Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
Wylie
By Dr. John Brown (1810–1882)
 
From Horæ Subsecivæ

OUR next friend was an exquisite shepherd’s dog; fleet, thin-flanked, dainty, and handsome as a small greyhound, with all the grace of silky waving black and tan hair. We got her thus. Being then young and keen botanists, and full of the knowledge and love of Tweedside, having been on every hill-top from Muckle Mendic to Hundleshope and the Lee Pen, and having fished every water from Tarth to the Leithen, we discovered early in spring that young Stewart, author of an excellent book on natural history, a young man of great promise and early death, had found the Buxbaumia aphylla, a beautiful and odd-looking moss, west of Newbie heights, in the very month we were that moment in. We resolved to start next day. We walked to Peebles, and then up Haystoun Glen to the cottage of Adam Cairns, the aged shepherd of the Newbie hirsel, of whom we knew and who knew of us from his daughter, Nancy Cairns, a servant with Uncle Aitken of Callands. We found our way up the burn with difficulty, as the evening was getting dark, and on getting near the cottage heard them at worship. We got in and made ourselves known, and got a famous tea, and such cream and oat cake!—old Adam looking on us as “clean dementit” to come out for “a bit moss,” which, however, he knew, and with some pride said he would take us in the morning to the place. As we were going into a box bed for the night, two young men came in, and said they were “gaun to burn the water.” Off we set. It was a clear, dark, starlight frosty night. They had their leisters and tar torches, and it was something worth seeing—the wild flame, the young fellows striking the fish coming to the light—how splendid they looked with the light on their scales, coming out of the darkness—the stumblings and quenchings suddenly of the lights, as the torch-bearer fell into a deep pool. We got home past midnight, and slept as we seldom sleep now. In the morning Adam, who had been long risen, and up the Hope with his dog, when he found we had wakened, told us there was four inches of snow, and we soon saw it was too true. So we had to go home without our cryptogamic prize.
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  It turned out that Adam, who was an old man and frail and had made some money, was going at Whitsunday to leave and live with his son in Glasgow. We had been admiring the beauty and gentleness and perfect shape of Wylie, the finest collie I ever saw, and said, “What are you going to do with Wylie?” “’Deed,” says he, “I hardly ken. I canna think o’ selling her, though she’s worth four pound, and she’ll no like the toun.” I said, “Would you let me have her?” and Adam looking at her fondly,—she came up instantly to him, and made of him,—said, “Ay, I wull, if ye’ll be gude to her”; and it was settled that when Adam left for Glasgow she should be sent into Albany Street by the carrier.  2
  She came and was at once taken to all our hearts—even grandmother liked her; and though she was often pensive, as if thinking of her master and her work on the hills, she made herself at home, and behaved in all respects like a lady. While out with me, if she saw sheep in the streets or road, she got quite excited, and helped the work, and was curiously useful, the being so making her wonderfully happy. And so her little life went on, never doing wrong, always blithe and kind and beautiful. But some months after she came there was a mystery about her: every Tuesday evening she disappeared; we tried to watch her, but in vain, she was always off by nine p.m. and was away all night, coming back wearied and all over mud, as if she had travelled far. She slept all next day. This went on for some months, and we could make nothing of it. Poor dear creature, she looked at us wistfully when she came in, as if she would have told us if she could, and was especially fond, though tired.  3
  Well, one day I was walking across the Grassmarket, with Wylie at my heels, when two shepherds started, and looking at her, one said, “That’s her; that’s the wonderfu’ wee bitch that naebody kens.” I asked him what he meant, and he told me that for months past she had made her appearance by the first daylight at the “buchts” or sheep-pens in the cattle-market, and worked incessantly in helping the shepherds to get their sheep and lambs in. The man said with a sort of transport, “She’s a perfect meeracle; flees about like a speerit, and never gangs wrang; wears but never grups, and beats a’ oor dowgs. She’s a perfect meeracle, and as soople as a maukin.” Then he related how they all knew her, and said, “There’s that wee fell yin; we’ll get them in noo.” They tried to coax her to stop and be caught, but no, she was gentle, but off; and for many a day “that wee fell yin” was spoken of by these rough fellows. She continued this amateur work till she died, which she did in peace.  4
  It is very touching the regard the south country shepherds have to their dogs. Professor Syme one day, many years ago, when living in Forres Street, was looking out of his window, and he saw a young shepherd striding down North Charlotte Street, as if making for his house: it was midsummer. The man had his dog with him, and Mr. Syme noticed that he followed the dog, and not it him, though he contrived to steer for the house. He came, and was ushered into his room; he wished advice about some ailment, and Mr. Syme saw that he had a bit of twine round the dog’s neck, which he let drop out of his hand when he entered the room. He asked him the meaning of this, and he explained that the magistrates had issued a mad-dog proclamation, commanding all dogs to be muzzled or led on pain of death. “And why do you go about as I saw you did before you came into me?” “Oh,” said he, looking awkward, “I didna want Birkie to ken he was tied.” Where will you find truer courtesy and finer feeling? He didn’t want to hurt Birkie’s feelings.  5
  Mr. Carruthers of Inverness told me a new story of these wise sheep-dogs. A butcher from Inverness had purchased some sheep at Dingwall, and giving them in charge to his dog, left the road. The dog drove them on, till coming to a toll, the toll-wife stood before the drove, demanding her dues. The dog looked at her, and, jumping on her back, crossed his forelegs over her arms. The sheep passed through, and the dog took his place behind them and went on his way.  6
 
 
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