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
Chapter 5

Elké fell into farm life easily enough and found looking after the animals particularly enjoyable. Most of her afternoons were spent with Aitch exploring the Puck Farm Estate and the countryside beyond. The days passed quickly and before Elké realized, first two and then four weeks had flashed by.
    One sunny afternoon, Elké was out with Aitch playing in the meadow down by the river. She picked up a stick, threw it as far as she could and Aitch raced off in hot pursuit. He had grown considerably in these past four weeks, but still had the loose limbs and pliable body of a puppy. He rushed back and laid the stick at Elké's feet looking up into her face with a laughing expression and bright eager eyes.
     Elké knelt down and Aitch rolled over allowing her to tickle his tummy. "Aitch, I know we are having a lovely time here," she said, dreamily "but we will have to be leaving soon."
    The puppy playfully grabbed her hand in his mouth.
    "Hey! Go careful. Your milk teeth are really sharp." A sudden chilly breeze caused Elké to look up at the sky. "Good grief, look at those black clouds gathering in the hills," she said. "There is a storm brewing and no mistake. I do hope the weather is not going to break."
     Elké stood up, called to Aitch and they both ran up the hill towards the farmhouse.

During dinner that evening, Elké spoke of her intention to leave Puck Farm and make for Birmingham.
    Mrs. Jones squeezed Elké's hand. "I am not going to say we are happy for you to go, 'cos we're not. You have been a great help to us all and a joy to have staying here." She pulled a small handkerchief from her sleeve and gave her nose a blow.
    "Now, now, don't get yourself upset, Ma," said Farmer Jones, putting down his knife and fork. He turned to Elké. "I'm delivering a lorry load of vegetables to Warwick Market on Saturday if you are interested in a lift. Warwick is about halfway to Birmingham."
    "You bet!" Beamed Elké. "That would be a great help, Mr. Jones. Thank you very much."
    The evenings at Puck Farm were usually very quiet. The only change to the normal routine was on Friday nights when Farmer Jones and Blake visited 'The Hare & Hounds' for, in Mr. Jones' own words "A few pints of the very best ale, a game of cribbage and to keep up with the local farm gossip."
    On this particular night Farmer Jones sat listening to the radio, while his wife busily darned socks. Blake, who had barely said two-dozen words to Elké all the time she had been staying at the farm, was reading a magazine on cattle breeding. And Jack was attempting to teach Elké the finer points of cribbage.
    "I'm afraid you are too good at this game for me," said Elké, after losing for the third time. She yawned and stretched. "Come on Aitch, it's time for bed."
    Farmer Jones accompanied Elké to the kitchen door and stood next to her, looking up at the dark evening sky. "You had better make sure the barn door is fastened securely and that all the hatches are battened down," he said, as a streak of lightning flashed in the distance. "There is going to be one hell of a storm tonight. It has headed off up the valley for the time being. But it will be back. You mark my words."
    Elké felt uneasy as she closed the barn door. A feeling that she was not alone. A noise? An unfamiliar smell? She could not be sure. She climbed the ladder to the loft, shone the torch around and let out a gasp. Her bedding had been disturbed and was strewn all over the floor.
    Aitch gave a yelp and jumped from her arms. He raced to the back of the loft and gripped a corner of some blue denim that was protruding from the loose straw. He held on with his sharp teeth and worried and pulled at the cloth, growling as fiercely as he could.
    "Call this brute off me," yelled an angry voice. Elké shone her torch towards the back wall just as a face popped out from amongst the straw. A girls face. A black girls face, with almond shaped eyes and long, black, braided hair threaded with colourful beads.
    There was something about the others appearance that disturbed Elké. But what was it? The eyes? Yes, that was it: Light blue eyes. Blue eyes in a black girl was indeed unusual but, together with their almond shape and the light blue against the dark skin, it gave her an almost cat like quality.
    The black girl was the first to recover. "Do you always go around frightening people when they are trying to get some sleep?"
     Elké was amazed at the intruder's audacity. "Excuse me, but this does happen to be where I sleep!" She pointed the torch behind her. "Take a look at the mess you have made of my bed."
    The other girl seemed genuinely taken aback. "Hey! I'm sorry." But then she grinned broadly. "You don't honestly think I would have chosen this uncomfortable place to snuck down in if I'd have noticed that lovely warm sleeping bag, do you?"
    Inside, Elké softened a little, but still said accusingly. "Why are you wandering around the countryside alone?"
    The girl considered the question, wondering how much to reveal to this stranger. "I ran away from the orphanage in Bristol, last week sometime," she replied, at last.
    Suddenly Elké felt that the two of them had a lot in common. She unscrewed the front of her torch and placed it upright on the wooden floor, causing the now naked bulb to cast eerie shadows around the loft.
    The visitor brushed the loose straw from her clothes, ran her fingers through her braids and sat down close to the lamp, opposite Elké. Aitch ambled up and plonked his head on her knee.
    "Why! Is this the animal that attacked me?" she exclaimed, noticing the puppy for the first time. She stroked his head. "I imagined you to be a whole pack of wild dogs intent on devouring me. I really did."
     Elké was still not one hundred percent sure of this newcomer. "What happened at the orphanage? Were they unkind to you?"
    The girl pulled a face. "Nah! They were kind enough. But too many rules. Yeh, that was the problem. Too many rules. When to go to bed, when to get up, when to eat, when to wash your face and not even to be allowed out after eight o'clock. You know the kind of thing." She sat up, straight and aloof. "I thought I knew better, so I ran away to try my luck in the world."
    Elké put out her hand. "My name's Elké."
    The other girl smiled, showing a shining set of even, white teeth. "Mine's Rebecca."
    Now that the barriers were down, the two girls got on famously.
    As soon as Elké realized that Rebecca had no fixed plans for the future, she said "why don't you come to Birmingham with me and Aitch? It will be so much more fun than travelling alone."
     Rebecca slapped her thigh in delight. "Right on Elké," she cried. "You gotta deal."
    Presently the two of them became tired and set each other off yawning.
    Elké got up. "There is a spare blanket around here somewhere," she said. "Make yourself a bed from some straw, while I check to see if the shutters and skylight are closed properly. Can you hear that wind picking up?"

Later that night Elké was woken by a loud clap of thunder. Aitch growled softly at her side.
"Don't worry, old boy. It's only a thunderstorm."
    And what a storm it was. The wind howled around the eaves and tore at any loose plank like some wounded creature intent on revenge. Torrential rain lashed at the roof and walls of the sturdy barn that had withstood many storms such as this and would hopefully withstand many more.
    Peeking from under the covers, Elké eyed the skylight above her head. A jagged flash of lightning cut across the sky, followed immediately by another crack of thunder. She quickly closed her eyes again and snuggled down inside her warm sleeping bag, glad not to be out on a night like this.
    Elké was just dropping off to sleep again, when a hand grabbed her by the shoulder.
    "Elké, can you hear that noise?"
     "Mmmm," mumbled Elké, drowsily. "It's just the storm. Go back to sleep."
     But Rebecca was insistent. "No, there is another noise. Listen."
    At first, Elké could detect nothing unusual. But yes! Even above the raging of the storm a loud crashing sound could be heard, followed by the splintering of wood and a long, deep moaning of some large animal in pain.
    Suddenly, Elké was very awake indeed. She was out of her sleeping bag in a trice and throwing on her clothes. "Come on," she cried. "It's the bulls. They are in some kind of trouble."
     The two girls scooted down the ladder, Elké pausing only to set Aitch down on the floor of the barn and lock him in.
    "Stop that whining," she called out through the closed door. "It will be too dangerous for you out here."
    The pouring rain soaked them both immediately as they splashed their way across the yard to the cattle shed.
    Farmer Jones, Blake and Jack were already gathered around the open door. Elké pushed her way to the front.
    High up a single bulb gave out just enough light to reveal the carnage below. The massive black bull, Herman, had the younger bull, Rex, pinned up against the far double doors. The bellowing noises given off by both bulls were simply terrifying.
    "Jack, go fetch me my buffalo gun," shouted Farmer Jones, above the din.
    Elké stared at him in horror. "What do you mean to do?"
     Farmer Jones turned on her with blazing eyes. "Shoot the brute of course. He is trying to destroy the future of my herd."
     Elké returned to the problem at hand. If only she could get to the wooden bar that kept the double doors locked, but both sides of the barn were blocked by the thrashing Herman.
    "The only way is over the top," she said to herself, almost in jest. But then. "Why not?"
     Her torch picked out an iron hook that stuck out from above the far stall… and behind her, halfway up the wall, was a narrow ledge. An idea was forming in the young girls mind.
    "It would mean stepping on Herman's back. But that would only be for a second. I would be off again before he realized."
    Elké grabbed Rebecca's arm and pointed to the wooden bar at the end of the shed. "That bar keeps the double doors closed," she explained, before turning the torch to point at the iron hook that stuck out above the far stall. "All I have to do is reach that hook and drop down into the stall full of straw. From there, I can easily stretch across and unlock the doors."
     Rebecca's eyes widened in disbelief.
    "What you must do," continued Elké, "is to keep this torch pointing at the hook." She thrust the torch into Rebecca's hand and climbed up onto the ledge above her head. From this new vantage point Elké could clearly see the hook picked out by torchlight. But Herman, the bull, was deep in shadow.
    "Blow!" she cursed. "It is far too dangerous to jump blind."
    Just then a flash of lightning lit up the whole interior of the shed and Elké could see the broad back of Herman as clear as day. She seized this opportunity and leaped from the ledge. But then disaster struck. While Elké was still in mid-flight a loud crack of thunder rent the air, causing Herman to arc his back unexpectedly. The girl missed her footing and sprawled headlong over the bull, falling to the ground to land with a smack amongst the muck and straw between the two raging animals.
    Oblivious of any pain, Elké spun round to face the danger. And what a horrifying sight met her eyes. Herman loomed above her like some colossal demon. His huge head slowly turned to inspect this object that had suddenly landed in front of him. His eyes fixed Elké with a crazed, vacant stare. Wild, savage eyes oozing a gooey mess that trickled down throbbing cheeks to mingle with slimy snot and saliva and finally dribble from a quivering wet muzzle onto the floor at Elké's feet.
    The mighty Herman sucked in a lungful of air, raising his body to even greater heights, before snorting loudly sending out two fine sprays of mucus from flared nostrils.
    Elké watched helpless as the bull lowered his head and slowly approached for the kill. She closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable pain and oblivion.
    Rebecca, witnessing everything, gasped in dismay when Elké stumbled and fell. But as the bull moved towards the stricken girl a clear passage through to the double doors opened up. Without a thought for her own safety, Rebecca raced to the far end of the shed and with all her might heaved up the wooden bar, sending it flying into the air.
    What followed happened very quickly indeed. The weight of the young bull pushing on the doors forced them to burst open and a very surprised Rex found himself lying outside in the pouring rain. Realising he had been set free, the bull quickly scrambled to his feet and raced off into the night.
    Herman was furious to see his rival escape so easily. Forgetting all about Elké, stretched out on the floor, he gave one last deep bellow and thundered after Rex.
    At that very moment, Jack returned with a heavy shotgun under his arm and was amazed to find a cattle shed void of bulls and his father, brother, Elké and Rebecca in an absolute state of shock. "I take it you won't be wanting the gun now, Pa?" he said.
    To his astonishment, this seemingly sensible question caused the other four to burst out in manic laughter.

"Elké, what the devil have you been up to?" exclaimed Mrs. Jones.
    Elké was standing on the kitchen mat, dripping wet and covered in muck.
    "And who is this you have got with you?" she added, seeing Rebecca, who was just as wet but not so mucky. "Oh my! What is the world coming to? You'd both better get those wet clothes off and jump into a hot bath."
     Mrs. Jones supplied the girls with thick, soft dressing gowns and steaming cups of hot cocoa and everybody crammed into the kitchen, including Aitch. Jack had fetched him from the barn.
    "Now, don't all talk at once," demanded Mrs. Jones, holding up her hands in protest. "What was that you were saying, Blake? Elké jumped over the bull?"
    Blake, normally very shy and quiet, was full of this adventure. He could not wait to get down to 'The Hare & Hounds' and tell his friends how these two girls had saved his father's prize bulls from certain death.
    When everyone had told his or her piece of the story, Mrs. Jones collapsed into the armchair and was only roused by the big grandfather clock in the hall striking the hour of three.
    "Oh my golly!" cried Mrs. Jones. "Can you believe it? Three o'clock in the morning. Right! Everyone to bed. Elké, Rebecca, I've put some blankets on the two sofas in the sitting room. I'm not having you going out anymore tonight."
    When all was quiet and Elké was snuggled up on the sofa with Aitch, she called out in the dark. "Rebecca, thank you for saving my life."
    But Rebecca did not hear. She was fast asleep.

chapter 6