The other day I was at the station wailing for the eight oh five, and Alleycat was in the cabin of the train. I didn’t disturb him, passengers aren’t meant to distract the driver while the train’s in motion, and within a few seconds we were off. I waited, hoping that Alleycat would come to find me; but he didn’t and that seemed very strange because usually when I’m around he can’t wait to jump in my lap or wrap himself around my neck. Eventually, after I’d waited for ten minutes or so, I went to the front of the train and listened at the door of the driver’s cabin and that’s when I heard the music. There was a band in there, a three-piece I think, and I could hear someone on the pipes, someone strumming a guitar, and I don’t know what Alleycat was doing if he wasn’t singing along. You’ll realize that the trains in my neck of the woods are crewed by unusual individuals. One of them’s tall, as big as a giant nearly, and he can hardly get along the carriage when it’s packed and he needs to check our tickets. The giant has a pal, who’s maybe half his height, and the pair of them manage the train together. Once I saw them at the side of the tracks, walking along rapidly, the giant taking immense strides, with his pointed cheeks and sharp nose in front of him, and he wasn’t going to wait for the little chap and made him run after him, and he didn’t care if the little fellow had difficulty keeping pace. I could see the little fellow didn’t care either. Obviously, when I got back home I told Bamber and Pink what I’d seen and heard, and Bamber wasn’t impressed at all and listened to my tale from behind the garden gate, and Pink was more interested in her bowl of milk. Only Bertie was amazed by it all and afterwards she sat on her own in the raised beds and thought it all carefully through.
Alleycat’s gone but he’s not forgotten. In Bugle Street they’re saying he drives his train too fast and overtakes on hills, ignores red lights and so on. Pink hopes it’s true. She’d like to sit next to him and hang out of the window while the fields rush by. Imagine that, the wind in her whiskers. Unfortunately, she’s fated to stay where she is and wait for Alleycat’s return, and while she sits on her strange, carved table and stares across the Six Foot, she invents all sorts of rumours and if you can believe it, she’s the source of all the Alleycat stories, even the slanders. As soon as she’s got a new one, she runs to tell Bertie and afterwards Bertie sits by the back door and waits for Alleycat to confirm it.
When Bertie arrived she was shy and unsure. She’d hide under the sofa or lie in the climbing ivy or under the fence because it felt safe.
But since then Alleycat’s instructed Bamber to keep Bertie safe and naturally that’s made her more confident than she used to be. She may be young but she senses Bamber’s presence and feels him watching over her, and that’s why she’s getting too big for her boots and dragging old Lucy around by the ear and biting her where she shouldn’t.
Pink misses Alleycat, but maybe she doesn’t know how much. When he left her to drive the trains she said she’d be able to cope without him and she’s sticking by that.
She adjusted fast to little Bertie’s arrival but Bertie’s surprised her by growing even faster. Pink still imagines she’s in charge of the establishment, and she expects Bertie to toe the line and obey her commands. That’s not going to happen fast, is it?
Alleycat’s been away for a long while, driving trains, but he pops home occasionally, to prove he still exists. The last time he showed his face he had a little friend with him.
He found Bertie in the overhead luggage racks on the eight oh five to Paddington and whiskered her to us in Six Foot way in a few shakes of his tail.
No one knows where Bertie’s from, but she’s settled in perfectly, just as Alleycat anticipated.
Pink’s taken over her education, which means she’s clear that cats are the most important beings on the planet and much the best role models for a small but promising little spaniel dog.
Yesterday evening there was a knock on the front door. No one knocks on our front door, they always come in via the kitchen, so that was strange right away. I never receive unexpected callers either and everyone knows it, so I was more than surprised when the knocking continued and didn’t stop, and I was more than annoyed when the dogs didn’t bark at all. I hate to think of my dogs being cowed, so I ran to investigate and flung the door wide open. There on the other side of the threshold was an old, thin-looking woman with a gipsy ring on her outstretched hand and a hooky nose on her narrow face. Yet she wasn’t thin exactly, more wiry than anything, and she had big bones, and steely muscles, and if I thought she was thin I didn’t think she looked puny. Far from it. This was a formidable woman, you understand. Here! she said, and I stood my ground and said nothing because I was amazed and disconcerted. Here, she repeated. Here, you! Do you want your fortune reading! Now, for all that I would love to have my fortune read, I am afraid to see into the future, so I held out my hand in front of me and opened the palm in her face to show her what I thought of her question. The grim old woman didn’t speak again, but she stared through me and fixed her gaze on something behind me. She crooked a finger and beckoned it to come and when I turned I saw bears, dozens of bears, crawling along the tiled floor of the hall towards me (or rather towards her). Alleycat! I cried. Alleycat, where are you!
Maybe it’s because it’s Halloween, but there’s a presence in the house, and Pink keeps looking behind her, scared of her own shadow. Last night she was with the dogs on the big yellow sofa, just as normal, when a nasty, grisly, horrid sensation gripped her and she wanted to turn around and look but she was too scared to move. The dogs felt the same as she did. Normally they’ll bark at the smallest disturbance (like a leaf blowing across the lawn) but they were so scared they couldn’t make a sound and it took all of Bernie’s courage to call for Alleycat with a little yapping bark. Alleycat ran in from the kitchen, but of course he’d been fast asleep and he’s not as quick as he used to be, so when he arrived on the scene there was no sign of uncanny intruders or walking shadows at all. You can imagine he didn’t take too kindly to be woken up for nothing, but Berne and Lucy were adamant that they’d seen (or felt) something nasty, and Bernie decided to put on her quilted jacket for extra protection and Lucy and Pink begged Alleycat to stay close and help them to settle down. As soon as they felt confident enough to be left alone, Alleycat returned to his gentleman’s chair in the kitchen, where he went straight back to sleep. But he must have half-believed that something was amiss because he kept one ear open, and presently he heard a weird, unaccountable sound that wasn’t normal at all, and he woke himself up to find a rather sinister looking bear snooping around the kitchen. As soon as it realized that Alleycat was on to it, the bear tried to escape through the outside door, but Alleycat chased it into the house and made it stay there. He’ll be questioning it later and that bear had better be sorry for frightening Pink and promise to mend its ways, or I wouldn’t like to think how angry Alleycat will be with that miscreant night-wanderer.