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Family Of Four: 21 - A Watery Adventure

...The house above ours became vacant. Soon we could hear hammering, and from the night nursery window saw a hut, seven feet by five feet, being erected. We were told by Miss Redman that it was going to be a kennel for a large dog the new family were bringing with them. High gates, made of heavy wooden planks, were also placed midway between their back door and the path to the road. Miss Redman agreed with us that it would seem to be an extraordinarily large dog, we knew of no breed that could require such an enormous house to live in, and each day we watched eagerly to see what manner of beast this would be...

Mrs Vivien Hirst continues her vivid account of her childhood days.

Her newphew Raymond Prior, who loved to listen to his aunt's remininscences, gathered her stories into a book, Family Of Four.

The house above ours became vacant. Soon we could hear hammering, and from the night nursery window saw a hut, seven feet by five feet, being erected. We were told by Miss Redman that it was going to be a kennel for a large dog the new family were bringing with them. High gates, made of heavy wooden planks, were also placed midway between their back door and the path to the road. Miss Redman agreed with us that it would seem to be an extraordinarily large dog, we knew of no breed that could require such an enormous house to live in, and each day we watched eagerly to see what manner of beast this would be.

One morning we heard a fearsome, deep bay, and running into its own garden came a huge, brown, shaggy animal, tearing round and raising itself against our wall, where the top of its head could be seen. It was a most alarming sight, we were terrified it would leap over, and I was quite, quite sure it was not a dog at all, but a grisly bear. We found, thankfully, that our high wall was just too steep for it, but all the time it lived next door we felt afraid, and the tradesmen always had to ring at the wooden gates, which were kept locked, and were never allowed to go in alone.

Often we would see a small part of the dog's great head as the door was gingerly held ajar, just wide enough to admit the caller, or the parcel being handed over, and its deep bark was constantly with us. It was many weeks before I was persuaded that it was only a dog, and none of us has ever seen another quite like it. I have sometimes wondered what mixed
breed produced this unusual animal.

We gradually came to know the owners of the dog: they had one daughter, called Christine, the same age as Doreen, now seven years old. One cold, frosty morning Doreen was invited to go with Christine and her nurse to the Park. Later on Miss Redman and I went to join them, and when we were almost at the Park gate we saw a most unexpected sight.

Walking towards us came Christine, the nurse... and Doreen. Her arms were hanging loosely at her sides, sailor hat plunged absurdly over her eyes, hair straight and limp, coat sagging, and all dripping wet, leaving little pools behind her, and her face crumpled up with her gasping sobs.

Miss Redman hastened her stride, sharply asked the nurse, "Whatever has happened?" but not waiting for a reply, took Doreen by the hand and said, "Run child, it will warm you up and we must get home at once." Over her shoulder she threw a request for Christine and the nurse to look after me, and away they went.

I was alarmed and upset, and toddled after them as fast as my four year old legs would carry me. On arriving home I ran up to the nursery, and was just in time to see Mummy, standing with a spoon in one hand and a large bottle of castor oil in the other, and saying firmly to the protesting Doreen "Very well, if you won't take the medicine you must go to bed, at once,"and Doreen chose to go to bed, quite eagerly!

She had, of course, tumbled into the pond! Although it was frozen, Doreen had tried to make a hole in the ice to sail the small boat she had with her. She was about to give this up when an old gentleman came along with a stick, and kindly punched and cracked the ice until a large pool formed. Doreen was delighted and thanked him warmly. She and Christine had played for a little while when Doreen slipped on the slanting tiles, overbalanced and plunged into the icy water.

The nurse, instead of wading in to the rescue, stood on the path wringing her hands and shouting, "Help! help! help!" Doreen was in some difficulty for the cold had quite taken away her breath, her loose hair was over her face, her coat and buttoned boots heavy upon her, but, although she could not swim, she thrashed out clumsily and managed to keep her face, for the most part, on the surface.

Very fortunately, the elderly gentleman was still within ear-shot, and hastening up held out his stick and instructed Doreen to come near, and to grab it. She managed to do this and he, exerting all his frail strength and trying to keep a foothold on the icy tiles, gradually drew her out. No wonder she was sobbing when we met her, with the shock and the cold of her immersion and the misery of the wet, clinging garments.

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