Thursday, 2 July 2020

The Story of Hawkshade

The boys weren't in Brendan's room. Nor were they in Orton's room or the living room. I eventually traced them to Merlin and Eliza's living room. I looked around as I entered. The children were sitting on the floor. Merlin was on the settee, periodically rubbing Snorker's back. Eliza was knitting. Lucky Snow-Warren was talking.

"...and so I got the letter yesterday. I've got a space in Kittie Camp for the first week in August."

"Brilliant!" enthused Brendan. "You'll like it, won't he, Nolly?"

Nolly nodded rapidly. "I'm a better cat for it."

Brendan poked him with his paw. "I suppose that makes me a better cat too. Miaow miaow!"

They went into peals of laughter. Merlin and Eliza looked at each other, smiling, and then my brother caught sight of me.

"Oh, hello Jackson. Looking for this lot?"

"I just wondered where they were. Don't let me interrupt."

Merlin indicated an empty chair. "Sit yourself down. Do you want a drink?"

I raised a restraining paw. "No thanks. I had a mint tea half an hour ago. As I said, I don't want to interrupt." I sat down. "What are we talking about?"

Brendan pointed at Lucky. "He's going to Kittie Camp."

Lucky twisted to look at me. "Yes, Mister Butterglove. It should be a worthwhile experience."

I tried not to smile. Lucky's continual attempts to be extra polite with his elders sometimes gave him a vocabulary that seemed at odds with his age. And yet that was part of his charm.

"I'm sure you'll benefit immensely, Lucky." There. The politeness was rubbing off on me.

"I learned lots," said Nolly. "There are cat skills I should know, things I should've known from birth if I'd lived in Catsholme."

When I was a child, there were no cats in Mellowdene other than those visiting from the hill cat community. In the ensuing years as some families moved here from Catsholme, there was an increasing generation who were unaware of their heritage. Nolly was one such kitten. It was lovely to see his excitement as he relived his experiences from last year's Kittie Camp.

"There's plenty more to learn about Catsholme and its relationship to Mellowdene. No doubt your school will teach you about it next year."

I turned to see the source of this comment. Merlin had inherited his interest in local history from our father. Although he and Eliza had been acting as surrogate parents to Orton for a few months, there were things he still needed to learn himself. And here it came.

"Can't you tell us now, uncle?" said Orton.

"I'd like to know," said Nolly.

"It might be most useful, Mister Merlin," said Lucky.

Brendan curled his lip.

"Oh I don't know about that," said Merlin. "You wouldn't want an unfair advantage over your schoolmates."

Brendan appeared to consider this, and then he smiled. "Miss Wildwood says we should always grasp the opportunity to learn."

The other three boys nodded earnestly.

Merlin looked at each of them in turn. "Well, I don't suppose it can do any harm."

He leaned forward to begin his tale.

"Catsholme wasn't always called Catsholme..."

o 0 O 0 o

Before the people of Mellowdene were even aware of any cats living in the hills, the community called itself Hawkshade. Yes, I know that's an odd name, Brendan. It's because the cats had built their homes in the shade of an odd-shaped rock. It had an overhang that stuck out like a curved beak. Against the sky, the rock looked like a hawk's head. They called it Hawkstone. Further back, a small waterfall spread out like a bird's wing, adding to the illusion. The rock provided protection from the north wind and as it was close to the water supply it was an ideal place to settle.

When Mellowdene found out about Hawkshade, a few crittizens went to introduce themselves. The cats were polite but it was clear they were not fond of visitors. As a consequence, contact was limited and remained so for years.

Then, one year, a traveller on his way back to Mellowdene from Mosswood Fells had a bad accident. What's that, Orton? Who was it? I don't believe it's fully documented. A grey rabbit I think it says. Brighteyes, Babblebrook, Cottontail - it could be any of them. The point is, the traveller was too far away from Mellowdene. It could have been bad but he was discovered by some cats from Hawkshade.

They took him back there to be treated and cared for, and when he was well enough, they helped him back to Mellowdene.

This was the first time any cats from Hawkshade had set paw in Mellowdene. They were welcomed as heroes. Ah, now I remember. It was a Cottontail. They treated the cats to a slap up meal at one of their houses and then presented them with gifts for their community. They must have given a good impression. It led to an agreement to have limited trade. A cabin was put aside in Hawkshade so that the Mellowdene traders could stay overnight if need be.

We didn't have a proper canal back then. There was a shallow ditch which people called "The Ditch"... Yes, Brendan, we know it's not very imaginative, but they didn't have you, did they? Now where was I? The Ditch. Thank you, Lucky. The Ditch had a little water, but not enough for a boat. They managed to use a raft that they could pull along using ropes from each bank. It was able to transport a few goods provided they didn't overload it.

It continued this way until after I was born. When I was about two years of age there was a terrible rainstorm. Much, much worse than today before anyone asks. It was almost winter but nobody really expected frost that early. But it came. A sudden severe frost. It probably lasted  for less than an hour - the Ditch only froze over temporarily - but that was incidental. The damage was done. Rainwater had driven deep into cracks within Hawkstone. It turned into ice and expanded. The cracks widened and Hawkstone fell.

Fell and rolled onto Hawkshade.

o 0 O 0 o

Nolly started to cry. Eliza dropped her knitting and ran to the young cat, but Brendan was already hugging him. Orton's eyes were round, staring at Merlin and Nolly by turns. Lucky's mouth was open.

I was on my feet, ready to take the children away. Eliza hissed, "Merlin, what were you thinking? Now we know why the school were waiting until they were older..."

Nolly pulled away from Brendan, giving him a weak smile. "No, it's alright, Mrs Butterglove. It was just that I wasn't expecting... Go on Mister Butterglove. I want to know what happened."

Brendan reached out a paw and lifted Lucky's chin so that his mouth audibly closed.

Merlin looked shocked. He hadn't intended to create such a reaction. He had been telling the story with an academic approach, forgetting the age of his audience.

"Go on, please, Mister Merlin," said Lucky.

Eliza rolled her eyes. "Just think about what you're saying, Merle." She returned to her seat, but took Nolly with her.

Merlin sighed. "Okay. There's a bit more bad news but it does get better."

I sat down again as Merlin continued the story.

o 0 O 0 o

Many homes were damaged. A lot of cats were injured, and terribly, nine of them didn't survive.

The traders' cabin was separate from the rest of Hawkshade so was undamaged. There were three traders staying there and they witnessed the devast... what had happened. They decided to go to Mellowdene to get help.

They made good time. The alarm having been raised, one rabbit took charge immediately. He was only in Mellowdene because he was visiting his brother, and was in fact planning to leave the next day to rejoin his wife and child elsewhere in Sylvania. With Hawkshade in dire need, he postponed his plans and organised a rescue team of several dozen residents, including my dad and uncle. Within an hour they were following the course of The Ditch towards Hawkshade.

Once there, they provided what first aid and comfort they could, then brought back the injured to Mellowdene. The hospital, whilst not as advanced as it is today, was more capable than the facilities they used to have in the cat community.

Over the next couple of days, all the remaining cats moved to Mellowdene. People shared their houses, their food, and their friendship.

One of my earliest memories was sharing my room with baby Jackson, baby Newton and two kittens.

It was a time when Mellowdene and Hawkshade were one. I say Hawkshade. The name was no longer appropriate. And keeping the name would only hold on to bad memories. As weeks passed the decision was made to build a small cat village anew. We didn't fool ourselves. We had different cultures. Despite the friendships that had been forged, many cats wanted their old comfortable way of life in the hills. When spring came, cats and Mellowdenians worked together to build a new hill community.

Later, they would work together again to make The Ditch into a proper canal. But at the time they had but one purpose. To build Catsholme.

o 0 O 0 o

Orton sighed. "That's great. All those people caring for each other."

Merlin looked at Eliza. "I think so." He returned his attention to Orton. "And telling that story reminded me of something I'd forgotten."

I'd forgotten too, but having remembered, I watched Orton as Merlin continued.

"That bunny that led the rescue, the one that postponed leaving so that he could help? That was Hubert Butterglove."

"What? My dadda's granddad?"

"The very same."

"Wow," said Brendan.

o 0 O 0 o

Outside, the rain had abated. Cecile's voice echoed into the room.

"If Lucky and Nolly want to avoid getting wet, now might be a good time for them to go home for their lunches. Hopefully my daughter has the same idea."

Lucky scrambled up onto his feet. "Thank you most greatly, Mister Merlin. That was most educational."

Merlin smiled at the polite white rabbit. "My pleasure, young Mister Snow-Warren. I hope the story wasn't too shocking."

"Hmm," said Eliza, stroking Nolly on his head before sending him on his way.

The young cat went straight up to Merlin. "I'm sorry I cried but I'm glad you told us. Now I can be proud I'm a cat from Mellowdene."

"Thank you, Nolly. If the story did that, I needn't feel quite so bad about it."

The children moved towards the door, Brendan and Lucky leading the way. I traipsed behind them, and a glance over my shoulder showed Eliza moving towards Merlin whilst Snorker made quiet kissing noises.

Nolly leaned towards Orton and whispered. Maybe it's because of my musical leanings - I've been told I have a good ear - that I overheard.

"Mister Merlin Butterglove. A clever dad, eh?"

Orton looked at him strangely before replying.

"Yes, I suppose he is."

o 0 O 0 o

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Ladies Who Lunch

It was late morning before I had the next opportunity to speak to Cecile about her brother. Beverley had gone across to Butterglove Lodge to spend time with her cousins Biddie and Lena, and undoubtedly she would take a look at the quads; they had discovered their voices and spent hours burbling at each other. Brendan and Orton had been joined by their friends Lucky Snow-Warren and Nolly Persis. Originally they had been playing outdoors, but a cloudburst limited this to half an hour and it sent them scurrying back indoors. I assumed they had gone to one of their bedrooms. This meant I was alone with Cecile and little Russell, the tiny lad happily urging his rocking horse through its paces. I do love that little dot.

Cecile listened patiently whilst I outlined the revelations from Rowan and young Figwort. She refrained from commenting as I spoke, but her eyes expressed her feelings, confirmed when I had completed my tale. She laughed.

"And you believed him?" she said, shaking her head. "Oh Jack, I didn't think you could be so gullible."

"Unfair, Cessie. You didn't see his reaction when he heard Tara's name. And do you really think he would use young Figwort in that way?"

Cecile furrowed her brow. "That does seem unlikely. Still, Rowan's been back in Mellowdene a year now, and in all that time Tara has never appeared to be searching for him."

"Wait a minute," I said, staring at my wife, "How would you know whether or not Tara Lapine-Frost has been searching for Rowan?"

"I think she would have mentioned it before now."

I gestured for her to continue.

"I must have told you before. You probably weren't listening... no? Oh, then maybe I didn't think you'd be interested."

"But now you're going to remedy that?" I prompted. The little I did know - Tara's rough address, for example - had come in passing from Chris Snow-Warren, not Cecile.

"Fine. It's not a secret. You remember the minor confusion about Bobbie, Valentine's Day before last? Well, Bobbie was curious about Nigel when I relayed Charity's information about his supposed lady friend. We decided to investigate..."

o 0 O 0 o

It emerged that Cecile - together with Bobbie Butterglove and Charity Snow-Warren - had been meeting up with Tara Lapine-Frost every few weeks at the Blackcurrant CafĂ© where they took either lunch or  afternoon tea. Fifteen months of sandwiches, butterfly buns and chatter, washed down with the finest tea Marion Brighteyes could supply. It may even have been their gentle persuasion that caused Nigel and Tara to reveal their romantic friendship.

"And she knows Rowan is back? Does she venture into the village apart from these afternoon teas? I don't recall ever having seen her."

"Well she does live at the north of the county," explained Cecile. "She's near to the canal so it makes sense to get some provisions from the hill cats. I believe she also visits Timbertop Farm for most of her food, so her appearance in the village isn't as common. But to answer your question, I have mentioned Rowan in our chats so yes - she's aware of him."

I frowned. "But she didn't say she met him years ago?"

"Maybe she forgot him."

"Really? Can anyone forget Rowan Ivory?"

"Hmm." She grinned. "That's a fair point. I'll have to ask her."

I didn't know if that was a good idea. "Maybe it's better you have a chat with Rowan first. If Tara isn't concerned about him, it might be better not to rock the boat."

Cecile regarded me with one of her assessing looks. "Alright. But you have stirred my curiosity."

I didn't know whether that was a good thing. A crack of thunder broke my thoughtful mood.

"Fine. Just be aware of potential consequences." I raised my eyes to the ceiling. "And speaking of being aware, the boys are noticeably quiet. I'd better check on them."

o 0 O 0 o

(To be continued in  - The Story of Hawkshade)

Monday, 15 June 2020

What I Did Over The Weekend

After Rowan and Figwort left, I pondered a short while on how best to present their revelations to Cecile. You see, Cecile and I don't like to keep secrets from each other. Not for long anyway. Months ago, I'd told her of her brother's fantastic story of the Land of Men and - like me - she had dismissed it as an amusing tale he'd invented for my entertainment. And for Denzel's, of course. With Rowan's new revelation about Tara Lapine-Frost I was no longer certain his story was completely fictional. I didn't think I should hide this from Cecile, but I wanted to be prepared for any reaction.

Back in the kitchen, Cecile was still chatting with Beverley. They had moved on from their replay of their earlier window shopping excursion and were engaged in a conversation about the Clearwater family. It emerged that Orton had made friends with Sherman Clearwater and his cousin Luke McHedge. The consensus was that this was wonderful as it was the first friendship he'd made independent of Brendan and his friends. They were delighted at this further sign Orton had truly settled in Mellowdene.

I didn't want to interrupt and I certainly didn't want to insist Beverley leave whilst I talked to her mother. Prior experience has shown that, if my daughter's curiosity is piqued, Beverley is not averse to a spot of light eavesdropping. The subject of Rowan would have to wait.

o 0 O 0 o

Beverley eventually decided that she wanted to go to her room, that she wanted to find a particular article within her back issues of her Bunny Craft magazines. After making sure that my daughter had left I began to broach the subject of my brother-in-law.


"Hmm?" She was preoccupied with looking for something in the kitchen drawer.

"I was just speaking to Rowan..."

The doorbell rang.

"Yes?" said Cecile, turning.

"Er, it can wait. There's somebody at the door." This wasn't a tale to share with visitors.

o 0 O 0 o

The visitor was an uneasy Eve Wildwood. Eve is Brendan's teacher and the fact she was calling at weekend with an unsettled demeanour made me wonder if it was serious. Educational connections aside, I knew Eve well enough from our work together at the Melting festivals. Rather than bring Cecile through to join us in the living room I took Eve through to the kitchen.

"Oh, hello Eve," said Cecile pleasantly, wiping her paws. I then watched her face change; clearly her thoughts must have paralleled mine. "Wait. What's Brendan done?"

A weak smile. "Yes, it is about Brendan. But I think you should read about it in his own words." Sitting, she placed an exercise book on the table, opening it to the most recent piece of work, explaining as she did so.

"Last Monday, I assigned some homework to both my classes. They were given the same assignment that had to be handed in on Friday. They had to write 'what they did over the weekend'. Well, I started marking them today and then came across Brendan's submission." She pushed the book towards us, so we settled down and began to read.

o 0 O 0 o

The Waterworks Disasster

Nolly, Hughie and me were playing on our way to Hughie's house. We had just past passed the waterworks and saw a hole in the fence. 

It was a big hole. We got threwh through easy. We didn't see Mr Vandyke or any of his workers. There was an open window and used a crate to clime climb up.

It was oil smelly inside and there was were lots of pipes. Some were greasy but we was were careful not to mess our clothes. The dials clicked a bit. We wanted to see where the water stream from Sweetwater Lake was divurted diverted and filtered for Mellowdene.

After, Hughie said he heard the water from the underground stream. We looked for it for hours and hours (hours?) and when we heard someone coming we hid. Then Nolly found the trapdoor.

The ladder was a bit slippy but we got down. There was not much light and the stream was very whizzy. It had a clean smell. I nelt knelt down to get a better sniff but I started to slip down to the water. 

I was holding on and Hughie and Nolly were trying to pull me out so I wooden wouldn't die but they were starting to slip as well.

We was were giving up when Michael came and pushed me up. Michael is very strong. It was good to see Michael. 

We got out of the waterworks and nobody saw us. I was wet and Hughie said I must get dry at his house.

The week end weekend was nearlly nearly a disasster disaster but it was a happy ending. 

o 0 O 0 o

We let the exercise book drop back onto the table. Eve waited for our reactions. Cecile spoke first.

"So you actually think Brendan and his pals went into the depths of the waterworks?"

Eve nodded, pointing to the book. "It's his own words, complete with his creative spelling. I should add that both Nolly and Hugh also mentioned the waterworks in their homework, albeit not to the same detail."

"Perhaps so," said Cecile, "but our children have strict instructions not to go in such places unless accompanied, and we mentioned Van Dyke's Waterworks specifically."

I agreed. "Apart from that, if he'd been in any danger, had any sort of accident, he wouldn't keep that from us."

"Then I don't know what to say.," said Eve, again looking at the exercise book. "Brendan includes some convincing details. If there's the slightest chance it could be true I need to inform the other parents."

I heard the front door slam and a pair of happy voices floated into the room.

I inclined my head in their direction. "Then perhaps we should first hear from the author." I cleared my throat and called. "Brendan? Can we see you, please?"

Cecile suppressed a smile. We knew our son.

Brendan and Orton entered, pushing past each other in good humour, and then they ground to a halt when they saw Eve Wildwood.

"Um, hello Miss," said Brendan.

Orton gave a little wave. "'llo."

Eve nodded. "Boys." She turned her gaze to me, raising her brows. Before I could speak, Cecile took the reins.

"Brendan. Miss Wildwood has just been showing us your homework. It's most impressive but we're a little concerned when we read about your accident."

Our son beamed. "Good, wasn't it?"

"Good?" said Eve Wildwood, unable to keep silent. "Do you mean it was good how you escaped injury or worse? Because I can't see how it was 'good' otherwise."

Brendan's face fell. "Didn't you like it Miss? I tried to make it exciting. The place is full of dangerous stuff."

"A place you're not supposed to go to," added Cecile quietly.

"I know. That's what makes it exciting. So it's better when Michael rescues us." He turned back to Eve, his eyes rounded. "You really didn't like it, Miss?"

Eve sighed and bent towards him. "You told it well, Brendan, but you shouldn't have put yourselves in danger."

"What?" he said, pulling in his chin. "No! You don't think it's real? It's pretend."

"Pretend? A piece of fiction?"

"'Course it's friction, Miss."

"That's 'fiction'. No 'R'". But you were supposed to write about what you did over the weekend."

"I did. You said we should choose something we did that we found interesting. That was the game me, Nolly and Hughie played after passing the waterworks."

"I suppose I did say that..." mused the teacher, and then she rallied. "But you described the place exactly."

"Yes, but you took us there on a school trip last year, remember Miss?"

Eve closed her eyes. "Yes, I remember."

Orton nudged Brendan. "Was it good?"

Brendan shrugged. "It was alright. It needed Michael to make a story, though."

"Wait a minute, Brendan," said Eve, "who exactly is Michael?"

My son fixed her with a disappointed stare. "Aw, Miss. You've forgotten already?"

He reached out to his exercise book and flipped the pages back to an earlier piece of work. He pointed to the title.


I had already figured it out, having witnessed so many of my son's imaginative roleplay games, so I made sure I was the one to read out that title in my most resonant voice.

"Michael the Friendly Sea Serpent."

o 0 O 0 o

Everything was settled. Brendan and Orton had run off to continue their play in Orton's room. Just before she left, Eve Wildwood had become most apologetic.

"I'm so sorry, Cecile, Jackson," she had said. "I should be used to Brendan by now."

"Don't concern yourself, Eve." I had responded. "He surprises us sometimes."

And then, at last, Cecile and I were alone.

"Well," she said, "that was fun."

"That's one word for it. We have created a unique boy."

"We certainly have."

"Maybe that's what's meant by the phrase 'making your own entertainment'."

"Cheeky." Her eyes sparkled mischievously. "What about the phrase 'what we did over the weekend'?"

"Maybe. So long as Brendan doesn't write about it."

It's times like these I cherish. I'm so grateful that I found a rabbit to make my life so sweet.

Briefly, I remembered I needed to talk to her about Rowan.

But that could wait.

o 0 O 0 o