The drive up to The Lakes the previous day had been wet and dreary for the Smiths. The kids had nearly driven them mad with their continuous squabbling, shouting and kicking. Even restoring the phones (confiscated before setting out to encourage appreciation of the countryside) had not solved the problems.
Buster the beagle however, perched on top on the luggage, somehow seemed to sleep the entire journey.
Sandra and Jim Smith had thrown caution to the winds and decided to forego their usual trip to Spain and join their friends in The Lakes. Maureen & Geoff Hardcastle had for the last few years rented a large cottage and insisted that they join them this year. Jim suspected that the Smiths were getting somewhat tired of each other’s company and that he and Sandra would be a useful distraction. However, on the plus side, sharing the cottage looked to be a much cheaper holiday than Spain.
The only problem had been that the Hardcastle’s hated dogs. Sandra had had to plead with Maureen, saying that the children would be heart-broken if they had to leave Buster behind.
‘He’s never been left since we got him after last year’s holiday!’
‘Well, where’s he going to sleep then?’ Came back Maureen, ‘We can’t have a dirty dog sleeping in the bedrooms!’
‘He’ll be fine, we’ll bring his bed and he can just sleep downstairs somewhere.’
‘You’ll have to make sure you do your share of the cleaning, then. I’m certainly not tidying up after a dog! God, no!’
An armed truce had thus broken out.
The first night passed without incident. The following morning, Sandra and Maureen departed early, for the trip to the nearest town with a decent supermarket, to stock up. Geoff and Jim, having found a dead tree the wind had brought down some years ago, decided to chop up enough logs to keep them going for the two weeks.
By this time, the early rain had stopped and the sun was starting to peek through the clouds.
‘Come on guys, time to go exploring!’ shouted Sukie, the elder of the two Hardcastle children, ‘Now we’ve got rid of the parents, Mike and I will show you around.’
The four of them tramped off down the footpath that led around the large field behind the cottage, with Buster straining at his leash.
‘Why don’t you let him off the lead?’ said Mike ‘There’s no-one about and we could throw sticks for him.’
‘He’s not a retriever!’ replied Mandy
‘Yes, we can see that!’ Shot back Sukie as they trudged along, ‘Anyway, it’s not fair to keep a dog on the lead when he could be running around. You wouldn’t like it!’
‘I know,’ responded Mike, ‘if we cut through the wood here we can get into the back part of the Heathcote estate. Mr Heathcote-Saville is never about and Buster can run around while we paddle in the lake.’
‘He’s not a Mr anymore,’ corrected Sukie ‘Mummy said he’s been knighted. She read it in the last honours list.’
‘What’s knighted mean?’ Asked Christopher.
‘It means he can stay out late but you have to call him Sir!’ said Mike, winking at Mandy. ‘Come on, we can cut through the woods here.’
The four of them set off through a gap in the hedge and into the wood. With Buster trying his hardest to sniff at anything and everything along their route, they made slow progress, scrunching through the deep carpet of dried leaves and twigs that lined the wood.
‘You can let him off the lead here, surely?’ said Mike getting closer to Mandy, ‘If you want something to hold instead of that lead, one of my hands is doing nothing.’
Mandy blushed but took the lead off Buster, who immediately stood stock still, raised his head, sniffed the air and charged off deeper into the wood.
‘Oh, God, Buster! Buster!’ shouted Mandy and turned to Mike ‘Look what you’ve made me do!’
‘Haven’t made you do anything! He’ll come back in a minute.’
‘Well, help me find him then!’
They all rushed off in pursuit of the errant Buster, who had disappeared from sight. With no sign of him, they spread out in a line (just like in the TV programmes) all shouting for the lost beagle at the top of their voices. Through the wood they tramped until, at last, they broke through at the fence that marked the edge of the Heathcote estate. A sweeping vista of moorland led down to a magnificent lake. High up on the far side stood Heathcote House, a vast Palladian mansion.
They stood and gawped at the view until they were brought back to reality with Christopher shouting ‘Buster, Buster, I see Buster!’
And there he was in the distance…standing over what looked like a pile of rags which he was attacking with great enthusiasm. They ran down the steep slope towards him but, even before they could identify what it was that Buster was attacking, the stench hit them. The pungent, sickly, sweet stench was like nothing they had encountered before but it soon became clear. Buster was tucking into the rancid remains of a sheep’s carcass. It was also quite apparent that he had rolled and rubbed himself into the carcass and was covered in the muck from tail to snout.
With everyone else standing well back with hankies or whatever clutched over their noses, Mike grabbed the lead from Mandy and soon had the delinquent dog under control once more.
‘We’ll have to dunk him in the lake – we can’t bring him back in that state!’ declared Sukie, taking control. So off they trooped down the slope towards the lake. Mike took off his trainers and rolled up his jeans and led a reluctant Buster into the dark coloured water. It took some time before Mike, now helped by Mandy who had tucked her frock into her knickers, to get Buster looking presentable. By the time they had reached the cottage, Buster was quite dry and presentable and seemed to have left the smell behind. The rest of the day passed without incident in relation to Buster and his activities.
It was Maureen’s shrieking that brought Sandra rushing downstairs early the following morning. There she found Maureen wailing with her face in her hands, Buster peeking sheepishly out from the behind the sofa and a large pile of rancid vomit in the middle of the beautiful white rug.
The disgusting smell lingered on for the next two weeks and the relationship between Sandra and Maureen was never quite the same again