Before Elfrida Phipps left London for good, and moved to the country, she made a trip to Battersea Dogs Home, and returned with a canine companion. It took a good and heart-rending half-hour to find him, but as soon as she saw him, sitting very close to the bars of his kennel and gazing up at her with dark, melting eyes, she knew that he was the one. She did not want a large animal, nor did she relish the idea of a yapping lap-dog. This one was exactly the right size. Dog size.
He had a lot of soft hair, some of which fell over his eyes, ears that could prick or droop, and a triumphant plume of a tail.
His colouring was irregularly patched brown and white. The brown bits were the exact shade of milky cocoa. When asked his ancestry, the kennelmaid said she thought there was border collie there and a bit of bearded collie, as well as a few other unidentified breeds. Elfrida didn't care. She liked the expression on his gentle face.
She left a donation for the Battersea Dogs Home, and her new companion travelled away with her, sitting in the passenger seat of her old car and gazing from the window in a satisfied fashion, as though this were the life to which he was happy to become accustomed.
The next day, she took him to the local poodle parlour for a cut, shampoo and blow dry. He returned to her fluffy and fresh and smelling sweetly of lemonade. His response to all this sybaritic attention was a show of faithful, grateful and loving devotion. He was a shy, even timid, dog, but brave as well. If the doorbell rang, or he thought he spied an intruder, he barked his head off for a moment, then retreated to his basket or to Elfrida's lap.
It took some time to decide on a name for him, but in the end she christened him Horace.
Elfrida, with a basket in her hand and Horace firmly clipped to the end of his lead, closed the front door of her cottage behind her, walked down the narrow path, through the gate, and set off down the pavement towards the Post Office and General Store.