Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Smoke Across The Highlands (1964)

Give A Dog A Bad Name (published in the US as Smoke Across The Highlands)
Nigel Tranter (il. Cliff Schule (cover of US version)
1963, Collins (1964, The Platt & Munck Co.)

A collie dog was sitting on its haunches two or three yards away from them, head on one side, red tongue hanging out, brown eyes crinkled in the most friendly and normal fashion imaginable. It might have been sitting there watching them all afternoon.

Twin brothers Don and Ian MacDonald are vacationing in the Scottish Highlands with their parents, staying at a hill farm amidst the Cairngorm Mountains with their parents.  They’re hiking and looking for birds when they see a strange shape.  Stalking it to a cave, they discover a dog, a Border Collie.

It was a typical black-and-white sheep collie of the Scottish hill farm, with much more black to it than white, shaggy and somewhat unkempt looking…

They’re baffled why the sheepdog is alone up in the hills, away from any farm or flock, and why she seems wary of them.  Friendly and companionable, she nevertheless keeps a specific distance from the brothers. Finally, the boys head home and the collie vanishes.

The dog appears again a few days later, rescuing the boys when they’re trapped on a dangerous mountainside by heavy fog.  They start to call her Lady, and discover her history – her former owner was an old man who was lost in a blizzard the previous winter. When rescuers found his body, Lady (then named Liath) was lying alongside his body to protect him. Ian, who seems the more sensitive brother, is deeply upset at this but a good rousing mocking from his physician father soon puts him right. 

Dr. MacDonald further distinguishes himself the next day, when he’s hiking with the boys and stones Lady.  He has an excuse – if a strange one. The dog, under attack by a giant eagle, had come so close to the family that he was afraid the aggressive bird would be drawn to attack them.  Still, Ian is clearly unimpressed by his father’s logic.  Someday, Ian will write an angry book about his father.

The eagle at about two hundred feet folded its great wings close to its sides and dropped like a bomb. It did not swoop, just dropped straight down, almost faster than the eye could follow – although their ears heard the whistle of it. At the very last split second, its wings snapped open again to apply an air brake that prevented the creature from smashing itself into the hillside. And in that instant the collie leaped in a single spring from her crouching position a good couple of yards to one side – otherwise those great hanging talons would undoubtedly have struck her.

The eagle is being insanely territorial because its nest is in the area. Lady can’t move because her own den is in the area. And then farmers go on the warpath when some powerful predator begins tearing through their sheep. Lady is the obvious suspect, and the boys go rogue to protect her.

A naturalist-lover’s dog adventure with old-fashioned parenting and two reluctantly rebellious boys.  Nice.

Other books by Tranter
Spaniards Isle
Border Riding
Nestor The Monster
Birds of a Feather
The Deer Poachers
Something Very Fishy

About the Author
Nigel Tranter was Scottish (obviously) and an avid outdoorsman. He wrote a truly alarming number of books.  A full list can be seen here.

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