A red dawn was just beginning to creep across the sky and Snuffy, Pingu and Hoolit the owl were perched on top of the compost heap comparing the tally from that night’s hunting.
“three young rats, five mice and a couple of voles for us” purred Pingu with a satisfied tone. Snuffy tried to look modest and failed miserably. Hoolit blinked his huge shining jam pot lid eyes and tilted his head on one side. “Impressive lads, but I rather think I have the edge on you. Seven mice and two young rats.” Snuffy was about to remark that a rat was definitely worth at least three mice when his train of thought was interrupted by a quiet puttering on the road at the end of the drive. “Gracious Colin McGregor’s lads are about early, I thought they had all the new winter wheat planted by now.”
Hoolit spun his head around to see the light from two dim and muddy headlights creeping around the corner onto the bottom of the drive. “Whooo could that be?” Snuffy and Pingu sprang lightly down from their perches and padded off to investigate.
In the grey gloom of the front bedroom Mum suddenly sat bolt upright. Something was going to happen. She sat up, felt for her fluffy slippers and padded out an along the corridor. Peeping round the door of the rabbit bedroom she cold see Hamish, fast asleep in a mound of toys, nMonkey clutched tightly under his arm. She padded on. Looking into the rose bedroom, she could see teddies and pillows thrown across the floor. The quilt was hanging half off the bed. Iona was starfishes across the half empty bed as usual, radiating heat like a little fireball. All fine. Mum’s stopped stock still and a vision of Papa falling down the stairs flashed before her eyes. “The old fool is fine and snoring like a piggywig” Granny’s voice sounded in Mum’s head. “Oh thank goodness” Mum thought back. “But something not right is definitely going to be happening very soon….I’ll keep you posted.”
Mum crossed to the window and peered out. “Red sky, it’s going to rain later ” she thought, “but that can’t be it surely”. She reached out for Snuffy “If there’s anything up he’ll know. That cat’s into everything.”
“Why thank you ma’am” Snuffy thought back, Mum thought in a rather sarcastic tone.
“Take a look at this..”
Looking through Snuffy’s eyes Mum could see a tatty old grey lorry parked at the end of the drive. As she watched the doors opened and two rough looking men climbed out, followed by three rather scruffy black and white sheep dogs. There was a low whistle and the dogs swarmed through the fence then crouched down low and began to creep stealthily towards the Coos, who were sleeping peacefully in the far corner.
Rustlers! There had been a report of farm thieves in the Border Telegraph just that week. “Snuffy, call in the rest of the brigade and keep them occupied. Don’t let them get the Coos in the lorry. I’ll get help.”
Mum turned and looked at Dad’s gently snoozing form bundled under the quilt. Hmm, reinforcements were definitely going to be needed. Raymond would be up by now, she mused. Raymond and his Annie lived next door in the Dovecote and they shared the Coos with the family. Raymond had recently retired from his farm at Sunnylaws and couldn’t quite break the habit of a dawn start, even though he no longer had any chickens to feed. He would sneak out of bed in the early hours, make himself an extra strong coffee from the special packet he had hidden in the garage (Annie kept trying to move him on to decaffeinated) and then take it to drink in his pick up truck with his dogs, listening to the farmers’ weather forecast on the truck radio. Raymond was indeed in the kitchen making his coffee when his phone buzzed with Mum’s text message. He read it quickly then quietly lifted the kitchen blind a few centimetres and peered out. Dropping the blind back into place he grabbed his phone and went through the back into the garage furiously typing message after message.
Snuffy was pacing up and down in front of the assembled brigade at compost heap corner.
“Wilf – keep the dogs occupied. Harry, Ethel and Albertine you provide air support. Hoolit, can you rouse the Aunties and the Howling Hounds from the cottages – get them to make as much noise as possible, confuse the enemy. Pingu, come with me – we need to alert the Coos and then investigate the lorry, I think there may be hostages in there”.
And so battle commenced.
Soon chaos reigned in the field. Shuna and her sisters, already irritable at being roused from lovely dreams of hay and spinach, were furious when, on hearing Pingu’s report, they looked up to see the the three sheepdogs creeping stealthily towards them. Lowering her horns and bellowing Shuna charged at the nearest dog. It jinked away from the horns but then quickly turned, snarling and snapping at Shuna’s ankles.
Wilf streaked between the irate cow and the snarling dog.
“Na na na na na – yer can’t catch me old Smelly Bum” Wilf yelped and stuck out his tongue.
The lead dog whirled and took off after Wilf’s red streak, followed by the younger of the other two dogs. The oldest dog, ‘though, cocked an ear at a whistle from one of the two men. They were closing in on the cornered coos, waving long sticks. Snarling all the while, the old dog continued to creep forward, trying to get behind Snouty and Wonky Wendy.
Down swooped Harry and the girls, strafing the two men and dropping poo bombs. “Take Zat” squawked Albertine as she banked and turned for another dive. “Aye an’ this anaw” declared Ethel stoutly, dropping a glob of white mess on the bald head of the tall skinny one. And then the reinforcements arrived. Tyne, Fox, Skye and Minnie, Raymond’s dogs, had been let loose as had Lily. The five dogs joined Wilf in running circles around the three sheepdogs, yelping and barking. The Howling Hounds were baying in the garden of the cottage and the Aunties, perched on the roof of their house, were clucking their encouragement at top volume.
Whilst all this was going on Snuffy and Pingu were slinking through the Lorry door. “Keep watch” Snuffy hissed to Pingu whilst he wriggled past the front seats into the back. The smell of frightened animal was almost overwhelming and Snuffy had to hold his breath as he inched forward.
“Whose there?” he purred gently.
“ Señor Major Snuffy? Can that be you?” Came a tremulous bleat.
“Course it is – whose that?”
“It is I, Paco the Prize Alpaca from Butterlaw House, and I am here Señor with my good friend Spotted Dick, Best Ryland in Show Two Years Running”
“Baaa” confirmed Spotted Dick
Snuffy rolled his eyes – typical show animals he thought – never just called Fred….
“Don’t panic lads, we’re going to get you out” Snuffy hissed, springing onto the back of the startled sheep. “Now can you just get me a bit nearer the door Dick so I can reach the handle….That’s it…Yes! Now Paco – give the door a good hard kick and….” With a loud bang the door burst open and Paco and Dick half ran, half fell into the field, Snuffy still clinging to Dick’s woolly back. “Chaaarge” meowed Snuffy and they galloped towards the bellowing, barking and squalking kerfuffle in the field.
Above the din, the faint, but getting louder, nee na, nee na of a police car could be heard. The two men paused for a second and exchanged a look. Minnie the spaniel took the opportunity to jump up and sink her teeth into the thigh of the short fat one.
“we’d better run for it Ronnie” shouted the tall bald one – Snip, Snap, Scrap get in the lorry”
The two men and the collies turned and ran for the lorry. Wilf, Foxie and Lily chased close behind grabbing at their ankles and growling. Pingu had blocked the drivers door – back arched hissing and spitting. The tall balding man tried to push past and Pingu sprang onto his head scratching and biting. With a surprisingly agile leap the fat man clambered over his mate and made it into the lorry cab. He started the engine and reached to grab the thin man by the seat of his trousers. “Stop mucking about Reggie, we’ve got to scram”. However, as he turned the lorry its head lights shone directly on a stealthily erected barricade formed by Dad’s ride on lawnmower, Raymond’s pick up truck and Tractor Tom’s Red Menace. Dad brandished Mum’s rolling pin, Raymond swished his best pruning saw like a cutlass and, with a wicked grin, Tom pulled the cord and fired up his chainsaw.
“Ruuuuun” shouted Ronnie over his shoulder and he leaped from the lorry and made for the stile at the far corner of the field. Reggie stumbled after him, still trying to detach the hissing Pingu now clinging to the back of his jumper. Ronnie was half way over the stile, with Tyne and Skye nipping at his heels when the sound of a horn cut through the air above his head. Looking up he saw, ranged ahead of him, Sir George and his hunting chums, shotguns raised, with Mrs Mole and the ladies and beagles of the Berwickshire hunt ranged just behind.
By the time PC Wilson arrived it was all over. Reggie and Ronnie were trussed up with baler twine and tied to the side of the compost bins. Snip, Snap and Scrap were penned up in the Aunties’ run and the Aunties, sitting safely out of reach on the roof of their coop, were giving them “a piece of their mind”. Mum and Annie were handing round cups of coffee and a fresh batch of raisin cookies when Jogging Simon came over to pick up Spotted Dick and Paco who were returned to the herd at Butterlaw House as conquering heroes.
“Good Morning’s work everyone” yawned Snuffy. “definitely time for a snooze now though I think.”