Uncle Bernard was becoming bored with sitting in his drawer. Although he liked to be raised above the other dogs – he considered it to be quite right and proper that a person of his age and infirmity should be granted certain privileges – he was now looking forward to his late morning ritual of a little gentle exercise. He fidgeted irritably. Bevis, stretched out on his side on the flagstones in a puddle of early May sunshine, rolled a sympathetic eye upwards but didn’t move until he heard the sound of a car’s engine. Both dogs grew alert, ears cocked, listening to familiar sounds: the crunch of tyres, the slam of a door, Roly Carradine’s footsteps crossing the yard.
As the door opened the telephone on the deep-set slate windowsill began to ring. Roly dropped a bulging plastic bag onto a chair, gave Bevis a quick pat and hastened to answer it.
‘Mim! How did it go?’ His deep flexible voice was warm with interest. ‘I didn’t dare phone after your description of the dress rehearsal. . . . Really? What a relief . . .’ Roly sank into a wicker chair, cradling the telephone between his ear and shoulder as he listened to his sister’s excited voice, pulling Bevis’s ears as the big retriever pushed his head against his outstretched legs. Her voice changed down a gear and Roly’s cheerful expression altered to one of frowning concentration. ‘Who? Who did you say? Daisy Quin? Yes. Yes, the name is familiar. . . A serious injury? . . . Yes, I don’t see why not. How long would she stay? . . . No, that’s fine. And you’ll be down by then? . . . OK. . . . Look, shall we talk again later? I’ve just got in, Uncle Bernard is whining to go out, and I’ve just fetched a foster and she’s still in the back of the car. . . . About five o’clock then? Bye.’
He remained quite still for a moment, his face thoughtful, until Uncle Bernard – indignant at such a disrespectful lack of concern – yelped sharply to remind him of his duties.
‘Sorry, old fellow.’ Roly pushed Bevis aside and went to the battered pine chest, the top drawer of which was the elderly miniature rough-coated dachshund’s sanctuary. ‘Out you come.’
He lifted him down and watched him patter importantly – if rather stiffly – out into the yard, followed by Bevis who went to look at the newcomer sitting rather anxiously in the back of Roly’s estate car. For the last few years, since he’d announced his early retirement and closed his photographic studio in London, Roly had been fostering dogs for the local retriever rescue society. Bevis and Uncle Bernard were quite accustomed to dealing with a procession of misfits from broken relationships, bewildered puppies abandoned as soon as their charm wore thin a few weeks after Christmas, and faithful companions whose owners had died or been moved into residential accommodation. Here they stayed until homes could be found for them.