The continual scratching was the cause of Missus going off the rails. She swore Ginger was infested with fleas and did a lot of shouting to prove her disgust to anyone within earshot. Several teacups were broken in the process which struck me as being a bit over the top. Fleas are terrible but they’re only bad for the one who has them. Missus didn’t seem to realise what we had to go through in order to reach an itch. Contortions though, are Ginger’s speciality. With having longer legs he can twist and turn much easier than me. The only trouble is when he finds it he goes at it like pneumatic drill.
Much to Ginger’s dismay Missus spent hours washing him with special stuff that was supposed to kill off the mites. It reminded me of the old lady in a past life who treated my ears with Lysol. That was enough to put me off humans for life.
‘Don’t come near me,’ I barked, when we were put out to sleep in the barn. Well, you couldn’t blame me for wanting to keep myself clean. Chicken Fingers would soon bar me from the den if he thought I was lousy.
Chicken Fingers’ den was a wooden shed at the back of the farmhouse. He used to keep wood logs in there until they got a fancy fire for the kitchen which meant wood was no longer needed. It suited me; I never did like all the journeys to gather it in. I didn’t mind sitting in Chicken Fingers’ old car, leaning out the window to catch the breeze, but the old wagon wasn’t the most comfortable of vehicles and there was only room for me in the back when it was loaded with wood. I got splinters in my paws whenever we were on the return journey. Gaffer said it was my own fault for not keeping still. He hasn’t yet learned that a Staff doesn’t like sitting still.
The den was something else. Chicken Fingers did it out with wool rugs and bits of old furniture, a desk and a chair from the attic, an old couch from the front parlour, and a red plastic bed for me that was rescued from a neighbour’s tip. Mind, I was only allowed to use it when Chicken Fingers was in the den, other times it was the barn or the kitchen or the adjoining field, depending on the time of day.
Although Ginger was allowed more time in the kitchen, he wasn’t as well off as me. He had Missus to contend with. Being kissed all the time and embraced by those fat arms wasn’t my idea of heaven. I’m a man’s dog through and through. But if Ginger likes that sort of thing then he’s in the right place.
One fine Sunday, Chicken Fingers and I were outside the den enjoying the sun. He sat astride a wooden chair reading the newspaper while I pretended to sleep by his feet. All was calm, the only sounds coming from the cows and a pesky wasp. I tried snapping at it but wasps being wasps it just kept zoning in without fear of landing between my teeth. I made a silent promise to get it ... one day. It was too nice to get het up over a stupid insect.
Peace was disturbed by a sudden loud yell and a whoosh of feet. The kitchen door was flung open and Ginger shot out … followed by Missus.
‘Come here, you varmint,’ she cried, brandishing Ginger’s lead as she chased after him, her plump legs moving as fast as they were able.
Of course, Ginger had a head start; he was off round the barn, passed the hen run, and into the field. Chicken Fingers and I watched in quiet amazement.
‘Bet she’s found a flea, Butch,’ Gaffer said, resting his arms on the back of the chair and idly swinging his stout legs as if he was on a horse.
A flea? He needn’t come near me then, not until was de-loused.
Gaffer said, ‘If he’s got to be treated I’m glad we’ll be out of the way for a couple of days.
Ears on the alert, I waited, but heard no more.
My luck was in. Sure enough, come Monday I was settled into the front seat of Chicken Fingers’ old Morris and off we went to visit an auction and a market two towns away. I had to stay on lead but that didn’t matter, at least I was seeing something new.
The auction was interesting. Warm and smelly. I’m quite taken with cow smells; it attracts me to them, although they don’t seem to care much for my presence when I go to investigate. Cow pats are a particular attraction, rolling in one gives me a sense of one-upmanship, an ‘I’m better than you’ sort of thing. Chicken Fingers isn’t happy when I go home, as he says, stinking the place out. And Missus won’t have me in the house until I’ve been hosed and scrubbed and hosed again.
Cows at the farm snort when they see me coming, but not the ones in the auction sheds. They’re tame by comparison but I suppose they couldn’t do much with those tethers in place. Even so, I was kept strictly on the lead so I couldn’t test it out. I watched out for cow pats though, just in case Gaffer decided to let me loose.
I never knew cows were sold to other farmers. I suppose I hadn’t lived on a farm long enough to learn the nitty-gritty. There was a lot of shouting and waving of hands and papers but by and large the farmers just stood around watching sellers and buyers at work. While us dogs were stuck there on leads!
Afterwards we went for a walk in some woods. It was awesome. All those trees on which to leave the message that Butch was here. Chicken Fingers warned me to go carefully so as not to scare the woodland animals, he said there might be deer wandering about. Didn’t see any but there were plenty of fluffy rabbits and perky squirrels for me to chase. Two very different creatures, one shoots up trees and the other into holes in the ground. I didn't stand a chance.
The luxury bit of the days out was a stay in a hotel. You never saw such posh furnishings. A huge high bed covered with white sheets and what Gaffer called an eiderdown. Sounded like one of the ducks I’m friendly with on the lake. I was allowed to sleep in Chicken Fingers’ room but was told I couldn’t get on the bed. The green tartan car blanket was brought in for me, which was okay, but it didn’t smell half as nice as the eiderdown.
Back at the farm, Chicken Fingers and I had only been back a couple of minutes when we sensed something was wrong.
‘It’s too quiet,’ Gaffer said.
He was right. There was no barking for a start, and no sign of Ginger.
We got out of the car and ambled towards the kitchen.
‘We’re back,’ Gaffer called as we went through the door.
No sign of Missus or Ginger.
Gaffer walked across the tiled floor to the table, picked up a note, read it aloud. ‘Gone to the vets.’
The vet? Why would Missus want to see the vet? Was she ill? The only time Ginger and I went to the vet was for vaccinations. Did Missus need a vaccination?
Chicken Fingers looked worried. He sat in the chair by the hearth so I went over to lean against him. Leaning was my way of showing I loved him, I thought maybe I should try and cheer him up. His hand came down and rested on my head. ‘You’re a good pal, Butch. I wonder what’s happened to Ginger.’
Ginger? Why Ginger? NOT Ginger?
I twisted to look at Gaffer, trying to make out what he was thinking. I lay down and sat up again, moving to attract his attention. I rubbed my head against his ankle, looked up to see if my ploy was working. Chicken Fingers merely grinned and told me I was a great dog. Well, that was something, I suppose.
Then I heard it, the far away sound of Missus’ car coming down the lane. I yapped and bounced around, darting to the door and back again, urging Chicken Fingers to let me out. By that time the car was in the yard. I heard Missus pull the brake, then silence as the engine died.
She climbed out, walked round the car and opened the hatch. I saw Ginger’s head lift then sink, lift again, then sink. Saints preserve us, what was WRONG with him? I didn’t run, I padded quietly to the car. Sniffed. Smelled something strange and unpleasant. Gaffer came across and I heard Missus saying something about an operation. I lifted up, put my front paws on the car and gazed at Ginger. His eyes were open, his body still. No jumping in recognition. He just gazed at me, sleepily.
Chicken Fingers moved me out of the way, took me inside the house. I was told to get on the blanket and stay there! Hmm! Under the circumstances I felt it was best to do as I was told. He went back outside and minutes later came back in with Missus and him carrying Ginger between them. I froze. Was he dying? Oh no, I couldn’t bear it if he was, who would I snuggle up to at night, who would I tease or taunt? Was this the end of our little dog, big dog games?
I needn’t have worried, Ginger was fine. I heard Missus telling Chicken Fingers that Ginger’s itching was because of a deep cut. The continual scratching had opened it so wide it needed stitches. It seems the vet gave him something to make him sleep while he did it. No-one knew how Ginger got such a bad cut and I for one don’t care now that I know he’s not going to die.
That night, as we nestled in the hay in the barn, I snuggled close to Ginger, licked his nose several times, and promised that in future I would protect him from all ills, so long as it didn’t involve fleas.
(to be continued)