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The Plague Dogs

Richard Adams

  Praise for


  "Adams takes us to places where no author has taken us."

  --The Washington Post

  "A compelling tale of emotional force and high suspense ... gripping all the way."

  --The Wall Street Journal

  "Adams writes brilliantly about animals.... When these dogs are on the move, they compel us to follow, trotting along the narrative path on all the legs we have."

  --Saturday Review


  --New York Daily News

  "Better and more powerful than Watership Down, it should solidly establish Adams as one of the major English novelists of our time."

  --Providence Journal

  "The genuine and moving feeling for animals that dominated Watership Down emerges here in intense dramatic form. Adams engenders such compassion, such desperate, urgent sympathy for 'the plague dogs,' that the reader yearns for a happy ending."

  --Publishers Weekly

  Also by Richard Adams










  The Plague Dogs is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  2007 Ballantine Books Trade Paperback Edition

  Copyright (c) 1977 by Richard Adams

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Ballantine Books,

  an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group,

  a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

  BALLANTINE and colophon are registered trademarks

  of Random House, Inc.

  Originally published in Great Britain by Allen Lane,

  London, in 1977.

  Subsequently published in hardcover in the United States by

  Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of The Knopf Publishing Group,

  a division of Random House, Inc., in 1978.

  Grateful acknowledgment is made to A & C Black Publishers Ltd., London,

  for permission to reprint a condensed extract from Who's Who.

  eISBN: 978-0-307-77577-1


  To Elizabeth,

  with whom I first discovered the Lake District

  QUEEN: I will try the forces

  Of these thy compounds on such creatures as

  We count not worth the hanging, but none human ...

  CORNELIUS: Your Highness

  Shall from this practice but make hard your heart.

  --Shakespeare, Cymbeline

  There is in this passage nothing that much requires a note, yet I cannot forbear to push it forward into observation. The thought would probably have been more amplified, had our author lived to be shocked with such experiments as have been published in later times, by a race of men that have practised tortures without pity, and related them without shame, and are yet suffered to erect their heads among human beings.

  --Dr. Johnson



  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page



  Maps in the text

  To My American Readers


  FIT 1: Friday the 15th October

  FIT 2: Saturday the 16th October

  FIT 3: Sunday the 17th October

  FIT 4: Wednesday the 27th October to Thursday the 28th October

  FIT 5

  FIT 6

  FIT 7: Wednesday the 10th November

  FIT 8

  FIT 9: Sunday the 21st November

  FIT 10: Thursday the 25th November


  Maps in the text

  Lawson Park to Levers Hause

  Levers Hause to Brown Haw

  Wanderings in Dunnerdale

  Across Country

  On the Helvellyn Range

  Return to Levers Hause

  Levers Hause to Ulpha

  Flight to the Sea

  To My American Readers


  n 1715, when the Scotch Jacobites rose against the newly crowned English King George I, the citizens of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, near the English-Scotch border, shut the city's gates against the southward-moving rebels, thus contributing to their defeat. The disgruntled rebels nicknamed them "Geordies" (the North Country pronunciation of "Georgie") and this became the term for any inhabitant of Tyneside, or of Northumberland and Durham generally, as well as for the dialect spoken there.

  Of all dialects spoken in the British Isles, Geordie, to a foreign visitor, is the hardest to understand. Listen to Tyneside workingmen talking among themselves and in all probability you'll understand hardly a word. This is largely because, as recently as a thousand years ago, this area of England--the Scottish border--formed part of the Danish Viking realm. Many Geordie words (e.g., hyem, meaning home) are Scandinavian, and several are entirely different from their English counterparts. (E.g., hoy = throw; clarts = mud, dirt; lum = chimney etc.) It is almost another language.

  In this book the "tod" (fox), who is a wanderer, speaks Upper Tyneside, a rural form of Geordie, in contradistinction to the farmers and other inhabitants of Dunnerdale and Coniston in the Lake District (where the story takes place), who speak North Lancashire (an easier dialect to understand). In view of the formidable problems, for Americans, of understanding Geordie, even on the printed page, the tod's speech has been a good deal simplified in this American edition. However, to alter it entirely would have been to take much of the salt out of the tod's talk and character. Several Geordie words have therefore been retained. The following is a list of those not likely to be readily comprehensible to American readers.


  Assa!: A common exclamation of emphasis, roughly equivalent to "Oh, boy!" or "I'm here to tell you!"

  By: Another common exclamation of emphasis. E.g., "By, I'll tell thee it were cold!" This is simply an oath with the oath left out, e.g., "By (God!)," much as Americans sometimes tone down "goddam" to, e.g., "golddurn."

  Canny: A much-used adjective, with many meanings. Clever, courageous (e.g., "canny lad"). Useful, welcome, helpful (e.g., "a canny drop of rain"). Careful (e.g., "Ca' canny"--take care). Numerous (e.g., "a canny few sheep"), etc.

  Clagged: Fastened.

  Fash: Trouble, upset (verb), e.g., "Dinna fash yersel' "--don't upset yourself.

  Femmer: Faint-hearted, lacking in energy, courage, or drive.

  Fyeul: Fool.

  Haddaway!: Go away! Get away! Equivalent to "Get the hell out of it!" but also used figuratively, as equivalent to "What rubbish!" E.g., "Haddaway, ye fond fyeul!"

  Hause: The neck or dip of lower-lying land between two peaks in a range; the "band" (as they sometimes call it) connecting one hilltop and the next.

  Hemmel: Shed.

  Hinny (also marrer): Geordie contains several words meaning mate or friend, and these are used constantly in colloquial speech. In conversation, a Geordie continually addresses almost anyone (not only personal friends) as "lad," "hinny," or "marrer." E.g., "Why ay, hinny" = "Yes, of course, my friend." "What fettle the day, marrer?" = "How are you today, pal?" Interestingly, one of these many "pal" terms is "butty," which crossed the Atlantic and has become the American "buddy."

  Hoo: How.

  Howway!: A gentler form of Haddaway! Haddaway! is critical, even derisive. It means "You go away!" (not me). Howway, though it can cert
ainly be used sharply, means no more than "Let's go!" (i.e., you and I). Also a jovial greeting. When President Carter landed at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in May 1977, his first words to the waiting Geordie crowd were "Howway, tha lads!" (i.e., "How are you, lads?"). Naturally, they were delighted.

  Hyem: Home.

  Lonnin (really lonning, but in Geordie ultimate g's are elided): An unmade lane leading from a farm to the nearest road. A lonnin may be anything from a few yards to half a mile long, or more.

  Lugs: Ears. (As in "Wind? By, sennuf te blaa yer lugs off!") Marrer: See Hinny, above.

  Mazer: One who amazes; a winner, a smasher. A common term of praise and commendation. E.g., "Yon Raquel Welch--by, mind, she's weel-stacked, a reet mazer!"

  Neet: Night.

  Noo: Now.

  Reet: Right.

  W' (sometimes wuh): We.

  Weel: Well.

  Whin: Gorse. A large, gold-flowering bush, growing wild and often profusely on waste land. It is covered with very sharp thorns, and a thicket of gorse is virtually impenetrable to humans and to larger animals. A fugitive fox, dog, cat, etc., may well leave traces "clagged to the whin."

  Wor: Our.

  Yaw: Ewe, a female sheep.



  he entry to the Seathwaite coppermine shaft was blocked up some years ago, though the cavern at Brown Haw is still open. Otherwise the topography of the story is, to the best of my knowledge, correct.

  The place-names are those in use by local people, and in the few cases where these differ from the names printed on maps, I have preferred local use. Thus the story speaks of "Wreynus," not "Wrynose" Pass, of "Bootterilket" rather than "Brotherilkeld" and of "Low Door" rather than "Lodore." (The poet Southey romanticized the spelling of what is, surely, a local name in plain English.) Similarly, words like lonnin and getherin are spelt phonetically, since no Lakelander would speak of a "lonning" or of "gathering sheep." The old genitive it (see, e.g., King Lear, I, IV:216-17) is commonly used throughout the Lakeland, not having been superseded by the modern its.

  In effect, nearly all the pleasant people in the book are real, while all the unpleasant people are not. For example, Dr. Boycott, Digby Driver, Ann Moss and the Under Secretary are fictitious and bear no resemblance to anyone known to me. But Dennis Williamson, Robert Lindsay, Jack and Mary Longmire, Phyllis and Vera Dawson and several other inhabitants of Seathwaite and the surrounding neighbourhood are as real as Scafell Pike, though fortunately neither Dennis nor Robert has ever had to contend in reality with the activities of Rowf, nor has Phyllis Dawson ever found him in her yard at dawn.

  The story is in one respect idealized. Things change. Jack and Mary Longmire are no longer to be found at the Newfield. Tough old Bill Routledge of Long House is dead (a loss to the valley which recalled vividly Milton's lines on Hobson, the university carrier,

  'Twas such a shifter, that if truth were known,

  Death was half glad when he had got him down).

  Gerald Gray has been gone some time now from Broughton, though the "Manor" is still there; and Roy Greenwood has moved on from the parsonage at Ulpha. John Awdry was, indeed, a brave parachutist, but long ago, in the Second World War. There never was, in fact, a time when all these people were to be found doing their thing simultaneously. I have simply included them in the story as they are best remembered.

  There is no such place in the Lake District as Animal Research (Scientific and Experimental). In reality, no single testing or experimental station would cover so wide a range of work as Animal Research. However, every "experiment" described is one which has actually been carried out on animals somewhere. In this connection I acknowledge in particular my debt to two books: Victims of Science by Richard Ryder, and Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.

  With the tod's Upper Tyneside dialect, I received invaluable help from Mr. and Mrs. Scott Dobson.

  The diagrams were drawn by Mr. A. Wainwright, already well known for his fine series of pictorial guides to the Lakeland Fells. I seriously doubt whether an author can ever have received more generous help and co-operation from an illustrator.

  Sir Peter Scott and Ronald Lockley are, of course, very real indeed. I am most grateful for their good sportsmanship in allowing themselves to appear in the story. The views attributed to them have their entire approval.

  Finally, my thanks are due to Mrs. Margaret Apps and Mrs. Janice Kneale, whose conscientious and painstaking work in typing the manuscript was of the highest standard.

  FIT 1

  Friday the 15th October


  he water in the metal tank slopped sideways and a treacly ripple ran along the edge, reached the corner and died away. Under the electric lights the broken surface was faceted as a cracked mirror, a watery harlequin's coat of tilting planes and lozenges in movement, one moment dull as stone and the next glittering like scalpels. Here and there, where during the past two hours the water had been fouled, gilded streaks of urine and floating, spawn-like bubbles of saliva rocked more turgidly, in a way suggestive--if anyone present had been receptive to such suggestion--of an illusion that this was not water, but perhaps some thicker fluid, such as those concoctions of jam and stale beer which are hung up in glass jars to drown wasps, or the dark puddles splashed through by hooves and gum-boots on the concrete floors of Lakeland cattle sheds.

  Mr. Powell, his note-pad ready in hand, leant across the flanged and overhanging edge of the tank, wiped his glasses on his sleeve and looked down the two or three feet to the contents below.

  "I think it's packing in, chief," he said. "Oh, no, wait a jiffy." He paused, drew back the cuff of his white coat to avoid another, though weak, splash and then bent over the water once more. "No, I was right first time--it is going. D'you want it out now?"

  "When it definitely sinks and stops moving," answered Dr. Boycott, without looking up from the papers on the table. Although there was in the room no draught or air movement whatever, he had placed the two graphs and the log sheet on top of one another and was using the heavy stop-watch as a paperweight to ensure that they remained where he intended them to remain. "I thought I'd made it clear the other day," he added, in a level, polite tone, "what the precise moment of removal should be."

  "But you don't want it to drown, do you?" asked Mr. Powell, a shade of anxiety creeping into his voice. "If it--"

  "No!" interjected Dr. Boycott quickly, as though to check him before he could say more. "It's nothing to do with want," he went on after a moment. "It's not intended to drown--not this time anyway; and I think probably not the next time either--depending on results, of course."

  There were further sounds of splashing from inside the tank, but faint, like metallic echoes, rather as though a ghost were trying, but failing, to come down and trouble the waters (and indeed, as far as the occupant was concerned, any sort of miracle, being unscientific, was entirely out of the question). Then a choking, bubbling sound was followed by silence, in which the rasping call of a carrion crow came clearly from the fell outside.

  Mr. Powell stood up, walked across the concrete floor and took down a shepherd's crook which was hanging on a peg. Sitting down once more on the edge of the tank, he began unthinkingly to tap with the butt of the crook the rhythm of a current popular song.

  "Er--please, Stephen," said Dr. Boycott, with a faint smile.

  "Oh, sorry."

  The large mongrel dog in the tank was continuing to struggle with its front paws, but so feebly now that its body, from neck to rump, hung almost vertically in the water. The spaniel-like ears were outspread, floating on either side of the head like wings, but the eyes were submerged and only the black, delicately lyrated nose broke the surface. As Mr. Powell watched, this too went under, rose again for an instant and then sank. The body, foreshortened by refraction as it descended, seemed to move sideways from its former floating position, finally appearing on the bottom of the tank as an almost flattened mass and disturbing round its sides, as it settled, lit
tle clouds of dirty silt. Dr. Boycott clicked the stop-watch. Mr. Powell, looking quickly back to see whether he had noticed the silt (for his chief was particular about the cleanliness of equipment), made a mental note to insist to Tyson, the caretaker and head-keeper, that the tank should be emptied and cleaned tomorrow. Then, allowing for the refraction with the skill of a certain amount of practice, he plunged in the crook, engaged the dog's collar and began to drag it to the surface. After a moment, however, he faltered, dropped the crook and stood up, wincing, while the body subsided once more to the floor of the tank.

  "Christ, it's heavy," he said. "Oh, no, chief, I don't mean it's any heavier than usual, of course, only I pulled a muscle in my wrist last night and it's been giving me a spot of gyppo. Never mind, never say die, here goes."

  "I'm sorry," said Dr. Boycott. "Let me help you. I wouldn't want you to suffer avoidably."

  Together they pulled on the crook, raised the heavy, pelt-sodden body head-first, broke the surface tension with a concerted heave and laid the inert dog on a foam-rubber mattress beside the tank. Here it resembled an enormous, drowned fly--very black, with a compressed shape something like that of a raindrop; and smaller than life, on account of a kind of collapse of the limbs and other excrescences into the central mass of the trunk. Mr. Powell began resuscitation; and after a little the dog vomited water and commenced to gasp, though its eyes remained closed.

  "Right, that'll do," said Dr. Boycott briskly. "Now the usual tests, please, Stephen--pulse, blood sample, body temperature, reflexes--the various things we've been working on--and then plot the graphs. I'll be back in about twenty minutes. I'm just going over to the Christiaan Barnard block to learn what I can about this afternoon's brain surgery work. And please don't smoke while I'm gone," he added, mildly but firmly. "You'll appreciate that that could have an effect on results."