When last I barked to you, I left you with the image of my sobbing and terrified self, speeding away from all I held dear, in the company of strangers. I shall return to that moment.
After what seemed a lifetime of travelling, the car pulled into a gravelled driveway and I heard a gate close behind us. The engine stopped. The man and lady in the front got out and opened a rear door. I tried flatten myself against the back of the seat.
"Please!" I wailed, "Take me back! I want to go home! Please!"
"Out you get, boy." said the man, "You're safe now."
"I was safe before!" I wept, "Take me back! Take me back!"
But they couldn't understand me. After a few minutes of coaxing, the lady said "Why don't we get Charlie? He might be able to help." And they went to the door of their house. A few moments later, a young dog jumped into the car beside me. This must have been Charlie. His fur was caramel-coloured, tousled and curly. He was ruggedly handsome, with gentle hazel eyes, and he sniffed me over, looking down at me with good-humoured pity.
"Come on mate," he barked gently, "Why all the tears? You're safe now. Out you come."
"I want to go home." I cried.
"Of course you do." he replied, "But it's late now. Come inside with me, and we'll sort you out in the morning. Come on, mate."
Still crying, and somewhat reluctantly, I followed Charlie out of the car. Gratefully, I did a wee in the garden, and then followed him into his house. And it was a beautiful house. Large, with a thatched roof and several thatched outbuildings, like the sort of cottage one sees on a gift-tin of shortbread. But all this meant nothing to me. I felt acutely the distance between me and my partner and wondered what she was doing at that moment, longing to be with her. To see her just once more. The front door closed behind me. At that, I gave a long mournful howl and started to cry again.
"Come on, mate." said Charlie kindly, "No more of that. You come with me and I'll show you around. I dutifully trotted slowly after Charlie and followed him through the kitchen, where his partners were preparing a bit of supper. "Utility room," said Charlie, indicating a small room off the kitchen. As I padded around after him, he was chatting all the while, trying hard to occupy my mind. When we went into the drawing room, where there was a beautiful big inglenook fireplace, my host sat down and looked at me. "What happened, then?" he asked. I didn't know where to begin. "It's alright." he smiled, "I was abandoned too. Ended up in a rescue kennel. Then, about six months ago, mum and dad came to choose a dog and they picked me. Brilliant, eh?" When I didn't say anything, he continued. "I was so lucky. There was a really snotty little poodle in there who said that no-one would want me 'cause I was a mongrel. I took great pleasure in marching past that gobby old sow's kennel the day mum and dad chose me."
I managed a watery smile. "That's better." grinned Charlie. "So don't worry. Just 'cause you were abandoned, it doesn't mean it's all over for you."
"I wasn't abandoned." I said quietly.
"I wasn't abandoned. I ran away."
"Were you being beaten?"
"And you just ran away?"
"Why on Earth would you do a thing like that?"
"I don't know." I replied miserably. "I was chasing a vixen and then I got lost and it all went really badly wrong. Eventually I found the road home and was almost there when your people put me in their car. Please make them take me back."
"Not tonight, it's too late - it's nearly midnight, you know. I'm sorry, mate. But it will be alright. So, was she worth it? The vixen?"
"All things considered, no." I muttered.
"Bad luck." commiserated Charlie. "But look. You'll spend the night here, and in the morning mum and dad will know what to do. We'll have a bit of supper in a minute and everything will be OK after a good sleep."
I know it sounds ungrateful, but Charlie's ceaseless optimism was beginning to grate on my nerves. I was sick with worry about my partner, and desperately unhappy - as well as being utterly ashamed of my actions. Also, I hated the fact that Charlie referred to his partners as 'mum and dad'. My partner is my partner, not my parent. We have an equal partnership - no-one higher than or superior to the other. Both united as one, joined together, a perfect team. Plus, she always... she would... she... she...
"I WANT MY MUMMY!" I wailed, howling out a fresh burst of huge tears.
"Aww," said Charlie, pattering over and giving my ear a comforting lick. "Of course you do - for you are a good boy. And, in the morning, we will find her for you. Easy enough. Of course, you are microchipped?"
"No." I wept.
"But you have an ID tag?"
"No-oo!" I howled, feeling incredibly stupid now about the pride I'd felt when I managed to lose my ID tag during a fight with an Alsatian many years ago. My partner had never got around to replacing it, which suited me fine. Until now.
"Ok-aaay."said Charlie, with a frown and a sigh. "Well. We'll sort things out, one way or another. Try not to fret. Now then. I believe my nose is telling me that supper is ready."
I followed Charlie down the passageway and into the warm kitchen. His partners were seated at the kitchen table, enjoying a poached egg on toast and a glass of something nice. Charlie went to his bowl, beside which was some meat on a china plate. "That plate is for you." he explained, "Dig in." And he got on with the business of gobbling up his own supper.
I took a tentative bite at the meat on the plate, and almost choked. I nearly spat out the meat but, fortunately, remembered my manners at the last moment.
"Charlie," I spluttered, "This is - this is dog food!"
"Oh-ho, yes!" he grinned, his whiskers covered in meaty gravy, "Nothing but the best in this house!" I looked at the rest of the meat on the plate. It stared coldly back at me.
"I'm not really that hungry." I said, "Would you like to finish mine?"
"Sure?" asked Charlie. I nodded, and he needed no second invitation, noisily scoffing the extra meat.
Charlie's owners were incredibly kind. They patted me and fussed over me. After Charlie and I were given a last toilet opportunity, the doors were locked for the night. As we walked back down the passageway, Charlie said "You are going to sleep in the downstairs spare room. I will be in my bed in the drawing room - it's between dad's chair and the fireplace. Scratch on the door if you need me for anything."
"You have been very kind, Charlie." I said, and he grinned.
"Try and get some sleep, mate." he said, "It'll all be OK in the morning."
But I couldn't see how. I had no microchip; no ID tag and Charlie's partners couldn't understand my barks. How would I ever find my way back to my partner again - and how was she coping without me?
To be continued...