When Banks told Mr. Bowles about getting a little lost in the fog, the farmer wasn’t the least bit surprised. “Easy to do that, ‘specially in the fog,” he told his guest. “Even Ginger used to get lost – or pretended to so he’d have an excuse for being late to dinner,” he added with a wink and a smile. “What you need is a dog.”
“Oh, no,” Banks shook his head. “We never had dogs.” His mother had grown up in the countryside with dogs and horses, but his father was a professed urban dweller. He forbade all pets in the house and was particularly adamant about dogs. “They chew things, scratch the furnishings, stink and leave their hair everywhere. Disgusting creatures. I cannot understand why any civilised being would want such a dirty animal living inside their home.”
Mr Bowles was still speaking, “Bessie, here,” he looked down at his dog, “always was a two-man dog, just me and Ginger. She hasn’t taken well to losing Ginger. She clings to me more than ever. You need your own dog.”
“They don’t allow dogs at the hospital.”
“You can leave it here when you go back and collect it when you go on a squadron again. Lots of blokes have dogs with them, Ginger said.”
That was true, but Banks didn’t particularly want one, so he let the subject drop.
He’d underestimated M. Bowles’ persistence. Three days later, when Mr Bowles needed to go to town to get some supplies for the job he was doing, Banks naturally offered to drive him. Since he didn’t know his way around, he simply drove where Mr Bowles told him and soon found himself at the dog pound. More bewildered than anything, he stood awkwardly looking at the rows of kennels while Mr Bowles discussed various options with the dog catcher. Banks decided that Mr Bowles wanted a second dog, and he was just the convenient excuse for getting it, so he did not attempt to interfere. Eventually, Mr Bowles called Banks over and showed him a medium-sized dog with long golden hair on its back and white fur on its belly.
“Some kind of collie mix,” the dog catcher thought. “We found him wandering around after the bombing one night. Had a collar too. Name’s Sammy. We always post notices about animals found after a raid, but no one came for Sammy here.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Oh, over two months now. If we don’t find a home for him in the next thirty days, we’ll have to put him down. It would be an awful shame. Nice dog like this. He’s very well mannered. Never hear him bark.”
“How old do you think he is?”
“Oh, no more than four, I’d say. But sad. He’s not been eating much. Beneath that hair, he’s all skin and bones. He wasn’t like that when we found him. He’s wasting away from grief.”
Mr Bowles asked some other questions, but Banks and the dog were staring at one another. Tentatively Banks held out his scarred hand towards the dog to see how he would react. The dog sniffed and then started licking vigorously and systematically. Banks had the impression Sammy recognised the hand was wounded. He’d heard that licking was a dog’s way of dealing with injuries.
“So, what do you say, Banks?” Mr Bowles asked.
Banks just nodded. Mr Bowles completed the formalities. The kennel was opened, and Mr Bowles clipped a spare lead on Sammy’s collar. Then he turned the leash over to Banks, and they went back out to the car.
Sammy knew about cars. He jumped in as soon as Banks opened the back door. He sat primly beside the window and waited. All the way home, he sat beside the window looking out. At the cottage, Mr Bowles told Banks to release Sammy, so Sammy and Bessie could get to know one another and come to their own terms. It went remarkably well, Mr Bowles assured him. So, they went inside to feed both dogs. Mr Bowles carefully explained all about feeding dogs to Banks.
That evening, the topic of dogs gave them something to talk about, but Banks remained skeptical about the experiment. They bedded Sammy down in a basket by the fire with a bowl of water ready at hand, and Mr Bowles explained that it could take a few days or even weeks before Sammy felt ‘at home.’ “You’ve got to help him make the transition,” he urged, “make him feel welcome.”
Banks went down on his heels beside the dog and stroked his soft head. Sammy did seem sad and mournful. He’s an orphan too, Banks realised. And homeless. He started warming to the dog. “Can he sit beside me on the sofa, while I read a bit?” Banks asked.
“Of course, just pat the seat beside you.”
Sure enough, Sammy sprang up beside Banks and curled up at once. Banks stroked him some more. He put his head on Banks’ lap. Banks felt affection stir in him.
But it wasn’t until the middle of the night when Sammy found his way onto Banks’ bed that the bond was forged. Banks was awoken by a soft whimpering outside his door. He lifted his head in alarm, then realised what it was but decided to ignore it. The dog had a perfectly nice bed. He didn’t need to come in here.
But the sound was too pitiful. Eventually, Banks got up and opened the door. Sammy padded in and jumped straight up onto the bed, curling up on the warm indentation Banks had left behind. “Now, where am I supposed to sleep?” Banks asked, annoyed. “That’s my bed,” he told the dog.
Sammy blinked at him once but then dutifully jumped back down. Banks lay down, covered himself, and told the dog he could sleep beside the bed. Sammy lay down with his head on his paws looking mournful again. Banks turned his back on the dog, the covers pulled close around his shoulders, and he fell asleep.
He woke up sometime later to find Sammy stretched out beside him, licking his hand. “What the devil?” He pulled away angrily. Sammy looked up at him with big pleading eyes. Then he lifted his head and licked Banks’ face. Banks yanked his head away in disgust, but Sammy’s tongue found his face again, caressingly. Understanding dawned: Sammy wanted to heal his face as well as his hand. It was that simple. He lay back down and put his arm over the dog. “It’s all right, Sammy,” he told him. “There’s nothing you can do.”
Sammy licked his hand and then laid his head down, drew a deep breath and sighed with profound relief.
“Yes, you’re home now, Sammy,” Banks assured him, stroking his shoulder. “We may both be strays or abandoned or orphaned or however you want to put it, but we have each other, and we have a home here.”
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