As is its wont, the sun rose early the next morning. I had already risen, beating it by a few minutes or more. Throwing on a wrap, I wandered outside. All was deathly quiet and still; neither bird nor person could be seen or heard. Neither could I see any dogs, particularly two golden retrievers. Disconcerted, I showered and dressed for the day ahead, wondering what further disasters would unfold. So far, no telephone calls had come from the “Black Dahlia”. I hoped the status quo would remain for a few more hours, or days, if need be. Was I being a coward? Yes, I was. I had found myself in a very difficult position, a position I knew me and only me had to deal with whatever the outcome and consequences.
Gritting my teeth, I sat at the desk in the office. The paperwork wasn’t going to go away, though I would have swapped it readily without argument and let it run away in lieu of Duke and Duchess! My eyes misted over thinking of the possible fate of the dogs. If they’d gone down to the river, which was the most likely scenario being water dogs, I shuddered at the thought. Trying to blot gruesome images out of my mind, I did my utmost to concentrate of the work in front of me. It was difficult and almost impossible.
Out of the corner of my eye, through the window I noticed something moving at the gate leading into the enclosure. My heart lept. It pounded in my chest, the sound deafening. With what seemed like two strides, I was out the front door of the abode and through the gate. I may have jumped the fence for all I knew or cared. The only thing I could see was Duke, tail wagging furiously, a smile as wide as the
“Where’s Duchess, Duke?” I pleaded. “Where have you been? Where’s your lady?” In return he just licked my face, happy to be home after his grand adventure.
Grabbing his collar, I dragged Duke into the enclosure. He didn't put up a fight. It wouldn't have mattered if he did! In he was going and there he was going to remain.
“This is where you stay, fella!” I reprimanded him. “As long as I’m here there’ll be no more gallivanting around the countryside for you, my boy!”
I fed him. Gave him fresh water, but from his appearance he’d seen his fair share of water during his absence! I bathed him and then myself once again. All this happened before there was any other movement around the pub.
My joy at having Duke back home was clouded by the still absentee Duchess. She was no where to be seen. Duke didn’t seem concerned. Promptly after his bath, he curled up and went into an exhausted sleep. Lucky him! I was exhausted too, from worry. Sleep wasn’t on my agenda. A long day lay ahead. I still had one dog missing, a pregnant dog!
David was the first sign of human life I saw. He came down to the office immediately when he noticed Duke in the enclosure. He promised me that as soon as he completed his morning chores he would again go in search of the errant Duchess. There was little else we could do. I couldn’t leave the hotel for any length of time. The local blacks had passed the word around the previous day. The whole town was aware of my plight, I was certain.
The moment I dreaded came that afternoon.
I received a telephone call from the “Black Dahlia”, telling me she and her husband were having a wonderful time down in Gladstone and were driving on to Bundaberg the next day.
“Great,” I replied. “Make sure you enjoy yourselves and relax.”
“How is everything going up there?” She asked.
“Fine…fine…” I answered. Here it comes, I braced myself.
“How are the dogs?”
“Great…everything’s fine. It’s been very hot, but that’s to be expected. The “B & B” is on this Saturday and, of course, the races in the afternoon.” I continued, trying subtly to change the subject without getting myself into too much trouble, while trying not to lie.
“Don’t forget you’re going to be very busy on Sunday morning for the “recovery”. The 'recovery" is always a hectic day as everyone from all around and far removed, is in town," she advised.
“So I’ve been told,” I said. “I’ll be prepared.All the orders have been placed and I expect them in the morning.”
We chatted for a couple of minutes longer. No further mention of the dogs was made by either her or me. With a sigh of relief, I replaced the receiver and wandered out onto the pub verandah to contemplate my fate. The tall tree across the way still haunted me.
The day progressed into night with still no sign of Duchess. I’d locked Duke up in the air-conditioned unit at the appointed time as usual, fruitlessly questioning him as I did so, wishing I could speak “dog” and also understand their language. One does have such wild thoughts in certain situations.
Around , I went down to my quarters. I can’t remember for what reason, but in the filtered light I could see something moving. Running along the fence of the enclosure trying to get in was a bedraggled Duchess! My legs almost crumpled beneath me as I sprinted towards her. Swiftly, I ushered her into the unit, caring not that she was filthy dirty. I would worry about that the next day. The only important issue was Duchess and her unborn puppies were home again, safe and sound. Duke greeted her with much excitement. She reciprocated his joy. I guess, I did, too. I was overcome with relief. Never again would I allow them out for a run around the pub yard. From now on until the end of my time in Normanton they would remained confined to quarters. They had had enough freedom for my heart to stand.
Once back up at the bar, I shouted the late-night stragglers a drink. Cheers resounded throughout the pub. All was well again in the Central Hotel.
Two days later, I was told by one of the bar girls that a fellow wanted to see me in the “Black Bar”. Standing before me with a broad, gap-toothed smile of expectation on his face was one of my “Mango Loungers”.
“Found ya dog, Missie!” He gloated.
“I don’t think so,” I smiled back at him.
“Yeah, Missie…got ‘im outside. There ‘e is!”
“Sorry, mate…you’re a couple of days late. The dogs came back home a couple of days ago. That’s not my dog. I think you’d better return him to from wherever you got him,” I told him as gently as I could.
The poor fellow became crestfallen. He looked at me with huge, pleading eyes. I felt a pang of sympathy for him. His dream of getting a free carton of beer and a cask of wine had disappeared quickly from his reach.
“Sorry, mate,” I repeated. “Thank you for trying, though. I appreciate your help.” I gave him a pot of beer. I could see that one glass of beer didn’t make up for the loss of a carton and cask, but it was better than nothing.
I’ve always wondered where he found the poor scrawny mutt out on the verandah or to whom it belonged, and whether it was returned to from whence it was taken.As for the tree across the road, each time I looked at it, I rubbed my neck and then saluted its sturdy trunk and strong branches.
To be continued...