Apart from the occasional sun-drenched summer, the city of London is not noted for its balmy weather. However, a good brisk walk around its labyrinthine streets, lanes, and alleyways could never be construed as a boring way to pass the time, especially if an amble around the outer suburbs of the city is conducted in the company of man’s best friend, the family dog.
Mr. John, his wife, and their two-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever lived in a rambling two-storey house in the leafy London suburb of St. John’s Wood. Mr. John was self-employed, running his business from home while his wife played the time-honoured role of an ‘English lady’, doing nothing, but doing it in style.
A fit and healthy man who enjoyed his football and cricket, Mr. John and his wife liked to spend the weekends in the country, at a picturesque little place called Poynings.
The pair, accompanied by their retriever, would while away a glorious two days ensconced in a refurbished gypsy caravan, sited on a spacious farm owned by a friend.
The retriever, which bore the pretentious cognomen of ‘Prince’, would terrorise the farms’ cats, ducks, geese and, when feeling brave, the occasional meandering, cud-chewing bovine. He also enjoyed swimming, being especially fond of the farms’ duck pond.
Once the pair alighted from their car in the driveway of the farm, it was all Mr. John and his wife could do to keep the headstrong canine from launching itself headlong into the murky waters in pursuit of feathered sport. It seemed as though he relished getting wet.
During the working week, Mr. John would dutifully take Prince for a brisk twenty-minute walk around the environs of St. John’s Wood.
Every evening at around dusk, come rain, hail or shine, the two could be observed making their collective way along the pavements. Prince, ever obedient, ever adoring of his master, would walk briskly alongside Mr. John, unencumbered by a lead.
Prince was not like the other mongrel-types you often saw on the streets of London. Types that would refuse to come to heel and therefore required a lead whenever taken for their exercise. No, Prince was an obedient, if somewhat aristocratic, servant. No shackles were required for him.
It was mid-November and the nights were closing in early, becoming long, dark, and cold. Londoners were suggesting that winter, just a few days away, looked like being particularly cold.
One evening, the city was subjected to an unusually heavy downpour. The serried ranks of black clouds that had hung heavy and low in the afternoon sky had given speed to the onset of night.
The rain began as a light but persistent drizzle, but soon reached an intensity and duration not often experienced in the ancient capital.
Mr. John, looking out of the upper floor window, remarking with classic understatement, “The rain’s rather heavy.”
Turning to his wife, curled up on the sofa beside a roaring log fire, slowly savouring the chocolates her husband dutifully brought home each evening, he asked, “Do you think I should still take Prince for his walk? It’s a devilish night out there.”
Prince had also curled up by the nice warm fire, his eyelids drooping in that dreamlike stage before sleep overtakes the senses.
“Oh, but of course dear, he needs his exercise,” replied his wife, as yet another caramel delight found its way onto her tongue.
“Yes, I suppose you’re right. But it’ll be a quick trip for you tonight old boy,” said Mr. John, addressing the last part of his comments directly to a decidedly disinterested canine.
“Come on then, up with you and let’s go for a walk,” continued Mr. John.
Upon hearing the magical word ‘walk’, Prince sprang to attention, shook himself awake and, wagging his tail, trotted to the door of the lounge room.
Mr. John descended the stairs with Prince at his side, put on a raincoat, armed himself with an umbrella, and opened the front door.
With a shiver he strode purposefully down the four front steps at the entrance to the house, and marched off into the bleak, blustery, cold and wet night.
The leafy streets of St. John’s Wood were virtually deserted. Only a few vehicles, their headlights ablaze, were making their way carefully down the rain-sodden road, and there was not another pedestrian in sight.
Mr. John had spent the war years- the Second World War that is- as a member of Britain’s finest, the Brigade of Guards. ‘You didn’t get this sort of weather in the Western Desert when we were chasing that bugger Rommel,’ Mr. John mused to himself as he turned the first bend in the road. ‘It was bloody hot all the time. And those damned flies. Millions of them.’
Striding ever more purposefully to the end of the street he thought, ‘By God it’s cold. The bloody wind goes straight through you, not around you. Probably will be a damnable cold winter. This raincoat and umbrella are bloody useless.’
Mr. John turned yet another corner and decided to make the trip even shorter than he’d originally planned, turning down a narrow lane-way. The lane-way was poorly lit, but would take a sizeable slice off the walking distance.
‘Oh well, not far now,’ he thought. ‘I’ll have a nice hot bath when we get back.’
Turning for home, Mr. John clapped on the walking pace. Just a couple of minutes later he reached the steps to his house. His sigh of relief was audible as he mounted the four steps, opened the door, and shook his sodden umbrella.
Suddenly, his eyes caught movement at the top of the second floor landing.
There, staring down at him with a bemused expression was a very dry, very warm, very contented golden retriever.