A True Story of a Faithful Dog
UNCLE BEN NICHOLS during childhood was of a retiring nature. In manhood he had sought seclusion. During the Civil War I knew him well as a hunter and trapper, in northwestern Pennsylvania.
Two miles from the nearest resident, on a log road winding its way between the mountains, close by a spring of sparkling water, beneath the shade of great pines and hemlocks, Uncle Ben had built a log cabin; here close to nature, lived Uncle Ben and Billy.
I do not know that Billy had any special rank among the classified breeds of dogs. We called him a "black and tan." He weighed about thirty pounds, had short hair, mostly black, some tan-colored spots, one small spot over each eye.
Often have I met Uncle Ben wandering through the woods, with gun or traps on his shoulder; but never without seeing Billy, close behind.
Nearly always the dog would be carrying a small covered tin pail. During the forenoon the pail would contain their noonday lunch, and during the afternoon it might contain a squirrel or partridge for their supper.
Uncle Ben had also taught the dog to accompany him to the spring with the pail, and carry it home filled with water.
A fireplace in the cabin, served them for both cooking and heating. Billy was taught to help by bringing in small sticks of wood for fuel. Uncle Ben's rude bed was near the outside door, so that he could pull the latch string without rising. On the foot of this primitive couch the dog always slept.
Following a long trip one day, Uncle Ben retired, feeling very tired and ill; toward morning he awoke, finding that his right side was paralyzed. As he was unable to dress himself, barely able to sit up, and with very little food, their condition seemed extremely critical.
Their drink gave out first. Uncle Ben's thirst seemed almost unbearable. After several attempts he succeeded in getting Billy to take the little tin pail to the spring. There, in some unknown way, probably by setting the pail under the wooden trough that conducted the water from the spring, the dog succeeded in partly filling the pail with water to carry to the sick man to quench his thirst.
Several days elapsed; they were both suffering with hunger. Starvation seemed inevitable to Uncle Ben.
After examining the empty food dishes many times, Billy finally seemed to comprehend their needs and whined for his master to pull the latch string and let him out. He was gone nearly a half-day. He returned, bringing a rabbit, which he laid by the side of Uncle Ben's bed. With much difficulty Uncle Ben prepared the rabbit for cooking. With Billy's help, bringing in small sticks of wood, he started a fire, and they were soon able to appease their hunger.
It was nearly a month before some hunters passing that way discovered their condition. In the meantime, the dog had furnished food and drink sufficient to sustain life.
Uncle Ben lived about a year, when another stroke ended his life. Relatives and friends provided a very decent burial but Billy was the chief mourner. As they lowered the casket into the ground, he whined pitifully, then gave a long weird howl, so sad and touching, that many eyes were filled with tears.
For weeks, night or day, the faithful animal could be found close by the grave. There they found poor Billy dead, and there kind friends buried him. All that was left of these inseparable companions were laid side by side. C.E.H.