-place. The snow was being blown about round him, and the night was fast closing in. He was quite near his own gate now, and he looked up, expecting to see the familiar brown head peering out of the door for him; but there was no sign of it.

He opened the gate and strode in. Still no Oscar to welcome him.

‘Jean, Jean!’ he called. Jean appeared from the kitchen, and even in the firelight he could see traces of tears on her rough face.

‘Where is Oscar?’

‘Ah, sir, after ye were gone wi’ the lad, he wouldna’ come into the house, and wouldna’ touch a morsel o’ food. He lay quite still in the garden, and last night he died. An’ it’s my belief, sir, he died of a broken heart, because ye did na’ beat him after killing the pigeons, and he couldna’ make it up wi’ ye.’

And the minister thought so, too; and when Jean was gone, he sat down by his lonely fireside and buried his face in his hands.