Chapter 1: A Night of Storms and Moonlight Stirrings
A Night of Storms and Moonlight Stirrings
Some time ago (but not too long ago) on a wild and stormy night, a little rabbit was born on Lavender Farm.
The night was so wet and wild that lightning flashed, thunder crashed and rolled across the sky, the wind howled and shivered over the land, and the boughs of the trees swayed and tossed until they creaked.
After the storm passed, the full moon, which was beginning to set, peaked out from behind the dark, swiftly moving clouds to cast strange long shadows across the farmyard and into Agatha Bunny’s hutch which stood at the bottom of the stone-walled garden. Briefly, the pale moonlight touched the podgy, furless little body. The baby rabbit trembled. After scratching up the straw bedding, Agatha nestled close to keep her newborn baby warm.
Malevant the cat lived in the hayshed just beyond the boundary of Lavender Farm, on Mr Fitzgerald’s dairy farm. Malevant sometimes visited Agatha’s hutch where he enjoyed teasing her by walking up and down on her roof or lounging on one of the branches of the old plum tree that sheltered her hutch, mewling in a high, bloodcurdling voice.
But the night had been so windy, with the clouds bringing such cold driving rain, that he’d stayed at home. Now that the storm had blown itself out, he was hungry.
And being hungry always put him in a bad mood.
It was still dark when he slipped out from one of his many bolt holes in amongst the stacked hay bales and crossed the swollen creek using the overhanging branches of the huge old Red Gum trees that dotted the creek’s edge. Running swiftly through the apple orchard and into the farmyard, he searched outside the chicken pen and caught an unwary mouse.
A muffled squeak followed by a crack and wet, sloppy noises, caught his attention. He prowled swiftly over to the back of the duck enclosure where he frightened Roland Rat who was lapping at the contents of a stolen egg.
Baring his teeth at Roland, he snatched the egg, using his claws to tip it closer to him and devoured the remains of the delicious yellow yoke and the sticky clear fluid. Licking his whiskers, he threw a contemptuous look at Roland who was sitting a few feet away, sullenly watching Malevant with his beady black eyes.
“What’s news, Roly?”
Roland sniffed and and looked at Malevant with dislike.
“How would I know? Been a storm, haven’t ther’. Roof leakin, parlour flooded, lights flashin and the sky bangin fit to bust me eardrums! Can’t even get me supper an’ wen I does, some bully varmint goes an’ steals it, don’t theys!”
Malevant hissed and cuffed him around his ears. “Watch it, Roly!”
Roly squealed and shuffled backwards. “Alright, alright. No need to get violent. As it happens I did slip into the garden and sniff around a certain house jus’ afores. Scrabbling and scarbbling in her straw she was. ’Reckon she might have little ones with her by now. Couldn’t get a proper scent. I thoughts to say hallo—all polite like. Wouldn’t give me the time o’day.” Roly sniffed and threw his tormentor a shrewd look. “Might be worth a visit.”
Malevant flicked an ear and thought for a moment. “Hmm! You might be right, Roly. No harm in paying a social call, asking after the new mother’s health, and so on.” He sniggered at his own joke and walked away, his tail swinging with a leisurely swagger.
Roly watched with his black, glittering eyes until Malevant had disappeared into the shadows.
“Social call! Ha ha, Mr Funny, I don’t think so,” he muttered. “Swiping a bloke’s meal and me what looks out for his whiskers an’ tail. But we don’t tell everythin, does we? Not likely. He goes stickin’ his snout in some places, he’ll be a skinned cat.”
Meanwhile, Malevant had reached the farmhouse garden. He jumped silently onto the high stone wall and looked down on Agatha’s hutch. The moon had set and although the storm had passed leaving a cold clear sky, raindrops dripped from the leaves of the trees. It was still a few hours till sunrise. He flexed his muscles, gathered himself for a moment judging the distance to the top of Agatha’s hutch and leaped neatly down onto the roof, landing with a thump. He heard a rustle and soft intake of breath. He sniggered and proceeded to stalk up and down, pausing every now and again to peer in or scratch at the wire.
“What a lovely evening, Agatha. I hope you’re well?” he sniffed the air. “I did hear a whisper—my dear—I wanted to be the first to congratulate you. You must show me your charming babies next time I call.”
No sound came from inside the hutch. Knowing from long experience that Agatha kept silent and hidden whenever he was around, Malevant gave up on his nasty little game, jumped up into the plum tree and over the garden wall again, heading out to the orchards and the paddocks beyond in search of more prey.
But unknown to Malevant, or Agatha, or in fact anyone else on Lavender Farm, a dark figure sat in the shadows on the long low hill behind the farm, silent and motionless, watching throughout the quiet hours till the night’s dark waned and the sun cast its first golden beams over the grass.