And so - the inevitable has happened. Gisèle went too far; both literally and figuratively. A local countryside site and last Wednesday evening provided the location and the appointed hour of her crime. Travel back in time with me now - to around 8.15pm on a sunny summer evening...
Towards the end of a lovely walk, we were heading for the path leading to the car park, approximately two-thirds of a mile away. My partner was leading the way, Betty trotting affably at her heels and Gisèle was on the other side of the fence, keeping up with her mistress and best friend. When the former two had reached the gate, they turned - only to find that the third member of the triumvirate was missing...
"Where did she go, Betty?" mused my partner, "She was here just a moment ago..."
Betty craned her head to peer into bushes and around trees as she turned with my partner to retrace their steps - but of Giz there was no sign. They walked all the way along the fence-line, calling and whistling for the fugitive terrier. Nothing. By the time they returned to the gate it was beginning to get dark. It being a very isolated spot, my partner's nerves were increasing considerably. She called more loudly for Giz and, this time, it was possibly to discern several barks in reply. Taking a deep breath, my partner and Elizabeth re-entered the darkening woods and started along the path again. On further calling, Gisèle's voice could again be heard in reply.
The normal procedure when out with both girls is that Betty sticks to the path with my partner, whilst Gizzy heads off like a little scout in pursuit of their shared nemesis - squirrels. As soon as Giz chances upon one, she barks and Betty races instantly to her side. My partner has even witnessed (the girls didn't realise that they were being watched) Betty helping Giz to climb a tree towards a squirrels' dray - until she stopped them with a vivid description of what was likely to transpire when Giz decided to come down from the branches. A hypothesis borne out when Giz subsequently chose to ignore advice and common sense, electing instead to attempt another tree-climb (with the connivance of Betty) which ended, as foretold, when the small terrier lost her grip and tumbled from the branches onto Betty's head. Neither was injured, but Betty is no longer so keen on playing Sherpa Tensing to Gisèle's Hillary, I'm happy to bark. Anyway, on hearing Gisèle's distant yips, Betty hastened to move in her direction. My partner unclipped the lead so that Betty could guide the way and ran along the path after the mighty Giant Schnauzer. She caught up with the large dog at the fence-line, quite close to where Giz had last been sighted. Betty was in a state of some agitation; my partner scarcely less-so.
Another whistle produced the desired response from the errant Giz, but still no sight of her - and she had never been out of sight for this long before, being in general a cheeky rather than an out-and-out naughty girl. Betty began to whine and cry.
"What are you doing, Betty, you muppet?!" exclaimed my partner, "Gizzy's not here! D'you think she went back to the other car park?"
"Wuff!" replied Betty in her stentorian voice, pawing and picking at the wire fence, "Wuff!"
Another volley of somewhat panicked calls from my partner prompted further responses from Gisèle - and Betty began to cry in earnest.
My partner then tumbled to the horrifying reality that Betty HAD found her little friend Giz. But little friend Giz was trapped underground.
Dropping to her knees on the floor of the wood, my partner took up a nearby stick and, stretching her arm through the fence-line (the top two strands of which were barbed-wire) began to scrape at the ground to locate the hole from which Gisèle plaintive and frightened little voice was issuing. It was impossible to see her, though it was very clear that she was trapped underground and unable to free herself. My partner called out to reassure her, as she desperately scraped at the ground with her stick, trying to assist Giz. It was all to no avail, as the density of roots and hard flints in the earth were too strong and the stick snapped. By now it was fully dark, my partner was in tears and Gisèle's cries were becoming weaker. My partner grabbed her mobile 'phone and rang her mother to ask if they could come and bring a spade and a torch. Alas! My partner's father had gone out and there was no way of reaching him. Increasingly desperate now, my partner swallowed what little remained of her pride and telephoned one of her friends (owner of Fizzy and the late Ewan), an eminently practical person who would know what to do. She, accompanied by her partner, arrived some 40 minutes later, a little before my partner's parents arrived as well.
My partner was petrified at being there all alone in the dark - the site having a reputation as a meeting place for dubious types to engage in lewd and immoral acts. In her fear and distress, she began to cry. Betty stretched out a fore-paw and laid it tenderly on my partner's leg. Burying her face in Betty's flank, my partner wept piteously. I was utterly staggered to see Betty lift her paw from my partner's leg and stretch her whole arm over my partner's shoulder - I am not exaggerating - and they remained thus, whilst Giz whimpered from her underground prison; my partner being almost eaten alive by midges, mosquitoes and ants but refusing to leave poor Giz, until a much longed-for shout from my partner's father announced the arrival of the rescue party. Communication was by voice only in the now pitch black darkness (the stars were out, but there was no moon, the canopies of the trees blocked all light in any case) to begin with; my partner being initially afraid to call out, lest the voices from afar belong to nefarious perverts, but the shouts quickly - and thankfully - became clearer and my partner's mobile 'phone rang with a call from her friend, checking for directions. At length, beams of swinging torchlight could be seen threading along the path. My partner cried out joyfully and raised her 'phone and waved it wildly, so that the light from it could be seen.
Happily thus together, the liberation of Gisèle now began in earnest. "How on Earth did you know where she was?!" was the first question. My partner admitted that it was not she who had located the imprisoned terrier; Betty had done it. Betty herself was unable to express relief or gratitude for the arrival of and praise from the new arrivals - she was frantic with despair and misery over her best friend in the world.
My partner's friends first bravely climbed over the barbed wire fence, wrapping the top strands in their coats first to protect themselves. And then they began to dig.
My partner's friends had each brought a spade, as well as powerful torches. My partner's parents had brought another torch and their garden fork. The latter two, and my partner, held their torches as the digging commenced - but the ground and the tangled routes, chalk and flint, refused to yield up their captive easily.
One of the first actions of the friends was to request a length of cloth, or towelling. My partner's father removed his Airtex shirt, which was pronounced to be perfect for the job in question - stuffing it down the small hole in the ground through which Gisèle's cries could be discerned. This was a time-honoured basic method to maintain a clear airway for the entombed one - for it was by no means certain that this situation was survivable. As digging commenced, Gisèle began to scream in fear.
I wondered - I had never attempted such a thing in my present state of "existence" - but, somehow, I knew I could do it. Before I descended, however, one of my partner's friends muttered "You know - what this situation really needs is an Ewan...". There was some assent to this. I had never known, during our respective lifetimes, that my good friend Ewan was (despite his cerebral deficiencies) an accomplished and indefatigable digger. I regretted not knowing this. As a keen amateur archaeologist myself, there would have been much in the way of techniques and experiences that we could have shared. He would have had Giz out of there in a trice - and been glad to have done so. But I digress. Down I moved, down and away from the scene of the desperate surface activity.
Gisèle was approximately two metres underground, utterly wedged in a ventilation tunnel of a vast rabbit warren. Her body was bent into a "U" shape with a large flint pressing into her shoulder. As I stared at her I wondered how on Earth she had managed to get herself into such a predicament. Giz is such a tiny and supple little thing, she had never before been trapped anywhere. All I could surmise was that she had crawled towards the air supply and the source of my partner's and Betty's cries and continued until she became wedged, in the hope of being able to squeeze out somehow. But there was no denying it - the little terrier was stuck fast with no hope of extricating herself. She was very frightened and having difficulty breathing in the limited air space.
"Jasper!" she squealed, "Help me! Help me! I don't like it!"
"I can't help you Giz, you know that." I signed, trying to sound sympathetic. Don't misjudge me, I was very sorry for her plight - but it was a situation entirely of her own making; and now others were labouring and fretting because of her. "They'll get you out - you just stay exactly where you are and it'll be fine."
"Where else would I go?!" squeaked Gisèle. At that moment, the spade above broke ground and a shower of soil and chalk fell onto Giz. She screamed in terror.
"It's OK Giz!" called my partner, who continued to offer words of comfort to the trapped dog.
It was an extremely difficult task - harder than it first seemed - to liberate the tiny trapped terrier. The tree and scrub roots were thickly dense and difficult to penetrate. And that was even before factoring-in the large flints and compacted chalk. Several times the liberation party lost contact with Gisèle and feared the worst. Possibly the most frustrating point came when the large flint pressing onto Giz was finally dislodged and she, in her terror,shot backwards and disappeared down the tunnel again. The exasperation of my partner and her companions was extreme. The "digger" with the longest arms had managed to reach Giz with his fingertips - at one point her tiny snout was even glimpsed in the enlarged but still-too-small hole - and now she was gone again. Betty began to wail and cry. At length, Gisèle was heard in the tunnel again, whimpering and trying to dig herself out from her side. As she was sounding noticeably weaker the digging recommenced on a more urgent scale. And then, a sight that was enough to melt the hardest of hearts - even those of my partner's friends; who were no fans of Betty whatsoever.
The distraught Giant Schnauzer had flattened herself on the ground, turned herself sideways, and had stretched out her right forearm as far as she could. She was trying her hardest to reach under the wire fence to assist with the digging. Scraping and paddling the ground as hard as she could, she brought tears to more than one eye in her desperate attempt to help to free her beloved and entombed best friend.
After another half hour's sweat-inducing digging, a section of chalk and flint began to fall away. My partner's friend advised everyone to stand ready. A large flint was dislodged and, all of a sudden, with a quick apology to Giz for any imminent pain, my partner's friend grabbed Gisèle around the shoulders and hauled her out of the hole.
Betty collapsed in relief, giving great shuddering sobs, as Giz was passed over the fence into my partner's arms. The whole end of the process reminded me forcibly of the birthing process - my partner's friend being the midwife; the Earth had laboured and delivered up little Gisèle.
Giz was trembling violently and was covered from snout to tail-tip in dirt and chalk-dust. The first thing my partner did was to hold Gisèle up to Elizabeth's snout. Betty, almost beside herself with relief, kissed and licked her best friend's little face whilst the deep hole was carefully refilled.
It was a quarter past midnight when Gisèle was finally freed. A quarter past midnight.
A much-relieved but exhausted little party trekked back along the path, my partner still clutching Giz tightly to her and Betty leading the way with my partner's father, for half a mile back to the car park. Personally, I felt they were d-mned lucky not to get a backside full of buckshot from an irate gamekeeper, as the group looked, to all intents and purposes, like an illegal badger-baiting ring. Spades, torches, two dogs (one of which being a young terrier who had noticeably spent much of the recent past in an underground hole) in a remote part of the countryside... ALL the hallmarks combined. But it seemed that, finally, luck was starting to favour the whole pathetic situation.
Profuse and grateful thanks were bestowed upon all who came to help (actual gifts followed the following day) and everyone departed for their relative houses. The one minor (very minor) positive was the sight of all the stars twinkling so exquisitely out there, in the middle of nowhere, with no street-lights to reduce their beauty...
But 'twas neither the time nor the place. With Elizabeth and - finally - Gisèle secured in The Gizmobile, we departed the whole sorry scene.
We hadn't even got a third of the way home before the inevitable next stage of relief and release washed over Betty, whose nerves had been stretched to breaking point - despite the fact that the very best of her character had been revealed to those minded to dislike her.
"What the BL**DY H*LL did you think you were DOING, you stupid little FOOL?!?" she roared. And that was the only part of the ensuing invective that I can quote to you, dear reader. I was astounded that Betty even knew some of the words and expressions which she flung in Gisèle's direction. Eventually, as we were pulling into our own little cul-de-sac, Betty had either barked herself hoarse or else had reached a state of indignation that rendered her barkless, and she flopped down to concentrate on removing thorns, burrs and brambles from her own fur.
Gisèle was quickly cleaned and sent to bed without supper. Betty, who was still in a state of utter distress despite the luckily happy ending, was cuddled, thanked profusely for her care, compassion and steadfastness during the late crisis and settled into her bedroom with Gisèle's supper as well as her own.
Elizabeth continues to exude tender concern towards my partner and a more mindful eye upon Giz - tactfully shepherding the latter away from further temptation into wickedness and bestowing affectionate cuddles upon my partner - possibly in part by way of apology for her past ill-judged misbehaviour but, most likely, because of their shared experience in almost losing the sweet, stupid, impetuous, warm-hearted little Gisèle.
Gisèle, on the other paw, has yet to show even a modicum of remorse which, I'll admit, has only served to provoke me. I trust that Betty will soon succeed in guiding her onto an higher path...
Bit of a turn-up for the books, eh? Good Betty. Wicked Gisèle. I don't know WHAT happened - but it didn't take place on MY watch, I can assure you of that...
For goodness' sake...