The Loaded Dog – Intermediate Level
Dave Regan, Jim Bently, and Andy Page were digging a mine at Stony Creek in search of a rich layer of gold gold which was supposed to exist somewhere under the ground. In the gold fields, there is always a fortune in gold supposed to exist nearby. The only questions are whether it is ten feet or hundreds of feet under the surface, and in which direction.
They had struck some pretty solid rock, also water which they had to empty out with buckets.
They used the old-fashioned blasting powder and a length of fuse. First, they’d put the blasting powder in a long thin bag made of strong cloth, and put one end of the fuse in the powder with the other end coming out the top of the bag. After that, they’d sew the opening shut and tie the end tightly around the the fuse. Next, they’d put the bag in melted cooking fat to stop water getting in. Then they’d drop the bag with some dry dust into a small hole they had made at the bottom of the mine and pack it in tightly with thick mud using a broken stick. Finally, they’d light the fuse and quickly get out of the hole. The result was usually a small, ugly hole in the bottom of the mine and a few buckets of broken rock.
There were a lot of fish in the creek. The party liked fish, and Andy and Dave enjoyed fishing. Andy would fish for three hours at a stretch if encouraged by a ‘bite’ now and then – say once in twenty minutes. The shop-keeper was always willing to give meat in exchange for fish when they caught more than they could eat. But now it was winter, and the fish wouldn’t bite.
However, the creek was low. It was just a series of muddy water-holes, from holes with a few buckets of water in them to sizable pools with an average depth of six or seven feet. They could get fish by emptying the smaller holes with buckets or muddying up the water in the larger ones till the fish rose to the surface.
The problem was the cat-fish. They had sharp, needle-like points growing out of the sides of their head and if you got pricked you’d know it, as Dave said. Andy took off his boots, rolled up his trousers, and went into a hole one day to make the water muddy with his feet. And he knew it. Dave tried to get one out with his hand and got pricked, and he knew it too. His whole arm grew larger than normal, and he felt the pain all the way up into his shoulder, and down into his stomach too. He said that it was like a sore tooth he had once which hurt so much that he couldn’t sleep for two nights.
Dave got an idea. ‘Why not blow the fish up in the big water hole with a bomb?’ he said. ‘I’ll try it.’
Dave thought the thing out and Andy worked it out. Andy usually put Dave’s ideas into practice if they were workable. And Andy was the one that his mates laughed at and said he must have done something wrong if they weren’t.
He made a bomb about three times the size of those they used in the rock. Jim said it was big enough to blow the bottom out of the creek. The inner bag was of strong cloth. Andy stuck the end of a six-foot piece of fuse well down in the powder and tied the mouth of the bag tightly around it with a long thin piece of leather. The idea was to sink the bomb in the water with the open end of the fuse attached to a float on the surface, ready for lighting. Andy put the bomb in melted cooking fat to stop the water getting in. ‘We’ll have to leave it some time before we light it,’ said Dave, ‘to give the fish time to get over their scare when we put it in, and come nosing round again. So we’ll need to make extra sure the water can’t get in.’
Round the bomb Andy, at Dave’s suggestion, tied a piece of heavy sail cloth – the type they used for making water-bags. This was to increase the force of the explosion. Around that he stuck a number of pieces of thick brown paper. This was following the plan of those fireworks designed to explode with a big noise rather than give off pretty lights. He let the paper dry in the sun, then he sewed a covering of two more thicknesses of sail cloth over it, and tied the thing from end to end with strong fishing-line. Dave’s schemes were usually carefully planned with many steps and details, but often all his work ended up with nothing.
The bomb was strong and solid enough now – and very powerful; but Andy and Dave wanted to be sure. Andy wrapped another piece of sail cloth around the outside and put it in some more melted cooking fat. Then after further thought he tied a length of thick wire round it and put it in cooking fat again. He stood it carefully against the side of the tent, where he’d know where to find it, and wrapped the fuse loosely round it. Then he went to the camp-fire to check on some potatoes which were boiling in their jackets in a pot, and to see about cooking some sausages to go with them for dinner. Dave and Jim were at work in the mine that morning.
They had a big black young retriever dog – or rather an over-sized pup, a big, foolish, four-footed mate. He was always slobbering round them and beating their legs with his heavy tail. Most of his head was usually a red, stupid looking, slobbering smile of understanding of his own silliness. He seemed to take life, the world, his two-legged mates, and his own natural ways as a huge joke.
He’d bring back anything, including most of the camp rubbish that Andy threw away. They had a cat that died in hot weather, and Andy threw it a good distance away. Early one morning the dog found the cat after it had been dead a week or so. He carried it back to camp and laid it just inside the tent. It made itself known as the mates woke up and began to smell something that didn’t seem right in the still, sickly air of the early summer morning.
He used to try to bring them back them when they went in swimming. He’d jump in after them, take their hands in his mouth, and try to swim out with them, scratching their skin with his legs. They loved him for his good heart and his foolishness, but when they wished to enjoy a swim they had to tie him up in camp.
He watched Andy with great interest all the morning making the bomb, and got in the way a lot, trying to help. But about mid-day he went off to the mine to see how Dave and Jim were getting on, and to come home to dinner with them. Andy saw them coming, and put a frying pan full of sausages on the fire. Andy was cook today. Dave and Jim stood with their backs to the fire, as people in the bush do in all weathers, waiting till dinner should be ready. The retriever went nosing round after something he seemed to have missed.
Andy’s brain still worked on the bomb. His eye was caught by sunlight shining off a large, empty tin lying in the bushes. It struck him that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to sink the bomb in a tin packed with sand or stones, to increase the force of the explosion. He may have been all out, from a scientific point of view, but the idea looked all right to him. Jim, by the way, wasn’t interested in their ‘damned silliness’.
Then Andy noticed another empty tin. It was the sort with the little metal neck on top to make it easier to pour out what was inside. He thought that this would have made a better bomb case. He would only have had to pour in the powder, stick the fuse in through the neck, put on the lid and seal the end.
He was turning to suggest this to Dave, when Dave looked over his shoulder to see how the sausages were cooking – and ran. He explained afterwards that he thought he heard the pan sizzling more loudly than usual, and looked to see if the sausages were burning. Jim looked behind and ran after Dave. Andy, who couldn’t understand what was happening, stood still and watched them run away.
‘Run, Andy! run!’ they shouted back at him. ‘Run!!! Look behind you, you fool!’ Andy turned slowly and looked. And there, close behind him, was the retriever with the bomb held tightly in his mouth – showing his broadest and silliest smile. And that wasn’t all. The dog had come round the fire to Andy. He was pulling the loose end of the fuse behind him and it had gone over the burning sticks. Andy had prepared the firing end of the fuse well, and now it was burning well with a loud hissing sound.
Andy’s legs started suddenly; his legs started before his brain did, and he made after Dave and Jim. And the dog followed Andy.
Dave and Jim were good runners – Jim the best – for a short distance. Andy was slow and heavy, but he had the strength and the wind and could last. The dog jumped and ran playfully round him, happy as a dog could be to find his mates, as he thought, in a game. Dave and Jim kept shouting back, ‘Don’t follow us! don’t follow us, you stupid fool!’. But Andy kept on, no matter which way they ran.
They could never explain, any more than the dog, why they followed each other, but so they ran. Dave after Jim as he turned this way and that. Andy after Dave. The dog circling round Andy, with the live fuse hissing and flying about in all directions. Jim shouting to Dave not to follow him, Dave shouting to Andy to go in another direction – to ‘spread out’, and Andy shouting at the dog at the top of his voice to go home.
Then Andy’s brain began to work, energized by the emergency. He tried to get a running kick at the dog, but the dog jumped out of reach. He picked up sticks and stones and threw them at the dog and ran on again. The retriever saw that he’d made a mistake about Andy, and left him and ran after Dave.
Dave, who was thinking clearly, knew that the fuse’s time wasn’t up yet. He made a dive for the dog, caught him by the tail, and as he turned around pulled the bomb out of his mouth and threw it as far as he could.
The dog immediately ran after it and brought it back. Dave shouted angrily at the dog, who seeing that Dave was not pleased, left him and went after Jim, who was well ahead. Jim saw a young tree and climbed it like a native bear. But the tree wasn’t very tall and he couldn’t safely get more than ten or twelve feet from the ground. The dog laid the bomb, as carefully as if it was a baby, at the foot of the tree, and danced and jumped and barked joyously around under Jim. The big pup reckoned that this was part of the fun – he was all right now – it was Jim who was out for some fun.
The fuse sounded as if it were going a mile a minute. Jim tried to climb higher and the tree bent and broke. Jim fell on his feet and ran. In a single movement the dog picked up the bomb and followed. It all took but a very few moments. Jim ran to a miner’s hole, about ten feet deep, and dropped down into it – landing on soft mud – and was safe.
The dog smiled down on him over the edge for a moment. It was if he was thinking how foolish Jim looked, and that it would be a good joke to drop the bomb down on him.
‘Go away, Tommy,’ said Jim weakly, ‘go away.’
The dog then ran off after Dave, who was the only one in sight.
Andy had dropped behind a log, where he lay flat on his face. He’d suddenly remembered a picture he had seen of the Russian-Turkish war. It showed a circle of soldiers lying flat on their faces (as if they were hiding from someone) around a recently fallen bomb.
There was a small hotel on the main road, not far from their mine. Dave was desperate, the time flew much faster in his over-excited imagination than it did in reality, so he made for the hotel. There were several other men who had stopped by and were sitting on the verandah and in the bar. Dave ran inside, banging the door closed behind him. ‘My dog!’ he cried, in reply to the surprised look of the hotel owner, ‘the bloody retriever – he’s got a live bomb in his mouth!’
The retriever, finding the front door shut against him, had gone around and come in by the back way. He now stood smiling at the open door at the other end of the room, the bomb still in his mouth and the fuse burning away. They came running out of that bar in all directions. Tommy ran first after one and then after another, for, being a young dog, he tried to make friends with everybody.
The men ran round corners, and some shut themselves in the stable. There was a new kitchen and wash house in the back yard, with some women washing clothes inside. Dave and the hotel owner ran inside and shut the door. As they did, the hotel owner started calling Dave all sorts of terrible names, in hurried words, and wanted to know what the hell he came there for.
The kitchen was built above the ground on wooden posts. The retriever went in under the kitchen, amongst the posts. However, luckily for those inside, there was an evil yellow mongrel cattle-dog hiding and nursing his meanness under there. A sneaking, fighting, thieving dog, whom neighbours had tried for years to shoot or poison. Tommy saw his danger – he’d had experience from this dog – and ran out across the yard, still holding on to the bomb. Half-way across the yard the yellow dog caught him and bit him. Tommy dropped the bomb, gave one frightened cry, and took to the bush. The yellow dog followed him to the fence and then ran back to see what he had dropped.
Other dogs soon appeared from around all the corners and under the buildings. There were some long legged, murderous hunting dogs. There were mongrel sheep-dogs and cattle-dogs, and evil black and yellow dogs that chase after you in the dark, bite your heels, and run away without explaining. And there were the noisy small ones that seem to bark all day long. They kept at a respectful distance round the mean yellow dog. It was dangerous to go near him when he thought he had found something which might be good for a dog to eat. He sniffed at the bomb twice, and was carefully taking a third sniff when…
It was very good blasting powder – a new kind that Dave had recently got up from Sydney. And the bomb had been excellently well made. Andy was very patient and careful in all he did, and nearly as skilled as the average sailor with needles, sail cloth, and rope.
Those who were there say that that kitchen jumped off its posts and on again. When the smoke and dust cleared away, the remains of the mean yellow dog were lying against the wooden fence of the yard. They looked as if he had been kicked into a fire by a horse and afterwards rolled in the dust, and finally thrown against the fence from a distance. Several horses, which had been tied to a rail outside the verandah, were running wildly down the road in clouds of dust, with broken reins flying. And from a circle around the pub, from every direction in the bush, came the cries of scared and injured dogs.
Two of them went home, to the place where they were born, thirty miles away, and reached it the same night and stayed there. It was not till towards evening that the rest carefully came back to find out what had happened. Most of ’em looked damaged in some way by the bomb. One was trying to walk on two legs. There was a little, lightly burnt, short-tailed dog, who had been in the habit of hopping the back half of him along on one leg. He had reason to be glad that he’d saved up the other leg all those years, for he needed it now. There was one old one-eyed cattle-dog round that hotel for years afterwards, who couldn’t stand the smell of a gun being cleaned. It was he who had taken an interest, only second to that of the yellow dog, in the bomb. People thought that it was fun to come up on his blind side and stick a dirty gun cleaning cloth under his nose. He wouldn’t wait to bring his only eye to bear – he’d take to the bush and stay out all night.
For half an hour or so after the explosion there were several men round behind the stable who sat, doubled up, against the wall, or rolled gently on the dust, laughing so much that they had tears in their eyes. There were two white women crying uncontrollably in the house, and the cook was running aimlessly around with a bucket of cold water. The hotel owner was holding his wife tight and asking her between her screams, to ‘hold up for my benefit, Mary, or I’ll beat the life out of you.’
Dave decided to say sorry to everyone later on, ‘when things had settled a bit,’ and went back to camp. And the dog that had done it all, ‘Tommy’, the great, stupid mongrel retriever, came slobbering round Dave and beating his legs with his tail. It then happily walked home after him, smiling his broadest, longest, and reddest smile, and apparently satisfied for one afternoon with the fun he’d had.
Andy chained the dog up securely and cooked some more sausages, while Dave went to help Jim out of the hole.
And most of this is why, for years afterwards, men riding past Dave’s camp would stop and cry, in long, calm, slowly spoken words…
‘Hello… Dave! How’s the fishing getting on… Dave?’