Chapter 4: Early One Spring Morning
Belle had watched and cared for many generations of Roses. She took great pride in their many accomplishments and trained their guardians with care.
On this early spring morning crocuses pushed up through the last of the winter snow. Belle had sat up all night with Tilly, a sweet-natured cow giving birth by the stream. Tilly was very particular about childbirth. She insisted on privacy and pleasant surroundings. Belle insisted on being close by just in case. Belle saw the kitchen light come on in the big white house with the bright red door. That would be Grandpa James. Soon Lil Mike would be up too.
Lil Mike and Grandpa James were very close. They had a special bond that had been there from the beginning. James Rose had proudly carried his littlest descendant into his very big house the day she came home. He had rocked her through colicky nights and took charge of her teething gums. When Marie wanted to get a baby swing, because motion helped Lil Mike's tummy, Grandpa James bought a tummy pack instead and carried her every where he went. Lil Mike was happy as a "mouse" in a pocket so he called her just that. By the time she started to walk she just naturally went wherever he went. James and his Mouse were the first two up in the morning drinking hot tea with sugar and reading the funnies. Pal would be stretched across the table and Buddy would be warming Grandpa's toes below.
It was Grandpa James who read three stories, sang lullabies and gave piggyback rides up two flights of stairs to tuck Lil Mike into bed at night.
Even with all of Grandpa James' fine care Belle felt it necessary to have guardians about. Pal had been the first. He had slept right in the crib with Lil Mike keeping her warm at night and getting help if it was needed. Buddy started working when Lil Mike started walking. Wink was next. She took her father's place when he retired. Snow joined the group for Lil Mike's third birthday.
Tilly was doing well and getting to know her new little calf. So Belle flew over to the house to listen to the funnies. She landed on the windowsill and peeked inside. Lil Mike was sitting on Grandpa's lap pointing to the pictures as grandpa read the words. (In truth he often made up a story right then and there to entertain her because some funnies are just not funny.) Belle was enjoying Gooseberry when her whiskers twitched. "Oh bother," she remarked.
Belle's whiskers were fine and long. She combed and cared for them with great care. Most of the whiskers were white but two of them, one on each side, were silver. These silver whiskers were not just pretty they were very special indeed because these whiskers foretold the weather. Unlike the weatherman on the evening news Belle's whiskers were never wrong.
Right this minute Belle was receiving the weather report for this very morning and it wasn't at all what she wanted to hear. Rain was coming up from the south. Not much wind, thank God, but a regular gully washer was coming fast. Belle turned to call one of her many messengers to get the word out when she heard old Oscar growling on the porch. "RAT, strange Rat."
The family had brought a load of straw to the farm the day before. The load had had a passenger.
Belle came quickly but not quickly enough. The rat slipped under the porch.
Wild city rats, from outside Cherry Hill, are often very dirty or diseased. This rat was both and he was hungry and the smell of cinnamon toast was coming from the house.
Belle slipped under the porch. She looked at the rat. She could see he was very ill. Wild and made mean by his very hard life he wasn't impressed with a tiny white mouse when she came up to him.
"Can I help you?" she asked politely.
"No, go," the rat sneered. (It was fortunate that Belle remembered how to speak primitive rat.)
"I'm afraid you can't stay here; you are sick and can bring harm to the animals and family here. I can help you and care for you if you are willing." Belle offered what she could.
"Don't need help," the rat replied. (Sadly, many people act just like this rat sometimes.) He had had enough of the mouse. "Get lost," he said.
Belle's tone changed. "You will do as I ask or you will be given assistance."
Never in all his life had the rat heard such a thing. As sick as he was he began to laugh a sinister laugh. "You? No way." The rat charged at her, his teeth bared.
Oscar, on the porch smelled trouble and growled for Pal and Buddy. They were soon scratching at the door of the kitchen so that Lil Mike would let them out. Snow came to help if she could. Wink scurried back and forth.
"Don't come down here," Belle called as she flew into the air to dodge the rat. "I'll be OK. Just get me something to put this guy in."
With Snow's help Pal and Buddy got an old tin toolbox off the porch. Pal opened it and they waited.
Belle dodged and danced as the enraged rat tried again and again to attack her. He was beyond reason or sense. Belle flew above the toolbox and waited. The rat charged at her jumping right into the box.
Bang, Pal slammed the lid.
"Now what?" he asked.
"We will need to get him to my hospital. There is little I can do for him here." Belle's whisker twitched. "But right now we have other work to do. There is a storm coming. We need to warn everyone and help Tilly get that calf to safety."
The guardians went to work at once. Soon little animals were scurrying to high ground and closing up doors. Mothers were collecting children and birds were tightening nests.
Belle flew to Tilly with the bad news. The little calf was happily nursing, her little tail dancing. "She's a fine little one Tilly. What are you going to name her?" Belle asked.
"Dawn, I think," Tilly answered. She and Belle began slowly heading for the barn. Little Dawn followed, wobbling on her long shaky legs. By the time they reached the barn the first signs of rain were appearing in the sky.
Once the farm was safe Belle and her friends still had a long morning before them. It isn't easy to drag a tin box full of rat across the fields and up hills. By the time they got him to Belle's Hospital they were all as wet and muddy as pigs in June.
It was just another day for Belle. It seemed there were always those in need and special events to share. So while a sweet new calf began her life in the loving care of her mother, a very bad rat found himself in the care of a very sweet mouse.
The rat was very sick for several days and very uncooperative but slowly he began to get well. In the end he did apologize to Belle and thanked her for her kindness. Belle helped him get home but she never heard from him again. Lil Mike and Grandpa James never knew a thing about the rat. They did miss the tool chest. What happened to it was to remain an unsolved family mystery.
Airabella Quick of Cherry Hill Farm is © copyright 2008 by Kimberlyn Kammerer. All rights reserved.
May not be reprinted elsewhere without permission from the author/illustrator.