contents
chapter 1
chapter 2
chapter 3
chapter 4
chapter 5
chapter 6
chapter 7
chapter 8
chapter 9
chapter 10
chapter 11
chapter 12
chapter 13
chapter 14
chapter 15
chapter 16
chapter 17
chapter 18
chapter 19
chapter 20
chapter 21
chapter 22
chapter 23
chapter 24
chapter 25
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Chapter 4
Puck Farm.

"Don't be so greedy, Aitch," scolded Elké, pulling the teat from his mouth. "If you drink so fast you'll make yourself ill."
    But the hungry puppy took no notice and sucked away as hard as before.
    "I've put a box full of straw in the corner, " said Mrs. Jones, the farmer's wife, peering at Aitch over the top of her glasses. "He'll probably need a sleep after he's done."
     Her prediction proved to be correct. As Aitch got fuller, his sucking became weaker, until eventually it ceased completely and Elké realized he was fast asleep.
    "How would you like me to help, Mrs. Jones?" Asked Elké, placing a bloated Aitch amongst the straw.
    "There's a pile of spuds on the draining board," replied Mrs. Jones. "They have to be peeled and put on to boil."
    "My! What a lot of potatoes," remarked Elké, in genuine surprise.
    "I've two strapping sons and a hard working husband to feed," laughed Mrs. Jones, tipping out the pastry from a mixing bowl onto the floured table, ready for rolling. "It's never been known for them to leave a scrap of my cooking."
     The two of them worked well together. Elké preparing the vegetables and Mrs. Jones creating a monster blackberry and apple pie, complete with a fine lattice topping.
    The unmistakable sound of a tractor, spluttering to a standstill in the backyard, caused Mrs. Jones to cock her head in a most peculiar fashion and remark "that'll be them."
    The three men struggled to remove their Wellington boots in the conservatory, giving rise to many grunts and groans and much banging and crashing. Finally, they almost fell through the kitchen door.
    Elké stood back in amazement and watched the nightly ceremony of these three totally different characters returning after a hard days work on the farm.
    Farmer Jones, a wiry Welshman, attempted to encircle his arms around his ample wife, while their two sons, Jack and Blake, looked on.
    Jack, still a lad really, with an impish grin, twinkling blue eyes and straw coloured hair that stuck out at all angles, wrinkled his nose and remarked, "dinner smells good, Ma."
    In contrast, his brother Blake stood huge and awkward, dark brooding eyes under heavy black eyebrows and said nothing.
    Farmer Jones, noticing Elké for the first time, loosened his grip on Ma. "Well! What do we have here?" he said, holding his hand out in greeting. "A visitor?"
     At that moment, Aitch, woken by the sudden commotion let out a yelp and attempted to scramble from his box.
    "Not one visitor, but two" announced Jack, leaping into action and scooping Aitch in his arms. "What's the meaning of this, Ma?"
    "There will be plenty of time for explanations later," replied Mrs. Jones. "Get yourselves off to the scullery and cleaned up. Dinner will be ready in ten minutes."
    Jack put Aitch down on the floor and, together with his father and brother, scurried off like scolded children, whilst Mrs. Jones and Elké dished up. The potatoes, beans, peas, cauliflower and carrots were put in separate clay tureens and placed along the table with the giant red casserole dish, filled with piping hot braised steak, taking pride of place at the centre.
    Aitch, his brown eyes now fully open and finding his feet for the first time, wobbled about the kitchen investigating various nooks and crannies and a multitude of interesting smells.
    Needless to say, the meal was simply delicious and after everything had been eaten, including the last piece of scrumptious blackberry and apple pie and the last scrapings of custard, they all sat back completely full.
    Jack was the first to speak after the longest of pauses. "Ma, where will Elké be sleeping tonight?"
     Mrs. Jones looked a little embarrassed. "That has not yet been discussed, Jack, but thank you for reminding me." She turned to Elké. "I am afraid we have no spare bedrooms here in the farmhouse but the barn has a cosy loft. I was thinking that maybe you could sleep up there. I can supply blankets and there will be plenty of straw," she added, quickly.
    "Mrs. Jones, that sounds absolutely perfect. Quite an adventure, in fact" said Elké, smiling. Little could they imagine the strange places she had stayed at in the past few weeks.
    That night, Elké picked her way by torchlight across the farmyard towards the barn, carrying Aitch in her hand and some blankets slung over one shoulder.
    Startled by the opening of the tall, creaky barn door, an owl, perched inside, let out a bloodcurdling screech and flew out, brushed the top of Elké's head and caused her to jump in fright.
    "Don't worry Aitch," she said, giving him a comforting squeeze. "We didn't want him sleeping with us anyway, did we?"
    Elké closed the door behind her, climbed the ladder to the loft and flashed her torch around. There were many bales of straw stacked against the walls, but plenty more lay loose on the floor. She fashioned one of the blankets into a rough nest and put Aitch inside.
    "I want you to snuggle down and go to sleep," she said, wagging her finger. "And don't wake up 'til morning."
    Aitch watched Elké make her own bed out of straw and blankets, jump in and switch off the torch. She was asleep in no time and did not feel a little puppy dog crawl in next to his newly found mistress and give a small grunt of happiness.
    The two of them slept soundly the whole night. They did not hear a mouse searching the floor below for stray ears of corn or the return of the owl. He silently flew through the gap under the eaves and settled on his favourite perch, high up in the darkest corner of the barn, fully satisfied with his nights hunting.

Elké and Aitch were up bright and early the next morning but not early enough to catch Farmer Jones and Blake.
    "They are out milking the cows," explained Mrs. Jones. "The day starts early down on the farm, but Jack has stayed behind to show you the ropes."
    After breakfast, Jack found an old pair of gumboots. "Here you are," he said, handing them to Elké. "Put these on and we'll start by feeding the chickens."
    The two set off with Elké carrying Aitch. Jack gave the slightest click with his tongue and the border collies appeared as if from out of nowhere and followed behind like silent shadows.
    "First we have to go to the storeroom to pick up the chicken feed."
     Elké was now getting her first real view of Puck Farm. She followed Jack across the main yard. To one side stood a large dung-heap, cloaked in a light mist. Elké breathed in deeply and smiled. To her this was the very smell of nature.
    On reaching the storeroom, Elké appeared puzzled. "Why is it built on those funny stone mushroomy things?" she asked, putting Aitch down.
    "Ah! That's to stop the rats from getting at the feed," replied Jack, handing Elké a sack of grain.
    Spike and Chip, the two collies, were fascinated with Aitch. They barked excitedly, nudged him with their noses and ran off in opposite directions, spinning around and barking again. Aitch, far from being frightened, loved the attention of these full grown dogs. He yelped back and Jack and Elké both laughed out loud as Aitch tried to run after Chip, only to trip over his own front legs and fall flat on his face.
    Jack strode to the henhouse and stood by the door. "Scatter the grain on the ground over there by the oak tree," he ordered. "Then stand well clear before I let these critters out."
     Elké did as she was told and Jack opened the door. Hundreds of chickens tumbled out squawking, clucking and climbing over each other in the rush to be first to reach the corn. A magnificent golden cockerel, too important to join the mêlée, strutted his stuff and cock-a-doodle-dooed with all his might.
    Jack handed Elké a basket. "Egg collecting time," he said, with a wink.
    This was to become Elké's favourite task.
    Wooden partitions divided up the inside of the henhouse into rows. Along both sides of these partitions, on specially provided shelves, the hens had made nests of straw and in each nest lay two or three large brown eggs.
    "The eggs are still warm," cried Elké, in delight.
Occasionally she came upon a nest whose occupant, a big fat chicken, had not gone running off to feed.
    "She's being what we call broody," explained Jack. "Trying to hatch out her eggs. We only allow them to do that in the spring when a new batch of chicks is needed. Just push her off," he added, simply.
    But this was easier said than done. A chicken has sharp eyes and an even sharper beak.
    "This is a funny kind of egg." Declared Elké later, holding up something in her hand.
    Jack laughed, "That's a dummy put there to encourage the hens to lay. You'd better leave it in the nest. Ma would not be pleased to find clay eggs mixed in with the others."
    The two of them managed to fill four baskets almost to overflowing.
    "It is your job to make sure all the hens are locked up for the night," said Jack, as they carried the eggs back to the house. "There are plenty of foxes about who would love a juicy chicken for his supper."
     Mrs. Jones was delighted with the large quantity of eggs collected. She gave them both a piece of cake, still hot from the oven, and a glass of fresh milk.
    "And now to feed the pigs," said Jack, draining his glass.
    Elké pulled a face. "That doesn't sound very pleasant."
    The pigs lived in the far field. "To keep the smell away from the house," explained Jack.
    Aitch was glad to be given a ride in the wheelbarrow on top of the pigs feed.
    Jack stopped on the way and casually leaned on a fence overlooking a field of pasture. "Come and have a look at my fathers pride and joy," he said, indicating two grazing bulls. "The big black 'un is called Herman. He's being pensioned off next year. Rex will be taking his place. That's him yonder in the corner of the field, light brown and smaller. Pa says a herd of cattle is only as good as yer bull. Paid five thousand pounds for Rex only six months ago. Got a pedigree as long as a bean pole."
     Elké gazed in awe at the two magnificent animals. The big black bull lifted his head and appeared to glare at her in a menacing way. "Herman looks a rather dangerous character," she said, softly.
    Jack blew sharply threw his teeth. "Mean critter that one. Would charge his own mother given half a chance. Pa won't let anyone else near 'em. Locks 'em up every night himself in the cattle shed next to the barn you sleep in. We'll be muckin' it out later," he added, as an afterthought.
    The pigs did smell rather. The majority lived in a muddy field with a scattering of corrugated iron shelters for them to sleep under at night or for shade in the day.
    As soon as Jack and the wheelbarrow full of feed were spotted, the pigs came running to the troughs grunting and squealing.
    Aitch became alarmed. He raced to a safe distance and yelped defiantly.
    Jack and Elké quickly mixed the pigs feed with water and poured the resulting swill, by the bucket load, into the troughs, covering the line of eagerly waiting snouts.
    Adjoining the field stood a pigsty containing a big fat sow and a dozen or so squealing piglets. "Oh! How cute they are," exclaimed Elké.
    The sow slowly rose to her feet and made for the feeding trough, causing the little piglets to scatter to avoid the danger of being trodden on.
    "The piglets don't seem to be eating any of the swill, Jack," remarked a concerned Elké.
    Jack shook his head. "No, they're like your puppy, too young for solids. Only mother's milk for the time being." He leaned over and pulled a bag from the wheelbarrow. "Come on. Let's go and spread these nuts about the field, while the pigs are still busy at the trough."
    Elké followed Jack over a stile into the field and together they scattered the acorns willy-nilly. "Won't the pigs have trouble finding them in the mud?" she asked.
    Jack grinned. "There's nothing a pig likes better than snuffling for acorns. They have a really keen sense of smell."
    Having satisfied the pigs, Jack and Elké returned to the farmyard and made their way to the cattle shed. "So this is where the bulls spend their nights," said Elké, glancing around.
    "Yes," confirmed Jack. "The first stall here is for Herman, the big black bull and young Rex lives in this main area. The other stall is used for storing the extra straw."
    "And what about those double doors at the back. Where do they lead?"
    Jack became serious. "Whatever you do, don't open those doors," he warned. "They lead out into the bulls' field. The wooden bar across the middle keeps the doors locked fast. Always make sure that that is in it's place." He suddenly looked at his watch. "Oh my gosh! It's getting rather late and I have to move some sheep into 'Mistle thrush pasture' this afternoon."
    "Why don't you quickly show me what to do here and then you can be on your way," suggested Elké.
    "Good idea," said Jack, taking a look around the shed. "Basically, all that needs doing here is to clear the muck out and fork it onto the heap in the corner of the yard. You'll find all the tools you'll need leaning against the wall outside. Finally," he continued, scratching his head "cover the whole of this main area and Herman's stall with plenty of fresh straw. Do you think you can handle that?"
     Elké laughed and gave him a friendly shove. "Of course I can, Jack. Off you go and tend to your sheep."
    "Chip. Spike." he called out. "Come on, we have work to do."
When they were alone, Elké picked up Aitch and gave him a squeeze. "I do believe I am going to enjoy our stay at Puck Farm, Aitch. How about you?"
    His reply came in the form of a big wet lick on her nose.

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