Barney the Baby Hedgehog (5 page)

“You’re doing well with those baby hedgehogs,” Mark told Eva at lunchtime the next day. He had a day off work and was spending it helping Heidi with paperwork. Now he was taking a break, watching Eva weigh the hoglets.

“Tell Mum that,” Eva replied, placing Patch on the scales. She was still on tenterhooks, waiting for a solution to the hedgehog-versus-house debate.

“Tell me what?” Heidi asked, popping
her head around the door.

“Eva’s a natural with these hedgehogs,” Mark repeated. “Look how expertly she handles them.”

“565 grams.” Eva noted Patch’s weight on a chart, then went on to weigh Scooby. “Jen taught me how to do this,” she told her dad.

“Oh yes, I’ve just seen Jen,” Heidi said, coming in properly. She closed the door behind her. “She showed me a design for nest boxes and said she’s happy to make two for this little family in her spare time.”

“586 grams. Little fatty.” Eva recorded Scooby’s weight and popped him back in his cage. “Did she mention the fence at High Trees?” she asked hopefully.

“Ah yes – the fence
going to put up, apparently,” Heidi said, turning to Mark. “With Karl’s help.”

“I am?” he asked. “What fence is this?”

It was Eva’s cue. She rushed in with her explanation: “Hedgehog run … builders’ trench … Adam’s house … but the hedgehogs were there first!”

Mark listened carefully. He looked at Eva’s eager face, then at Heidi. “So Karl and I have to build a fence to restore the hedgehog run, is that it?”

“If Mum agrees,” Eva cut in, looking from one to the other, willing her dad to be on her side. Inside the cage, Patch and Scooby were play-fighting with Barney and Tufty, scampering amongst the clean straw.

At last her dad spoke. “That sounds like a brilliant idea, Eva.”

“It does?” Eva’s face lit up. Now it was all down to her mum.

“I think if we ask Tom Ingleby in the right way, he won’t say no,” Mark said.

“In the
way!” Heidi insisted. “So that we still get on with our neighbours.”

“But we can ask?” Eva pleaded with her mum.
“Please, please, please!”

Heidi nodded. “I’m outvoted three to one,” she acknowledged. “Go on – go ahead and build your fence. Put those babies back where they belong!”

Early that evening Mark took Eva to High Trees Farm. “Stay calm,” he told her. “Remember your manners, and if the Inglebys say no to the fence, you have to accept it with good grace.”

“OK,” Eva promised, getting out of the van. All afternoon she’d been rehearsing her speech.

“Hello, Mark. Hello, Eva.” Mrs Ingleby was at the front door watering her plants. “How are you doing with those little hedgehogs?”

“Great, thank you,” Eva replied. “Actually, that’s what we’ve come to talk to you and
Mr Ingleby and Adam about.”
Stay calm. Be polite
. Her heart was racing.

Mrs Ingleby put down her watering can. “You don’t think there are any more babies to rescue, do you?”

“No. It’s about Adam’s house.”

The farmer’s wife tilted her head to one side. “Oh yes. Adam mentioned the hedgehog run. I’m sorry we didn’t realize what we were doing. I know you must be upset.”

“Who’s upset?” Tom Ingleby asked, appearing at the door in his slippers. “What is it, Eva? Did something happen to the hoglets?”

Eva felt a nudge from her dad, so she cleared her throat and began her speech. “No, the babies are fine, thanks, Mr Ingleby. Jen is making nest boxes for them so we can release them back into the wild.”

“And?” the farmer prompted. He could see that Eva was nervous.

“And we’d like to bring them back here, if that’s OK with you. Plus, I’ve had an idea that would help them find their way around.” Now that she’d started, Eva rushed on at full speed. Even when Mrs Ingleby looked surprised and Tom Ingleby shook his head, she gabbled on.

“A fence? You’ll build it? It won’t cost us anything?” Mr Ingleby repeated, as if he couldn’t believe what he’d just heard.

“Please say yes,” Eva said. “We wouldn’t make a mess and we wouldn’t get in the way. We’d build the fence in the evenings, after the builders have gone.”

“And you think it would work?” Mrs Ingleby asked, anxiously. “Would the hedgehogs use the run if you gave it back to them?”

Eva took a deep breath. OK, she hadn’t stayed calm, but she’d definitely been polite. “We don’t know for sure, but we hope so.”

There was a silence which seemed to last for ever.

“Your girl has a lot of spirit, I’ll say that for her,” Tom said to Mark at last.

It was Mrs Ingleby who gave the verdict. “Go right ahead and build your fence, Eva. And I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it works!”

“All hands on deck!” Mark cried as they set to work next evening.

Mark, Heidi, Karl, Eva and Annie had driven to High Trees with timber posts and all the tools they needed.

“Fence posts have to be two metres
apart. Measure them out. Dig holes a metre deep.”

Out came the orders from Mark. The others got busy.

“Why do the posts have to go so deep?” Annie wondered.

“To stop them blowing over. It’s windy up here,” Mark explained. “Karl and Eva, you mark these flat planks into two metre lengths. Or just a couple of centimetres over. We’ll saw the planks and hammer them horizontally into the upright posts. Here’s the measuring tape. Get cracking with that.”

“You hold steady, and I’ll mark with the felt-tip,” Karl said quickly. There were no arguments, just heads down and getting on as fast as they could. By sunset, eight fence posts stood tall and firm in the ground.

It was then that Adam Ingleby drove up the lane and got out of his car. “Can I make myself useful?” he asked. “We’ve got some spare timber stacked away in the barn. Maybe you can make use of it.”

“For sure!” Eva grabbed at the offer with both hands. “Show us where it is before it gets dark.”

“600 grams exactly!”

Barney sat on the scales peering up at Eva. He was plump and healthy, ready for a spot of adventure.

“No, don’t do that!” Eva said as she saw him poke his nose over the edge of the brass dish. She put her gloved hand out just in time to stop him from leaping on to the counter below.

“Whoa, well caught!” Jen called as she came in. “Do you need any help?” 

“No thanks.” Carefully, Eva put the lively hedgehog back in his cage. “Barney weighs 600 grams. That means he’s ready!”

“Yes, but we’re not.” All week Jen had been making the nest boxes. She’d finished one – a wooden box 50 centimetres square, but still had to construct the entrance tunnel for the second. Meanwhile, Mark’s team had built the fence.

“We have to go back to the farm tonight to finish the run,” Eva told her. “It should be done by tomorrow, which is Sunday, so the builders won’t be there.”

“Likewise I need one more session on the boxes.” Jen seemed pleased that their plans were coming together. “Shall we say tomorrow for a definite release date?”

Eva nodded, but she felt her heart sink.
That was soon. Somehow it took her by surprise.

“I know – it’s tough,” Jen said, looking at Eva’s face. “You can’t help getting attached, no matter how hard you try.”

“I’m worried,” Eva confessed. “I hope the hoglets are all going to be OK.” She pictured Barney back at High Trees. He was getting too cheeky by half – the type to act without thinking. Scooby too would dash at things, while Patch and Tufty would probably follow where the others led.

“It’s the fox,” she explained. “And badgers, if there are any, which there’s bound to be.”

“Which is why I make entrance tunnels too small for badgers and foxes to squeeze through,” Jen reminded her. “And remember – hedgehogs have a brilliant
self-defence system which they carry around on their backs.”

“Their prickles,” Eva nodded, still not convinced.

“So let’s have a trial run tonight, before we go up to High Trees,” Jen suggested. “You go next door and ask Annie’s mum if we can use her lawn. And while you’re doing that, I’ll get to work and finish the nest boxes.”

Exactly a week after Eva had found Barney lost and alone, she and Annie had their second session camping out.

This time it was in Annie’s garden, and they had strict instructions from Linda Brooks.

“No trampling on my flower beds. No leaving the garden under any circumstances!”

“We promise!” the girls chorused.

So, with torches and gloves at the ready, safe inside their two-man tent, they kept
watch on the two hedgehog nest boxes placed carefully in the middle of Linda’s lawn.

“I hope the hoglets aren’t too scared to come out,” Annie whispered.

“Me too,” Eva agreed. “And I hope we haven’t handled them too much – made them too tame.” It was Eva’s worst worry that Barney, Patch, Scooby and Tufty wouldn’t be able to fend for themselves.

A full moon shone brightly. There was no wind. Everything was silent.

“Look!” Eva whispered. She pointed to the nearest box.

A small, pointed nose had appeared at the end of the tunnel, then a head and eventually a round, prickly body.

Annie held her hand to her lips as Barney emerged, soon followed by Patch. She and Eva watched the two hoglets sniff
the grass then quickly pick up the scent of fresh cat food left in a dish at the edge of the lawn. They scuttled across and began to guzzle.

“Here comes Scooby!” Eva murmured.

“Ssshhh!” Annie warned.

Scooby and then Tufty joined Barney and Patch and tucked in.

Hardly able to keep quiet, Eva gave Annie a thumbs up. So far so good. But what would happen when the hoglets had gobbled up all the food?

Go for a wander, as hedgehogs do – that was the answer. Eva gripped her torch and prayed that Barney wouldn’t lead the others too far from the boxes.

He went to Linda’s rose bed and snuffled around while the others
here and there. He dug a little hole and found a worm.

Come back!
Eva pleaded silently as he ventured off towards the hedge.

Suddenly, from the stables next door, there was a mighty

“Ouch, Mickey!” Annie yelped.

His bray split the silence and sent the hoglets scurrying back across the lawn into their nest boxes. First Barney, then
Patch sprinted safely down their tunnel. Then Scooby and Tufty vanished from sight.

“Cool!” Eva and Annie cried. Eva gave Annie a high-five. Better than so-far-
, their plan for the baby hedgehogs was working perfectly!

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