Written by Bob Lomas
His name was Tyke but he was known as Mutt. I knew Mutt but then everyone knew Mutt. Mutt was a bitsa: bitsa this and bits of something else. He was about Fox Terrier size, his coat was rough, white in colour with brown and black patches. His bright eyes were brown above which he had thick tufty eyebrows.
All in all he was quite a handsome little dog, always friendly and interested in what people were doing although he never allowed himself to be touched or patted. Mutt would simply smile and wag his tail whilst keeping himself just beyond arm’s reach. He could skillfully side-step even the quickest of children’s advances, which was always a disappointment to them as they all loved him.
Although Mutt loved people and taking part in their activities he was quite happy to go off and find his own amusements. His excited yaps and barks could often be heard coming from the barn where he would be ratting, or from the nearby wood where he would hunt rabbits for hours on end. At times when the hunting was not good Mutt would find someone or a group of children and give his “let’s do something” bark. Mutt never minded what it was so long as it was more than simply standing about.
The time I am recalling here was the 1940s, when the farm children could play safely on the farm and take part in the work as farm children had so done for generations. Needless to say being a very lively and active little dog Mutt delighted in all human activities, especially those of the children who delighted in his company and companionship. The highlight of the year for both Mutt and the children was at threshing time, when the rats and mice would dash from the diminishing ricks into a fury of flaying sticks accompanied by a cacophony of shrieks of excitement, cries of pain as sticks accidentally found their mark on other assailants, and Mutt’s shrill yaps rose above the hum of the threshing drum and the drone of its driving engine.
For Mutt, perhaps almost as exciting as the threshing, was harvest time. It was his habit always to pay great attention to the conversations of the most important people. Mutt would sit, head on one side, taking in every word from which he could usually interpret any ensuing activity. On the day harvest was to commence Mutt would take up station at dawn, if not before, beside the reaper and binder in its shed. As the binder cut its way round the field and the still standing corn became an ever shrinking island out would dash the rabbits pursued by all the boys waving their sticks and led by a barking leaping Mutt. When the whole field was cut and those rabbits that had not escaped were hung by their rear legs along a stout stick tied to a wagon’s ladder, Mutt would lay panting beneath them wearing a very contented expression.
Another important day was the first day of the ferreting season, and as with the first day of harvest Mutt would be found waiting beside the ferret hutches. He would patiently watch the ferrets being put into their carrying boxes but as soon as this was completed he would bark: “let’s go, let’s go”, he would then lead the way, invariably to the warren or ditch that had been chosen beforehand. Should any rabbit get past a purse net Mutt would be on it in an instant. Once he had dispatched the luckless escapee he would bring it back to the ferreters and place it before them.
Mutt was never much of a sheep dog but he would always back off when told to on the occasions when he became too enthusiastic. With the cattle he was very good and would with ease pursue an unruly bullock back into the herd when they were being moved. Mutt got on well with the poultry although sometimes he would delight in teasing the cockerel, dashing in and out again until the frustrated cockerel had a comb and wattles as red as a beetroot. No fox would dare come anywhere near the poultry when Mutt was around.
Despite Mutt’s reluctance to engage in physical contact he clearly loved the children very much. At night he would sleep for a while in their bedroom until the sounds of the night outside became too difficult to resist and he would quietly slip away. At meal times the children would offer him food but he always declined to eat it, no doubt because he preferred to catch his own in the wood and he always looked well fed. What surprised me at the time was that I never saw Mutt drink, not even on the hottest of summer days.
On one hot summer day Mutt and the children had gone to the far side of the farm for a picnic and to pick blackberries. One little girl, whilst reaching out over a bank to pull down a briar with her walking stick, slipped and tumbled down the bank whereupon her ankle became trapped in some large roots. The children tried all they could to free her but her ankle was held fast and she was in considerable pain.
Mutt watched for a while before dashing off to the farm where he barked with such urgency that he persuaded two of the men to follow him back to the scene of the accident. Mutt was the hero of the day and everyone just wanted to thank him with big hugs: as ever Mutt would have none of it, but until the little girl had fully recovered and was back on her feet Mutt never left her side.
Most people who visited the farm assumed that Mutt was the farm dog but he was so only inasmuch as he had arrived and adopted the farm as his home. No one actually owned Mutt, and when asked, the village policeman said he had never seen him before, concluding that he must have been left by some travelling people passing through. It was said that for some time before Mutt came to the farm he had often been seen in the big wood. I had seen him there a few times myself always in a particular corner, but only for an instant for he would disappear into the bushes as quickly as he had appeared.
After he had taken up residence on the farm he would still return to the wood for rabbiting and also should a strange dog come to visit. On one occasion when the sister of the farmer’s wife came to stay for two weeks bringing her dog with her Mutt retreated to the wood where he stayed until the visitors had gone. We knew Mutt was in the wood because from time to time we could hear him rabbiting, but whenever the children went to look for him they could never find him.
At the end of the 1940s I joined the army and was away overseas for several years. On my return I settled and lived at the other end of the country. It was nearly thirty years before I visited the farm. By then all the children had grown up and moved away from the area and the farmer and his wife had both died. The farm had become more mechanised, a few new buildings had been put up but otherwise very little had changed. I met and introduced myself to the new farmer and asked him if I might have a look round the farm. He readily agreed and I set out to walk the ancient fields I had known so well and in which I had spent so many happy hours. It was not long before I could see in my mind’s eye our little friend Mutt in every field corner and hedge.
Eventually my walk took me to the far perimeter of the farm near the bank where the little girl had tumbled all those years ago. From there I started to make my way back by way of the wood. It hadn’t changed a great deal and I soon recognised the corner in which I had first seen Mutt. I paused and reflected on the many happy memories I had of the little dog, I never did hear what became of him.
As I made to continue on my way something white caught my eye poking up through the undergrowth. I bent down and scraped the leaves away with my hands revealing a small stone slab. With a little more rubbing some letters emerged, they read: “Tyke, my beloved friend and companion. 1871-1886”. It was just then I heard a small but very familiar bark. Perhaps it was only in my imagination, but I shall never be sure.