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Authors: Annabel Carothers

Four Ducks on a Pond

BOOK: Four Ducks on a Pond
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This eBook edition published in 2012 by

Birlinn Limited

West Newington House

Newington Road

Edinburgh

EH9 1QS

www.birlinn.co.uk

Copyright © the Estate of Annabel Carothers 2010

Afterword copyright © Fionna Eden-Bushell 2010

Artwork copyright © Lyn Dunachie

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-84158-876-6

eBook ISBN: 978-0-85790-523-9

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Puddy with Carla and Nicholas

Fionna and Grandpop outside the old henhouse

C
HAPTER
O
NE

Nobody could call me inquisitive, but because I am quiet and unobtrusive I observe much and ponder deeply. And so I have decided to write down what I have seen and known of my
family, those humans and animals who live in, or around, this sturdy granite building we share as our home.

There was a time when this house was a manse, but the minister was in charge of a church nearly two miles away and not of that one beside the loch, just across the road. This must have been an
inconvenient arrangement, but people have a way of making difficulties for themselves. Near the church is the old smithy, now a ruin, and close to it is the school and the teacher’s house.
These are our nearest neighbours. The village is a mile away, and there are cottages dotted here and there, but mostly these are ruins. The church belonging to the manse, when it was a manse, is
now a byre. So you will know that we live in a desolate place, and where there were fields of corn, now there are fields of bracken, or there are stretches of heather, interspersed with white
warning flags of bog-cotton, since here is a land which man has never hoped to cultivate. There are hills around the loch, and in patches stunted trees, all with a slant towards the east, for the
westerly winds blow relentlessly, and the trees bear this mark of their surrender.

On the loch are five tiny islands, the nesting place of many birds, and there are rushes on the loch and delicious white foam. Often the water is grey and angry, and the foam forms stripes
across, which is a sign of worse to come. I hear Grandpop say, ‘The loch is stripy. It’s going to rain.’ And it does. But the loch can be blue, oh so blue that to paint it would
seem like a coloured lie, or it is a mirror reflecting perfectly the hills and the scrubby trees and rushes and the tiny granite church. And so it was now, as I sat on the wall, and I gazed and
dreamed, and I thanked God that I had a smart white shirt and black shoes and a multi-coloured coat. I thanked God for where I was, for this is a wonderful place, and the grasshoppers chirped and
the rabbits frolicked (for they had not seen me, since the lichen-coloured stones of which the wall is built are remarkably like my coat). And all the time in the background was the soporific
murmur of the sea.

Presently the mail bus would pass along the winding road. Sometimes it stops at our gate, but we are not expecting a guest today, and all of the family are in the house, so it would go past, on
to the village, and the village people would be gathered round the post office, less to collect letters than to see who was coming off the bus, and why. Unlike me, these people have a great
curiosity. But I learn more than they do by just being quiet. I heard the bus now, away in the distance, for it was deadly still and sound carried far. As it came in sight I saw first its white
top, then its crimson-painted body, and I knew by the labouring sound of the engine that it was the old bus, the small one, for it was too early in the year for the big bus to be out. The tourist
season had not yet started. When it did there were sometimes four buses on the road, in convoy, and nearly everyone in them would be going to Iona, though why they cross the ferry to that place
when they could stay here is one of my big puzzles.

To my surprise, the bus stopped at our gate after all, and Neilachan, the driver, climbed from his seat and placed a cardboard box beside our gate. The curious thing was that the box was
twittering and cheeping. Neilachan sounded his horn to draw attention, and grinding the gears (because it was an old bus) he drove on. Nobody came from the house.

Kitten would be in the kitchen preparing supper, and Margie would be chatting to her. Grandpop was making a new hen house at the back, so I expected Fionna and Puddy and Buddy were there,
helping. Carla would be where Puddy was. I worked this out in my mind and sauntered over to the box. Yes, it chirped and twittered, and I knew what it was. The day-old chicks had come, and they
were white Leghorns, because our Rhode Island Reds were so broody. I stopped to titivate my white shirt, while I debated whether or not to tell the family that the bus had been. While I was still
thinking, I heard Fionna’s bicycle bell, and she came hurtling down the drive, calling over her shoulder, ‘John, it’s the chicks!’ John is Buddy. Some call him one thing,
some the other. It is the same with the rest of the family. They each answer to several different names, but they always call me Nicholas or Nicky, which is nonsense, as my real name is Nathanial.
But they don’t know, so I let it pass.

John appeared from the back of the house. He always wears a kilt when he’s here, and very good he looks in it too, being tough and broad-shouldered, though not very tall. His blue
short-sleeved shirt matched his eyes, and his curls stood up on end, so I know he had been very busy. He smooths down his curls when he can, pretending they aren’t there.

By the time he reached Fionna she had opened the lid of the box, and I could see a moving mass of yellow fluff.

‘Any dead?’ John asked.

‘None. And I think they’ve sent twenty.’ Fionna put back the lid and picked up the box.

‘Jolly O,’ said John. He often said this and it meant he was pleased. ‘Mummy’s lighted the brooder. It’s in the cottage. Take them to her.’

Fionna went up the drive, and John sighed and picked up her bicycle, which she had left lying on the ground. Then he saw me.

‘Nicholas, the Liddle Cat!’ he said, in the silly voice he adopts for me. ‘Where have you been, you old spiv? Killing bunnies for the Black Market?’

I busied myself cleaning my shirt. This stupid talk annoyed me. As I am a good and energetic hunter, can I be blamed for selling the surplus, each at a price others are foolish enough to pay?
And of course humans don’t understand our currency any more than we understand theirs.

John put his hand under my tummy and scooped me up, placing me gently in the bicycle basket. I liked the feeling of his hand against me, and my hurt pride was quickly soothed. I stood on tiptoe
in the basket and rubbed my head against John’s hand as he wheeled me up the drive.

‘Fecky cat.’ John said, leaning the bicycle against the garage doors. I purred loudly, hoping he would stay with me a little while, but he dumped me on the ground and gave me a light
playful prod with his foot. ‘Come and see the baby chickens.’ He said. ‘And remember they aren’t for you.’

The cottage is near the back door of the house. It used to be occupied by the servants, but for years now there have been no servants, so it has become a dump for all the surplus stuff from the
house and for the outworn toys and treasures of the family.

I tripped carefully after John along the cinder track leading to the little green door with the painted horseshoe nailed over it, upside down, so that the luck would not run out. Puddy and
Fionna, and Carla, were peering at the new chicks huddled behind the wire netting Grandpop had fixed around the little cone-shaped brooder. Carla whimpered a little, her tail wagging and her whole
body quivering. Her long black ears hung down her blue roan back, and her brown liquid eyes seemed to me to flicker with a desire which I hoped Puddy would notice, before it was too late. Puddy
seemed to read my thoughts.

‘If you touch the chickens, I’ll beat you, Carla,’ she said. Carla is always being threatened with a beating but she’s never had one yet.

‘Can the chickens find their way home?’ Fionna asked, but nobody heard her, for John and Puddy were arguing about the temperature of the brooder.

‘The book says ninety degrees,’ John said.

‘But if it’s ninety without the chickens in it, it will suffocate them when they pack in and we shut the door,’ Puddy answered, which I consider was a sensible thought.

‘Chickens can stand any amount of heat. It’s chills that kill them,’ John said, crumbling some oatmeal between his finger and thumb and sprinkling it among the chicks. They
already had a little trough of oatmeal, a dish of milk and a dish of water, so any extra tit-bits were quite unnecessary. Anyhow, they appeared to prefer the powdered peat with which their run was
littered and were scraping away vigorously as if they’d lived for years instead of for a few hours. Presently a bluebottle caught my eye. It was buzzing wrathfully against the back window,
the one that overlooks the hen run. I jumped onto a pile of books stacked in the windowsill. At some time or another I had read all of these books.
Hobbies Annual
(with love to Buddy,
Christmas 1928),
Sonnenschein’s Latin Grammar
(with scribbles all over it and ‘Form this’ and ‘Form that’ in Roman lettering),
Palgrave’s Golden
Treasury
and several ‘Verity’ editions of Shakespeare, all very inky.

Beside me was the creaky revolving bookcase containing the
Encyclopaedia Britannica
, year 1882. This, I confess, I have not read entirely.

I could see a huge spider waiting for the bluebottle and decided to let him capture it. I preferred to watch the hens, ten of them, all Rhode Island Reds, cared for by a Light Sussex cock who
was named Geraldo, after the famous band leader. He was very attentive to his hens and had immaculate manners.

BOOK: Four Ducks on a Pond
6.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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