“I’ve found the hole where the rain was coming in,” Arthur called down, voice only just audible on the ground over the rain thundering on - and through - the roof of the barn.
“Found it, or made it?” Douglas yelled back from the foot of the ladder.
“No, it was there before. I’ve just made it — easier to see.”
“Terrific,” Douglas murmured. “Down you come, then. It’s no use – we’ll just have to patch it when the rain’s stopped.”
“If it ever does,” added a bedraggled Martin, who was raking the best of the hay further from the corner of the barn that was more or less underwater. His progress was impeded slightly by Talisker the farm cat, who seemed to think his rake was a lively and interesting toy.
Arthur began the descent from the ladder, hurried along by an odd sort of creaking sound from the direction of the roof (up).
“What’s that?” Martin asked, looking up. Talisker took advantage of the stationary rake and sat down firmly on top of it.
Douglas followed his gaze. “Ah,” he said, with the peculiar kind of calm that came from the acceptance of fate, “Do you know, I do believe that’s the rest of the roof giving way.”
Though he would certainly never admit to having over-exaggerated, Douglas did later concede that it wasn’t quite the rest of the roof that had collapsed, but rather the beam adjoining the one that had already gone, a few slats and the rough bit they’d patched on last summer to cover an existing hole. It amounted to one-third of the barn being laid open to the elements - which were currently pouring down in torrents - and a number of homeless and rather disgruntled animals.
Plus one slightly bruised Douglas, who had used his moment of clarity to twist Arthur’s ladder and push him nicely out of the way, only to fail to move even one step of his own volition.
“Thank goodness for Gerti,” said Arthur, wrapping his arms around the cow’s neck. “Douglas saved me, and she saved Douglas.”
“Yes, and she was the only one with enough presence of mind to not need saving herself,” said Carolyn, in a clipped tone that was undercut slightly by the towel she slung over Douglas’s shoulders.
Martin coughed. “Talisker and I were perfectly fine.”
“Well, but Skip, you two were under the bit where the roof was already gone.”
“True,” Martin allowed. “Good old Gerti.”
She bobbed her head in recognition, at least of her name if not the praise. Douglas grinned, and patted her flank. Truth be told, it was all a bit of a blur, but he gathered that at the crucial moment, as the other animals skittered sensibly to the other end of the barn, Gerti had instead approached and knocked him clean over, sending him sprawling out of reach of most of the debris. Between them, he and Gerti had intercepted one panel, but it was the old rotten one they’d tried to patch, so most of it was water-weight.
Absentmindedly, he removed the towel from his shoulders and used it to rub her down. Carolyn tutted.
“Right. Look alive, boys,” she said. “I’m not leaving anyone in that death trap of a barn overnight. Toby can stable with Hamilton, that ought to at least be entertaining, and some of the more docile girls might as well go in with the sheep. As for the others…”
“I’m sure Brill wouldn’t mind having a sleepover,” Arthur volunteered.
“That demon pony? Certainly not. She kicks.”
“Demon pony?” The wound to Arthur’s heart was evident in his voice. “Mum, she’s not, she’s lovely.”
“She doesn’t mean to kick as much as she does, perhaps,” Martin said mildly.
“Don’t side with Arthur, Martin, it doesn’t become you. Anyway, I’ve thought of a solution. Take the tractor out of its shed and put the other cows there.”
Martin was immediately alarmed. “But the tractor…”
“Can rust merrily in the sun for all I care, if this blasted rain ever stops. Go on, shift the metal monster, will you.”
“I haven’t got my driving gloves.”
“Oh, for— Martin. Go. And. Move. That. Tractor.”
Martin headed for the shed, still not looking pleased at the thought of his beloved tractor languishing in the rainstorm. The others set about dividing the cows into categories of ferociousness, with Arthur still spouting alternative plans.
“We did work it out that all the animals could fit on the ground floor of the house,” was his latest ploy. “Maybe just a couple of cows…”
“I think not. Right, then… Arthur, you wrangle that lot over to the tractor shed and have Martin help you settle them. Snoop and I’ll take mine up to the little barn. Douglas, frankly I’m not sure why you’re still here. Get yourself inside and put the kettle on.”
“I can help,” he protested.
“Yes, thank you. By having tea ready for us when we get in.”
Shivering with the combined effects of being drenched and slightly in shock, Douglas attempted to look dignified and sorely used as he ambled up to the farmhouse. A few of minutes later, from the kitchen window, he watched the three bedraggled figures returning, squelching their way across the thick mud. The kettle sang merrily from the stove, and the rain poured on.
“You cannot fold a flood and put it in a drawer,” Douglas remarked solemnly to Talisker the cat, who was licking herself dry over by the door. “Because the winds would find it out, and tell your cedar floor. Emily Dickinson, that. She forgot to mention what would happen to the roof.”