Guest for the day
The place we have come to was once a mill, and it sits comfortably in a river valley beside a stream. At first we poked about making great plans for improvements, and decided we would take off the ugly asbestos of the porch and re-do it in old grey slates to match the rest of the roof.
We ran a stick along under the edge of the porch roof to find how it was constructed and heard tiny high squeaks from inside and decided that the batallion of mice that nightly tramped the attic must be billeted there.
Then one evening, as we lay on the first piece of lawn we had made, reading aloud, one of the boys said, "There's a bat!" As the sun went down behind the hill and the rose light changed to deep gold and further into blue, we watched as eleven little bats fluttered singly out from under the porch roof, wheeled over the garden and orchard and flew away across the field.
That ended any thought of removing the asbestos. It would be painted to match the slates and the bats would remain. We often waited at dusk, for the pleasure of seeing their dark scalloped shapes slip out and away.
One very cold evening in the spring, a little bat came out and fluttered vaguely around us in the courtyard. It was too cold for insects and too cold for a little bat to be searching for food. Early the next morning when I came into the garden, the daffodils were bent down with frost, and the grass was still, and against the frosty whiteness in the orchard lay a tiny black shape. The furry center, water-spotted, was about the size of a two penny piece, and on either side was a dark stick no more than three centimetres long. A dead bat -- succumbed to the lack of food and the beastly cold? I picked it up and set it on the palm of my hand, a little cold damp thing, a remnant folded and pathetic. I went indoors and leaned against the warmth of the stove. I would show it to StJohn and the boys. We would spread out its dark strange wings and study it.
Leaning there, warming myself and thinking, I felt a movement in my hand, and saw a small pulse in the scrap of fur. Again, a deeper heave, and then another. In the warmth this odd and lovely bit of life was reviving. Too delighted to keep the pleasure to myself I woke the others; everyone got dressed and we watched the recovery.
He seemed to grow. He grew rounder and fluffier as he dried out, and his ears came up, delicate and dark. At his other end, a pointed arrangement of dark skin over bone appeared from nowhere, and our younger son who had found a book, informed us that he was a pipistrelle bat and that this was a pouch in which he could store food when flying.
We can about for something to rest the creature in and thought of a child's outgrown fur boot. The younger boy went on a midge-hunt and came back with two small flies. We mixed a tiny portion of milk and water and set a drop or two in the boot, with the flies, and the bat beside the meal, but he wasn't interested. We put the boot up behind the stove where I prove the bread. Later in the morning I was pleased to see that he had made himself comfortable; with his millimetre claws embedded in the fur of the ankle he hung peacefully head down.
By the time I was preparing supper he had become very active. He moved up my arm in the peculiar elbow to elbow way that he used to get about on land. StJohn brought out the eye-dropper of milk and water, and held it with a drop hanging in front of his minute shiny black nose. He sneezed, then opened and shut his mouth several times, and his teeth clacked with a sound like ivory pins. He apparently took several mouthfulls, and we could see his pinhead-size eyes, deep in the fur, looking a us.
He bared his teeth fiercely, a dragon menacing us; his vigor and spirit were lovely to behold.
We could not keep him a prisoner until dusk, and as I stood outside he flipped off my arm, flicked away on spread wings, and disappeared into the roof of the barn.