On at least one occasion the bat was only the last, albeit rather dramatic, straw in a series of last straws, on what had begun as a short night.
Although a day on a small farm has its routines, they vary with the seasons and indeed with the hours and minutes. Once the evening meal is done, though, and chores are over--the ducks safely tucked away in the coop, the chickens watered and eggs collected, the cows watered and fed and bedded down for the night, the pail with the evening's milking brought up to the house--life settles into a quiet comfortableness.
At the close of the evening, there is perhaps a last brief excursion outside to check the wind and sky and then back again to tap the barometer and write down a few notes about the weather in a notebook kept for the purpose on the kitchen counter. My wife finishes some of the grading she has brought home from school. Tonight the cats, in spite of the mild weather, are in. The dogs, both of them, are out. The younger one likes it that way, preferring to sleep on the porch in all but the dampest or coldest of weathers, but Baggins, the older dog, guards his comforts jealously and is careful to be inside and inconspicuous by the time I am closing up for the night and shutting off lights. Tonight, though, neither hide nor hair of either one is to be found.
Occasionally, Baggins finds himself on the wrong side of the kitchen door and does not notice the error until the lower floor is dark. Sometimes I remember to get him in before I go upstairs, but tonight I look at the outdoor temperature and figure the season has advanced far enough that a night outside will probably be quite pleasant. Before I turn the porch light out I check to see if he is out there, asleep at the switch. He's not, and I drift off upstairs, shutting off lights as I go.
It has been a late night. There has been much to do and the moon has long since disappeared behind the hill back of the house before we can put out the last light and settle down for a good, if brief, night's sleep. Through the open window we hear the peepers singing joyfully down at the pond as we doze off.
Moments later the quiet rural countryside was made hideous with volleys of barking as Baggins took violent exception to something and continued to take exception to it all around the house, coming back to the porch occasionally (just below our window) to take further exception before setting off on his vociferous journey once again.
I was not coping well with this activity. A vaguely conscious part of my mind told me I should Do Something, when, to my surprise, my wife, who would speak politely to a riot, was at the window, shouting at the miserable hound to "Cease" and "Desist," and etc., (not exactly in those words).
Groggy as I was, I was impressed with the fervour of her tone. Baggins was not, apparently, because after a thoughtful pause to allow us to get almost to sleep he careered off again in splendid voice calculated to shiver timbers and shatter glass.
I reached the kitchen just as he was completing one tour of the house and was returning to the porch beneath our window to report on his progress before setting off again. He was invited in no uncertain terms to spend what was left of the night indoors and I trudged off upstairs in search of at least a little sleep before the day began.
It was probably an hour later when Helen the cat arrived in our room with a thump. We have had the interior screens off the new bedroom windows since the winter, I don't remember why. Helen apparently knew this and had gone out on the roof through the open window while we were getting ready for bed.
Helen is not a large cat but she has what might be called a weighty personality. She can make a simple trip down the stairs sound like the footfall of a stampeding rhinoceros. Even so, the thump which announced her arrival was not so interesting to our fogged minds as were the evident sounds as of struggle, accompanied by what sounded like flappings. "Oh no, she's got a bat!" was my wife's speedy diagnosis.
I was just getting my faculties reassembled when a Great Awakening, with cries and thrashings, erupted beside me in the bed. Helen wished to share her good fortune with us and had brought her bat, still flapping spasmodically, with her as she jumped on the bed, landing heavily on my wife.
By the time I had responded to the Great Awakening and was on my feet, Helen and her trophy had been dumped back on the floor and my wife had taken refuge beneath the bed clothes, from whence muffled pleas to "do something" continued to surface. Needless to say, Helen was invited to enjoy her late night snack in the remoter corners of the house. Even she seemed to think this was probably a good idea although I did have to deflect her attempt to go to ground behind the bureau with her prize.
I closed the bedroom door for what seemed like the hundredth time that night and climbed into bed as my wife expressed the fervent hope that the bat would not be found in the bathtub in the morning. I shared her hope, remembering that Helen had chosen the bathtub on other occasions as the perfect place to messily devour some late-night snack. I shared the hope but lacked the will to pursue the matter at that time.
Moments later (it seemed) the clock radio weighed in with the grim news that another day had dawned and it was time to rise and shine.
It was a memorable evening, no doubt, but not one we are anxious to experience again. Baggins is sleeping inside, at least for the time being, and this morning I put the screens back in the bedroom windows. 1 June 1993