The Batman Cometh
© Copyright 1998 by John Bailey
In which Harry Cat breaks the law, repeatedly, causing much alarm and disorder. But it all comes out right in the end.
"I say, can you spare a minute to talk?"
The squeaky voice caught me completely unawares, so much so that I nearly dropped my pipe. A towering, scrawny looking man had come into the garden and round the back of the cottage to confront me in my favourite sitting place. Talk about soft-footed - I'd not heard a sound before he spoke.
"I'm sorry... I know we've met, but..."
"Kevin. Yes, we met a few months ago over at Gelli. Billy calls me the batman. Sorry to intrude, but it is very important."
There's something about life in the deep country that makes people think there's no such thing as an intrusion. No matter what you're doing, it's customary to drop it at a moment's notice and be welcoming and hospitable to any passer-by. It's not a bad custom. In fact, when you've been alone for hours, days or even weeks without speaking face to face with another human it's a very welcome custom. So, although I'd been deep in thought, enjoying the evening, I smiled my very best all-purpose smile.
"No problem at all. Coffee?"
"Oh, thank you, no. I need to show you what the problem is." And off he walked around the front of the cottage, me trailing meekly behind him.
"Look," he said, pointing up at the attached garage roof. "This won't do at all, you know."
I looked to where he was pointing. I couldn't see anything amiss. There was Harry Cat, perched on the ridge, intent on something that, so far as I was concerned, was nobody's business but his own. The roof looked sound. All seemed in order.
"What won't do?" I said, puzzled. "What's the trouble?"
"It's your cat. You'll have to stop him doing it."
"Doing what?" I was getting a bit edgy. It was a lovely, quiet evening and I couldn't for the life of me see what was wrong with my little bit of the world.
"Catching Pipistrels. They're a protected species, you know."
"Pipistrels?" I looked up. Suddenly the penny dropped. "Oh, you mean bats."
And, sure enough, living up to his reputation as a hunter, fabled far and wide, Harry made a scooping gesture and picked a bat seemingly out of thin air. A quick bite and it was limp, and the murderous little puss disappeared over the ridge, carrying his prey with him.
"There, you see?" The batman's voice grew even more squeaky, and he'd gone pale with horror.
"Yes?" I was a little on the defensive now, feeling a bit like Dorothy shielding Toto from the wrath of the wicked witch.
"Your cat is breaking the law!"
Visions of Harry in the dock swam before my eyes. I could hear the magistrate thundering doom... No, this was all too silly for words. It was clear, though, that the batman was truly upset and I didn't feel I could turn the whole thing into a fabulous joke. Though it was tempting.
"Oh, I see what you mean." I didn't, but a little white lie doesn't hurt when politeness controls circumstance. "Let's go and have that coffee and talk about it."
We sat, steaming coffee by our sides, discussing ways of preventing Harry from hunting Pipistrels. Overhead in the gloom, the bats were out in their hundreds, riding the standing wave that lifts over the ridge on which the cottage perches, snatching flying insects from the air much as Harry, in his turn, plucked the bats themselves when they came his way. So far as I was concerned, Nature was working, nicely balanced, and the valley was feeling good.
I waved the batman down the lane as he drove off, mollified and content that I'd do my best to correct the law-breaker.
Looking up, there was Harry, perched on the ridge again, waiting. So I stood and watched. He seemed to be studying the fascia board on the adjoining roof most intently. We both waited. And waited. Just as my mind was wandering, a velvety black blob oozed out from under the board, took wing, and was snatched out of the air by a triumphant cat.
Harry had found the bats' front door!
My laughter raised the echoes. Harry paused, dead bat dangling, and gave me a despairing look, wondering what was wrong with the silly old coot now. And I'm sure that the other furred and feathered inhabitants of the valley paused for a moment to study me covertly as they went about their evening business.
That night, as we sat in front of the fire, I gave Harry a good talking to. He just smiled, and looked at me sideways. He was right of course. I decided to let Nature take its course.
Sure enough, a few days later, doing my dusting chores in the attic bedroom, I realised that something was missing. The soft, comforting scratch and snore of the bats in the roof void was absent. The bats had flown. I rattled the rafters. Silence. No, the bats had definitely flown.
They do that. Any observer of Nature will tell you that bats will suddenly vacate a roosting place when it becomes unsafe. And having a baticidal cat lurking outside your front door is a good definition of unsafe, if you're a bat.
That evening, as I sat watching the light fade, Harry joined me, gave a big sigh, and curled up on my lap. We watched in silence as the bats poured out from their new home high in the big oak tree just a little way down the valley. They were out and about, taking station, beginning their nightly feed.
I looked at Harry. He looked at me. Sideways.
"Oh well, Harry, at least the batman will be happy now."
Harry studied a paw closely, gave it a half-hearted lick, and kept his silence.
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