This section is from the book "Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain", by Alfred W. Rees. Also available from Amazon: Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain.
Not many years ago the pleasures of life among my neighbours here in the country were simpler and truer than they are to-day. Perhaps in that bygone time money was more easily made, or daily need was met with smaller expenditure. It may be, too, that family cares were then less pressing, or that a prolonged period of general prosperity had been the privilege of rich and poor alike in this green river-valley around my home. In those days, to which I often look back with regretful yearning, everybody seemed to have leisure; the ties of friendship were not severed by malicious gossip; old and young seemed to realise how good it was to have pleasant acquaintanceships and to be in the sunshine and the open air. Fathers played with their children in the street: one winter morning, when, after a heavy fall of snow and a subsequent frost, the ground was as slippery as glass, I watched a white-haired shopkeeper, lying prone on a home-made toboggan, with his feet sprawling behind for rudder, steer a load of merry youngsters full tilt down a steep lane behind his house. The sight was so exhilarating that I also forgot I was not a child; and on the second journey I joined the sportive party, and came to grief because the shopkeeper kicked too quickly at a turn in the course and sent me with a double somersault into the ditch.
It happened in those days that in the miscellaneous pack of mongrels our village sportsmen gathered together when they went rabbit-shooting among the dense coverts of the hillsides were two exceptionally clever dogs—a big, shaggy, bobtail kind of animal, and a little, smooth-coated beast resembling a black-and-tan terrier.
The big dog, Joker, lived at a farm in the village, and, during the leisure of summer, when rabbiting did not engage his attention, took to wandering by the river, joining the bathers in their sport and poking his nose inquisitively under the alder-roots along the bank. While, one sultry noon, the fun in the bathing pool was at its height, Joker routed an otter from a hiding place near which the bathers were swimming with the current, and a terrific fight took place in the shallows before the dwrgu made good his escape. The dog was found to have been severely worsted in the fray, and was taken home to be nursed till his wounds were healed. Meanwhile, Joker's fame as an otter-hound was firmly established in the village, and he was regarded as a hero.
The little dog, Bob, lived at the inn, and for years his droll ways endeared him to every villager, as well as to every angler who came to " the house " for salmon-fishing. He loved nothing better than a friendship with some unsuspecting fisherman whom he might afterwards use to further his own ends. The sight of a rod placed by the door in the early morning was sufficient promise of a day's continuous enjoyment; the terrier assumed possession of the rod at once, and kept all other curs at a distance. On the appearance of the sportsman, he manifested such unmistakable delight, and pleaded so hard for permission to follow, that, unless the sportsman happened to be one whose experiences led him to dislike the presence of a fussy dog by the riverside, the flattery rarely failed of its object. Once past the rustic swing-bridge at the lower boundary of the waters belonging to the inn, Bob left the sportsman to his own devices, and stole off into the woods to hunt rabbits. Unfailingly, however, he rejoined his friend at lunch.
On Sundays, knowing that the report of a gun was not likely then to resound among the woods, and depressed by the quietness and disappointed by the nervous manner with which everybody well dressed for church resented his familiarities, he lingered about the street corners—as the unemployed usually do, even in our village —till the delicious smells of Sunday dinners pervaded the street. The savoury odours in no way sharpened his appetite, for at the inn his fare was always of the best; but they indicated that the time was approaching when the watchmaker and the lawyer set out together for their long weekly ramble through the woods. Bob knew what such a ramble meant for him. The watchmaker's dog, Tip, was Bob's respected sire, and Tip's brother, Charlie, dwelt at a house in " The Square." Bob, scenting the Sunday dinners, went at once to call for Charlie, and in his company adjourned to the lane behind the village gardens, till the watchmaker and the lawyer, with Tip, were ready for their customary walk.
When the water was low and anglers seldom visited the inn, Bob, during the summer week-days, followed Joker's course of action, and attached himself to a bathing party frequenting a pool below the ruined garden on the outskirts of the village. There, like Joker, he searched beneath the alder-roots, but without success as far as an otter was concerned. However, he vastly enjoyed himself digging out the brown rats from their holes along the bank not far from a rickyard belonging to the inn, and then hunting them about the pool with as much noise and bustle as if he were close at the tail of a rabbit in the furze. He was so fond of the water that he became a rapid, untiring swimmer; and the boys trained him, in intervals of rat-hunting, to dive to the bottom of the river and pick up a white pebble thrown from the bank. Like Joker, also, he gained a name for pluck and ability; and one night the village sportsmen, at an informal meeting in the "private room" of the inn, decided to hunt in the river on Wednesday evenings, with Bob and Joker at the head of a pack including nearly every game-dog in the near neighbourhood, except certain aristocratic pointers and setters likely to be spoiled by companionship with yelping and excited curs.
A merrier hunting party was never in the world. They would foregather in the meadow below the ruined garden: the landlord, whose home-brewed ale was the best and strongest on the countryside; the curate, whose stern admonitions were the terror of evil-doers; the farmer, whose skill in ferreting was greater than in ploughing; the watchmaker, whose clocks filled the village street with music when, simultaneously, they struck the hour; the draper, whose white pigeons cooed and fluttered on the bridge near his shop; the solicitor, whose law was for a time thrown to the winds; and a small crowd of boys ready to assist, if required, in "chaining" the fords. There they would "cry" the dogs across the stream till the valley echoed and re-echoed with shouts and laughter.