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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE DYNAMITE DOG

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As published in The Pall Mall Magazine, July 1910

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-06-20
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Illustration

Pall Mall Magazine, July 1910, with "The Dynamite Dog"




Illustration

Cyril Comyns, the managing director of the White Wizard
mine, chose to inspect the timbered stopes and workings.


I.

"EF you don't pick it up this time, Billy, I'll put your face in a plaster. Now then—one, two, three!"

Ben Harkiss, lying flat on his chest at the tunnel entrance, indicated the burning cartridge fuse near his elbow. At the word three, a white-faced bull-dog slunk into view, and, with a sullen glance at Harkiss, nipped the cartridge from the ground and ran with it into the open.

Harkiss turned on his elbow to follow the dog's movements as it dropped the smouldering fuse into the water-hole at the foot of the sluice-race.

"Ye'r improvin', Billy," he called out encouragingly, "considerin' ye've got a lump of mud where yer brains oughter be!"

Billy retired sulkily to a far corner where the cliff shadow flung its narrow length across the sunlit cutting. From above came the low thunder of stamps mingling with the cries of the shift-bosses, as the trollies deposited loads of slate-coloured ore at the battery house. Gold was being won from the open face of the hill, where the reefs bulged like sinews in the hip of a giant.

Harkiss generally worked in No. 2 cutting with his mate, Dave Nolan, where blasting operations were conducted in a light and airy spirit during their eight-hour shift.

It was conceded by the shift-bosses at the White Wizard mine that Ben Harkiss had reduced the art of loafing to a science. Yet the sharpest tunnel overseers had never caught Ben in the act of wasting the Company's time. No one objected to him training Billy to fetch and carry plugs of dynamite, but to a man they resented his occasional attacks on his canine pupil.

Billy had come to the White Wizard mine by way of an Alaskan timber schooner, and it was apparent that the long voyage south had filled him with a loathing for the sea. The smell of earth and the sound of human voices had drawn him instinctively to the big camp fires in the ranges.

Ben Harkiss had found him lying under the flap of his tent, hungry and forlorn; and Harkiss, ever on the alert for a useful dog, sealed his ownership with a pan of hot Irish stew.

Thereafter the bull-dog was regarded by everyone, save the local police, as Ben's exclusive property. Nothing could induce the Territorian constabulary to return Billy's amiable grin. For it is written in the history of all mining camps that the presence of a bull-dog will lead inevitably to organised scrimmages and ring-fighting.

Each member of the Territorian police considered it his duty to treat Billy as a probable disturber of the peace whenever he was met. Stirrup irons were used on his plug-shaped body until the township cried against such barbarous persecutions. Billy often returned from a ramble through the gullies, his ribs gashed and bloody, after a brief meeting with one of his uniformed enemies.

Harkiss generally dressed the wounds inflicted by the irate troopers, and Billy recovered only to meet, in his new master, an unflagging tyranny that threatened to rouse the irreconcilable devil which lurks in the heart of every bull-dog.

From dawn till dusk Harkiss laboured to impose some new task upon the much harassed Billy. For apparently no sane reason Harkiss demanded that burning fuse ends should be lifted from the ground and deposited in the adjacent water-hole. During the hot midday hours Billy was kicked from cool resting-places to fetch and carry cartridges with poisonous smelling wicks attached. To refuse meant a brutal hammering with a pick handle or spade, while a clever "fetch" rarely elicited anything beyond a grunt of satisfaction from Harkiss.

A man dressed in blue dungaree peeped into the cutting and regarded Ben Harkiss and the dog critically. "If the boss catches Billy chawin' the Company's ammunition, Harkiss, you'll get fined," he predicted amiably.

Harkiss merely laughed. "My idea is to make him a good camp dog, Nolan. I'll teach him to fetch my boots and keep those derned goats from eatin' my Sunday shirts."

"But you're trainin' him to carry dynamite cartridges!" Nolan protested. "The pore little beggar!"

Harkiss rose from his recumbent attitude into a kneeling position, and drew a short black pipe from his belt. "I've worked in this mine for three years, Dave Nolan, an' never saved a dollar," he said eloomilv.

"You can't deposit a whisky butt in the savings-bank," Nolan responded mysteriously. "Not in this yere country, Ben."

The slight reference to the whisky butt appeared to depress Harkiss. He smoked for several minutes before resuming. "I'm teachin' Billy to save life," he said at last. "And there's no need to call me a whisky butt because I take a yellow drink or two on Sunday, Nolan. Anyhow, the dog's bein' taught to save human life."

Nolan affected an air of mild surprise. "I didn't think Billy would rescue a biled turnip," he declared. "I hope when my time comes he won't interfere with the course of events. It would be 'orrible to have your last moments desercrated by a bull-dog's face," he added fervently.

Harkiss smoked as one whose thoughts raised him above the petty gibes of an ill-tempered partner. "I'm goin' to raise Billy to the level of a hero," he said, after a pause; "and if I can make him a public figger in this town it stands to reason he'll fetch a good price when the right kind of buyer comes along, eh, Nolan?"

Nolan's scoffing attitude underwent a startling change. He glanced swiftly at the kneeling figure at the tunnel entrance, and whistled softly. "You mean that you're goin' to fix up a kind of hamateur theatricals to give Billy's cartridge-trick a show? You're goin' to let Billy save your life some day—is that the game, Ben?"

Harkiss laughed triumphantly. "What would people say if I got caught in the tunnel while fire was on, and the dog raced in just in the nick of time and saved my life?" he demanded.

"They'd go round with the hat and buy him a gold collar," Nolan admitted dismally.

"I don't say Billy will get a gold collar," Harkiss ventured deprecalingly, "but I've done my best to make Billy fetch a live dynamite cartridge out of a tunnel if he's asked. I'm prayin' for a chance now to show my little one-act drama to the bosses."


Illustration

"I've done my best to make Billy fetch a
live dynamite cartridge out of a tunnel."


II.

IT was on Wednesday afternoon that Cyril Comyns, the managing director of the White Wizard mine, chose to inspect the timbered stopes and workings. The midday shift had gathered about the battery adjoining the main shaft, where the trucks rattle by with their loads of powder-shattered stone from the workings under the cliff.

The acrid fumes of dynamite drifted up from the cutting in the cliff side, where Ben Harkiss and his partner Nolan were engaged in blasting the solid wall of rock at the tunnel-end. The brace-men and shift-bosses grew smart and attentive when the shadow of Cyril Comyns slanted into view.

Passing down the steep slope he halted suddenly at sound of a man's voice in the tunnel below. Nolan, with sweat streaming from his throat and brow, dashed into view.

"Help!" he roared. "Harkiss has got nipped in the cross-cut!"

To be nipped in a cutting while "fire was on" meant that Harkiss had been prevented by some unknown obstacle from leaving the tunnel after a blasting charge had been ignited.

Twenty yards farther down the slope revealed to the mining director a somewhat thrilling situation. Ben Harkiss was lying forward on his chest, his right arm pinned to the floor of the tunnel by a huge block of quartz. Farther along, at the mouth of a cross-cut, a cartridge-fuse burned dully, emitting a smoky, orange-hued flame, which ate slowly towards the heavy blasting charge at the end.


Illustration

Ben Harkiss was lying forward on his chest, his right arm
pinned to the floor of the tunnel by a huge block of quartz.


It was evident to the director that Harkiss had been caught by the displaced quartz boulder at the moment he was about to leave the tunnel after firing the charge. Harkiss strove frantically to shake the huge mass of stone from his arm while the muscles of his throat and chest seemed to loop and quiver at each effort.

"Quick ... My God, I'm trapped!" he groaned. "Get a bar and ease off this accursed block!"

There was no doubt in Nolan's mind concerning the genuineness of the situation. He peeped over the director's shoulder into the tunnel, and his experienced eye noted that the fuse had burned from a smoky orange to a crimson flame. With a yell of fear he fled into the open, calling frantically upon the director to follow.

Cyril Comyns was not easily scared. Retreating a few paces, he thundered an order to the petrified gang of men.

"In with you, my lads—the bravest first! Don't let a comrade perish. That fuse may burn for five minutes."

At that moment a white-faced bull-dog peeped warily into the tunnel, glanced at the burning fuse, and then at Harkiss struggling to free his arm from the fallen mass of stone. With a hoarse sniff it retired leisurely to a safe distance, to watch further proceedings.

A couple of bare-throated miners dashed into the tunnel, hurling themselves at the boulder and moving it sufficiently to allow the terrified Harkiss to gain his feet. With a backward glance at the spluttering fuse he dashed into the open, beckoning his rescuers to follow.

It was noted, as they emerged to a position of safety, that the bull-dog rose from his coign of vantage, entered the tunnel at a bound and picked up the burning cartridge.

A mad stampede followed the dog's unexpected act. Ben Harkiss called after them lustily.

"It's all right, boys! He'll only take it to the waterhole."

Billy swung into the open, and the fuse flared redly in the sudden rush of air. Ignoring the half-bellowed threats of the flying mob, he ran in a straight line for his master.

For a period of six heart-beats Ben Harkiss watched the dog's coming, his eyes dilating in terror and surprise. Then, with a shout of fear, he started at a mad pace in the direction of the creek. The country was strewn with fragments of quartz and ironstone, but Harkiss seemed to leap over each jagged obstacle with the ease of an Irish hurdle-racer.

Illustration

Harkiss seemed to leap over each jagged obstacle with the ease of an Irish hurdle-racer.


Billy gained rapidly, while the wind-fed fuse, trailing from the cartridge in his mouth, sparked and fizzed as he ran. The crowd gathered on a hill crest to watch the life-and-death race between man and dog.

Foot by foot Billy drew nearer the fear-maddened Harkiss until a wooded bend in the track shut them from view. Amidst the breathing silence of two hundred miners, someone with a field glass announced that Harkiss had hurled himself into the water, and that Billy had started off again in another direction.

Billy verified the statement by bounding suddenly into view, his face towards the white-walled police depot that stood in full view of the mine. Two hundred throats yelled a warning to the district sergeant seated within. And not a moment too soon.

Billy entered the open door, the fuse glowing wickedly from his mouth, and deposited it swiftly on the mat outside the sergeant's office. He was gone in a flash.

A glance at the smoking cartridge cap almost froze the blood in the old sergeant's veins. With an oath he scrambled through the open window, and ran with lunatic strides to the shelter of a near gully.

A livid shaft of flame split the white-walled police depot, followed by a thunderous shock that scattered roof and out-buildings into a thousand fragments.


III.

AN hour before nightfall the sergeant, accompanied by a trooper of the Territorian police, rode up to the White Wizard mine, and dismounted near the tunnel entrance. Two hundred men peeped from the battery house and mine head, their toil-hardened features illumined by grim flashes of humour.

Both officers unslung their carbines, and took up a position near the tunnel mouth. The sergeant spoke to the small group of miners standing in the uncertain flare of the slush-lamp.

"I'll trouble ye to surrender a dynamite pup named Billy," he said briefly. "He was seen in here awhile ago."

No answer from the wet darkness of the tunnel—only a smothered breathing that was like stifled laughter. The sergeant swore impatiently.

"You'll pass out the dog without further parley, my lads. A Government building has been blown to atoms, and myself made ridiculous by that vicious animal you're sheltering."

Billy lay on the hard rock floor like a rebel awaiting the order of execution. The shift-boss stooped and raised the dog in his arms. Only once did Billy meet his glance, and the man paused.

"If yer hand Billy to them troopers, Mr. Scanlan, ye'll get a dynamite plug under yer breakfast-plate for sure. Didn't they wallop him with stirrup-irons because he 'ad an 'ealthy dislike for their uniforms? Now they're squealin' because he's blown up their bricks an' mortar."

Scanlan thrust Billy into the deep shadow of the tunnel.

A second voice whispered from the dripping darkness. "There's a passage at the north shaft what leads to the water. Get the dog aboard that old timber-schooner at the pier-head. A sea voyage will improve his health. Savvy?"

While the troopers stormed and threatened at the tunnel mouth, a pair of friendly arms bore Billy down an underground passage, through sludge and mire, to where the sea air blew in from an open shaft.

Six hours later, when a low-hulled timber-schooner put out to sea, a small bull-dog was observed sleeping comfortably near the galley door.

The troopers at White Wizard are still searching for Billy. They arc convinced that the dog is an anarchist of the most desperate type.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.