Look­ing Af­ter Lucy by Pauline Brad­bury

The lit­tle dog was lovely, but who did she be­long to?

The People's Friend - - Contents -

IT’S that dog again, Mum!” Joey’s shouts reached the kitchen where Lou was wrestling with the con­tents of her small freezer com­part­ment, which had slith­ered on to the floor as she pulled a loaf out from the back.

“Just a minute,” she called, try­ing to fit it all in again quickly.

With one firm shove she man­aged to slam the door on the mud­dle.

I shall have to sort it later, she told her­self. She had all day, af­ter all.

She wished that she didn’t have all day. She wished that she was hur­ry­ing Joey off to school and then go­ing on to work. A nor­mal day.

In­stead, Joey’s asthma was bad again and she’d had to call the shop and set­tle for yet an­other day’s pay docked from her weekly wage.

At least it’s not one of his bad at­tacks, she thought, be­cause there he was, nose pressed against the win­dow, point­ing ex­cit­edly out­side.

“Look, Mum,” he wheezed. “It’s the same dog that we saw yes­ter­day. I don’t think it’s got a home.”

He turned to look at Lou hope­fully.

“It knows I’m here. Can we give it a bis­cuit?”

It was the same dog, though its silky coat, freck­led a pretty brown and white, was now look­ing rather wet and grubby.

It had rained a lot, and it cer­tainly didn’t look as if it had spent the night warmly tucked up any­where.

On the other hand, it wasn’t thin, so it couldn’t have been a stray for very long.

Lou gazed at Joey. How could she refuse him?

He put up with his bouts of asthma so sto­ically, and when Steven had left, tak­ing his dog with him, Joey had had two trau­mas to over­come. His dad leav­ing, and hav­ing to cope with­out his dad’s bull ter­rier, Cap­tain.

“I have to take Cap­tain with me, Joe,” Steven had said in his abrupt way. “He looks af­ter the van for me while I de­liver. I’ll buy you an­other dog.”

Of course, he never did, nor had Lou ex­pected him to, any more than she ex­pected any reg­u­lar con­tact, but at least the money came through all right, so with her own job as well, she could just about man­age.

“As long as you prom­ise to sit qui­etly af­ter­wards, Joey. You know get­ting ex­cited makes your ch­est worse,” Lou re­lented.

“And some wa­ter,” Joey pleaded.

Lou for­bore to say that there were plenty of pud­dles out­side. In­stead, she found a packet of plain biscuits and handed them to Joey.

“Two,” she said firmly. To­gether they went to open the door.

The dog ran to­wards them, tail wag­ging, its body wrig­gling with de­light at hav­ing found friends.

The biscuits were gone in a trice.

“One more, and I’ll fetch some wa­ter.” Lou turned back into the kitchen.

“Don’t let it come in,” she warned.

She was too late. When she turned round, one smil­ing seven-year-old and one bedrag­gled dog were be­hind her.

“It needs dried,” Joey told her, drag­ging the kitchen towel off a chair.

Lou watched in ex­as­per­a­tion as Joey pat­ted it gen­tly.

“It’s got long ears!” he ex­claimed. “And its hair is a bit wavy as if it’s been to the hair­dresser’s.”

As Joey gig­gled at his own joke, Lou re­alised that he was hardly wheez­ing at all. Con­tact with this dog was re­lax­ing him, just like hav­ing Cap­tain around used to do.

“I think it might be a spaniel,” she told him. “They have long ears. I guess there’s some­body out there who is very wor­ried about it.”

But she knew when she was beaten.

Be­fore she rang the po­lice, the lit­tle dog was des­tined to have a morn­ing with Joey.

“I think it would like a rest now,” Joey an­nounced. “Come on, lit­tle dog. You can sit with me.”

“Shall I put the telly on?” Lou asked.

“It might frighten it,” Joey said earnestly. “I think it wants to be quiet.”

Ten min­utes later, boy and dog were sound asleep. Af­ter Joey’s dif­fi­cult night, Lou could only feel huge re­lief.

Shelve the prob­lem for a few hours, she told her­self. For Joey’s sake.

****

Lou couldn’t be­lieve how much bet­ter Joey was af­ter a cou­ple of hours’ deep sleep. Nei­ther he nor the dog had stirred.

“Can I have baked beans on toast, Mum?” he asked brightly with no trace of a wheeze. “And Shadow wants some­thing, too.”

“The dog you’ve been look­ing af­ter? She’s mine”

“Shadow?” Lou echoed.

“We used to have a story at nurs­ery about Shadow. Shadow the sheep­dog, it was called. But my Shadow isn’t a sheep­dog, is he?”

“No, and he’s not yours, love. Not to keep. But he can have some por­ridge. While you and Shadow are eat­ing, I’ll ring the po­lice.”

The con­sta­ble was not very help­ful. Apart from tak­ing a de­scrip­tion of the dog and her own de­tails, he as­serted that the sta­tion had no fa­cil­i­ties for hold­ing home­less dogs, and ad­vised tak­ing it straight to the RSPCA ken­nels, where­upon he rat­tled off their num­ber.

That or­gan­i­sa­tion was very un­der­stand­ing and help­ful, but didn’t have an im­me­di­ate an­swer.

“If you can’t get the dog to us, I’m afraid it may be a cou­ple of days be­fore we can col­lect it. We’re run off our feet here.”

So, giv­ing her de­tails once again, Lou re­signed her­self to hav­ing the vis­i­tor a bit longer.

“That doesn’t mean he’s ours, love,” she warned Joey. “We’ve just got to look af­ter him over the week­end.”

“Two whole days!” he shouted joy­fully, bend­ing to hug his new friend. “I found Cap­tain’s old col­lar and lead. Dad gave them to me when he left.”

“In that case, if you feel up to walk­ing to the corner shop, we’ll take Shadow to buy some dog food.”

The out­ing was a great suc­cess. Shadow trot­ted hap­pily along­side them with Joey proudly hold­ing his lead.

On the way home, Joey hopped and skipped and was hardly wheez­ing at all.

For the last few yards, Lou had the odd feel­ing there was some­body just be­hind them, al­though when they crossed the road, she couldn’t see any­body.

The street lights were com­ing on so there were lots of shad­ows. She must have imag­ined it.

That’s what a sleep­less night does, she thought. It plays tricks on your imag­i­na­tion.

Even so, be­fore she hung up their coats, she drew the front-room cur­tains firmly across.

****

“Af­ter I’ve done the Satur­day chores,” Lou promised Joey the next morn­ing, “we could take Shadow to the park and have a walk.”

By the time they had walked round the park twice, Joey’s eyes were sparkling with plea­sure.

“I wish that we could keep him for ever,” he said long­ingly.

“I think that Shadow might not be a him but a her,” Lou sug­gested ten­ta­tively.

“I still think he’s a boy,” Joey replied firmly.

Lou de­cided now was not the time for an ex­pla­na­tion, be­cause for the last few min­utes she’d had that un­easy feel­ing that there was some­body fol­low­ing them.

“That’s enough ex­er­cise for this morn­ing,” she told Joey. “Per­haps more later. You must rest now and maybe prac­tise your read­ing. You can read to Shadow.”

That idea went down very well, and soon Joey was valiantly spell­ing out words and point­ing at the pic­tures for Shadow, who was nes­tled be­side him.

“I’ve still got that freezer to sort out from yes­ter­day,” Lou told him, leav­ing them to it.

She had just taken ev­ery­thing out and was about to put it all back in tidily when there was a knock at the door, fol­lowed by the bell.

“What on earth . . .?” she mut­tered, once again gath­er­ing up the frozen pack­ages and push­ing them all back in. “Who can be mak­ing a racket like that?”

It was a skinny-look­ing guy, younger than Lou, and al­though he was all smiles, they seemed forced, mak­ing her feel un­com­fort­able.

“Yes?” she man­aged, hop­ing Joey wouldn’t come out.

“Ex­cuse me,” he apol­o­gised, his voice sound­ing over-po­lite. “I hope I didn’t star­tle you, but I ex­pect you can guess why I’m here.”

Lou shook her head in be­wil­der­ment.

“My dog,” he ex­plained. “The dog you’ve been look­ing af­ter. She’s mine.”

“He’s a stray,” Lou blurted out de­fen­sively. “We thought he was a stray.”

“No,” he cor­rected her. “She’s mine. Got a pedi­gree as long as your arm. Worth a lot of money.”

He was still smil­ing, but Lou couldn’t warm to him.

“I spot­ted you walk­ing in the park with your lit­tle lad. It looked as if he was en­joy­ing him­self with the dog, but right’s right. Got to have my dog back.”

At that moment, Joey put his head round the door en­quir­ingly.

“This is Shadow’s owner,” Lou said hur­riedly. “He’s come to col­lect him, so can you fetch him?”

Joey looked from Lou to the man, then in­stead of burst­ing into tears and mak­ing a huge fuss, he dis­ap­peared back into the front room.

Lou held her breath, half won­der­ing if he would refuse to give the dog up, but she needn’t have wor­ried be­cause a moment later he reap­peared, hav­ing put Cap­tain’s old col­lar and lead on Shadow.

“Here,” he said gravely, hand­ing the lead over. “I think you should take bet­ter care of him, then he wouldn’t have got lost. Mum and me were just look­ing af­ter him.”

Turn­ing abruptly, he went back into the front room and slammed the door.

The guy’s grin was in­gra­ti­at­ing.

“Nice lad you’ve got there,” he mut­tered. “I’ll be on my way with her, then.”

“What’s her name?” Lou asked, doubt­ful about hand­ing the dog over so eas­ily, but not know­ing what else to do.

“Lucy,” he replied promptly.

As he said her name, the dog looked up know­ingly, ears pricked, and wag­ging her tail slightly.

That was gen­uine, Lou thought in re­lief.

“And a very lucky Lucy to have been looked af­ter by such nice peo­ple.” His smile was al­most a leer.

“Have you got far to go?” Lou was des­per­ately try­ing to think of any­thing else she should ask, but her mind was a blank.

“My car is round the corner,” he replied promptly, and scoop­ing the dog up quickly, he turned to go. “See you around.” Again came the smile. “Not if I see you first,” Lou whis­pered as she shut the door and leaned against it for a moment, try­ing to col­lect her thoughts ready to con­sole Joey.

But in the end, it was Joey who con­soled her.

“I’m not up­set be­cause Shadow had to go,” he told her be­tween hic­cup­ping sobs. “I knew he wasn’t ours. It’s be­cause I don’t think that man looked like a nice per­son to have Shadow.”

Lou was think­ing much the same, but she didn’t want Joey to know that.

“He was prob­a­bly a bit strange be­cause he knew he should have taken bet­ter care of Shadow and was feel­ing guilty,” she told him.

“He never even made a fuss of him or thanked us,” Joey went on in­dig­nantly. “We won’t ever see him again.”

Lou could feel that Joey was work­ing him­self up to tears again, or one of his rare tantrums.

“Think pos­i­tively, Joey.” She smiled cheer­fully. “We did a good turn. There is a say­ing that one good turn de­serves an­other. Some­thing nice might hap­pen to us next.”

She got up and switched on the TV.

“Let’s play one of

your favourites while you have a rest,” she sug­gested, hop­ing that the dis­trac­tion would ward off any re­turn of his wheez­ing. “I’ll make a snack.”

“Not hun­gry,” Joey mut­tered as she set a tray down be­side him. “Do you think that man takes care of Shadow?”

“Well, he must feed him prop­erly,” Lou an­swered, think­ing it best to keep to Joey’s as­ser­tion that Shadow was a boy, even though the guy had called the dog Lucy. “He wasn’t thin, was he?”

Lou wasn’t feel­ing hun­gry, ei­ther. Per­haps she should have been more friendly and not been put off by the guy’s smarmy at­ti­tude.

Maybe he’d only been like that be­cause he was em­bar­rassed.

It wasn’t like her to be tongue tied, ei­ther.

She had han­dled the sit­u­a­tion badly, whereas Joey had done so well, even part­ing with Cap­tain’s col­lar and lead, which he had ob­vi­ously been trea­sur­ing all these months.

“I’m not that hun­gry ei­ther, Joey,” she ad­mit­ted. “Maybe we can have these sand­wiches later. How about hav­ing some crisps for a treat, and then a banana?”

She got her re­ward be­cause Joey’s face lit up. He wasn’t al­lowed crisps very of­ten.

As she stood up, the door­bell rang pierc­ingly, mak­ing them both jump.

Joey’s face was half ap­pre­hen­sive, half ex­pec­tant, whereas hers was wholly anxious.

“Has that man brought Shadow back?” Joey won­dered.

“Maybe it’s best if you sit tight here,” Lou told him.

That was too much to ex­pect, how­ever. She could feel Joey hov­er­ing be­hind her as, try­ing to ap­pear un­con­cerned, she opened the door.

An­other un­known man stood there.

“Lou Jones? I’m sorry to bother you,” he said hes­i­tantly. “I’ve come about the dog you found. I got the de­tails from the po­lice.”

Lou stared at him. “And the RSPCA,” he added help­fully.

“But . . .” Lou floun­dered.

Joey squeezed past her. “We have just given Shadow back to his owner,” he ex­plained firmly.

“You found a brown and white spaniel, I was told,” the man con­tin­ued, smil­ing down at Joey. “She’s mine. Well, not ex­actly, but I was look­ing af­ter her.”

“So who was the other man?” Joey de­manded. “Yes, who?” Lou echoed. She pulled her­self to­gether. This man was en­tirely dif­fer­ent from the first one. Older, re­as­sur­ingly nor­mal and sound­ing very anxious.

Sud­denly he reg­is­tered what they had said.

“You mean you haven’t got her? You gave her to some­one else?” he asked, run­ning his fin­gers through his dark hair ag­i­tat­edly.

“He told us the dog was his.” Lou nod­ded. “He even knew her name. What else could we do?”

He looked puz­zled for a moment, then his face cleared.

“Well, of course, it was on the poster. I know what’s hap­pened now,” he de­clared. “I have to go. I’ll be back.”

He raced out to his parked car and revved off.

“What was all that about?” Lou gazed at Joey.

“I wish we had kept Shadow for that man,” Joey replied. “He was much nicer.”

Lou had to agree about that. He was the sort of per­son you im­me­di­ately knew was trust­wor­thy.

“I hope he will come back.”

“Me, too.”

Only to hear the end of the story, Lou re­minded her­self, though deep down she recog­nised that in those few min­utes her heart had been oddly stirred.

The rest of the day dragged. Nei­ther she nor Joey could set­tle.

“Shall we pop to the corner shop, love?” she sug­gested hope­fully.

“No,” Joey an­swered ve­he­mently. “That man might come back.”

At last he de­cided to get his Lego box out, so Lou went into the kitchen to sort out her freezer com­part­ment.

“Third time lucky,” she said to her­self as she be­gan to empty it.

“Mum, there’s a car park­ing out­side!” Joey called. “It’s that man and he’s got Shadow.”

Lou rushed into the hall at the same time as the bell rang, but Joey beat her to it.

“Shadow!” he ex­claimed de­light­edly as the dog, tail wag­ging, bounded over the thresh­old.

“Hey, mind your man­ners, Lucy.” The man laughed. “We haven’t been in­vited in yet. I’m Toby We­ston.”

His grin was friendly and in­fec­tious.

“Please come in.” Lou smiled back at him. “We want to hear the rest of the story.”

It didn’t take long. Toby had been look­ing af­ter his par­ents’ beloved spaniel, Lucy, while they went away for a few days.

“Lucy?” Joey queried. “A girl dog?”

Toby grinned at him. “Yes, def­i­nitely a girl. Any­way,” he went on, “two days ago Lucy slipped out the back gate and dis­ap­peared.

“I was dev­as­tated, and I knew my mother would be be­side her­self, es­pe­cially as Lucy is a preg­nant mum.

“I spent ages search­ing, and I put up posters ev­ery­where with her picture and name, of­fer­ing a re­ward.

“Then I rang the po­lice and the RSPCA and got your de­tails. I can’t thank you enough for look­ing af­ter her.”

“But how did you get her back from that guy who took her from us?” Lou was be­wil­dered.

“It was quite sim­ple. I had of­fered a very sub­stan­tial re­ward. That guy had ob­vi­ously seen a poster, then spot­ted you out with her and thought he would make some easy money.”

“Yes. We did go for two nice walks,” Joey told him with a grin.

So some­body was fol­low­ing us, Lou thought.

“I went straight home,” Toby con­tin­ued, “And sure enough this guy turned up on my doorstep, de­mand­ing the re­ward.

“I was so re­lieved to get Lucy back, I nearly gave him the money there and then, but I men­tioned the po­lice giv­ing me your ad­dress, and that I must get in touch with them.

“That put the wind up him, and he mut­tered some­thing about be­ing happy to help, handed over Lucy and legged it pretty quick.”

“Lucy,” Joey said, hug­ging her tightly. “That’s a nice name.”

“So the re­ward is yours.” Toby smiled at them both. “And here’s the col­lar and lead you gave her.”

“We don’t want a re­ward, do we, Joey?”

Sud­denly Lou felt re­laxed and happy.

“We just liked hav­ing her. Would you like a cof­fee be­fore you go?”

Toby fol­lowed her into the kitchen, where the con­tents of her freezer were rapidly de­frost­ing.

“Oh, no!” Lou gasped. “I for­got I was do­ing that!”

“You put the ket­tle on and I’ll see if any­thing is re­triev­able,” Toby said. “Then maybe to­mor­row I could give you a lift when you go shop­ping.” “That’s kind of you.” Joey came run­ning in, Lucy’s ears flop­ping as she bounced af­ter him.

“Will I be able to see Lucy some­times?” he asked shyly.

“Of course. She only lives a cou­ple of miles away from you. Not far from me. And when she has pup­pies you’ll be able to see them, too.”

Joey sighed in con­tent­ment.

“You said we’d get a good turn, Mum. Is this it?”

Lou looked across at Toby.

“I think it might be,” she said with a smile. ■

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