Barney the Baby Hedgehog

This series is for my riding friend Shelley, who cares about all animals.

“Eva, where are you?” Karl Harrison called.

Eva heard her brother’s voice from way below. They’d finished collecting bedding and feed to take back for Rosie the pony and Mickey the donkey at Animal Magic, and now she lay on her back, staring up at the cobwebby rafters of Tom Ingleby’s old barn. “Up here!” she replied.

Karl didn’t hear her, and ran off across the farmyard still calling her name.

I love it here – I could lie here for ever!
Eva thought, as she lay amongst the sweet-smelling bales of straw, on top of a stack that almost touched the roof.

Down in the yard, her dad, Mark, chatted with the farmer.

“I owe you for six bales of straw and six of hay,” Mark said, counting them off in the back of his van.

“Are you still looking for a home for that little Shetland pony?” Tom asked.

“Why – are you interested?” Mark said quickly.

“Not now that my daughter, Lizzie, is grown up and gone. I was just wondering about the pony, that’s all.”

“Well, we’re not sure yet. Eva thinks maybe our next door neighbour will adopt Rosie in the end. But we’ve still got her up on the website, along with the charming Mickey!”

Tom laughed. “Yes, I can hear that donkey’s bray from here – right across the fields.”

“So I take it you don’t want to offer him a home?” Mark grinned.

Up on top of the stack, Eva rolled on to her stomach, peered over the edge and listened.

“Not likely!” Tom replied. “Anyway, we’re pretty busy at the moment, with the new house we’re building for Adam. Now that we’ve finally got planning permission, we’ve made a start on the foundations. Come and have a look.”

Eva watched her dad and Tom wander across the yard. She sighed and turned on to her back. It was a pity – High Trees Farm would have been the perfect place for Mickey.

She was studying the way a shaft of sunlight lit up a giant cobweb when Karl jogged back towards the barn. “Eva!” he yelled. “Where are you? I told Tom we’d sweep the yard. I’m not doing it by myself. You have to help me!”

Sighing again, Eva sat up. “OK, I’ll be down in a minute,” she called back.

“Now!” Karl insisted, spotting her and
holding up a large yard-brush.

Eva jumped down on to the nearest ledge, then the next, sliding from one bale to the other. “Whoo!” she cried.

“Get sweeping!” Karl said with a grin. He handed her a brush and they set to work at one end of the yard.

“This brush is heavy,” Eva grunted after a few minutes.

“Moan, moan, moan…” Karl teased.

“It is! Hey, watch out – what was that?” Eva stopped work as she saw a movement in amongst a heap of straw.

“Nothing – you’re imagining things,” Karl muttered, moving in with his brush. “Come on, let’s get this yard clear!”

There was another movement in the straw. “No, honestly, I saw something,” Eva insisted. “Wait a second while I take a look.”

Carefully she knelt down and lifted away a handful of straw. Sure enough, she saw a pair of bright eyes staring back at her.

“What is it?” Karl asked, coming up close behind. “A field mouse?”

“I don’t know yet.” Eva couldn’t make it out, but she didn’t want to move more straw and run the risk of seriously scaring the creature. She leaned forward and looked again.

Bright eyes and a long snout. Small furry ears. “It’s a…” Sharp claws and a body covered in spikes. “…Baby hedgehog!”

“Is it lost?” Karl asked, as the hedgehog made a run for it. It scuttled out of the pile of straw, towards the barn. Then it doubled back and ran into the middle of the yard, then back again towards the barn.

“It looks like it,” Eva muttered. “Where’s the rest of its family, I wonder?”

“Yes, it’s too little to be out by itself,” Karl agreed.

They watched helplessly as the hedgehog ran here and there, finally
zigzagging
back towards the barn and shuffling under a broken bale of straw.

“Poor little thing – it’s scared stiff!” Eva whispered. She could just see the back end of the tiny creature and heard for the
first time its high, piping cry.

“It’s calling for help,” Karl guessed. “Let’s move away and give its mother a chance to come and find it.”

Eva nodded and she and Karl retreated to their dad’s van, hiding in the back and waiting for the baby hedgehog to be rescued.

After a while, their dad and Tom wandered back into the yard.

“Careful, Dad!” Eva hissed, leaning out of the back of the van. “Don’t walk too near the barn. Have you seen a mother hedgehog anywhere?”

Mark shook his head. “No, but I wasn’t exactly looking. Why?”

“We often get hedgehogs round here,” Tom said. “Not as many as in the old days, mind you. They’re a lot rarer than they used to be.”

“There’s a baby one in your barn right now,” Karl explained. “We think it’s lost.”

“Ah.” Eva and Karl’s odd behaviour became clear to Mark. “You’re hoping the mother will come back for it?”

Eva nodded. “Is it OK if I stay here and make sure it’s safe?”

“Yes, if it’s all right with you, Tom?” Mark took his van keys from his pocket.

Tom nodded. “Fine by me.”

“I have to get back to Animal Magic with the feed for the ponies. What about you, Karl?”

“I’ll come with you. I said I’d meet George and go mountain-biking.”

“OK, Eva, it’s down to you.” Mark got into the van and Karl climbed in beside him. “You can stay. But don’t get in Tom’s way. And another thing – as much as you’d like to, don’t get too close and start handling that young hedgehog.”

Eva nodded. “I’ll keep my distance, don’t worry.”

“Good. Because if you touch it, its mother will smell your scent when – or if – she comes back, and she’ll reject it. Don’t forget!”

“I promise!” Eva took the warning to heart. The last thing she wanted was for the baby to be abandoned by its mother.

Lost and alone, it would be left to blunder into ponds and barbed-wire fences, wandering aimlessly across busy roads, prey to badgers and foxes.

“Come back, Mum!” Eva muttered as she settled down outside the barn door to wait and watch. “Don’t leave your baby all by itself in this big, dangerous world!”

The baby hedgehog stayed half-hidden under the straw bale for a whole hour.

Eva looked at her watch, then at the tiny, prickly ball, willing the mother to appear. The sun was going down fast, lengthening the shadow cast by Tom Ingleby’s barn.

“Any luck?” Tom called as he walked across the yard to his Land Rover.

Eva shook her head. “No sign of the mother so far,” she replied.

She waited another half an hour without anything to report, and was about to give up when the tiny hedgehog shuffled backwards, out from under the bale. It turned and raised its snout, snuffling the air. Then it stepped timidly forward, out of the barn.

So
sweet!
Eva said to herself. The baby’s dark eyes were set wide apart on its round face, which was covered in soft,
greyish-brown
fur.
It looks so funny – the way it pokes its nose forward and tilts its head back, it looks as if it needs glasses!

Bravely now, the hedgehog ventured out into the farmyard, just as Missie, Tom’s black cat, came stalking round the corner of the farmhouse.

“Uh-oh!” Eva said out loud as the hedgehog stopped, realized the danger and rolled into a tight ball.

Missie walked right up to the prickly creature. She put her nose close to the spikes, sniffing hard. The hedgehog didn’t move – even when Missie stretched out a paw and tapped it gently.

Miaow!
Missie discovered those spikes were super-sharp! She arched her back and hissed.

“Ouch!” Eva cringed. She watched as Missie did one full circle of the baby hedgehog then stalked off, back the way she’d come.

But the danger wasn’t over for the
all-alone
baby. No sooner had Missie beaten a retreat than Tom’s Land Rover came chugging back down the lane. Eva ran to greet him.

“Mr Ingleby, can you slow down, please? The baby hedgehog has moved and it’s right in the middle of the yard where it could get run over.”

“Still no sign of the mum?” Tom asked as he eased his Land Rover past the hedgehog.

Eva shook her head.

“Perhaps you should call home. Your mum and dad won’t want you out after dark, remember.”

Nodding, Eva took out her phone and called her mum. “Hi, Mum. Did Dad tell you about the baby hedgehog? Well, there’s still no sign of the mother.”

From the reception desk at Animal Magic, Heidi Harrison gave Eva her advice. “My guess is that the baby has been well and truly abandoned – probably sometime last night. That’s when hedgehogs are usually out and about.”

“But why would the mother do that?” Eva asked, keeping a close eye on the hedgehog, still rolled up tight in the middle of the yard.

“Who knows?” Heidi replied. “Maybe something bad happened to the mother and the other babies. Or maybe this one got separated from the rest of the family and lost its way. Hedgehogs have runs, you know. They keep to a set route each night, and if this little one has strayed a long way off the track, there’s not much chance of the mother finding it again.”

“So what do we do?” Eva asked after a short pause. “I can’t leave it stuck in the middle of Tom’s yard!”

“No, I agree.” Heidi began to shut down the computer. “It looks like we’ll have to bring your little baby here to the rescue centre.”

“Cool!” Eva said excitedly. “What do I do?”

“You wait for me,” Heidi said quickly.

“OK, and I don’t touch it, like Dad said?” Eva checked.

“That’s right. I’ll bring a pet carrier and some cat food to tempt it in, plus thick leather gardening gloves, just in case I have to pick it up. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“Then we can drive the baby home and hand rear it! Wow, Mum, I can’t wait!”

“Yes, we hand rear it until it’s big enough to return to the wild,” Heidi reminded her. “That’s where hedgehogs belong.”

“It’s OK, I won’t make a pet of it,” Eva promised. “Even though it’s really,
really
gorgeous!”

“Good.”

“…But,” Eva said in what she hoped was a persuasive voice. “While it lives with us, is it OK if I give it a name?”

“Yes, I don’t see why not. What are you going to call it?”

The name flashed straight into Eva’s mind as she took a quick look around. “Barney – because we found it in a barn!” she told her mum. “Barney the baby hedgehog!”

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