UNCLE DICK'S ROLF

By Georgiana M. Craik

"I had been riding for five or six miles one pleasant afternoon. It was a delicious afternoon, like the afternoon of an English summer day. You always imagine it hotter out in Africa by a good deal than it is in England, don't you? Well, so it is, in a general way, a vast deal hotter; but every now and then, after the rains have fallen and the wind comes blowing from the sea, we get a day as much like one of our own best summer days as you ever felt anywhere. This afternoon was just like an English summer afternoon, with the fresh sweet breeze rustling amongst the green leaves, and the great bright sea stretching out all blue and golden, and meeting the blue sky miles and miles away.

"It wasn't very hot, but it was just hot enough to make the thought of a swim delicious; so after I had been riding leisurely along for some little time, shooting a bird or two as I went,—for I wanted some bright feathers to send home to a little cousin that I had in England,—I alighted from my horse, and, letting him loose to graze, lay down for a quarter of an hour to cool myself, and then began to make ready for my plunge.

"I was standing on a little ledge of cliff, some six or seven feet above the sea. It was high tide, and the water at my feet was about a fathom deep. 'I shall have a delightful swim,' thought to myself, as I threw off my coat; and as just at that moment Rolf in a very excited way flung himself upon me, evidently understanding the meaning of the proceeding, and, as I thought, anxious to show his sympathy with it, I repeated the remark aloud. 'Yes, we'll have a delightful swim, you and I together,' I said. 'A grand swim, my old lad'; and I clapped his back as I spoke, and encouraged him, as I was in the habit of doing, to express his feelings without reserve. But, rather to my surprise, instead of wagging his tail, and wrinkling his nose, and performing any of his usual antics, the creature only lifted up his face and began to whine. He had lain, for the quarter of an hour while I had been resting, at the edge of the little cliff, with his head dropped over it; but whether he had been taking a sleep in that position, or had been amusing himself by watching the waves, was more than I knew. He was a capital one for sleeping even then, and generally made a point of snatching a doze at every convenient opportunity; so I had naturally troubled my head very little about him, taking it for granted that he was at his usual occupation. But, whether he had been asleep before or not, at any rate he was wide awake now, and, as it seemed to me, in a very odd humor indeed.

"'What's the matter, old fellow?' I said to him, when he set up this dismal howl. 'Don't you want to have a swim? Well, you needn't unless you like, only I mean to have one; so down with you, and let me get my clothes off.' But, instead of getting down, the creature began to conduct himself in the most incomprehensible way, first seizing me by the trousers with his teeth and pulling me to the edge of the rock, as if he wanted me to plunge in dressed as I was; then catching me again and dragging me back, much as though I was a big rat that he was trying to worry; and this pantomime, I declare, he went through three separate times, barking and whining all the while, till I began to think he was going out of his mind.

"Well, God forgive me! but at last I got into a passion with the beast. I couldn't conceive what he meant. For two or three minutes I tried to pacify him, and as long as I took no more steps to get my clothes off he was willing to be pacified; but the instant I fell to undressing myself again he was on me once more, pulling me this way and that, hanging on my arms, slobbering over me, howling with his mouth up in the air. And so at last I lost my temper, and I snatched up my gun and struck him with the butt-end of it. My poor Rolf!" said Uncle Pick, all at once, with a falter in his voice; and he stopped abruptly, and stooped down and laid his hand on the great black head.

"He was quieter after I had struck him," said Uncle Dick, after a little pause. "For a few moments he lay quite still at my feet, and I had begun to think that his crazy fit was over, and that he was going to give me no more trouble, when all at once, just as I had got ready to jump into the water, the creature sprang to his feet and flung himself upon me again. He threw himself with all his might upon my breast and drove me backwards, howling So wildly that many a time since, boys, I have thought I must have been no better than a blind, perverse fool, not to have guessed what the trouble was; but the fact is, I was a conceited young fellow (as most young fellows are), and because I imagined the poor beast was trying for some reason of his own to get his own way, I thought it was my business to teach him that he was not to get his own way, but that I was to get mine; and so I beat him down somehow,—I don't like to think of it now; I struck him again three or four times with the end of my gun, till at last I got myself freed from him.

"He gave a cry when he fell back. I call it a cry, for it was more like something human than a dog's howl,—something so wild and pathetic that, angry as I was, it startled me, and I almost think, if time enough had been given me, I would have made some last attempt then to understand what the creature meant; but I had no time after that. I was standing a few feet in from the water, and as soon as I had shaken him off he went to the edge of the bit of cliff, and stood there for a moment till I came up to him, and then—just as in another second I should have jumped into the sea—my brave dog, my noble dog, gave one last whine and one look into my face, and took the leap before me. And then, boys, in another instant I saw what he had meant. He had scarcely touched the water when I saw a crocodile slip like lightning from a sunny ledge of the cliff, and grip him by the hinder legs.

"You know that I had my gun close at hand, and in the whole course of my life I never was so glad to have my gun beside me. It was loaded, too, and a revolver. I caught it up, and fired into the water. I fired three times, and two of the shots went into the brute's head. One missed him, and the first seemed not to harm him much, but the third hit him in some vital place, I hope,—some sensitive place, at any rate, for the hideous jaws started wide. Then, with my gun in my hand still, I began with all my might to shout out, 'Rolf!" I couldn't leave my post, for the brute, though he had let Rolf go, and had dived for a moment, might make another spring, and I didn't dare to take my eyes off the spot where he had gone down; but I called to my wounded beast with all my might, and when he had struggled through the water and gained a moment's hold of the rock, I jumped down and caught him, and somehow—I don't know how—half carried and half dragged him up the little bit of steep ascent, till we were safe on the top,—on the dry land again. And then upon my word, I don't know what I did next, only I think, as I looked at my darling's poor crushed limbs, with the blood oozing from them, and heard his choking gasps for breath—I—I forgot for a moment or two that I was a man at all, and burst out crying like a child.

"Boys, you don't know what it is to feel that a living creature has tried to give up his life for you, even though the creature is only a soulless dog. Do you think I had another friend in the world who would have done what Rolf had done for me? If I had, I did not know it. And then when I thought that it was while he had been trying to save my life that I had taken up my gun and struck him! There are some things, my lads, that a man does without meaning any harm by them, which yet, when he sees them by the light of after events, he can never bear to look back upon without a sort of agony; and those blows I gave to Rolf are of that sort. He forgave them,—my noble dog; but I have never forgiven myself for them to this hour. When I saw him lying before me, with his blood trickling out upon the sand, I think I would have given my right hand to save his life. And well I might, too, for he had done ten times more than that to save mine.

"He licked the tears off my cheeks, my poor old fellow; I remember that. We looked a strange pair, I dare say, as we lay on the ground together, with our heads side by side. It's a noble old head still, isn't it, boys? (I don't mean mine, but this big one down here. All right, Rolf! We're only talking of your beauty, my lad.) It's as grand a head as ever a dog had. I had his picture taken after I came home. I've had him painted more than once, but somehow I don't think the painters have ever seen quite into the bottom of his heart. At least, I fancy that if I were a painter I could make something better of him than any of them have done yet. Perhaps it's only a notion of mine, but, to tell the truth, I've only a dozen times or so in my life seen a painting of a grand dog that looks quite right. But I'm wandering from my story, though, indeed, my story is almost at an end.

"When I had come to my senses a little, I had to try to get my poor Rolf moved. We were a long way from any house, and the creature couldn't walk a step. I tore up my shirt, and bound his wounds as well as I could, and then I got my clothes on, and called to my horse, and in some way, as gently as I could,—though it was no easy thing to do it,—I got him and myself together upon the horse's back, and we began our ride. There was a village about four or five miles off, and I made for that. It was a long, hard jolt for a poor fellow with both his hindlegs broken, but he bore it as patiently as if he had been a Christian. I never spoke to him but, panting as he was, he was ready to lick my hands and look lovingly up into my face. I've wondered since, many a time, what he could have thought about it all; and the only thing I am sure of is that he never thought much of the thing that he himself had done. That seemed, I know, all natural and simple to him; I don't believe that he has ever understood to this day what anybody wondered at in it, or made a hero of him for. For the noblest people are the people who are noble without knowing it; and the same rule, I fancy, holds good, too, for dogs.

"I got him to a resting-place at last, after a weary ride, and then I had his wounds dressed; but it was weeks before he could stand upon his feet again, and when at last he began to walk he limped, and he has gone on limping ever since. The bone of one leg was so crushed that it couldn't be set properly, and so that limb is shorter than the other three. He doesn't mind it much, I dare say,—I don't think he ever did,—but it has been a pathetic lameness to me, boys. It's all an old story now, you know," said Uncle Dick, abruptly, "but it's one of those things that a man doesn't forget, and that it would be a shame to him if he ever could forget as long as his life lasts."

Uncle Dick stooped down again as he ceased to speak, and Rolf, disturbed by the silence, raised his head to look about him. As his master had said, it was a grand old head still, though the eyes were growing dim now with age. Uncle Dick laid his hand upon it, and the bushy tail began to wag. It had wagged at the touch of that hand for many a long day.

"We've been together for fifteen years. He's getting old now," said
Uncle Dick.