Chapter 6


Julie Valentine



Journey into the Unknown

Time passed without too much happening.  It was soon my eighth birthday and my parents had arranged a birthday party for me and I was allowed to invite five boys from school to tea.  I had particularly asked for a chocolate cake from the shop so that I could keep a piece for Merc.  We all had small sausages, cheese and pineapple on sticks which had been stuck into a very large potato covered in tin foil and sandwiches filled with egg mayonnaise, ham, sandwich spread, which I liked best and cold toasted marmite fingers.  There were individual jellies which had been made in small rabbit moulds and vanilla ice cream from the shop.

John, whose parents owned the toy shop in the village square, gave me a football, so after tea we all went into the square to have a game.  Nobody knew how to kick the ball or the rules of the game but it didn’t seem to matter.  There was only one goal and both teams had to score into the same ‘net’ between two trees which stood quite close together.  The football was going everywhere except into the goal, but we all enjoyed our game and were laughing and panting when it was time to stop.

When everyone had gone home, I went into the yard and sat down quietly.  Merc had stayed inside whilst there were people around but he popped his nose and whiskers out when he heard me call.  I gave him some of the cold toast marmite fingers which had been left over and, of course, a piece of my chocolate birthday cake.  Whilst he sat eating I told him all that had happened and we talked for a long time.

He was fascinated by the football, which I had taken to show him.  He pushed it with his nose and soon could dribble it round obstacles I had placed in the yard.  What he enjoyed most was trying to balance on top of the football.  I held it still whilst he clambered on top from the stacked wood on the woodpile.  As soon as I let go the football began to role and Merc fell off, whiskers feet and tail everywhere except where they should be, but he insisted on trying again until he found how to balance himself.  He spread his back legs wide to distribute his weight, then moved each foot very slowly until he was on top with the football quite steady beneath him.  Merc then began to walk in his normal way and found he could control the speed and direction according to where he put his feet.

After a while mum called me to go in to bed, so I took the football with me having said ‘goodnight’ to Merc, who was going to look for more of the chocolate cake that I had given him as he said it was a particularly nice one.

It was not a school day the next day, but after the excitement of my birthday party the day before, I was quite deflated and bored.  My parents were still very busy in the shop and as it was a lovely warm Autumn day there were many people about in the market in the village square.  Merc was not yet awake so I took my football under my arm and wandered round the market stalls.  Several people commented on my new present and I showed it to them proudly.  Unfortunately an old lady with a wicker shopping basket did not see me and knocked into me.  I dropped the football which bounced several times and was accidentally kicked under one of the stalls.  I crawled underneath to retrieve it and found a small straw hat with two red strings which had fallen off some little girl’s doll.  I asked if anyone knew to whom it belonged, but no one did so they said I could keep it if I wanted it.  As it looked as though it would fit Merc, I popped it into my pocket and decided to go home to see whether he was yet out of bed and awake.

When I got to the yard, I just caught sight of the tip of Merc’s tail disappearing down the hole behind the roof support to the coal shed and the woodpile.  I called him and within a few seconds his nose and whiskers popped out followed by his fat body which he had to squeeze in to get through.  I always told him that some day he would get caught, but it seemed that he always managed to get in and out without hurting himself.

Once he had settled next to me, I fetched out the straw hat with red ribbons hanging from it.  Merc immediately tried it on and I held him up to look at his reflection in the kitchen window.  He looked particularly handsome wearing the hat and strutted up and down the yard a few times.  It obviously made him feel very important as he wrapped the red ribbons round under his chin and then crossed them over his chest and I tied a small knot behind his neck.

Merc said that he fancied a walk.  I knew that he really wanted to show off his hat to his family and friends, but I was quite happy to go with him so we wandered round the alleyway that ran round the square behind the yards of the houses and the back entrances of the shops and headed off towards the railway embankment.  I sat on the embankment whilst Merc went to visit his family.  I was writing down the numbers and names of the trains that were going past to drop people at the station round the corner of the track.

Merc had just arrived back when a train stopped at the signal which had flipped down a minute earlier, meaning that it could not go on further past the signal.  The engine driver pulled the whistle cord to let the signalman know that he was waiting, and a great gush of steam escaped from under the train and covered Merc and me as we sat on the embankment.  The train was stationary for some time and we could see that there was one of the doors open on one of the goods carriages at the back of the train.  Merc, always inquisitive, investigating, sniffing and gnawing, said that he wanted to have a look inside the goods carriage with the open door and asked me to help him.

We approached the back of the train and I climbed up, putting Merc inside the slightly open door.  He called me to come in and look at some of the objects that were in there.  I slipped through the gap still carrying my football and looked round.  There were strange boxes and shadows everywhere, but I could see Merc on top of a bicycle saddle, still wearing his hat with the red ribbons tied across his chest and tied behind his neck.  Just at that moment we heard the signal change and the train whistle blow again, the train lurched, jerked and started to move forward.  I was very concerned but Merc said there was nothing to worry about and that we could get off when the train pulled into Orville station just around the corner.

Imagine our surprise when the train didn’t stop but chuffed on through the station.  We had forgotten that it was a goods train, and that it was only passenger trains that stopped at Orville Station.  As the train gathered speed I had to rescue Merc from the bicycle saddle as he was having difficulty holding on.  We sat huddled in a corner wondering where the train would next stop.  It slowed down a number of times but we were in the middle of fields and could not see any houses, so we decided that it would be best if we stayed on until the train stopped in a station or yard so I could explain what had happened to whoever happened to be there.

After a while we were quite relaxed as we knew that there would be a train coming back and that we would have to get on a passenger train as that one was sure to stop at Orville so we looked out and saw the cows in the fields, lots of sheep and the fields themselves where the farmers were working bringing in the hay.  Everyone we saw was working hard whilst we were enjoying our adventure.  Merc said he was getting hungry, but that was nothing new as he was always hungry, so we had a look around but there was nothing whatsoever that he or I could eat, so I kept his attention by playing ‘I Spy’.  I lost, because Merc was not too sure how to spell and always gave me the wrong clue.

After about half an hour the train started to slow down, and finally stopped with a hoot on the whistle and another large gush of steam.  We both looked round the edge of the door and saw one of the crew walking up alongside the wagons checking everything was secure.  When he reached our door he was very surprised to find me sitting there, covered in dust.  He did not notice the bulge in my pocket as I had tucked Merc in there so he should not be discovered.

He lifted me and my football down beside him, took my hand and walked me along the rest of the wagons whilst he checked them and then we walked over to an office.  Whilst we were walking he had asked my name and where I came from.  He said that he knew the station master at Orville and would see what arrangements could be made to get me home.  Then he asked if I was hungry or thirsty.  I wasn’t particularly hungry but I knew that Merc was, so I said that I was ‘starving’.  ‘Little boys are always starving’ he retorted, ‘I have two of my own, I will find you something to eat before I ring Orville Station’.

Merc was wriggling in my pocket, but I told him to stay put for a little longer.  The man returned with a large mug of steaming tea and a plate of cheese sandwiches.  He left me to eat and drink and then disappeared to make the phone call.  Merc was out of my pocket before I could get my hand in there to lift him.  He ran across to the plate of cheese sandwiches and started eating as though he had not seen food for three weeks.  He soon demolished a whole sandwich and I was fascinated to watch him using his two front paws to move the piece of cheese round and nibble it from all sides evenly.  He was not so keen on the bread but found that the parts that were buttered were especially nice, so he ate them and left the crusts.  By the time I had watched Merc eating I felt quite hungry myself so I had the other sandwich.  I heard the man returning and quickly squeezed Merc back into my pocket.  Being full of cheese sandwich there was less room for him and he squeaked.  Thankfully only I heard him as I knew what a Merc squeak sounded like, so he was not found.

The man told me that he had arranged for a passenger train to stop as it reached the siding where we were and that I would be taken back to Orville, where my parents would be waiting to take me home.  I knew I would be in trouble as my mum would be very cross that I had got on a train.

I, with Merc still squeezed into my pocket, was taken to where the train would stop and it was only a few minutes before the passenger train arrived and the passengers were very surprised when it stopped at the siding and I was lifted up on to the train with my football and sat in a corner seat with a table in front of me.  It was much more interesting to travel looking out of the window and to notice all the things we had passed on the way out.  I managed to let Merc wriggle out of my pocket and sit on the seat, but I noticed that his hat was askew on his head and he appeared quite dishevelled.  He sat in the corner of the seat and no-one noticed he was there.  When the guard announced that we were approaching Orville station Merc slid back into my pocket and I think he went to sleep.

My mum was waiting anxiously at the station.  She did not know that I was missing until the station master had popped into the shop to tell her what had happened and despite me thinking that I would be told off, she gave me a big hug and said that she was only pleased that I was not hurt.  She did actually squeeze Merc as well, who gave out another little squeak, but she did not hear him.  As we went back to the shop I had to let him out at the back where the planks of wood were piled up behind the door and he disappeared very quickly into one of the entrances to his mum’s house.

I had to sit and explain what had happened, and it was at this point that my mum told me I must not do that again and that I had been very lucky the train had stopped not too far away so I could get home.

I did not see Merc that evening as I was quite tired when I eventually arrived home, but when I saw him the next day he said that his family had admired his hat and that it was now hanging in pride of place on the wall in his bedroom, with the red ribbons hanging down the wall.

I was pleased that the day I first thought would be boring had turned out to be an adventure, and that Merc was also pleased with his hat which I had found under the stall in the Market.  Had I not taken my new football with me that morning and had the old lady with the wicker shopping basket not bumped into me, I would not have found the hat so it all worked out well in the end.

To Chapter Seven

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