Gisèle's high-pitched giggling was seriously beginning to grate on my nerves. I feared that I might be developing an obvious nervous twitch every time she started up. But I kept my thoughts to myself, for it was nice to hear her laughing, despite any attendant irritation.
As the weather had been particularly changeable and inhospitable, I had advised the two young ladies to remain indoors. Gizmo was more than happy to comply, but Betty continued determinedly in the garden. I wondered what was a-paw and, after a latest dart into the garden and outburst of giggling from Gizmo, I followed the little Jack Russell into the garden.
"What's going on?!" I enquired. Gizmo giggled again.
"Betty's in luurve!" she squeaked.
"Shut up." muttered Betty.
"Betty's in love! Betty's in love! Betty's in LOVE!" sang Gizmo, capering and dancing around her friend - all the while taking care to keep out of nipping or slapping range. Betty, in addition to her arsenal of strong and sharp teeth, was also capable of delivering a very hard smack with her right paw. So quick was it that, particularly when accompanied by a side-dish of sharp claws, one would almost have preferred to have been bitten.
"Who is the fortunate young man?" I asked, trying to ignore the high glee of Gizmo in deference to Betty, who looked extremely embarrassed. Betty gestured vaguely towards the other end of the cul-de-sac, and the short stretch of road which led into the next cul-de-sac. "Ah. Of course." I smiled. I was aware that a new dog, with his owner, had recently moved into one of the houses at the top of the next cul-de-sac. He seemed a rather affable young dog, a little too popular with the local cats for my liking, but inoffensive and handsome in a rugged sort of way. He looked very much like "Pete"; the dog belonging to the character Aidan Shaw from one of my partner's favourite television series 'Sex and the City':
"There he is! There he IS!" squealed Gisèle, with a fresh peal of giggles, as someone's front door could be heard opening. Elizabeth immediately tensed and stood up, craning to get a better look at her new beau. Only it wasn't Laddie.
It was Edward the Rottweiler. Yes; that Edward, who had been in a "couple" with his fellow-Rotti, Angus, for at least the last seven years (and probably longer). Poor Betty.
"Isn't he strong and handsome?!" sighed Betty.
"He is." agreed Gizmo, loyally. "He will make a nice boyfriend."
I was in two minds. On the one paw, I didn't want to be the one to deflate Betty's hopes. On the other, I did not want to leave her in ignorance and thus open to embarrassment. Neither did I wish to undeceive her in front of Gisèle - not because I thought that Giz would make cruel mockery of Betty; there was no chance of sweet-natured Giz being so spiteful - but because I thought Betty's discomfort would be enough without the added awkwardness of an observer. I resolved on seeking a private audience with Elizabeth later in the evening, when Gisèle was otherwise occupied. Unhappily for my carefully-crafted plan, the lower gate betrayed me once again. Edward, clearly on the watch for Angus with whom he was going swimming, had retreated back into his house, but Laddie's voice was heard loud and clear and the two girls were out and scampering in his direction before I could alert my partner to the unhooked gate. I had no option but to follow them.
Laddie, predictably, was surrounded by a gaggle of admiring young lady-cats as he stood, holding court in the small parking area beside his owner's small blue van. He looked up at the approach of Elizabeth and Gisèle.
"Aye-aye!" he grinned in a broad Cockney accent, "'Ullo treacles*!" He showed a particularly keen interest in Betty. He promptly abandoned the patter with which he was entertaining the cats and, stepping over one of them, moved closed to Betty, Gizmo and I. "Got something in the van that might interest you three: Cat-Spray. 100% reliable in keeping cats away!"
"Oh yes?" barked Gisèle, with interest, who I noticed was already twinkling coquettishly at Laddie.
"Oh yes!" he replied, winking at her. "All kosher, honest! Wearing it myself at the moment, in fact. It's a complete scientific mystery - but guaranteed satisfaction. £2 per can, or three for a Lady G*! Can't say fairer than that!"
"Effective, is it...?" I asked, pointedly staring at the queen-cats who continued to cluster around Laddie, hanging on his every word.
"Hey, come on! Do they look like shills to you?! No! And besides-" he leaned in and barked confidentially into my ear "-if they don't sell, a quick switch of the label and an extra quid on the price and they're 'dog repellents'! They'll" [indicating the cats] "snap 'em up!"
Despite myself, I couldn't help but warm to him. Of course, much of what he was touting was utter tat, but he wasn't malicious, offensive or forceful. He took denials of his offers in his stride with as much good humour as he proposed them.
"How about it, duchess?!" he asked Betty, giving her a wink and his most winning smile. She wasn't amused.
"No, thank you." she replied, stiffly. Elizabeth, I should point out, is born of exceptionally good stock and noble heritage. The closest she had probably ever previously come to a market was the end-of-season sale at Fortnum and Mason's.
"Ah!" grinned Laddie, not to be discouraged despite Betty's increasingly haughty composure, "I can see that you three are more discerning customers. All right then. It's next week's offer - but I'll give you the inside-track: My brother's owner has the butcher's wagon at the local city weekend market. Bag of pigs' d*cks for a quid. Can't say fairer than that. Tempted...?"
"Certainly not." sniffed Betty haughtily.
"I might be!" squeaked Gizmo, wagging her tail and giving Laddie her most winning smile - she was clearly rather sweet on the new dog.
"Blimey!" exclaimed Laddie, with a cheeky grin at Giz, "Is that a dog under there?! I thought it was a couple of little bones with some fluff tacked-on!" Gizmo looked back at him uncertainly. I don't think she could tell whether or not he was joking. "Sorry darlin'," he continued, "I like my girls with a bit of meat on 'em!" He nodded significantly at Betty, who glowered at him. "Tell you what I'll do for you though, treacle," he continued to Gizmo, "'Cause you've got a pretty face - don't do this for everyone, mind. The bags are a quid each, but I'll let you have two for £1.50. What d'you think?"
"She's not interested. Thank you." I replied, seeing Gizmo about to turn and race home to ask my partner for £1.50.
"Suit yourself, guv." said Laddie genially. He turned his attentions back to Betty. "How about it then, Duchess? You and me - nice bowl of fresh rainwater; couple of meaty bones; nice moonlit night...? I'll even chuck in a bag of the pigs' d*cks for free!"
Betty muttered something indistinct, the second word of which was clearly "off". Laddie shrugged. He turned his attention back to the cats, who had continued throughout all this to gaze at him in rapt admiration.
"Right girls!" he addressed them brightly, and they all immediately began to purr. "My step-father and his owner are off to Billingsgate next Friday, and I've managed to swing a special deal for my favourite girls!"
"What's Billingsgate?" whispered Gisèle, as the young queen-cats all giggled flirtatiously.
"It's a famous fish market in London." replied Betty. "Loads of shops and restaurants get fresh fish there every morning."
"Oh." nodded Giz, as Laddie continued his polished patter.
"I can offer you a bag of the finest fish heads and tails you'll ever see! 100% fresh! Some of those heads are SO fresh, they'll be nipping at you as you eat them! But you'll need to put a deposit down in advance, as I ain't sure how much space there is in the van. Guaranteed bargain though - anyone interested; come and put your names down."
The queen-cats almost fell over each other in their scramble to put their names on Laddie's order-list. The air was positively alive with mews of names and questions - "Can Tammy and I share a bag between us?!" and suchlike. I wondered why the young female cats were so keen to get themselves bags of scraggy old fish-ends from Billingsgate, especially as we live amidst some of the finest rivers for freshwater-fishing in the country. Even Royalty come here to cast their lines. During a good fishing season, an entire fresh Rainbow Trout from the local waters (a tributary of which even flows past my own humble abode) can be had for 50p, or for a modest extra, skilfully filleted for one, as one waits, at the excellent local fishmonger's shop.
I watched the young felines mewing and fawning over Laddie and it suddenly struck me - perhaps they weren't shelling out for the fish. They were clamouring to obtain his wares so that he would continue to bark to them and entertain them with his patter. I sidled over to the dog and put this to him. He grinned back at me and winked again. "Supply and demand, mate." he replied happily. "They demand it; I supply it. If it's me they want or my top-quality goods, that's what it all comes down to. Supply and demand!" I shook my head, smiling back at him. The irrepressible mutt's geniality was infectious. To all, it seemed, save Betty.
Betty clearly saw the cheeky dog as socially inferior and therefore unworthy of her attention. Poor Gizmo was quite smitten with the fellow, but he only had eyes for Betty. Once the last of the cats had melted away after putting in her request for some of Laddie's fish-ends, he turned his attentions back to the reluctant Betty. She was beginning to get visibly annoyed, and I could hear her muttering to herself, which was a sure sign of an imminent explosion of anger. As Gisèle was the unwitting general target of Betty's tempestuous rages, I began to grow concerned,, as well as for Betty and all life in the immediate vicinity. Since my return to this household I have found that I have almost no physical abilities - I have never yet felt the need to eat, drink or attend to any other bodily functions. Thus, I concluded, I would be unable to defend the ladies' honours if it came to it...
Just as I began to panic, an unlikely saviour appeared in the shape of Edward. He came marching over and placed a firm paw upon Betty's shoulder.
"My dear!" he barked, with firm authority, "Time to go! I did not marry you so that you could loiter in the street like a loose woman! Come along now, dear, and bring your little step-sister with you!" At that, he turned Betty around and marched her towards his house with first Gizmo, and then I, trailing in their wake.
"Hang about!" yapped Laddie, "YOUR wife?! Don't make me laugh! You and that chap of yours" [Angus] "are both as bent as a nine-bob-note!" Edward did not deign to reply.
"Thank you!" whispered Betty gratefully, as Eddie propelled her into his house. Once safely within, Betty, Gizmo and I looked keenly about us - we had never actually been in Eddie's house before. It was quite stylishly decorated, the living room dominated on one side by an enormous flat-screen television and on the other, opposite the window, by the vast glass vivarium containing Pickle the Salamander (who, regular readers will recall, narrowly escaped being "adopted" as a "son" and forced to wear an humiliating succession of "cute" outfits by Edward and Angus).
"Yes, thanks Ed." I echoed, "You're a star."
"Never mind that!" barked Eddie, "You three had better scoot, smart-ish! I've got Angus arriving to join me for our afternoon's session of swimming in a hydrotherapy pool any minute now. It's hanging over me like a s*dding Sword of Damocles Jazz, unless you get these girls out of here!"
Even as he barked these words, the gentle engine of the small blue car belonging to Angus's partner was heard pulling into the road. "Sh*t." muttered Eddie succinctly. As we heard a car door open, Laddie gave a whistle.
"Hey, Angus, me ol' china*!" he hailed the incoming Rottweiler, "I see your boy Eddie has switched! He didn't waste any time getting himself two s*xy young wives!!"
"WHAT?!" barked Angus, angrily. Eddie looked stricken.
"GO! GO!!!" he hissed desperately. But we all knew that our collective goose had been well-and-truly cooked. Gizmo, however, with her unfailingly razor-sharp wits, had already formulated a plan. She met a fuming Angus at the front door.
"Oh!" she yipped in her most disarmingly-winning voice, whilst bowing low to Angus, "You must be Mr. Angus! Mr. Edward has told us SO much about you - he said you were good-looking, but I never thought you'd be THIS handsome! What a great pleasure it is to meet you at last!"
I felt a sudden surge of admiration for the tiny, skinny, beautiful terrier. She went on - "My name is Gisèle, but you can call me Gizmo if you want. I live at number ----, Jasper's house. This" [looking over her shoulder] "is my friend Betty, who is staying with us for a while. Jasper told us about, er, Pickle and we asked Mr. Edward if we could come and look at him. Yes. And so here we all are....!"
"Er..." replied Angus uncertainly, "A pleasure to meet you Miss Gizmo, my dear. And you of course dear lady - Miss Betty. Hi Jazz..."
"Hello Angus." I replied politely - aware that the gathering storm had not yet broken.
Here it comes....
"You seem quite familiar with that new dog..." remarked Edward, with forced politeness.
(Bit of background: Angus and his partner live in the main centre of our little town, in the "posh" bit. Angus therefore has ready visuals upon and access to the central shops and weekly Thursday market, which we - in our road - do NOT have).
"Of course!" replied Angus, in a matter-of-fact way. "His man has a brilliant stall, full of useful items. Plugs, screws, fuses, pegs, clips - all sorts of ironmongery that is useful around the house. And the dog, Laddie, is with him every week and he has this barrel called Laddie's Lucky Dip, which is full of one thing that's on special offer for each week! Last week it was a load of these amazing cans of cat-repellent spray..."
"HA!" I snorted derisively, "They were a load of complete-"
"I got three cans!" yipped Angus enthusiastically.
"Er..... a load of complete BARGAINS!" I completed, hastily. Angus nodded keenly.
"I'm wearing it now!" he declared, "It's a miracle!"
I sniffed him. It seemed to me as though he has just paid an extortionate amount for three cans of what smelt like cheap vinegar-based window cleaner. I prudently kept this opinion to myself.
"Amazing." I tactfully declared.
"I can't wait to see what next week's Laddie's Lucky Dip will be!" beamed Angus.
"I think it might be bags of pigs' d*cks." hinted Giz.
"Really?! Fantastic!" enthused Angus.
"You seem to be paying a great deal of attention to this 'Laddie'." growled Edward acidly. I was immediately aware of an unpleasant shift in the atmosphere. I turned towards the door and prepared for a hasty retreat. Eddie growled again: "Just how many times have you been sticking your paws into his 'Lucky Dip Barrel'?!"
Angus looked most affronted. Gisèle giggled nervously, trying to restore the previous harmony.
"I think Laddie wanted to dip his paws into Betty's 'Lucky Barrel', hiihiihii....!" she beamed, alas to no avail. The two Rottweilers glowered at each other, hackles raised, with fangs bared.
"Ladies!" I barked with forced brightness, "I fear we have prevailed upon Edward's hospitality for too long. Shall we? After you...." Before I had even finished, the girls had already bid their hasty goodbyes and were scuttling over the road back to the relative sanctuary of our own little house. I wasted no time in following them, the sound of raised barks, yips and profanities following me all the way.
The last sound I heard was Eddie screaming "Go then! GO to your WH*RE, with his lucky barrel of tricks and his bags of willies!!" before I quietly closed the French windows, shutting out the angry sounds.
Later that evening, I noticed that little Gisèle was somewhat subdued. I went to sit beside her and endeavoured to supply comfort. (Betty, however, was quite philosophical and relatively untroubled by the discovery of her erstwhile paramour's "preferences").
"Don't you fret, Giz." I soothed, "Eddie and Angus are ALWAYS fighting. They might say the most appalling and vicious things to, and about, each other - but they are the most devoted pair really. In fact, I saw them coming back from their swimming appointment this evening, and they were laughing and chattering together as though they had never disagreed before in their entire lives!"
Gisèle nodded but still looked glum. I asked her if she was troubled.
"Why did Laddie fancy Betty and not me?!" she yapped.
"Ah." I sighed, "I think he prefers larger ladies. Forgive me, sweet Giz, but - even for a Jack Russell Terrier, though a VERY pretty one at that - you are very tiny indeed."
"Huhmnnpf!" sniffed Gizmo. "Well, I might be tiny to everyone else - but, to me, I is MASSIVE!"
I laughed, and nuzzled the dearest girl. She really IS the loveliest - and greatest - little terrier.
Treacle = Treacle-tart = sweetheart
Lady G = Lady Godiva = Fiver (£5)
Guv. (not rhyming-slang). Short for Guv'nor = Sir
China = China Plate = Mate (friend)