It was a beautiful Sunday in summer. A bright, glaring sun shone out of a perfect blue sky, glinting on the ribbon of water that wound its way through the trees. Both banks of the river were crowded with people in various states of undress. Men in shorts and thin shirts were accompanied by girls in sundresses, ablaze with bright and varied colours. So far the holiday season had been disappointing, with very little sunshine and a great deal of rain. Suddenly, the weather had changed and everybody who could take advantage of the sun was doing so. Now they were all happy, the sun giving them new life and vigour.
But Scruffy was far from happy. He was hot; his coat felt heavy and it stifled him. The sun was blinding and the joyous shouts of children made him wince. A low whine escaped through his parched lips. He enviously gazed at a large Alasatian, which was jumping in and out of the cool water with complete abandon. Even if he had possessed the energy to crawl down to the water, which he doubted, Scruffy wouldn't have got there, for his mistress was holding his lead very tightly. She was reading a book, completely oblivious of the world around her.
The Alsatian barked happily, dived back into the water and splashed around. Scruffy closed his eyes and tried to imagine that it was himself who was paddling about in the river instead. Slowly, painfully, he dragged himself up onto his feet and began to totter towards the river bank; but then he felt a tug. Looking round he saw the lead stretched taut between his collar and his mistress's hand.
He tugged gently, but nothing happened; the lead remained taut. This situation would require some thought. He sank down again.
Scruffy was not a large dog. In fact, he was more than a little self-conscious about the limitations of his size; he was definitely small. It wasn't his fault, for he was a dachshund and, as dogs go, they are certainly not one of the larger breeds. Long, pointed nose, long thin body, large flapping ears, a protruding stomach which almost scraped along the ground, and a silly little wisp of a tail to finish off, all added up to a dachshund. Throw in a pair of dark, mischievous eyes and you have Scruffy.
His light-brown coat belied his name, for it was sleek and very well groomed. Altogether he was a handsome specimen of the canine world.
As he lay by his mistress's feet, his agile brain was sifting through every suggestion it could make to free him from his lead. If he were to go round the end of the seat, behind it, and then....um....and then if he were to go underneath..... Yes, it might work. No harm in trying, anyway.
Before moving, Scruffy checked the lie of the land. Everything was the same as before. Deciding the moment was opportune, he raised himself onto his four stubby legs. Nose to the ground, he sniffed his way round the end of the seat until he was standing directly behind his unsuspecting mistress. She was still intent upon her book; must be darned good, he thought.
Suddenly, Scruffy gave one loud bark and dived under the seat, heading towards the water as fast as he could go. His mistress, taken completely by surprise, was jerked round and pulled off the seat and on to the ground. Sprawling full length, she screamed, dropped her book, and – as Scruffy had hoped – let go of the lead. It coiled round the end of the seat, and ran underneath, trailing behind the happy, and somewhat abandoned, Scruffy. He took one enormous dive into the water, soaking the Alsatian, who looked disgruntled at having his play disturbed.
Willing hands hauled the poor girl off the ground and onto her feet. "Scruffy! Scruffy!" she shouted, to absolutely no avail.
"Are you all right?" a young man anxiously enquired.
"I'm fine," the girl replied, rather impatiently. "But my dog. He's in the water. He'll drown!"
Her rescuer looked towards the river and saw a delighted dachshund flicking water over his head with excited yelps.
"You'll have to save him!" the girl cried.
"Save him?" The young man turned back towards her. "He doesn't look as if he needs saving. I should say that dog's having the time of his life."
"Then all I can say is you don't know much about dogs!" the girl snapped.
A flush of anger reddened the young man's cheeks. "Maybe I don't, but at least I can tell when a dog's enjoying himself and that one - " he jabbed a finger in the direction of the cavorting Scruffy "- definitely is!"
"Allow me to tell you that I think you are the most insufferable, pig-headed ass I have ever met. I should have thought it was obvious....."
The angry words poured out of her, whilst her victim stood rooted to the spot, amazed at the ingratitude of the girl he had helped to pick up off the ground. She was actually getting annoyed with him because he wouldn't fish her wretched dog out of the river. What a nerve she had! What cheek! What a......cute little nose. And those cherry lips. How lovely her eyes were, how shapely her legs. Her hair was soft and golden brown and her figure was.....just right. Not like a stick with no breasts; not like a tub with rolls of fat; but....just right.
For a moment he gazed at her, completely enchanted, her angry words washing over him, then suddenly, he rushed away towards the water. He was her hero; her stupid dog was in trouble – practically drowning. It was his duty to rescue the poor ignorant thing.
Peter for that was the hero's name, paused by the water's edge long enough to rid himself of shoes and socks and roll up the bottoms of his trousers. Then he began to wade out towards Scruffy, who was as yet, completely unaware of his danger. As far as he was concerned, the day had suddenly become beautiful. He rolled over on his back and disappeared beneath the water.
On the river bank, Scruffy's mistress, Jenny, was now surrounded by an excited group of onlookers, all watching the rescue of the poor, drowning dog. As he sank out of sight, Jenny screamed and turned pale, whilst a frightened murmur went round the crowd.
Peter waded out as fast as he possibly could, the water creeping higher and higher up his legs until it was almost lapping against the bottoms of his upturned trousers. Scruffy was stll out of sight. Bending down, Peter began to feel along the river bottom in an effort to find the dog, but there was nothing there except a few plants and some stones.
A long, thin object trailed through his searching fingers and, just as he realised that it was the dog's lead,there was a splash behind him. Peter turned his head. It was Scruffy, walking on the bed of the river between him and the bank.
The lead pulled tight and Peter released it, but the end tangled round his feet and, with a strangled cry, he fell full length into the water.
The crowd laughed as Peter floundered helplessly, tried to get up, but slipped and fell down again. More people gathered on the opposite bank and watched in amusement as the hapless man once more attempted to rescue himself.
Scruffy shook the water from his coat and padded back to Jenny's feet. He felt decidedly better.
"You and that animal...." the words were hurled at Jenny, ".....are a menace to society!"
Scruffy was justifiably hurt. "That animal" was not a suitable term for a dog with a pedigree as long as his. He barked his disapproval. Unfortunately, the bark was far from being a success. It came out as nothing more than a squeak, really. It was a bitter dsappointment to Scruffy, who had wanted to sound fierce. Actually, it made him feel more than a little silly, so he hopped around madly in the hope that Peter would think he had been stung by a bee. The young man took no notice.
"You started all this," Jenny said, in a loud, accusing voice.
"I...I started it!" Peter practically choked, hardly able to believe his ears. "You have the cheek to stand there ad tell me that I started it? It was your confounded mongrel who st..... YOW!"
Calling Scruffy a mongrel was going too far and Peter paid the full penalty. A set of strong, sharp dog's teeth sank into his ankle. His victim hopped up and down on one foot whilst madly clutching the other. He was roaring like a bull and water dripped all over the place, presenting a spectacle far funnier to the audience than all the TV comedy half-hours put together.
They loved his performance. They laughed and applauded his antics, calling for encore after encore. Even the Alsatian had stopped splashing about and was watching the scene between Jenny, Peter and Scruffy. There was a trace of envy in the big dog's eyes as he saw the damage the dashchund had done.
"Naughty dog," Jenny scolded giving Scruffy a perfunctory slap. She turned to Peter. "You'd better come home with me and get dry. If you don't get those wet clothes off soon, you'll catch cold. Come along."
"Well, I don't think....."
"Don't worry about your honour. You'll be perfectly safe from a man-mad female. I live with my parents and mother will be there."
"Actually, I was concerned about your honour and what the neighbours might think."
"They'll think whatever they want to think. I don't care. But thank you for the thought."
She led him to her car.
"Perhaps you should go to the hospital for a tetanus injection," Jenny said as she started the engine.
"No need," Peter replied curtly. "I'm an estate agent. I was looking around a property last week to assess its value and the owner's dog took a dislike to me. I got an injection then."
She laughed. "It seems that dogs have quite a taste for you."
"Quite frankly, I don't find this situation very amusing," Peter told her.
"No, of course not. I'm sorry. I have a slightly distorted sense of humour."
"Yes, you do." Peter's tone was grim.
Not a word was spoken after that. Peter stared moodily out of the window and tried to keep the wet clothes off his skin; an impossible task. When they arrived at the house he was bundled inside and, after a quick explanation, taken upstairs to the shower by Jenny's mother. He emerged feeling decidedly better, and found an old shirt and a pair of trousers laid out for him.
Jenny was sitting in a large armchair, reading a magazine, when Peter went downstairs. She had changed from a blouse and slacks into a colourful summer dress, which tantalisingly revealed her beautiful shoulders and more than a hint of cleavage. He gazed at her in admiration. By now the incidents at the riverside had faded into an unpleasant memory.
Jenny looked up from her magazine. "Oh hello. How are you feeling now?"
"Fine, thank you. The shower worked wonders. I feel a new man."
Jenny smiled. "You're looking pretty good in daddy's old clothes. Fit you quite well. Yours are still drying. They probably won't be ready for another hour or so. You got rather wet."
"I did indeed," said Peter ruefully.
"And it was all my fault. I'm sorry."
"Oh no, it wasn't your fault really. I should have been more careful when I went to the rescue of your dog. Come to think of it, he started it all, didn't he?"
"I suppose he did. He pulled me off the seat."
"And I picked you up again." Peter looked deeply into Jenny's eyes. "Do you know," he said, "if it hadn't been for your dog, we'd never have met."
"No, we wouldn't have, would we?"
They smiled at each other.
Scruffy was in the garden, contentedly crunching an enormous bone between his teeth, when he suddenly saw a shadow blot out the sun. He looked up and found Peter towering above him. He was trapped. With eyes tightly shut, he waited for the heavy smack that was bound to come.
It didn't. Instead, he received a long, caressing stroke along the length of his back.
"Good dog," Peter said softly.
Scruffy had pulled Jenny off the seat; had splashed about in the water and got himself wet so he dripped all over the car and the house; had almost drowned the young man and then bitten his ankle as hard as he could. In fact, Scruffy had been a big nuisance from beginning to end, yet here he was, receiving a pat and being told he was a good dog.
Humans were funny, there wtnas no doubt about that. Scruffy would never be able to understand them, so instead, he continued demolishing the bone.