Shakespeare, who was right about pretty much everything, said that sorrows do not come in single spies, but in battalions. This morning the lovely stepfather called to say that my dog died in the night. The dear Duchess's old heart could not quite hold out until I got home from the funeral.
You can know her real name, now. There is no more privacy left to protect. (I still do not know what mad drive to discretion led me to give the dogs pseudonyms.) She was called Purdey and she was named by the nieces, when she arrived on a sunny day in August, twelve years ago, so small that she could fit into the cupped hands of the Younger Niece. She was named after the character in The New Avengers, and she was as cool and elegant as Joanna Lumley in her pomp. Although of course she would think that being compared to a popular television actress was most declassé, since she spent most of her waking hours dreaming of Chatsworth.
She was a really good dog. She was lean and athletic; in her younger days she could jump a three foot fence from a standing start, like a deer. She could run at thirty miles an hour like a cheetah, and swim along the burn like an otter. She most especially liked digging for moles and voles and other small critters, although if she ever caught her prey she had no idea what to do with it. I once saw her bark a small rabbit to death. I was rushing to set the poor thing free, while she stood over it, rather regally, barking down at it. As I got there, it sighed, and expired of fright.
She went her own way, both literally (deciding that she would not necessarily come when she was called, but in her own sweet time, when she was good and ready) and in the mysterious ways of her doggy mind. She liked to lie alone, often going into the next room when I was working, stretching herself out in majestic solitude. When she felt like it, she would come in for love. She did not want much, just enough, and once she had it, she would wander away again.
She loved tall handsome men and very small children. She would vamp shamelessly for the Stepfather and the Brother-in-law, blinking her eyes and wagging her tail and grinning up at them. With the small people, her favourite thing was to wait until they were not looking and then move in for a quick lick of affection on the tips of their noses. She did this the last day I saw her, with one of the small great-nephews.
'Did she give you a kiss on the nose?' I asked the surprised little face.
'Yes, she did,' he said. 'A big kiss on the nose.'
With the nieces, she would stare with her serious yellow eyes, and roll over so they could rub her stomach. With my mum, she would clamber onto the bed and lie still and silent. 'She's a therapy dog,' I would say. 'Good for your aches and pains.' My friend Margaret taught her to give a paw for a biscuit. With my sister, she would creep onto the sofa, one delicate paw at a time. 'Oh you are a lap-creeper, you old thing,' The Sister would say.
With her own sister, she would curl up so close that you could not tell where one ended and the other began, and rest her regal chin on The Pigeon's shoulder.
With me; well, with me, there are not enough words. She gave an inexaustible supply of love, companionship and laughter. I took her to Colonsay, where she raced along white beaches and swam in the sea; I took her to London, where she chased squirrels in Hyde Park and lay down to rest by the Serpentine; I took her to the Lake District, where she paraded through the streets of Kirkby Lonsdale like she owned the place.
She liked a road trip. She would sit beside me in the car, staring seriously out of the window. This last trip I took alone. It was too complicated, with the funeral arrangements and I feared that her poor old heart, which was failing, would not be up to it. So I left her for four days with my mother and stepfather, with whom she was always very happy, and they found her this morning, lying by the door, that fine, brave heart finally stopped for good.
I was doing pretty well, with the whole father thing, if you can 'do well' with grief. The funeral, which I had dreaded, was actually very lovely. It was a fine and fitting goodbye. In the late afternoon, I drove the hour through the verdant English countryside to my cousin's house, the sun drowsing over the bosky trees, letting the knowledge of loss settle and stretch in me. I felt oddly calm. But this morning, the loss of my dog came as a hard blow on a fresh bruise.
I had to run some errands. I found myself in Cirencester. I went into a bookshop. I realised that I was looking for a book called: What to do when your dad and your dog dies. It turns out there is no such book.
'Damn,' I thought to myself. 'I shall have to write that bloody book my bloody self.'
As I write this, my very small friend H comes into the room and arranges herself on my lap. 'Pictures of DOGGIES,' she cries. 'I like that doggy,' she says, pointing at the darling old Duchess.
She stops, thinks for a moment. Then she says: 'I like her eyes.'
I look down at her. She is three years old. I think: life really does go on.
This ship is not sinking. We are taking on a bit of water over the side, just now. My plan is: to keep bailing.