Stanley was dreaming about delicious biscuits. Heavy footsteps could be heard coming steadily up the steep concrete stairs of the lighthouse; closer and closer to the room where Stanley and Clementine were asleep.
Stanley opened one eye cautiously. He listened.
The footsteps were closer now. Stanley panicked. He hid under Clem’s fur, scrabbling as far back into the corner as possible.
‘What’s this?’ said a deep voice. ‘Who’s been eating my packed lunch?’
Stanley heard someone moving things in the little cupboard on the stairs. He heard the empty paper bag rustle and thought longingly of the biscuits he had nibbled during the night. Then, he heard the someone take out the knitted scarf and exclaim:
‘Great scot, just look at these holes in my scarf!’
Like all sensible hamsters, Stanley always made sure he collected stuff which would be good nest-building material and now a fluffy pile of shredded grey scarf lay in the corner behind him.
‘Wretched rodents! Horrible beasties! I’ll have to put a stop to this.’
Stanley shuddered. He didn’t know if he was a Rodent but he was certainly a Biscuit Thief and Scarf Shredder.
Those heavy footsteps carried on up the stairs and entered the room. The Great Light had stopped shining. Now a grey daylight filtered through the big glass windows and Stanley hoped that they would not be noticed in the shadows. He tried to flatten himself further into the concrete floor.
Holding his breath and scarcely moving, he managed to peep out carefully from under the kitten’s orange fur. An enormous man stood in the doorway looking into the room. Rain had soaked his wide shoulders and dripped down the back of his black coat. On his head he wore a bright yellow sou’wester.
His feet, in huge wet wellies, clomped closer to the kitten and hamster. Clem continued to sleep, curled up in a little ball, blissfully unaware of the danger. Stanley tried desperately to think of a way to wake her without showing himself to this gigantic stranger.
‘Well, would you look at that, a wee kitty in the lighthouse!’ The loud voice woke up Clementine at last. She started to growl in her tiny kitten voice and to spit angrily at the man. Stanley was impressed – she was so brave! The man bent down to her but, in a flash, Clem shot out her paw and scratched his nose with her little claws.
‘We’re for it now,’ thought Stanley.
To his surprise, the man crouched down and spoke softly to Clem.
‘Dinnae be feart, wee kitty. I won’t hurt you.’
‘Hmm. Who are you kidding?’ thought Stanley.
‘How about a nice saucer of milk?’
Clem stopped spitting and growling and began to purr. Stanley was horrified! This huge man was the sworn enemy of all rodents and Clementine was making friends with him! ‘Whopping whiskers,’ he thought, ‘we’re in a heap of stinky trouble!‘
The man started to stroke Clem’s head and she purred all the more. Stanley began to yell at her: ‘Clem, don’t be fooled. He won’t forgive us for eating his food and his scarf. We ought to scarper.’
Clementine ignored the anxious hamster and purred all the more. The man bent to pick up the kitten. Stanley panicked. Where could he run to? Any minute now, this dangerous stranger would spot him and Stanley didn’t think he would be very kind to horrible little beasties! Then he saw it – a wide open pocket – and, before you could say ‘hairy hamsters’, Stanley had scooted between Clem’s legs and dived into the stranger’s coat pocket. And, do you know what, the man did not notice that he had a stowaway!
Instead, Dougal MacDougal – that was his name – carried Clementine away from the Great Light, down the steep concrete stairs, out of the door, around the corner, and through the blue front door of a cottage next to the lighthouse. But, of course, he also carried Stanley, hiding in his coat pocket.
He went straight to the kitchen, took off his wellies, poured a saucer of milk for Clementine, then found a cardboard box in a cupboard and made it into a bed for the little kitten by placing a warm blanket inside. Next, he made himself a cup of tea and sat down to drink it. Deep in the pocket, Stanley was as still as a stone. He hardly dared to breathe and he was scared that all the fuzzy fluff in the corner of Dougal MacDougal’s coat pocket might make him sneeze. Mr MacDougal was feeling peckish so he reached out to the biscuit tin and took two biscuits, just like the ones Stanley had stolen. ‘Ah, that’s braw,’ he said. (He spoke to no one in particular, but you and I know that a very frightened little hamster was listening carefully to him and wondering what would happen next.)
Well, this is what happened. Dougal MacDougal finished his tea and biscuits. (The smell of those biscuits had made Stanley’s nose wrinkle and quiver and he remembered that he was very, very hungry.) Then, he took off his coat and hung it on a peg on the wall by the door. Then he went out of the kitchen, shutting the door firmly behind him.
Stanley was left in the pocket, half way up the wall. He waited and listened. What should he do? It was dark and a bit stuffy in that pocket. He thought carefully. What would you do? Stanley was, as you know, an expert escapologist. He decided that the best way out of the pocket was to – yes, you guessed – to eat his way out. Stanley nibbled, gnawed and chewed until he had made a hole in the front of Mr MacDougal’s coat pocket. Then he wriggled through and crawled to the hem and dropped down onto the kitchen work-surface. This all left him feeling rather shaky but he was determined to hide from Mr MacDougal as soon as possible. Stanley was convinced that he was a very fierce man and wouldn’t forgive a pesky hamster for eating his biscuits, shredding his scarf, and making a big hole in his coat.
So he set off to look for somewhere to hide. He peered into the sink. No good and just as damp as sitting in the rain outside. He wondered about the toaster but that didn’t seem safe somehow. All this time Stanley was not feeling very friendly towards Clementine. She was sleeping snugly in her box oblivious to all his desperate squeaks and yells for help. He grew more and more angry and resentful.
Then he saw the tin. A delicious smell wafted into his nose. Stanley forgot Clementine. He forgot Mr MacDougal. All he could think about was getting into that tin. So he did. It took some effort, a lot of scrabbling and stretching, until finally he heaved his furry little body over the rim and plopped down into the tin. And then, oh bliss …Stanley found himself surrounded by biscuits! But not just any biscuits, dear reader, no, they were Mrs MacDougal’s home-made shortbread which was definitely the Best Shortbread Ever.
Stanley was in heaven. He nibbled joyfully at one biscuit after another, sighing with contentment. He didn’t hear the kitchen door open. He didn’t hear the footsteps cross the room. He didn’t see Dougal MacDougal’s hand reach down into the tin.
But he heard the dangerous stranger shout: ‘What’s this? I don’t believe it! Rodents eating my shortbread?’
Stanley’s heart almost stopped. He froze in that tin. He did wonder if he could hide by pretending to be a biscuit.
A second time the big hand reached in and took some shortbread. ‘What! Another one gnawed by some horrible beastie.’
Then Mr MacDougal’s face appeared, looking into the tin. Stanley waited, expecting the worst.
‘Well, would you believe it! So, you’re the Biscuit Thief.’
A big hand scooped up Stanley and he found himself looking into Mr MacDougal’s twinkly blue eyes.
‘Hello wee beastie,’ said Dougal, ‘you look hungry and feart.’
To Stanley’s amazement he gave him some more biscuit and watched, smiling, while the scared hamster carefully stowed it away in one cheek pouch.
‘Now then. I guess you are the beastie who chewed my scarf, aren’t you? Well, as a very good book says: mercy triumphs over judgement. So I’ll forgive you my wee friend and we’ll say no more about it.’
Stanley gazed up at him, trying to say ‘sorry’ wordlessly – not an easy thing to do. MacDougal placed him gently on the floor near to Clementine’s box. Stanley was not sure where to go next. He felt cross and grumpy with the little kitten. Should he forgive his friend? He looked up and Dougal was still watching him. He remembered the Great Light. Suddenly, he understood. With one cheek still bulging with shortbread he scrambled into the box and snuggled up next to Clementine.
‘Hello Clem. So good to be with you again.’
The orange kitten started to purr very loudly and, at last, Stanley felt completely safe.
©Jane Hendra February 2018
Chapter 3 – Saved by a Whisker – Stanley has a close encounter of the feathered kind.