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Tales From Fitton Farm

Chapter Text

“All right, Gerti, stand still,” Douglas murmured to the cow he would be milking, were she not too interested in side-stepping into the wall of the milking shed. “I know. I don’t know why we do it either. An hour’s too much of a change, isn’t it, girl?” Finally she settled, and he was able to attach the equipment. “And do you know, they blame it all on us? Mmm. They say we only change the time because of farmers - nobody bothers to find out the real reason…”

Arthur suddenly popped his head around the door. “Hi chaps!”

“Chap, singular,” Douglas corrected him. “Martin’s out in the top field. Did you want us both?”

“No,” said Arthur, coming in and stroking Gerti’s nose. “I just thought you must both be here, ‘cause I could hear you talking.”

“Oh,” Douglas said, breezily, “No, I was just chatting to Gerti. She’s not happy with the milking being an hour late.”

“Wow,” Arthur said, impressed. “Can she notice the difference? That’s really clever.”

“Well, I’m not saying she can tell the time, but she definitely knows it’s been a little longer than usual,” Douglas confirmed. “So I was just commiserating with her, because the rest of the country blames farms for the fact that we even have BST, whereas actually….”

“They should blame golfers.”

Douglas was taken aback. “Oh.”

“You weren’t expecting me to know that, were you?”

“Not… Not exactly, no.”

Arthur put on his conspiratorial look. “I only know because I’m so involved with the golfing circles, you know.”

Douglas grinned, thinking of the row of crazy golf trophies that sat behind the ones Carolyn’s sheep had been winning in the Fitton Country Fair every year since 2010. “Of course.”

“William Willet,” Arthur said thoughtfully. “Which is quite a good name, really. You would think more people would have heard of him, with a name like that.” He shrugged. “But he just wanted an extra hour to play golf in. Which I could understand if it was crazy golf, but an extra hour for normal golf? It seems a bit silly.”

Douglas chuckled. “I’m not used to you being such a fount of knowledge, Arthur, but I like the way you tell it.” He disconnected the milkers from Gerti’s udders, and she ambled away, replaced quickly by Elsie, the next of their nineteen cows.

“Well, I’d better carry on to the top field,” Arthur said brightly, as he stepped out of the way for Gerti to pass. “Martin will be wanting Snoop, and she’s bound to go off rabbiting if I send her on her own.”

“Oh, Snoopadoop, what’s he saying about you?” Douglas said in a mock-horrified tone, addressing the little cockerpoo/border collie cross, who had peeped her head around the cowshed door at the sound of her name, but dared not enter while the Big Scary Cows were about. It was quite enough to let them walk past her.

Douglas nodded to Arthur. “All right, see you later then. Oh, and tell Martin I thought of another one - Kevin Bacon.”

Arthur repeated the name a couple of times so he wouldn’t forget it on the way over. He couldn’t always join in the word games, but definitely enjoyed his position as courier, on days where Martin and Douglas weren’t working in earshot of each other.

He gambolled off with Snoopadoop at his heels, and Douglas turned to Elsie.

“Sorry, old thing,” he said to her amiably. “It’s all William Willet’s fault, you see…”

Chapter Text

Lambing season was well and truly upon them: even with their tiny flock, the inhabitants of Fitton Farm had their work cut out. Douglas and Martin had been taking turns on the all-nighters - always accompanied by Carolyn, who never took any chances where her precious sheep were concerned. Arthur was in charge of two lambs, both smaller than their twin siblings, who weren't getting a proper share of their mother's milk. Bottle-feeding the lambs was the best job ever, he was certain. When the time came for their evening feed, Snoopadoop would come and sit on his lap to ensure that she wasn't missing out on his attention - it made it a bit difficult to hold the bottle in the right position, but Arthur didn't mind.

"I think Snoop's jealous of the lambs," Martin commented one evening, still shivering a little from the chill spring air he'd not long walked in from. Martin had an incredible ability to feel the cold, even though he spent so much time out of doors. He wrapped his hands a little tighter round his steaming mug of tea, and chuckled. "Whoever heard of a sheepdog being jealous of sheep."

Arthur grinned, and wiggled the bottle just slightly so that Zanzibar would remember what to do. She was only five days old, and hadn't quite got the hang of the bottle yet. "Only the baby ones," he said. "She doesn't get jealous once they're too big to be cuddly."

Snoopadoop made it her business to press the top of her head into Arthur's chin, until he leant to the side to try and escape her, leaving a clear access route for her to lick his chin. "Snoop!" he protested, laughing. "Don't be a pest."

Martin put down his mug, and came forward so that he could take the bottle for the duration of Snoopadoop's attack. Arthur took it back once the battle was over. "Thanks."

Martin went back to watching them. A while later they heard the door of the farmhouse open and shut, and Douglas appeared in the kitchen, looking worn out.

"How's Delta?" asked Martin immediately. Delta was one of Carolyn's best ewes, but she'd seemed a bit under the weather for the last bit of her pregnancy. Her lamb had yet to make an appearance. They were all worried about her, Carolyn most of all.

"The same," Douglas said. "Carolyn's going to call the vet in the morning if there's no change."

Arthur chewed his lip. "Storm warning?"

"Oh, only a five on the scale, I'd say," Douglas said, sitting down next to Martin. "She's too worried for much else. For now." He glanced at the mantelpiece - there was a framed photograph of Carolyn with Delta there, Carolyn smiling that Queen-Victoria smile of hers and holding a silver trophy, Delta standing proudly with a red rosette pinned to her handling rope. If they lost that sheep, the storm warning would be off the scale, that was for sure.

"I hope Carolyn doesn't cancel the school kids," Martin said, suddenly remembering the minibus of children from Fitton Primary who were due to arrive in the morning, to look at the new arrivals, and if possible see a lambing for themselves. The school ran a trip twice a year, but this time was special, because it was the first year Douglas's daughter was coming. "Verity'll be disappointed. She must be looking forward to showing you off to all her friends."

Douglas snorted slightly at this. "I doubt it, somehow. She could come anytime she wanted, but she never asks to."

"I think she'll surprise you," said Martin, airily.

"And I think I know my daughter better than you do," said Douglas, sounding a little tetchier than he'd intended. Still, it got Martin to shut up, which had been the aim, so at least it wasn't for nothing.

Arthur looked quickly around the room for a way to break the awkward tension that had suddenly filled it. Doing so, he hit his head on the side of a cupboard and yelped. "Ouch. Funny how the lambs make it seem crowded this end. Even though they're so tiny."

Douglas held out a hand and patted Zanzibar's little woolly head. "Growing fast, though. You're doing a good job with them."

Arthur beamed.

"I wonder how many lambs you could fit in this room, though," Martin said, picking up on Arthur's train of thought. "Say, a hundred?"

"Depends," Douglas mused. "Are they packed quite close together? I can't imagine Carolyn liking that."

"Well, we won't tell her," said Martin conspiratorially, glad to return to some kind of banter after Douglas had snapped at him.

"If they were as small as Zanz, you could fit much more than a hundred," Arthur said breezily. "Maybe a thousand."

Douglas blinked at him. "I don't think you can even imagine what a thousand lambs looks like, Arthur."

Arthur considered. "Maybe not. All right... I bet you could fit all the animals on the ground floor, though."

"You'd struggle getting Bellatrix through the front door," Martin said with a grin.

"Don't be so personal," Douglas joked. Bellatrix was Carolyn's shire horse - the closest thing to a pride and joy she had, outside of her flock of sheep. Bellatrix was truly enormous. She was a dark enough bay to appear jet black, which only added to the impressiveness of her appearance.

"But if you could," Arthur persisted. "You could line up the horses in the hallway..."

"Sit a duck on each of their backs," Martin suggested. "To conserve space."

"The sheep would fill the living room," Douglas continued. "Nancy and Dean can go with them, I should think..."

By the time they'd counted up every lamb, cow and goose - and decided that yes, at a push, all ninety-seven animal inhabitants of Fitton Farm could probably fit in the farmhouse if they were all feeling particularly placid (and if Hamilton the donkey didn't mind cuddling up to the fridge) - Carolyn had come in, and stood frowning at the sight of what was, in fact, Arthur demonstrating how much space Hester, the sow, would take up with her piglets.

"What fresh hell is this?" she inquired.

Arthur, down on all fours, much to Snoopadoop's confusion, looked up at her. "Oh, hi, Mum. We were just working out if we could fit the whole farm in here."

"Well, why on earth would we want to do that?"

"We thought it would be useful to know, that's all."

"For when the rains come," Douglas quipped. "Though we've not got a dove to send out after forty days. How's Delta now?"

Carolyn leaned against the Aga. "No worse, no better. I decided to phone the vet tonight after all."

"Oh? What did he say?"

She huffed. "The usual chap's on a sabbatical, it seems. The answering machine gives a number for getting hold of his locum - Somebody Shipwright. I didn't catch the first name."

Douglas's eyes widened just a minuscule amount. "Oh, right," he said. He cleared his throat. "Well, let me have one last look at her before you call him in the morning. No use bothering the new bloke unless we really have to."

Carolyn raised a warning eyebrow. "Do I need to remind you, Douglas, that Delta is one of my very best ewes? I'll 'bother' whomever I like."

Douglas didn't doubt that she would.

Snoopadoop chose that moment to open her mouth wide in a yawn, her pink tongue lolling out at what ought to be an impossible angle. Arthur immediately yawned too, which set Martin off.

"Notify the British Medical Journal," he said, sounding sleepy. "The yawn's now infectious enough to cross species."

"Right, to bed, all of you," said Carolyn. "We're all tired from lambing, but we can't be falling asleep while the children are here tomorrow."

"Or the new vet!" piped up Arthur. "We'll have to make a good impression."

Carolyn rolled her eyes. "You mean he will. Come on. Sleep. I'm not having you all keeling over tomorrow." She gave Douglas a wry smile. "Verity would never live it down."

Somewhat reluctantly, they all traipsed off to their various corners of the house: Martin to his attic room, in the oldest part of the building, its sloping walls making it seem even smaller and cosier; Douglas, to his slightly larger room beneath it, and Carolyn and Arthur to the front of the house, though not until Arthur had returned his two lambs to their little covered pen in the yard. When that was done, he crept up the stairs as quietly as he could, just in case any of the others were already asleep.

"Night, Snoop," he murmured, as he heard the little dog jump up onto the end of his bed.

Snoopadoop found where Arthur's feet were through the duvet, and snuggled against them. She rested her curly head on her paws, closed her eyes, and dreamed of herding sheep.

Chapter Text

 

The sound of hooves thudding against the dirt track sent the chickens scuttling, clucking anxiously as the stout form of Arthur’s pony, Brilliant, trotted into view. Douglas grinned. Brilliant, though a sweet animal, was incurably dopey and did have a nasty habit of stepping on anything or anyone in the vicinity, regardless of whether or not they were in her path. The chickens probably had the right idea.

“Hi, Douglas!” called Arthur, grinning cheerfully from underneath his bright red riding cap. “The M’s fallen down!”

Douglas finished pouring out the chicken feed and ambled over to Arthur and Brilliant, frowning. “The M? Is that code for your mother somehow?” 

Arthur laughed, and Brilliant threw back her head too, her lip curling up with a snickering sound that honestly made it sound like she was sharing the joke. “No!” said Arthur, patting Brilliant’s neck. “I mean the actual letter M, on the gate. It’s fallen off, so now it just says ‘Fitton Far’. I noticed it on my way in.” 

“Ah!” said Douglas, understanding at last. “Well, we can’t have that. I’ll go and have a look at it after evening milking. If it’s actually rotted off, maybe we can just paint a new one on.” 

“Ooh! Can I help?”

The image of Arthur armed with a pot of paint was not an altogether appealing one. 

“You can certainly watch. Unless Martin will be needing a hand in the sty again? You know how those little ones run rings around him.”

Arthur giggled as he dismounted Brilliant, keeping hold of her reins once he was down, lest she wander over any unsuspecting hens. “I’ll ask him if he wants me.” 

“Best take Brill back first, or she’ll turn them into ham sandwiches.”

“Hey!” Arthur protested. “She hasn’t stomped on anyone for ages. It’s not her fault she’s a bit clumsy.”

Brilliant nuzzled against Arthur’s shoulder and neck, apparently in gratitude for the defence. 

“Of course not,” said Douglas, still eying the pony warily. Privately, he was very glad that he was wearing his steel toe-cap boots, just in case. 

 

Chapter Text

Carolyn swung open the door of the barn, where the last two expectant mothers were being kept overnight. Foxtrot, true to her name, trotted merrily out, as sprightly as though she were a lamb herself, rather than the carrier of one. She ambled through the open gate and into the field nearest to the barn, where she was greeted by a few of the other ewes. A couple of lambs danced between the legs of their mothers. Others were feeding, and two or three were sitting on the ground, little legs folded nearly under them. It made quite an idyllic picture, if Carolyn did say so herself.

Her thoughts clouded, though, as she turned back to the interior of the barn and saw Delta there, moving very slowly towards the doorway. It was such a contrast to Foxtrot's dizzying display of health and happiness, and Carolyn felt the worries surge up again. Still, the vet would be here soon. Arthur had volunteered to do the telephoning while Carolyn herself got an early start on the day's work, so she'd asked him to send the vet over to the low field when he arrived.

Delta finally finished her slow progress out into the daylight, and Carolyn took heart at the fact that she had at least managed the feat, rather than laying forlornly in a corner of the barn, or - worse - collapsing halfway. Perhaps the vet would tell her it was all a lot of fuss over nothing. Carolyn had her pride, of course, but she'd rather be wrong and have Delta be fine after all, than be proved right at the cost of her best ewe's health.

She drew the gate shut behind her and began to circulate around the rest of the flock. Happily, the other ewes looked to be in fine fettle. Whiskey came and nuzzled her, bleating contentedly, and Alpha played her usual trick of trying to trip Carolyn up. This had worked much better when Alpha was a tiny lamb, able to weave in and out of a pair of legs. She hadn't seemed to realise yet that she was now a fully-grown sheep, who couldn't perform such antics to the same standard.

Carolyn stepped neatly out of the way. "That's quite enough of that," she said firmly, and received a jeering 'baa-aa' in response.

The low hum of an aircraft made its way to Carolyn's ears, and it grew louder and louder as the plane passed very low over the farm. A few of the lambs were spooked by the strange noise, and pressed closer to their mothers, but the adult sheep were completely unperturbed. All Carolyn's animals were used to low-flying aircraft, since her farmland shared a border with Fitton Airfield. Any plane that came in to land passed low enough over her fields that you could read the numbers on the hull, if you so wished.

Most people assumed this would be endlessly irritating, but Carolyn was just as accustomed to it as her sheep were - and besides, it wasn't as though Fitton was a particularly busy airfield. The sleepy English village didn't attract a lot of tourists, and there was no resident airline. It was mostly used for overspill from Bristol, as far as Carolyn understood it, along with a married couple who gave flying lessons, and a few other private plane owners who frequented the airfield for the sake of convenience. Luton airport it was not, thank goodness. Still, it was nice to see a sky criss-crossed with plane tracks now and then, and imagine where the people on board might be headed.

She left the field after a few minutes, and went back to the barn to remove the dirtied hay and replace it with fresh bedding for the mothers-to-be. She had just finished raking it thick and even over the barn floor when she heard footsteps outside, followed by a throat-clearing cough. "Anybody home?"

Carolyn set the rake against the wall and came outside. An unreasonable amount of hay-wisps seemed to have clung to her clothes, but she didn't bother to brush them away, knowing only too well that they'd be back again before she could say boo to one of Martin's beloved geese. Besides, the voice had sounded educated and a little amused, and she was definitely not going to let the new vet see her attempting to 'smarten up' for him in any way. He could take Carolyn and her farm as they were, or else leave them, as far as she was concerned.

"Hello," she said, approaching the new vet, who was now looking over the fence at the flock of sheep. He was well-dressed for someone who supposedly spent his days traipsing around farms, his silvery hair was neat and his boots were clean. He turned and saw her looking.

"New job, new kit," he said by way of explanation. "I'm not usually this turned out." He smiled, the type of smile women in romance novels found charming, and which he doubtless thought was dazzling. "Hercules Shipwright. I was told to come to the low field, I trust I'm in the right place?"

She shook his outstretched hand. "Carolyn Knapp-Shappey. I'm sorry, did you say Hercules?"

His smile changed into a more wry, self-deprecating version of itself, which Carolyn disdained much less. "Yes. My father was an eccentric, I'm afraid, but you can call me 'Herc', if you prefer."

Carolyn didn't think there would be much need to call him anything, since they were the only two humans in the immediate vicinity, so she only nodded. "I see. Well, anyway, you're in the right place." She opened the gate, and allowed him to enter behind her while simultaneously blocking Echo, the eternal escapologist, from getting out of the field. "Stay back, Echo," she scolded, but ruffled the wool on the top of Echo's head all the same. "You know why we've called you here, I assume?"

"The young man on the phone said it was to do with a pregnant sheep," the vet said. "Having a bit of trouble, is she?"

Carolyn led him over to where Delta was now laying, sprawled on her side and looking less than comfortable. "I don't know if there's anything you can do for her. But..."

"Best to be on the safe side," he supplied, as she trailed off slightly. "All right, let's have a look at her."

Carolyn watched as he knelt down beside the sheep, and began to check her over with deft hands. He produced a thermometer from his leather bag, used it, and went on examining Delta, speaking to her all the while in reassuring tones. Carolyn was, grudgingly, quite impressed. Despite his too-clean clothes and public-school voice, he seemed a natural with the sheep and hadn't hesitated to kneel with her in the muddy grass. That ought to count for something.

After a while, he stood up again. "Well," he said. "That's a fine sheep you've got there, you know."

Carolyn nodded and said, rather primly, "I do know, yes."

"I can see why you're concerned," he went on. "She's rather... enormous, and doesn't seem very happy about it. But she isn't sickening for anything, in my opinion. I'd say it's more likely she's objecting to the amount of lambs she's having to carry around with her."

"Twins?"

"Possibly. But I wouldn't be surprised if you end up with triplets on your hands," the vet said. "It's rare, but it can happen."

Any warmth she'd felt towards him for complimenting Delta disappeared immediately. "I'm fully aware that it can happen, thank you."

He chuckled. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply... well, anything. But with a flock as small as this, it would be understandable if you hadn't seen triplets before."

Carolyn bristled. "Twenty-six sheep is the perfect amount. These ewes are prizewinners; any more, and I wouldn't be able to give them each the care and attention they need to stay that way."

"Of course." He grinned, a twinkle in his eye. "Twenty-six sheep, hmm? And I thought it was just the one you thought was poorly."

She gave him a stony look.

"Like the riddle," he said lamely. "Twenty-six sheep in a field, one dies, and you've got nineteen...? No?"

"No," Carolyn said emphatically. "Around here, we don't go in for riddles involving dead sheep. I can't think why."

He looked abashed. "Naturally."

There was a pause, then he added, "Well, I'd carry on keeping an eye on Delta, but I should think she'll lamb within the next couple of days, with no more trouble than usual. Triplets are usually born a bit prematurely, so she won't be uncomfortable much longer. But if she does get into difficulties, of course, phone me again."

Carolyn nodded, and thanked him to the appropriate degree of politeness, considering that he'd just made a joke about dead sheep.

"So, is there anybody else I ought to report to before I go?" the vet said uncertainly. "Only, I've been making a point of introducing myself to the farmers, each time I make a first visit to a new farm."

Don't say it, Carolyn warned him silently, but he didn't appear to hear her.

"...Is he around anywhere?"

She held her head high. "Indeed, she is. And further introduction won't be necessary."

His expression was surprised, but almost in a pleased way, so she hated him all over again. "Oh, I beg your pardon. This is your farm?"

"It is."

"Oh," he said again, as if a vowel were all he could muster. "Oh, well. Well done!"

"Well done?" she repeated incredulously. "What do you mean, 'well done'?" She didn't allow him time to answer, launching instead into a mocking voice. "'Well done for running a dirty great farm all by yourself, you clever little lady?'"

"No," he retorted. "Just a general, you know, 'good for you'."

"I see." Carolyn leaned importantly on her shepherd's crook, lovingly fashioned from a branch of Arthur's favourite oak tree, under close supervision by Martin. "So you'd still have said 'well done' if I was a fat old middle-aged man in a set of overalls, would you?"

The charming smile resurfaced. "The thought is inconceivable."

Carolyn rolled her eyes.

"But since I'm here any--"

His attempt to dig himself out of the self-made hole was cut short by the deafening sound of an aeroplane travelling overhead, the enormous engines blocking out all other sounds as the aircraft set off to the east. Carolyn looked up at it, marvelling at its size and majesty. It wasn't all that often that Fitton was graced with such large craft.

When she looked back down, expecting to meet the eyes of the vet again, she found to her surprise that he was huddled against the fence, his hands over his ears and his eyes tight shut, appearing about half his original height. Alpha had trotted nearer, and nosed him with interest.

Carolyn cleared her throat.

Once the engine sounds had died away, the vet slowly came out of his snail-shell of tweed coat and shaking hands. Then he seemed to realise all of a sudden where he was, and he stood up abruptly.

There passed a few moments of silence: Carolyn too stunned to speak, the vet too embarrassed. The only sounds were the gentle baa-ings of the sheep around them.

"You're... afraid of aeroplanes," Carolyn said eventually.

"I'm not afraid of them," the vet said primly. "I just don't like them."

"You don't have to like them, you just have to stand underneath them," Carolyn pointed out. "That was more of a... cower."

He did his best to look as dignified as he had before; he failed. A smile played on Carolyn's lips.

"Well, as you were saying," she said, fighting down her amusement as much as she could, "You're here now, so you may as well take look at one or two of my geese. They've not been laying as well as they might."

She made towards the gate without turning back to look if he were following. "Though they are white things with wings, so perhaps you'd rather pass?"

Her smile stretched into a Cheshire-sized grin. She'd have to ask later: was he named for the hero, or the Lockheed C-130 that had just flown over their heads?

Either way, it was a ridiculous name for a ridiculous man, and she ought to know - she had attended sheepdog trials with a hound named Snoopadoop.

Chapter Text

“Well, Arthur,” said the locum vet, standing to his full height and giving Brill a pat, “There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with her at all. In fact, she’s in fine fettle. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a happier pony.”

Arthur beamed. “Thanks! I’m always saying that. She’s got a happy sort of face, hasn’t she?”

“Ye-es, I suppose she has, rather.”

“Would you like to see the geese now?”

“I— well, is one of them sick?”

Arthur considered. “One did eat Martin’s ring the other day. But she doesn’t seem bothered by it.”

“I can check her over, if you like,” said the vet, “But you do realise, Arthur, don’t you, that usually when someone calls the vet out to a farm, it’s because there’s something that specifically requires medical expertise?”

“Usually,” Arthur echoes. “But it’s a bit sad if you never get to go anywhere just for fun, isn’t it?”

“I go to places,” sniffed the vet.

“Like where?”

“Well— last week I went to the opera.”

“Who with?”

“Does it matter who with?”

“Not really,” said Arthur, sneaking Brilliant a polo mint from his jeans pocket, “But I bet it was on your own. So I just thought it would be nice if you came over. It’s you who decided it was to see the animals.”

“That is usually why I come.”

“I know.” Brilliant snuffled at Arthur, hoping for another mint. He scratched her nose as a compromise. “But it doesn’t always have to be. We like you, you know. Even Mum.”

The vet chuckled. “Don’t let her hear you making accusations like that.” After a moment, he added, “Well, let’s see this ring-guzzling goose, then, and afterwards I’ll go out to the top field and see your mother.”

“How do you know she’s at the top field?”

“Don’t look so smug, Arthur. This proves nothing.”

“Maybe,” said Arthur enigmatically. “Come on, Brill. Back to your stall.”

Herc watched them go, smiling. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if he came here a little more often.

Chapter Text

“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.”