The Brave Mastiff Dog By Sir Samuel W. Baker 1918
Visit A Tribute my Beloved Dog Teddy
When I was a boy, my grandfather frequently told a story concerning a dog which he knew, as a more than ordinary example of the fidelity so frequently exhibited by the race. This animal was a mastiff that belonged to an intimate friend, to whom it was a constant companion. It was an enormous specimen of that well-known breed, which is not generally celebrated for any peculiar intelligence, but is chiefly remarkable for size and strength. This dog had been brought up by its master from puppyhood, and as the proprietor was a single man, there had been no division of affection, as there would have been had the dog belonged to a family of several members. Turk regarded nobody but his owner. (I shall now honour Turk by the masculine gender.)
Whenever Mr. Prideaux went out for a walk, Turk was sure to be near his heels. Street dogs would bark and snarl at the giant as his massive form attracted their attention, but Turk seldom condescended to notice such vulgar demonstrations; he was a noble-looking creature, somewhat resembling a small lioness; but although he was gentle and quiet in disposition, he had upon several occasions been provoked beyond endurance, and his attack had been nearly always fatal to his assailants. He slept at night outside his master's door, and no sentry could be more alert upon his watch than the faithful dog, who had apparently only one ambition—to protect, and to accompany his owner.
Mr. Prideaux had a dinner-party. He never invited ladies, but simply entertained his friends as a bachelor; his dinners were but secondary to the quality of his guests, however, who were always men of reputation either in the literary world, or in the modern annals of society. The dog Turk was invariably present, and usually stretched his huge form upon the hearth-rug.
It was a cold night in winter, when Mr. Prideaux's friends were talking after dinner, that the conversation turned upon the subject of dogs. Almost every person had an anecdote to relate, and my own grandfather being present, had no doubt added his mite to the collection, when Turk suddenly awoke from a sound sleep, and having stretched himself until he appeared to be awake to the situation, walked up to his master's side, and rested his large head upon the table.
"Ha ha, Turk!" exclaimed Mr. Prideaux, "you must have heard our arguments about the dogs, so you have put in an appearance."
"And a magnificent specimen he is!" remarked my grandfather; "but although a mastiff is the largest and most imposing of the race, I do not think it is as sensible as many others."
"As a rule you are right," replied his master, "because they are generally chained up as watch-dogs, and have not the intimate association with human beings which is so great an advantage to house-dogs; but Turk has been my constant companion from the first month of his existence, and his intelligence is very remarkable. He understands most things that I say, if they are connected with himself; he will often lie upon the rug with his large eyes fixed upon me as though searching my inward thoughts, and he will frequently be aware instinctively that I wish to go out; upon such times he will fetch my hat, cane, or gloves, whichever may be at hand, and wait for me at the front door. He will take a letter or any other token to several houses of my acquaintance, and wait for a reply; and he can perform a variety of actions that would imply a share of reason seldom possessed by other dogs."
A smile of incredulity upon several faces was at once perceived by Mr. Prideaux, who immediately took a guinea from his pocket, and addressed his dog. "Here, Turk! they won't believe in you! … take this guinea to No.—,—Street, to Mr.—, and bring me a receipt."
The dog wagged his huge tail with evident pleasure, and the guinea having been placed in his mouth, he hastened towards the door; this being opened, he was admitted through the front entrance to the street. It was a miserable night; the wind was blowing the sleet and rain against the windows; the gutters were running with muddy water, and the weather was exactly that which is expressed by the common term, "not fit to turn a dog out in;" nevertheless, Turk had started upon his mission in the howling gale and darkness, while the front door was once more closed against the blast.
The party were comfortably seated around the fire, and much interested in the success or failure of the dog's adventure.
"How long will it be before we may expect Turk's return?" inquired an incredulous guest.
"The house to which I have sent him is about a mile and a half distant, therefore if there is no delay when he barks for admission at the door, and my friend is not absent from home, he should return in about three-quarters of an hour with an acknowledgment. If, on the other hand, he cannot gain admission, he may wait for any length of time," replied his master.
Bets were exchanged among the company—some supported the dog's chances of success, while others were against him.
The evening wore away; the allotted time was exceeded, and a whole hour had passed, but no dog had returned. Fresh bets were made, but the odds were against the dog. His master was still hopeful…. "I must tell you," said Mr. Prideaux, "that Turk frequently carries notes for me, and as he knows the house well, he certainly will not make a mistake; perhaps my friend may be dining out, in which case Turk will probably wait for a longer time"…. Two hours passed … the storm was raging. Mr. Prideaux himself went to the front door, which flew open before a fierce gust the instant that the lock was turned. The clouds were rushing past a moon but faintly visible at short intervals, and the gutters were clogged with masses of half-melted snow. "Poor Turk!" muttered his master, "this is indeed a wretched night for you…. Perhaps they have kept you in the warm kitchen, and will not allow you to return in such fearful weather."
When Mr. Prideaux returned to his guests he could not conceal his disappointment. "Ha!" exclaimed one who had betted against the dog, "I never doubted his sagacity. With a guinea in his mouth, he has probably gone into some house of entertainment where dogs are supplied with dinner and a warm bed, instead of shivering in a winter's gale!"
Jokes were made by the winners of bets at the absent dog's expense, but his master was anxious and annoyed. The various bets were paid by the losers, and poor Turk's reputation had suffered severely…. It was long past midnight: the guests were departed, the storm was raging, and violent gusts occasionally shook the house…. Mr. Prideaux was alone in his study, and he poked the fire until it blazed and roared up the chimney….
"What can have become of that dog?" exclaimed his master to himself, now really anxious; "I hope they kept him; … most likely they would not send him back upon such a dreadful night."
Mr. Prideaux's study was close to the front door, and his acute attention was suddenly directed to a violent shaking and scratching, accompanied by a prolonged whine. In an instant he ran into the hall, and unlocked the entrance door…. A mass of filth and mud entered…. This was Turk!
The dog seemed dreadfully fatigued, and was shivering with wet and cold. His usually clean coat was thick with mire, as though he had been dragged through deep mud. He wagged his tail when he heard his master's voice, but appeared dejected and ill.
Mr. Prideaux had rung the bell, and the servants, who were equally interested as their master in Turk's failure to perform his mission, had attended the summons. The dog was taken downstairs, and immediately placed in a large tub of hot water, in which he was accustomed to be bathed. It was now discovered that in addition to mud and dirt, which almost concealed his coat, he was besmeared with blood!
Mr. Prideaux himself sponged his favourite with hot soap and water, and, to his astonishment, he perceived wounds of a serious nature: the dog's throat was badly torn, his back and breast were deeply bitten, and there could be no doubt that he had been worried by a pack of dogs. This was a strange occurrence, that Turk should be discomfited!
He was now washed clean, and was being rubbed dry with a thick towel while he stood upon a blanket before the kitchen fire…. "Why, Turk, old boy, what has been the matter? Tell us all about it, poor old man!" exclaimed his master.
The dog was now thoroughly warmed, and he panted with the heat of the kitchen fire; he opened his mouth, … and the guinea which he had received in trust dropped on the kitchen floor!…
"There is some mystery in this," said Mr. Prideaux, "which I will endeavour to discover to-morrow…. He has been set upon by strange dogs, and rather than lose the guinea, he has allowed himself to be half killed without once opening his mouth in self-defence! Poor Turk!" continued his master, "you must have lost your way, old man, in the darkness and storm; most likely confused after the unequal fight. What an example you have given us wretched humans in being steadfast to a trust!"
Turk was wonderfully better after his warm bath. He lapped up a large bowl of good thick soup mixed with bread, and in half an hour was comfortably asleep upon his thick rug by his master's bedroom door….
Upon the following morning the storm had cleared away, and a bright sky had succeeded to the gloom of the preceding night.
Immediately after breakfast, Mr. Prideaux, accompanied by his dog (who was, although rather stiff, not much the worse for the rough treatment he had received), started for a walk towards the house to which he had directed Turk upon the previous evening. He was anxious to discover whether his friend had been absent, as he concluded that the dog might have been waiting for admittance, and had been perhaps attacked by some dogs belonging to the house, or its neighbours'.
The master and Turk had walked for nearly a mile, and had just turned the corner of a street when, as they passed a butcher's shop upon the right hand, a large brindled mastiff rushed from the shop-door, and flew at Turk with unprovoked ferocity.
"Call your dog off!" shouted Mr. Prideaux to the butcher, who surveyed the attack with impudent satisfaction…. "Call him off, or my dog will kill him!" continued Mr. Prideaux.
The usually docile Turk had rushed to meet his assailant with a fury that was extraordinary. With a growl like that of a lion, he quickly seized his antagonist by the throat; rearing upon his hind legs, he exerted his tremendous strength, and in a fierce struggle of only a few seconds, he threw the brindled dog upon its back. It was in vain that Mr. Prideaux endeavoured to call him off, the rage of his favourite was quite ungovernable; he never for an instant relaxed his hold, but with the strength of a wild beast of prey, Turk shook the head of the butcher's dog to the right and left until it struck each time heavily against the pavement … The butcher attempted to interfere, and lashed him with a huge whip.
"Stand clear! fair play! don't you strike my dog!" shouted Mr.
Prideaux. "Your dog was the first to attack!"
In reply to the whip, Turk had redoubled his fury, and, without relinquishing his hold, he had now dragged the butcher's dog off the pavement, and occasionally shaking the body as he pulled the unresisting mass along the gutter, he drew it into the middle of the street.
A large crowd had collected, which completely stopped the thoroughfare. There were no police in those days, but only watchmen, who were few and far between; even had they been present, it is probable they would have joined in the amusement of a dog-fight, which in that age of brutality was considered to be sport….
"Fair play!" shouted the bystanders…. "Let 'em have it out!" cried others, as they formed a circle around the dogs…. In the meantime, Mr. Prideaux had seized Turk by his collar, while the butcher was endeavouring to release the remains of his dog from the infuriated and deadly grip….
At length Mr. Prideaux's voice and action appeared for a moment to create a calm, and, snatching the opportunity, he, with the assistance of a person in the crowd, held back his dog, as the carcass of the butcher's dog was dragged away by the lately insolent owner…. The dog was dead!
Turk's flanks were heaving with the intense exertion and excitement of the fight, and he strained to escape from his master's hold to once more attack the lifeless body of his late antagonist…. At length, by kind words and the caress of the well-known hand, his fury was calmed down….
"Well, that's the most curious adventure I've ever had with a dog!" exclaimed the butcher, who was now completely crestfallen…. "Why, that's the very dog! he is so—that's the very dog who came by my shop late last night in the howling storm, and my dog Tiger went at him and towzled him up completely. I never saw such a cowardly cur; he wouldn't show any fight, although he was pretty near as big as a costermonger's donkey; and there my dog Tiger nearly eat half of him, and dragged the other half about the gutter, till he looked more like an old door-mat than a dog; and I thought he must have killed him … and here he comes out as fresh as paint to-day, and kills old Tiger clean off as though he'd been only a biggish cat!"
"What do you say?" asked Mr. Prideaux … "Was it your dog that worried my poor dog last night, when he was upon a message of trust? … My friend, I thank you for this communication, but let me inform you of the fact that my dog had a guinea in his mouth to carry to my friend, and rather than drop it he allowed himself to be half killed by your savage Tiger. To-day he has proved his courage, and your dog has discovered his mistake. This is the guinea that he dropped from his mouth when he returned to me after midnight, beaten and distressed!" said Mr. Prideaux, much excited. "Here, Turk, old boy, take the guinea again, and come along with me! you have had your revenge, and have given us all a lesson." His master gave him the guinea in his mouth, and they continued their walk…. It appeared, upon Mr. Prideaux's arrival at his friend's house, that Turk had never been there; probably after his defeat he had become so confused that he lost his way in the heavy storm, and had at length regained the road home some time after midnight, in the deplorable condition already described.
A Tribute to my Late, Beloved Friend