Introduction: This is a true story that happened around 1900 in Christiansburg, Virginia. An East Tennessee school teacher shared with me a true event that happened to her grandparents, Sylvester and Lena, and their dog, Gyp.
Lena heard a scream! She’d been sitting in the rocking chair by the fireplace. The children were safe in bed. Her husband, Sylvester, was off in the barn, helping one of the cows birth a calf.
She froze! Then she heard it again. She said aloud, “Could that be Sylvester? Perhaps he fell or broke his leg or something.” Then that screaming sound came a third time. This time, she was almost certain it had come from Sylvester. She grabbed one of the lit candles and ran out the front door.
As she stood for a moment on the front porch, their collie dog, Gyp, came running up. But instead of barking a greeting and wagging his tail as was his custom, he began growling at her.
Lena was too concerned about Sylvester to pay Gyp much mind. She started down the porch steps, but Gyp began nipping at her ankles. “Gyp! What’s gotten into you?” She gave him a little kick and kept walking.
Gyp paced himself beside her as she walked across the fenced-in yard. He continued to bark and growl and nip at her ankles. She was getting a little frightened; however, she forced herself to keep walking. She just had to get to Sylvester.
Oddly enough, as she placed her hand on the latch of the gate, Gyp went wild-like. He jumped up on Lena and knocked her over. He half stood on her chest and began growling more viciously than ever. Every time that Lena tried to move, Gyp started snapping at her. She began to believe that he might even rip and tear her throat open with his sharp teeth. She was absolutely terrified!
“Oh, my goodness! The rabies must have gotten hold of you!” Lena forced herself to sound calm and soothing as she said, “Now, Gyp, good boy! Let me up, now! Go away from me, now!”
Every time Lena started inching herself toward the gate, Gyp got more ferocious. Then she finally noticed that if she started inching her way toward the front door, Gyp quieted a bit, so Lena slowly moved in that direction. Finally, Gyp got off of her and stood by the gate just a-growling and a-barking.
Lena got halfway up the steps, dragged herself to a standing position, and high-tailed it for the front door. She got inside, and fell into the rocking chair by the fire, just a-trembling and a-shaking! She listened for any more sounds, but all was now quiet! She had no idea what had happened to Sylvester. Not too surprisingly, she was too scared to go out again. There was no way that she could contact any of the neighbors, so all she could do was to sit there, and wonder, and wait.
Around about midnight, Sylvester finally came in the door. He found Lena sitting in the rocking chair, asleep, with a partially torn dress, and a dirty, tear-stained face. He shook her arm gently. “Lena, Lena, what happened to you?”
Lena woke up and said, “Sylvester, you’re alive! You’re all right! Why were you screaming like that?”
Sylvester asked, “What are you talking about, woman? I wasn’t screaming!”
Lena asked, “You weren’t? Well, then, who was?”
Sylvester said, “I didn’t hear a thing, Lena. You must have been dreaming! But what in tarnation has happened to you?”
“Oh, Sylvester. I heard someone scream and I thought it was you. I went out to investigate. And Gyp – he-he- went wild on me. He must have contracted the rabies. Sylvester, you’re gonna have to shoot him in the morning. I won’t have him running loose around the children. He nearly killed me!”
Lena told Sylvester everything that happened. He listened with a very puzzled expression on his face. Finally, he said, “Lena, I’m not doubting you now, but Gyp greeted me just the same as ever when I came back.”
When Sylvester saw the expression on her face, he said no more. Before he went to bed, he went out and tied up old Gyp to the woodshed, so that the collie wouldn’t do any harm to the children the next day.
The next morning, Sylvester took his time getting dressed and out. Lena kept urging him to hurry and get Gyp’s shooting over with. Sylvester felt strangely reluctant. But finally, he couldn’t put it off any longer.
He went outside with his rifle in his hand. He looked at Gyp. Gyp whined when he saw the stern expression in Sylvester’s eyes. He barked softly! Sylvester raised the rifle and pointed it at Gyp. Gyp whined again and then lay down, looking up at Sylvester with a pitiful look in his eyes.
It was breaking Sylvester’s heart. He had had Gyp for about five years now. As expected, the instinct to protect his family was stronger than his love for the dog. So he sighted through the end of the rifle and slowly began to pull the trigger.
Just then, the gate opened. Sylvester wheeled around and saw a bunch of his neighbors crowding into his yard. Sylvester welcomed the interruption. The men were all so intent on their errand, that they didn’t even ask what Sylvester was doing.
It seemed that there was a big old panther cat that had been killing off chickens and sheep and cows. They wanted Sylvester’s help to track down the wild cat and kill it off, before the cat could do any more damage.
Sylvester agreed. He told Lena where he was going. She asked, “What about Gyp? Did you do it?”
Sylvester said, “No, Lena! I’ll take care of it when I get back. Now, Gyp is tied and he won’t bother you none. But, just the same, keep the kids in the house, and you stay there too.”
Then Sylvester was off with those neighbor men. They walked out of the fenced-in yard and down the little path to the creek. Just as they were getting ready to cross the little bridge that separated the house from the barn, one of the men called out. “Look! Look down there!”
Sylvester and the men did look. Right there in the ground were big paw prints. Only a wild cat could have made such big prints as that. All of a sudden, Sylvester understood everything.
He cried out, “Fellows, wait for me here! I’ll be right back!” Quickly, Sylvester went running back toward the house, to let Gyp go, and to tell Lena that Gyp didn’t have the rabies and wasn’t meaning to hurt her. He was just trying to tell her, in the only way that he knew how, that outside the safety of the fenced-in yard, there was a wild cat … waiting!