Among Peter Haining's books we found this folklore rarity Bogie tales of East Anglia by M. H. James (Ipswich, 1891) - from it comes this slightly disturbing tale. What the Italian was doing in Lowestoft is anybody's guess.
This tale, which runs as follows, is still common talk among the beach men at Lowestoft. An Italian gentleman, with curly hair and a very dark complexion, asked a fisher-boy of Lowestoft, to become his page, but this the boy refused, as he did not wish to go forge in parts; whereupon the Italian, far from being angry, asked the boy to look after a dog for him, as he was going ways.
Now, the dog had been seen in the town, and its ownership was well known, though, strange to say, the dog and his master had never been seen together. It was a fine dog, a large, curly black retriever, very long and lean.
When the fisher-boy found the gentleman had really gone away, he began to look after the dog, for which he had been very handsomely paid beforehand. Every morning the boy, who was fourteen years old, went out to swim in the sea, and the dog went with him.
One day, when the boy had swum further than usual, he found that the dog savagely resented his returning to shore, with such growlings and menaces, that the terrified boy was obliged to swim on and on, still further out to sea, whilst the dog swam close behind him.
At last, the boy turning his head round in desperation, saw, to his intense and almost benumbing terror, the dark, saturnine face of the Italian gentleman close behind him - metamorphosis was only momentary, and on looking round again he saw the dog had reappeared, and by continued and fierce growling and biting still urged him out to sea.
Fortunately a smack, under press of sail, scudded by, and the boy was able to attract the notice of those on board, who came to him rescue but his neck and shoulder were bleeding from the dog's angry attack. The animal was seen to dive like a porpoise, and reappearing a great distance off, swam away. The boy's name was M--- and he used to work, in slack times, at a tankard in the lower part of the old town of Lowestoft, so 'tis said.
After the remarkable escape above recorded, it was remembered, on all sides, how many boys of about fourteen years old were yearly drowned off the town, and how, in particular, only a year or so back a boy's body had been found washed up off Ness Point, with the marks of a dog's teeth on the neck and shoulder, which till now had been placed to the credit of an attempt to save life on the part of some noble animal.