The Owner and I are somewhere new, and when we arrive it is very dark.
Come on, Hergest, she says, time for a walk.
I follow her into the night, across a meadow heady with fox, past bushes redolent with squirrel, to the side of a huge and gloriously scented pond. On it, sleeping superciliously in the darkness, float a huge flotilla of regular ducks guarded by two giant ones with long twisty necks.
It is an Armada of Superciliousness.
Don’t get wet, the Owner says. It’s probably full of….
The Ancestral Dog awakes. With a surge of Primeval Instinct I leap for the nearest duck, a particularly supercilious specimen. As I leap the ducks scatter in satisfying alarm and I hear the Owner finish her sentence …eels.
And I fall through the lake. There is no bottom. The water closes around me. It is warm and wet and pondy. Danger leaps from the depths and thrills me with its terrible grip. The jaws of the chasm are upon me. From far below I sense the massing of carnivorous eels as I descend through the void in a horribly unducklike manner. I think is this, then, how it ends for Superdog? Sucked into the warm embrace of the primeval swamp? I imagine Caspar giving the eulogy as the owner weeps in the front pew. Nothing daunted him, he will say, as he leapt unfrightened into the very heart of darkness, no threat was too threatening, no fear could not be overcome, but the eels were too many. They were just too many.
And then, dimly as I thrash, wanting to make sure that I take as many of them as possible with me, I am aware of the Owner in the water, at my side. ‘Swim, you fool, swim!’ She shouts like Gandalf in the mines of Moria and I feel her grasp me by the collar.
O brave and noble Human. O challenger of eels and braver of depths. She has risked everything to save me. But now she is in there with me, clad in nothing but her wellingtons and a few other things, and I cannot construct my gloriously heroic epitaph, I must save her. If I do not battle the eels and swim for the shore she may face the same fate. The Moral Dog would not sacrifice his Owner to eels, no matter how excellent Caspar’s eulogy. I must swim for both of us.
I strike out, my legs flailing, my heart strong. I pull her with me. I sense that she is weakening but I surge with all my strength towards the bank. I have the type of Owner that would throw herself at the mercy of eels to save me, I must go beyond my utmost and delve into the very soul of Superdog. I remember Frodo telling Sam, as Mount Doom erupted around them, that he was glad Sam was with him there, at the end of all things. I feel the same. If this is it then I could not be eaten by eels in better company.
I force down the fatalistic feelings. Superdog is made of sterner stuff. I cannot let the Owner be eaten by eels. There may come a day, but it is not this day, as Aragorn would say. Some things are worth fighting for, whatever the odds. I renew my efforts, paddling with an instinct I did not know I possessed. I am dragging the Owner forwards now. The eels fall back into the slimy darkness, thrashing in eely frustration. The waters of the pond foam and froth as the bank comes nearer.
At last we scramble, exhausted and half drowned, onto the bank, she in her wellingtons, me coated with pondweed and smelling, I am slightly pleased to notice, like a drain. So at least, I think, some good came of it, even though the Superciliousness of the ducks follows us through the pondweed and into the mud and the eels are regrouping and preparing for a new surge. The next dog may not be so lucky! I fall onto the bank and gasp in relief. I have saved us both! As the Owner checks her Wellingtons for signs of eel damage I await gratitude.
Honestly, Hergest, she says, what are you?
It is only then that I look at the Owner properly. To be clear, I don’t just look. I stare in disbelief.
She is completely dry.
As I watch she removes one wellington boot with the expression of one who has just made it across the plains of Mordor by the skin of their teeth. Oh dear, she says. I got water in one of my wellingtons.
Water in one of her wellingtons? Just one? Is the Moral Dog not even worth two wellingtons’ worth of rescue? Was the Moral Dog’s eulogy all for nothing? Caspar could have been up for hours learning the words.
As I drip in silent accusation she says, come on Hergest, don’t look like that. I told you you could swim.
Swim? Swimming is irrelevant, I say. I was nearly eaten by eels.
Yes, well, she says, they’re not very big eels, and now you pong like a dinosaur’s armpit. I think we’d better take you in the shower.
There is no sense of gratitude for what I did. None at all.
Hergest the Hound
I am a dog of many thoughts.