The story of Rollo and her contest with the gray cat and the kittens, recorded in No. 921 of your Journal, has reminded me of an affectionate Highland collie which adopted two kittens under perilous and painful circumstances.
In the days of my youth, no iron bands of railway had bound North and South Britain together. Droves of Highland cattle passed through my native village every autumn on their way to London; and the sagacity and fidelity of the Scotch collie dogs excited my admiration. At that time, my father farmed in three counties, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Lincolnshire; and the interchange of stock from county to county and from farm to farm necessitated the use of a good shepherd-dog. Much of my time in youth was spent in assisting to drive the cattle and sheep. How often I coveted a dog of the true Highland breed! But so strong and mutual was the affection between drover and dog, that no gold would part them. And as the dogs I refer to did not understand English, and I was a stranger to Gaelic, no purchase would have been profitable.
One day, as my father and I were riding on the old Roman Road, called by us “The Fosse Road,” which skirts the borders of the counties of Nottingham and Leicester, we met a drove of Highland oxen quietly travelling and grazing on the rich and luxuriant grass, where no tool of Macadam had lifted a sod or broken a stone. The drover and his dog were standing by the side of an ox which had fallen down sick in the rear of the herd. Which of the two, Sandie or his dog, was the more afflicted, I cannot say; for while the drover stood mutely pondering over the fallen ox what to do, the dog was licking the face of the poor beast in tenderest sympathy. My father put the drover out of all trouble by proposing to take care of the ox. With many thanks, the drover left the beast under our care. In a few hours it was able to rise; and we put it in a large pasture close to the place where it had fallen down. The ox speedily recovered; and, in full sympathy with our Scottish ancestry, we made a pet of the beast for Scotland’s sake. In course of time the drover came as usual, and was overflowing with gratitude for the kindness shown to the animal. As nothing could be accepted beyond a fee to our shepherd, the Highland drover insisted on giving something more in return. He appealed to me, and asked me what he should give, I replied “Bring me a Highland shepherd’s pup next summer.” With an expression of delight, he promised.
The next summer, the grateful drover walked into our house, and pulled out of a small side wallet a veritable Highland pup, and after saluting it with a hearty kiss, put it into my hands with a prayer that it might prove as ‘guid as its mither’ I called it Gipsy. It became to me as a sister, and lay in my arms by night, was carried on my saddle by day, or followed at my heels when sufficiently strong to go about the fields. To say that Gipsy understood my words in reference to her duty, is no exaggeration; and to record all her excellences and fidelity would lead me from my story.
Riding home one evening with Gipsy at my pony’s heels, I saw a group of boys standing by the side of a bridge, throwing stones into the brook, and shouting, as lads do when hunting water-rats. I found that the object of their sport was two kittens, which they had thrown into the water; and the attempt made to escape by the little creatures was fun to the cruel lads. I saw that the kittens must be either stoned or drowned; and, pitying the helpless things, I drove away the lads, and asked Gipsy to fetch them out of the water for me. She entered into the work as heartily as if a drop of my pity had been instilled into her nature. She laid them alive at my pony’s feet; and then rearing herself up to my stirrup, she put each kitten into my hand. I put them into my coat-pockets and rode home. A little new milk and a warm bed by the fireside soon brought back life and play. To my surprise, Gipsy, instead of retiring alone to her own bed, took the two kittens with her, and nestling down in her quiet way, allowed them to lie all night cuddled in beside her. In the course of a few days I found, to my surprise, that Gipsy was rich in milk, and the kittens sucking away as heartily as if she had been their mother!
As Gipsy had been allowed to keep but one litter of pup, and the lactiferous period had long since passed away, it being thirteen months since the weaning of her last pup, I was astonished to see how her generous nature had responded to her sympathy for the half-drowned kittens, and how nature itself had so strangely assisted in the good work. The sight of Gipsy suckling her kittens was the attraction of the village, and the talk of the farmers in the neighbourhood.
The kittens grew rapidly into good-sized cats. But alas for Gipsy! her end was tragic. In the early harvest-time of the following year, we were taking in a stack of old wheat infested with rats, and had called off three Irish labourers from their reaping to assist us. The rats were numerous; and one of the Irishmen was more enthusiastic in the sport than his fellows. Armed with his blackthorn shillelah, Paddy made havoc with the rats. Alas! one misdirected blow from his shillelah fell upon Gipsy’s head and stretched her lifeless!
There was universal mourning in all the household. I am not ashamed to say that I wept bitterly, and deplored the loss of her friendship far more than the loss of her usefulness with the flocks and the herds. Years have passed away since I buried Gipsy beneath the filac trees of the garden; friend after friend has departed this life; yet the strokes of repeated bereavements have not altogether effaced from my remembrance the pangs which I suffered by the untimely death of my faithful Highland collie.
excerpted from: Chambers’s journal, Volume 59
by William Chambers, Robert Chambers