The Mystery of the Missing Mutt
Hello, good evening, how d’you do? How delightful to see so many of you here! Now, my name is Marcus D’Invilliers-Strawley. I believe I’ve spoken to some of you before – you might know me as the owner of one Jack Russell Terrier, who goes by the name of Howard.
Now Howard, as some of you might know, is no ordinary mumbling mutt. He is a hound of the finest vintage; he was purchased from Harrods Pup Parlour at an extravagant rate fit for a dog, and came gift-wrapped with a bottle of Cognac dating back to 1654 – incidentally the year the first dogs emigrated to what is now known as the Doberman Republic.
It wasn’t long after I first adopted Howard into my humble abode of Strawley Manor, that I began to realise there was something a bit odd about him. For a start, he was wearing such fine smoking jackets, in which to smoke such fine tobacco, with which he consumed such fine beverages. It was only after he requested the key to the North-by-North-West Wing of the manor, where he could access the Classic-Picasso-Paintings-and-Dancing-Girls Parlour, that I realised I was dealing with a hound of the most exquisite taste.
Since Howard’s arrival at Strawley Manor, we’ve made quite the couple. Every day we’d have a breakfast of caviar with wine shipped straight from the region of Bordog; and after that, we’d have lunch, with a bone and wine shipped straight from the region of Cote D’og. Then in the afternoons we’d stroll about the manor, playing fetch and reciting the verse of his favourite poet, William Dogsworth.
In fact, it was on just such an afternoon that something rather strange happened.
Howard was just coming to the end of a particularly eloquent rendition of ‘Ode to a St Bernard’, and it was almost Pimms O’Clock. He was smoking his 200-year-old cedar-wood pipe, as he is liable to do on Thursdays. ‘Good for the elocution, you understand,’ he’d always say.
We were just reaching the South-by-South-Eastern region of the Estate, when all of a sudden the butler came flying over to us in his paraglider.
‘Sir!’ sighed the Butler. ‘A most terrible thing has happened! The painting in the Extravagant-Wines-Parlour has disappeared!’
‘Why!’ I cried. ‘I knew I should never have used that Harrods Own Brand wall paint!
‘No sir,’ he yawned once again. ‘I mean the portrait!’
‘By Dog,’ blasphemed Howard, suddenly distracted from the round of golf he had started playing. ‘You don’t mean to say that the portrait of my ancestor has been – embeagled?’
He was, of course, referring to the Renaissance-era portrait of his great-great-great Grand-dog, Lord St. Beagle Terrier of Balmoral, painted by Dieogo Velazmutt in 1643 – incidentally the year that the first dogs invented the leash.
‘You don’t mean,’ I said, turning to the Butler, ‘that the portrait has been stolen?’
‘Unfortunately so, sir! It is a most terrible thing to learn that such a prized possession as a family portrait, handed down from generation to generation over centuries, has been stolen or misplaced. Oh! ‘Tis no greater weight upon the heart than that of an anvil, come flying down from the intenser depths of darkness in which only the most evil acts of the cosmos could occur. Oh, woe is me! I can but hope and pray for it’s safe return, though until that time my mind shall be racked with fear, my hands a-shiver with existential damnation, and my spirit nailed to the sticking place of this futile, mortal coil.’ Laughed the Butler.
With my heart in my mouth I caught the two o’clock golf caddy back to the manor, and immediately had the manor doctor place the runaway organ back in its correct anatomical position.
Then, with the speed of a hungry whippet who’s just seen a pork sausage on the horizon, we made our way through the manor: through the Prosecco-Parlour, the Cinema-Parlour, the Cabaret-and-a-Martini-Parlour, the Horseracing-Parlour, the Non-Horseracing Parlour, The-Devonshire-Landscapes-and-Minstrel-Dancing Parlour, the Parliament-Parlour, the non-Parliament Parlour, the Parlour-Parlour, the non-Parlour-Parlour-Parlour, the Pit of Eternal Damnation, and finally our destination, the Extravagant-Wines-Parlour.
And indeed, there lay before us a most revolting sight: a bottle of Chateau d’Esclans 1948, left open on the table from our St. Labrador’s Day dinner party of the year before.
‘What a damned waste,’ said Howard, giving the wine the kiss of life to see if it was still breathing.
Then we turned our attention to the empty spot on the wall where the portrait had been hanging hours before. The painting had featured Howard’s ancestor stood nobly atop a grizzly bear that he had recently conquered. Now there was nothing but an empty space.
‘It is a little bare, isn’t it?’ remarked Howard.
‘Well, actually it was rather a large bear,’ I said.
‘That’s not what I – yes, anyway,’ said Howard, puffing pensively on his pipe of the finest vintage. ‘Now, old boy, whatever are we to do about this conundrum? I’d rather have it sorted by tea-time – I have an appointment scheduled with my vet this evening, you understand.’
I was about to pour myself a gin and tonic to help ease the nerves, but no sooner had the words ‘alcoholic assistance’ left my mouth than a sound of the feline variety erupted from behind me.
‘Well, well, well,’ purred the voice. ‘Looks like you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’
‘Well,’ said Howard, ‘if it isn’t Purrs Meow.’
And indeed it was none other than Purrs Meow, the mobster moggy, wearer of pinstripe suits and Howard’s sworn enemy.
‘And you thought you’d seen the last of me,’ cackled the criminal cat. ‘You ought to know that cats have more than one life, Howard old boy.’
‘What do you want, Purrs,’ growled the heated hound, sipping at his newly poured glass of whisky furiously. ‘Strawley Manor has no space for mischievous moggies such as yourself.’
‘Oh, I do not want much,’ purred the puss, lighting up a Cuban cigar of the finest vintage. ‘But if you want to see your painting again, then I suggest you give to me – the rights for the Strawley fresh water lake!’
‘The Strawley fresh water lake!’ I cried, mixing myself a single malt whisky. ‘Why, I could never give that to you! It contains salmon of the finest vintage!’
‘Exactly right!’ cried the cat. ‘The tastiest and most exquisite salmon a cat could lay its paws on! Why, with fish of such standard I could be a cat millionaire! A cationnaire!’
‘What a poor excuse for a neologism,’ remarked Howard, taking a seat and putting his Belgian brogues up on his paw-rest. ‘Here, Purrs old boy, why don’t you have a sip of this? It was milked fresh from the Strawley Manor cows just this very morning.’
All of a sudden Howard produced from his corduroy jacket none other than a saucer of milk of the finest vintage.
‘Milk!’ said the parsimonious puss. ‘From the Strawley Manor cows! Why, that is supposed to be the finest milk in the land!’
‘Indeed,’ said Howard. ‘And with just a hint of Sauvignon Blanc added to give it an extra – je ne sais quoi.’
‘I mustn’t, but – I cannot resist,’ gasped the moochy moggy as he battled desperately with his inner demons. ‘Oh, go on then – just one sip.’
He marched across the room and took just one lap of the milk.
‘There, that is all – but, oh, it is so tasty!’
Suddenly Purrs snatched the whole saucer out of Howard’s paw, and before we knew it all the milk was gone.
‘Oh no, I have made a mistake,’ growled the cat in yet another strange inversion of dog/feline roles. ‘You have put cat-nip in this milk!’
‘Looks like you might just have run out of another of your nine lives,’ quipped Howard, insouciantly checking the dogs-e 100 index on his canine-issue iphone.
But Purrs seemed more determined than that.
‘Aha! For you see, since last we met I have learnt to tackle the effects of cat-nip! It does not affect me anywhere near as much as it used to.’
But, just as we thought Purrs might have got away with it, in came the Butler, wheeling with him a tray carrying none other than a Strawley fresh water salmon.
‘Your afternoon salmon, sir, as requested?’ groaned the Butler.
‘Quick!’ I said. ‘Throw it out the window!’
‘Don’t worry, this one won’t bite you like last time.’
‘Just do it!’
The Butler obediently did as requested, and threw the salmon through the conveniently open window. Purrs, in his cat-nipped state, couldn’t resist.
‘I must have that fish!’ he cried as he sailed for the window. ‘I have the munchies!’
And before we knew it, Purrs Meow had jumped through the window, and was taken care of once again.
‘Terrific show!’ said I, clinking glasses with Howard in celebration. ‘May that be the end of Purrs Meow!’
‘Huzzah! Let’s all celebrate with a bottle of cognac!’ complained the Butler. ‘I’ll let my wife know immediately!’
I knew this would be difficult for the Butler, as he hadn’t spoken to his wife in twenty years. After all, he didn’t like to interrupt her.
‘I wouldn’t be so sure of that, old boy,’ said Howard, casually beginning a game of monopoly and purchasing Fleet Street as he lit up his pipe. ‘Cats always land on their feet.’
‘I suppose you’re right,’ said I. ‘But what of your painting? Purrs still has it in his catty clutches.’
‘Please, old boy, you underestimate me,’ simpered the cunning canine. ‘The copy Purrs has is a fake. I keep all my genuine paintings in the Genuine Paintings Parlour.’
‘Terrific!’ I said. ‘Well, it just goes to show – it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.’
And with that, we all finished our bottles of brandy, and moved onto the Fine-Steaks-and-a-Cabaret Parlour to celebrate.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s all we have time for tonight. I hope you enjoyed hearing a bit about my life with Howard, and if there are any further adventures, I’ll be sure to let you know.